Emy Franke- Period 7 Honorbound
Word Count- 1511
If Aristotle had an IPhone, his ringtone would be Bob Marley’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Every time his phone would ring, he would go into a contemplative state and meditate on what constitutes true happiness and how one can reach this end goal. He certainly would have a lot of missed calls. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states that the function of man is to both live in accordance with virtue and to act according to reason, not just instinct. Through this we can achieve happiness, which is also considered our “good”. In order for one to fulfill his or her function as a human and to obtain happiness, one must live a contemplative life that does not give in to acting from instinct only. Aristotle defines virtue as the habit of choosing the mean, which will lead to one’s final end, through moderation. What really constitutes happiness is the “good”. However, how can one define what is “good” if everyone seems to have different means to fulfill their functions?
In today’s society, the adjective “good” seems to be tossed around and used as a habitual first response.
Q: How was school today?
Q: How did you do on your test?
Q: Do you like my new haircut?
A: It looks good.
Q: I decided to put my phone number on Craig’s List.
A: That’s good.
One can see the point being made. “Good” is slipped into conversations as the quick and easy response in many discussions. It is an English teacher’s worst nightmare for, although a simple and small word, it conveys a plethora of meanings. Defining what is “good” is not an easy task because everyone has different values and beliefs. The “good” of mankind is happiness and happiness is the end goal; yet, what makes one person may not make another person happy. According to Aristotle, a person is considered “good” if they fulfil their function well. But this cannot apply to everyone because there are villainous people in the world who, simply put, do a good job of being the bad guys. For example, a murderer’s function is to murder and he feels happy when he completes his mission; but can we call this person “good”? Some may argue that he fulfills his function of being a murder. “Oh congratulations you successfully killed ten people today, man you are so good.” This may be an arguable case if it were not for an important point made by Aristotle. “Good” comes with virtue and the two coincide in attaining happiness. In order to be considered “good,” one must exercise virtue and rationality. It is not enough to be “good” and it is not enough to be virtuous; on must live in harmony and contemplate decisions as they arise.
Further, Aristotle goes on to say that someone cannot be considered happy until after they have died. At first, one may think this is unreasonable because there are many people in the world today who seem happy. However, it is important to look at the life as a whole. Only then is it possible to separate the good from the bad and the ill-spirited from the full-hearted. This concept of happiness being decided after death was hard to comprehend until the recent passing of Nelson Mandela. This South-African anti-apartheid revolutionary worked to eliminate racism and attain equal rights for people of color and he spent twenty-nine years in jail for his beliefs and efforts. Personally, I cannot say I would be happy spending twenty-seven years in jail. However, his legacy and his efforts will live on after his death. The kind-hearted man was able to influence those around him and work for something he believed in, making his function fulfilled and deeming him as having lived a happy life. Even without the honors and presidency, Nelson Mandela would have been happy with the life he lived: combating apartheid and racism. In this way, the importance of examining the life of an individual as a whole is expressed. He may not have been happy at one point, but happiness is more than feeling; it is a way of living life.
In grade school, it was taught that virtue is a grace. Though born with the ability to be virtuous, becoming truly virtuous takes practice and constant execution. There is a median that should be aimed for in all situations, for virtue comes when one practices moderation. Of course there are situations where people simply happen to be in the right place at the right time or make a mistake and then call themselves virtuous. For example, if the collection basket is coming around and a man goes to donate a dollar bill but mistakenly donates a one hundred dollar bill, is he more virtuous then he would have been if he had only donated the one dollar bill? Think about it- it is his money and he could have possibly saved a mother and her child from having to go to bed hungry. However, giving the one hundred dollar bill was not intended and he did not mean to do donate as much as he did. Many times in society, people are quick to seek praise and approval for their actions and good deeds, even if these actions were just by chance. Or how about the man and players who allegedly fixed the 1919 Baseball World Series? They earned money for their actions and for who they considered the greatest amount of people. They were working to benefit who they considered the majority. However, neither of these situations fit the criteria necessary to be considered truly virtuous. According to Aristotle, in order for a deed to be considered virtuous the doer needs to be aware of his or her actions and they need choose to act in the right way. To be virtuous, one needs to choose and act in virtue.
This concept of virtue would be interesting to apply to Hamlet. Although Claudius’s sin of murdering the king led to Hamlet’s sin of killing his uncle, Hamlet was doing what he believed was morally correct. If he was avenging his father’s murder and curing the kingdom of treachery, was he being virtuous? Although it is a controversial topic, just because Hamlet believes his actions were morally correct, it does not mean they really and truly are morally correct. This is the problem with virtue in today’s society; instead of following the guidelines of virtue decided and put forth by Aristotle, everyone tried to make his or her own set of virtues and rules. However, if the actions were not done in true virtue then they are not “good” and they will not lead to the end and final goal of happiness. It is not enough to simply say that actions might be “good” later. People justify their decisions by saying that their actions might yield future positive results. Society tends to make exceptions for their corrupt acts and rationalize their actions in order to make themselves seem more righteous. For example, Hamlet kills his uncle because his uncle killed his father and his kingdom was suffering under the terrors of his uncle. He wants to better the lives of the people living in his land and bring respect and honor back to his father’s name. His motives were admirable but his means of achieving these goals are not. The action of killing the tyrant new king is trying to benefit others but is not done in a virtuous way, thus it is not “good”. Likewise, it is not beneficial to have virtue but not apply it in life and daily situations. As it is said, life without virtue is not a life worth living.
So, all in all, happiness is the goal. Not materialistic and physical happiness, but “end all be all” happiness: the kind of happiness that does not come in wrapping paper or a size six. In order to be happy and live a life of contemplation and reasoning, one needs to find something that they passionate about. Many times people accept jobs that they are not particularly thrilled about but that pay a good salary. What one needs to remember is that wealth is not the end goal, happiness is, and that wealth will not be one’s happiness. In order to truly fulfill one’s function, one needs to discover what they are passionate about and devote themselves to excelling at that. The world has so much to offer and in order to contribute back, one needs to recognize his or her talents and virtuously live for the good of others. In order to reach the end goal set forth by Aristotle, one needs to not seek happiness, but live in happiness. Search for things and people who help fulfill one’s function and make one the best possible version of herself or himself that is possible. Live life in a way that is not centered on materialistic things and superficial goods; live according to virtue and reason and dance on the line of moderation.
Aristotle. “Book 1.” Nicomachean Ethics. Indianapolis [Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962. N. pag. Print.
Aristotle. “Book 2.” Nicomachean Ethics. Indianapolis [Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962. N. pag. Print.