Dallas Swayzer/ AM Summer School/ Ms. Hansson
From the beginning of our lives we are imprinted with the motto to ‘Just Be Happy’. This has been a popular saying in the world and something I personally have always strived to live by. However, they don’t tell you when you are a child what exactly happiness is. I have always believed it to be a basic feeling of goodness. Each person probably has their own exact way of thinking about happiness. It isn’t until recently that I read two authors intellectual definition of happiness. I could never have guessed that happiness could be such an elaborate ideal that would confound my mind. But through the eyes of Aristotle and John Stuart Mill, I can see the two different outlines on happiness and then come to my own personal definition for one of the most known words in the world: happiness.
John Stuart Mill and Aristotle have both developed their idea of what happiness is and developed it to be a guiding principle to people worldwide. Some aspects of their definitions are the same and others are different but it is up to the reader of these definitions to make up his or her mind as to what they truly believe happiness to be.
Aristotle opens The Nicomachean Ethics by pointing out that, “The good is that at which everything aims.” He begins his guidebook with something he believes all people to know is true… however, even this short sentence can cause some controversy in the minds of readers. Some might question, what about those people who are violent, and ruthless, and kill people? But by using empathy to look through the eyes of Aristotle, readers will be able to understand that Aristotle is trying to say that people do things for the good of themselves, or what they believe to be for another person’s benefit. He even later states that, “Good things often do people harm.” Aristotle understands that not everything is good and that there are problems and negative things in the world but that you have to look past the negative things to truly understand happiness. Because he states that everything aims at good then people want to know what the highest good is. Aristotle has found that the masses agree that the highest good is happiness and that people believe to “live well” or to “do well” is the same as being happy. Some believe happiness to be simple and plain, such as wealth or fame. Others believe that it is more complex to achieve perfectly. It is mainly a difference between the regular men vs. the philosophers. The latter being the one that believes it is more complex. However both agree that there is good that is the aim. Aristotle states that, “The good is something that is peculiarly a man’s own and can scarce be taken away from him.” This is one of the known aspects of good and contributes to its definition.
It is also the good and Aristotle believes to be the end. It is “for the sake of the end that all else is done.” Happiness fits this description in Aristotle’s eyes because he believes that we choose happiness for itself and never for the sake of something else. Happiness is what we strive for in the end above all things. It is
believed to be the most desirable thing in the world. This makes sense because it is imprinted in our minds from toddlers on throughout life. It is such a good thing to be a ‘happy’ person and it makes you more likeable to others. It also fits the description of the final good because it is self-sufficing and it doesn’t need anything else to support it at all. Just the idea of being happy can be a major factor in making decisions. All that people expect happiness to be is happiness. People are never let down when happiness is achieved because it is everything anyone wants it to be. Another aspect of happiness that fits in is the view that happiness is excellence; it is the best thing in the world. Happiness is noble and pleasant and just all around what people want.
The main definition of happiness states, “A certain kind of exercise of the vital faculties in accordance with excellence or virtue.” Happiness requires perfection of excellence and also time. Happiness doesn’t come fast or easy; it takes time, years even to develop and be able to exercise it correctly. Aristotle wants to be as direct and straight forward in talking about happiness and how it is achieved.
He continues to state that happiness is not a habit, it is not something you can stop doing and then just pick it back up in two seconds. It needs to be exercised and maintained. Aristotle also reminds readers that happiness is not amusement or simply pleasure. It doesn’t just amuse us for a minute and then we move on with our lives. It is something that can last a long time.
Aristotle believes that happiness is the final end and that it is the most important thing for us to focus on. I believe that the main teachings in the modern world coincide with Aristotle in teaching that to be happy is very important and should be above all other things.
The other main author who published his own version of what he believes to be happiness is John Stuart Mill, the author of Utilitarianism. Mill bases his definition of happiness on the “The Greatest Happiness Principle” or in other words the ideal of Utility. This states that actions are in order based on how much they promote happiness. This relates the Aristotle’s view that the end is happiness, but Mill is saying that people will act based on which will give them the most happiness which is a little bit different.
Mill’s definition of happiness is pleasure and not pain. It is a very simple definition that he believes can be carried out by those in the world. Unlike Aristotle, Mill also focuses not only on the happiness aspect but also the unhappiness aspect and what you can do to avoid being unhappy. Mill states that the end is pleasure and freedom from pain, which he says in happiness. Therefore, both Aristotle and John Stuart Mill have the same idea that happiness is the final end but they have different definitions on what happiness is.
Aristotle makes a point to say that happiness does not always mean pleasure, but Mill stats that, “Life has no higher end than pleasure.” Another difference between the two authors is that Mill touches on the ideas of beast vs. human being in terms of happiness. He says that a “beast’s pleasure do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness. This also explains that once humans are made aware of what their faculties are, they don’t accept anything not having to do with their gratification as happiness.
It is with this principle of Utility that different kinds of pleasure are explained and it is understood that some pleasures are better than others; and that because we are human, we want to have the better pleasures even if it means sacrifice as a mean to these pleasures. A very good quote that Mill says is that “A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering.” This quote is, in my eyes, the truest statement between both authors. It is true that when you raise your expectations, you are creating more room to be let down from those expectations. Also related to this statement is the understanding that those with low capacities of enjoyment have a greater chance of having them fully satisfied whereas those with high capacities will never be fully satisfied. However, Mill believes that it is “better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.” This is a true statement but the wonder about it is, what would he think about whether a person should have low capacities or high capacities? It is not as if having low capacities automatically makes you an animal, so what would he think in the differences between these two different people?
Another very good point that Mill makes is the idea of dignity in relation to happiness. Dignity is the one of the most important aspects of happiness. This is an easy thing to understand because for some people their dignity is all that they have. If happiness is the end, their dignity will be their only contributing factor to their happiness, or it will be very important.
The utilitarian standard is not very much an individual happiness, but of society’s happiness as a whole. It looks at what is the thing that makes the most people happy, not just the thing that makes one person happy. Because of this Utilitarianism “could only attain its end by the general cultivation of nobleness of character.” It is basically a majority rules type of idea which is a popular method in the modern world.
Overall the major difference between Aristotle’s explanation and John Stuart Mill’s explanation is the final end. Mill says that the end is the existence with the most pleasure and the least pain. Aristotle says that the end is the virtue aspect of happiness.
Through both these explanations, readers can pull from both things they believe to be true and then form their own opinion and definition of what happiness is. All in all, each person is going to be different but what is important is that each person strives to achieve their definition. You just have to be happy and in the end that is all that matters.