Brave New World vs. Aristotle

By: Jackie Grindinger Period 1 HBImage

Imagine yourself in a new world, a different world, a world where there are no problems or conflicts, no sin nor corruption, nothing but control and abundance.  Would you like to live in this world?  Maybe so, a world without suffering or anguish sounds intriguing, does it not?  This world you are thinking of is the idealistic, perfect society.  Assuming this “perfect society” was attainable here on earth; would you want to live in it?  But think of the consequences of this utopian world.  There would be no freedom, no creativity, nothing that sets you apart from your neighbor; it is a strict world.  Is this still something you would want?  Keep this question in mind as I discuss various authors’ opinions on happiness and freedom: Is a “perfect society” really something you want?

In a perfect society, each and every person would achieve their end goal, be truly happy, and have no fears about the future, or the present.  This type of society is seen in Aldous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World.  In their utopian world, the people that exist are so altered by technology and psychology that they become far from human.  At first the idea is to make a perfect human to live in a perfect world with no error, but humans are prone to failure and all humans make a mistake, which is what makes us human.  They are created in labs; there is no reproduction, no individuality, all people are the same.  The world they live in did not experience pain or suffering.  By not inflicting pain or suffering on the people living in the world, they are actually causing a new type of suffering, one which people resort to due to their loss of freedom.  These “people” living in this “society” are so genetically and psychologically altered that they become robots in a sense that they have no control over their actions.  In the book, the characters visit a “savage reserve,” and at this place they see humans living on a reserve.  Naturally, the characters are appalled by what they see.  These savages living like with sin, pain, corruption; how do they survive?  How are they human?  What the characters fail to realize, due to their lack of free thinking, is that these people they call savages are living a better life than they are.  The savages are not controlled by a higher power; they can live however they choose.  It is not until one of the characters from the utopian society brings a “savage” back to the utopian world that the utopian citizens begin to think and question their higher power.  The savage finds copies of Aristotle’s works and shares his findings with the utopian world. 

Some people believe that the author was poking fun at the government and how we, as citizens, are slowly loosing freedom to our government.  The people living in the utopian society have no freedom because their “government (the higher power)” is controlling them.  Many philosophers and great thinkers have dwelt on this idea of the power the government plays in our society.  In a way this idea of the government controlling us is true, but I believe that Aristotle would argue that some control is necessary to maintain a stable government.  In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explains how politics and government influence the person as a whole and how a society should help a person achieve their end, or purpose.  As Aristotle says, “Good is that at which everything aims.”  And in the case of Brave New World, everyone’s “purpose,” or end goal, is the same; to be successful and be average.  Contrary, Aristotle believes that each and every person has a different end depending on your job.  As he says, “The function of man, then, is exercise of his vital faculties (or soul) on one side in obedience to reason, and on the other side with reason.”  In other words, a man’s purpose in life is to do his job well and with his entire ability with reason and purpose.  Also, Aristotle says that along with reason and purpose, virtue is also necessary to obtain the end or final purpose.  In Brave New World every “mans” purpose is the same, which is to be average and to keep society the way it is. 

Their society is so corrupt in the way they are completely genetically altered and they are entirely brain washed to believe that their way of living is flawless.  We, as humans, realize that their system of living has transformed them into becoming exactly what they are, the opposite of human.  In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle claims that, “we may say that those living men are blessed or perfectly happy who both have and shall continue to have [virtue, happiness, and reason], but happy as men only.”  In order to obtain this happiness or your end purpose, you must be human.  In the case of the characters in Brave New World, they are barely human, if any at all.  Aristotle also says that “by the excellence of man I mean excellence not of body, but of soul; for happiness we take to be an activity of the soul.”  Therefore, you must have a soul to be able to exercise happiness which is, after all, the ultimate human function.  If this is to be considered true, then no one existing in the utopian society is truly happy.  In the book, the people living in the Utopian society are so corrupt; their souls are not being exercised and practiced.  It is not until the characters meet the savage when they learn about freedom and the function of men.  The savage finds the readings of Aristotle and when the “government” (I use that word lightly because there is not true government, only a higher power that acts as a government) realizes that there is a citizen in their world not living an average life, they send him away to a place where he can be left to die, all because he wanted freedom from the rigorous and strict world he stumbled into and found.  The people living in the utopian-futuristic society are not human and therefore cannot exercise the human purpose, or end goal, because they do not live for themselves; they live to be average which is not how Aristotle believes a man should live. 

In Aristotle’s Politics, he answers the question, “What is the purpose (or end) of a city?”  He responds by saying that the purpose of a city is to live for “a society [that has] a greater share in it than those who have the same or a greater freedom or nobility of birth but are inferior to them in political virtue.”  This question is relevant to Brave New World because in their society everyone is equal and alike, but Aristotle is saying that it is necessary to have a variety of freedom and nobility in order to create a full rounded society.  He also says in his writings that “the state is the union of families and villages in a perfect and self-sufficing life, by which we mean a happy and honorable life.”  The utopian society believes that families are unnecessary because they restrain you from living outside that one group of people, or family.  This is ironic because living without a family or relationships, in general, provides you with a sense of freedom, but it is a false freedom and that is wrong.   A man needs freedom to exercise his purpose, but a man also needs a community.  Hence, the people living in the society will never fulfil their purpose because they do not have a state or community to support them. 

While the utopian society spoken of in this book lives a life without sin and punishment, that takes away the human characteristic to be free, to rebel, to ask questions.  Now think to yourself, could you live in a world where you had to be average?  Is this the kind of place you would want to live in; is this a good place to raise a family?  I will leave you with one last question that I want you to think of as a human; can you exercise your full potential, as a man, if you are being restrained from living a life with freedom, reason, and an individual purpose?

                                                                                                                                                       

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World,. New York: Harper & Bros.,

Aristotle,. Book III: Chapter 9The Politics .

Aristotle, . Book IThe Nicomanchean Ethics.

 

 

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One thought on “Brave New World vs. Aristotle

  1. Very interesting topic. For Aristotle to make sense, though, it is essential that you grasp that the end or function he is talking about isn’t the one determined by your job, but the one determined by your humanness, which we ALL share. That’s what would make BNW so horrifying to him: it is a world where everyone does their job, but no one achieves their human function because all have been robbed of their humanity.

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