What do all Americans and Aristotle have in common?

Samantha Peinado/ Morning Summer School Class/ Mrs. Hansson

Think about it, what are some goals that you’ve had in your life? Do you have a lifelong final goal that day by day you are trying to achieve or conquer? Goals allow human beings to strive for something that is desirable, appealing, and meaningful. Goals are created throughout one’s life, beginning when we are first able to think to the day we die. A goal can be as small as winning a soccer game to as big as winning the presidential election. Mostly, every human being has a goal that he/she would like to fulfill, whether it is  family oriented, economical, or for many other reasons. Therefore, it is concluded that everyone has a different type of goal that they believe is “final”. A similar idea to “final” goals, which is referenced many times in Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics, is the popularized idea of the American Dream. By comparing and contrasting Aristotle’s idea of the man’s final goal and the common perception of the American dream, it is easy to define each of the terms and further acquire more about each of them.

The Nicomachean Ethic, written by Aristotle, focuses on the final good or goal to one’s life. He states that most acts aim to be good and also that the mean justifies the end. Since everyone is different there are many actions that lead to peoples end goals. If “Men agree that the good is happiness”, does this mean that happiness is the final good or a goal that men and women strive for? If so, then we conclude that Aristotle believed that being happy is the end goal.

For men, being “happy” is similar to “living well” and “doing well”. In the article this happiness is seen in the end as a final good. There are many ends to one’s life, but happiness is the final end that is the most important. Furthermore, happiness is the one final end that all people are striving for. Unlike some feelings, happiness is always looked-for and never rejected. It is also “self-sufficing”, which means that one can supply his or her own needs fully with this feeling.

Many would also question how the final end, happiness, is attained. According to  Aristotle,  he believes “it is attained by learning or the formation of habits or any other kind of training or comes by some dispensation or even by chance”.  He also explains how the Gods give gifts of happiness to men. On a side note, when he talks about the Gods he is talking about the Greek gods (Aristotle was a Greek philosopher). Even though happiness can be granted by higher powers, it is accessible to all humans. Since happiness is attained or achieved in so many virtuous ways, it is reflected as being “one of the most divine things in the world”.   In other words, the prize for being virtuous is being blessed with happiness.

Similar to his views, statistics show that nowadays 40% of one’s happiness depends on their outlook on life. The outlook of life refers to the friendships, work, and participation of one’s life. The importance of this outlook links to Aristotle’s views because they both show the importance of ones surroundings. Aristotle deeply believed that relationship and communities were important. Another statistic that is similar to The Nicomachean Ethic is that with age, people become happier. From the 2005 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, it was seen that at the ages of 65-74 people were sad less often compared to people of the ages 20-24. This statistic is similar to the idea of happiness being the final end; because while people get older they become happier and closer to their final end goal.

Now, enough about Aristotle’s views and ideas about the final goal! Let’s talk about the American dream and how it compares to The Nicomachean Ethic. Throughout the 1900’s, the American dream became a commercialized idea.  America was seen as the place to be to start a new life full of opportunity. With this widespread migration to America, men and women dreamed of how their lives would be once they arrived. Each man and woman had their own version of the American dream. One common example of the “perfect” American dream was seen as having a white picket fence, more than one child, a hardworking father, and a stay at home mother. Throughout time, this idea of the dream evolved and evolved until the idea of money overpowered any other part of the dream. Today, money has taken over and controls their lives. Just working is no longer satisfying, but just a mindless task required to make money that would ultimately be spent. Because this is a continuous cycle, obtaining this distant goal became more of a final good or goal that truly might never happen. Focusing on both the American dream and family  during my English class  junior year, allowed me to learn in depth about the American dream, its common unattainability, and how the lust for money has taken over the dream that so many try to achieve.  The literature that was read over the course of the school year has also allowed me to gain many different kinds of perspectives on people versions of their Americans dreams. This insight depicted to me that while achieving the dream is usually unattainable for Americans, every citizen will always the right to fantasize and pursue an American dream of their own.

Although Aristotle’s well-formed idea of happiness can still be related to the American dream, the overpowering desire for money in the dream contradicts much of what his writing says about wealth. Although he believes that wealth is necessary to arrive at the final end, he believes that it is only a small part in being happy. In other words, too much wealth can ruin men. Today, mostly every Americans’ dream consists solely on wealth and the power it can bring.

It is safe to say that not many Americans have actually accomplished their American dream. This leads to the same question of “can no man be called happy during life?” At first glance, when reading this question, the reader would believe it is complete bogus to agree that no man can be happy during life. But in response to how Solon said that it only occurs after death, the answer to the question becomes less evident; and due to the confusion, Aristotle’s words need to be investigated to a deeper meaning. When   it is said that a happy man is “one who exercises his faculties in accordance with perfect excellence, being duly furnished with external goods, not for any chance time, but for a full term of years”, we realize that the answer to the question is that men CAN be happy during and after life.  Mostly all of the future is unknown except for the fact that in the end happiness is “in all ways perfectly final or complete”. To conclude, men can definitely be happy during life depending on their ways and virtuous characteristics, but this happiness will only be attained when men have completely satisfied their desires.

So, now that we have discussed both terms, is the American dream and Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics more similar or more different? Or, do they both have similarities and differences? We know that to Aristotle, happiness was the most important and that if you die happy then you lived your life was a success. We also know that to Americans, the American dream is important and always thought of as the ultimate goal in which you obtained what you believe will make you the happiest. What differs though is the importance of wealth in the American dream from the final end discussed in the article. In conclusion, it is thought that in a simpler time, Aristotle’s happiness as an end goal was more reasonable and achievable, but now, due to the world and life becoming increasingly more complicated the final end of happiness is harder to achieve.



Work Cited:

Ramsauer, G.. Nicomachean ethics. New York: Garland Pub., 1987.

Weedmark, David . “20 Surprising Facts About Happiness.” Official website of David

Weedmark. http://www.davidweedmark.com/archives/facts-about-happiness/ (accessed

June 24, 2013).

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