Hindering achieving the “good life” by capitalism

Kennedi Henneberger-7. According to Aristotle, the ultimate end is the “good life” or happiness. It is the “most desirable thing in the world” (Aristotle). There are many ends, such as good health is the end of medicine or a sturdy ship is the end of shipbuilding, or a house is the end of building; however, there can only be one final end, which all humans search for, and according to Aristotle, that ultimate end is simply permanent, complete, happiness. But, what exactly is happiness? A happy man, according to Aristotle, is one who carries out his function throughout his life. Humans are extremely similar to other animals and living organisms in this world, except for one thing: their function. We have reason and the ability to live in accordance with reason by knowing the difference between good and bad. If we are successful and execute to the best of our abilities, we will eventually achieve the “good life” Aristotle talks about. By doing this, we will reach our full potential as human beings because we will never do something that is hateful or deceiving, and as a result, we will always be perfectly happy.

Aristotle states that the end cannot be pleasure, honor, or virtue, although these can provide temporary happiness. Even though these lead up to the ultimate end, they are not complete happiness. We can have virtue, but keep it inactive throughout our lives and choose not to use it. Virtue is “a habit or trained faculty of choice” (Aristotle). We attain virtue by our repetitive actions. It is not given to us by nature because those characteristics cannot be altered. Aristotle does not view pleasure as a negative aspect, but instead an important feature in the “formation of a virtuous character” (Aristotle). It leads us to virtue and happiness because we choose what we want and what we do not want. We seek pleasure, honor, and virtue in order to satisfy ourselves. They are stepping stones to the final result, which is happiness. Accordingly, all means are not the final; they just lead us to happiness, which is “the end of all that man does” (Aristotle). But the end does not mean the end of time. Aristotle points out that the final end is reaching that object’s purpose. For example, a clock’s purpose is to tell time. It has reached the final end when it can successfully fulfill its purpose of telling time. Humans reach their final end when they are able to use their virtues in accordance with reason. This is the happiness, the “good life” that Aristotle teaches.

Capitalism depends on the “price mechanism” (Miller). This means that the prices of the products are made by the owner, but it also depends on the prices that consumers are willing to buy for those products. Capitalism seeks its highest profit off the product. Capitalism can be seen anywhere in the world, especially in jobs and businesses. In order to get somebody to work for you, you have to make sure their working conditions and salary benefit them as well, so both of you gain something. You gain the products he finished, and he gains the money you pay him for his hard work. Today, the United States is known as a “capitalist economy” (America’s Capitalist Economy). A poll was taken to determine if people thought America was a capitalist or a socialist country, and according to the Rasmussen Reports, most Americans thought it is a capitalist society. Only 24% of Americans think it is a socialist  nation, but 68% of Americans believe the United States is a capitalist country. (Favorables, Rasmussen Reports). Our government does not interfere as much as the governments of other countries. Although the United States is typically known as a capitalist economy, it is more known as “managerialist,” (Main Navigation) meaning the managers have the final word about the business instead of the owners. In a normal capitalist society, business owners have complete control over their businesses.

The question becomes, is capitalism a valid means to happiness? Capitalism can be either used to achieve happiness as an ultimate end, or can be an obstacle by using it to seek personal pleasures. We can choose to use capitalism negatively as a way to settle our materialistic desires. Because we are “physical beings” (Miller), we require material resources in the world. These material resources range from money to houses to even food. However, capitalism is not measured strictly by dollar bills. It can be used as a good means rather than an evil one. Capitalism is a pathway for freedom. In order to be truly happy, we need freedom. It lets us be able to make our own decisions, and not be somebody else’s “puppet.” For example, capitalism gives us the choice to decide what career you want to pursue. Nobody else has the power to decide what job you have. Capitalism plays a major part in my life. Because of it, I have the freedom to choose what I want to do in my life. I am able to choose what school to attend, what clothes I wear. This freedom also allows my family to decide where we wish to live, along with many other choices. Without freedom, America would be completely different than it is today. By having this much freedom, we are able to achieve the “good life.”

Conversely having as much freedom as a capitalist society has could hurt the public more than it could help it. Capitalism relies on constant competition and competitiveness among the citizens in the system. This brings out greed and selfishness that goes against Aristotle’s teachings. Greed and selfishness result in unhappiness, which is the exact opposite of what Aristotle teaches. Aristotle says that as humans, it is embedded into us to be naturally social human beings. We depend on each other in order for survival. However, in a capitalist system, whoever follows Aristotle’s teachings will be unsuccessful. People are too self- centered and are too focused on themselves and their own personal success to worry about the well- being of others. It has become less of a team effort and more of an individual effort. This leads us away from the ultimate end because we depend on each other to achieve it. Without all of us, we will never attain the ultimate end, the “good life.”

Capitalism can greatly hinder the “good life” more than it can help it. America is a prime example of a capitalist country. In America, it is all about getting a better job, getting more money, and buying more expensive cars, houses, etc. People do whatever they need to get ahead of the rest of society, even if it means stepping on another person to get ahead. It has become all about consumption and this is not what Aristotle taught. He wanted all the citizens in a country to live a moral life and achieve happiness through a moral means with the help of each other. The capitalist system does not encourage this. There is too much pressure to succeed and get ahead of the rest of the human population. Aristotle talks about a state or country working together and helping each other in order to achieve the “good life.” Each individual does his or her part so that a whole community can succeed and be happy in the end. The citizens rely on each other to help them succeed and be eventually happy in the end. The “good life” involves achieving ultimate happiness, not only a few. There are so many rich people in America who might have achieved temporary happiness, but they are not the ultimate good. These wealth and riches are only pleasures that lead up to the happiness that is the final end. Aristotle would not favor a capitalist system because capitalism focuses too much on an individual rather than on the whole state or country.

 

Sources:

“America’s Capitalist Economy.” About.com Economics. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013. <http://economics.about.com/od/howtheuseconomyworks/a/us_capitalism.htm&gt;.

“Favorables: Socialism 24% Capitalism 68% – Rasmussen Reports™.” Favorables: Socialism 24% Capitalism 68% – Rasmussen Reports™. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013. <http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/november_2012/favorables_socialism_24_capitalism_68&gt;.

“Flip Side.” Flip Side. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2013. <http://current2.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/happiness-just-ahead/&gt;.

“Main Navigation.” Project Syndicate RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013. <http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/how-capitalist-is-america&gt;.

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