How do we deprive ourselves of Aristotle’s ultimate happiness?

Molly Flynn

Many people find their ultimate happiness, but the reality is most must cheat to achieve what they believe is their ultimate happiness. People are dishonest about their achievements on a daily basis, therefore, there are a billion different ways for people to cheat. For instance, an act of cheating could be an action which only cheats oneself. This could be cheating on a test, where the person would receive a higher grade on the test than they otherwise would but the action did not affect anyone else in the process. On the other hand, an act public cheating would affect others to some degree. For instance cheating on the SAT gives oneself a better score but ultimately cheats another person out of an acceptance to a college that one would otherwise not have received an acceptance to. Another way to classify the action is by the amount of people the doing affects, is it the number of people large or small? A small act may be telling ones little sister that chicken nuggets cause humans to grow feathers on their backs because they did not feel like cooking her chicken nuggets for dinner. In this instance, your little sister was cheated out of eating chicken nuggets because she now feared growing feathers on her back, but in the grand scheme of things, the lie did not affect others. On the contrary, a larger act of cheating would be charging thousands of dollars on a company credit card for things other than company materials. In this case you would cheat the company out of money and could ultimately cheat people out of a job if, due to the lack of money, the company did not have the means to employ people any longer. In other words, cheating is very prominent in everyday life .[1]

Despite these wrongdoings that occur daily, the world today holds an implicit set of moral standards. These moral standards are similar to the different types of cheating because they vary in magnitude. For example, one moral standard could be the golden rule: treat others the way you wish to be treated.[2] This rule is not taught, but understood by all. So, if cheating is a daily occurrence, why does it still exist in a world where moral standards are valued to such a high degree?

To some people beating the system may seem foolproof. After all, most believe they would not be caught in the act and would never face any consequences for their actions. Most people think if they are not caught in the act then they are free from consequences, but the truth is the consequences go deeper than being caught in the act of the wrongdoing. For that reason Hemingway says “what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after”[3] . He claims guilt of doing wrong can determine a person’s actions by being incentive for a human to act just. Nevertheless, people contradict this concept because despite guilt and other consequences, which are meant to be incentive to act with right morals, people still chooses to act against these morals.

In addition to Hemingway’s theory of people choosing to do good to avoid the guilt from doing wrong,[4] Aristotle’s theory claims people would act just to achieve what Aristotle believes is the ultimate happiness.[5] Aristotle says the end goal should be to achieve ultimate happiness,[6] which contradicts the concept of cheating described in Freakonomics. Though Freakonomics and The Nicomachean Ethics both describe ways to accomplish an end goal, Aristotle’s writing defines an end goal which typically would serve the common person as morally just. On the other hand, Freakonomics describes an end goal which causes people to act morally unjust. Unlike Aristotle’s end goal, Freakonomics says cheating is an economic act driven by the incentive of getting more for less;[7] therefore cheating is an end goal which would only attain a short-period of happiness while Aristotle’s end goal would achieve a much grander happiness. With those goals in mind, why would people choose to cheat if in return he would not achieve Aristotle’s end goal of the ultimate happiness?

According to the golden rule, if all people choose to cheat then they must be willing to be cheated on. Despite our knowledge of these teachings, we still choose to go against society’s morals and do wrong to one another.  The reason for us to act this way is the underlying hope to act in line with what the individual believes will bring them the ultimate happiness. For example, Karl Marx’s theory of communism is not supported by many people because it seems unethical but to Marx it seemed to be just what society needed;[8] Marx’s personal intentions were in line with Aristotle’s theory of the ultimate happiness. His theory of taking from the rich to share with the poor was intended to serve as a wonderful solution to the world’s economic problems but was not realistic for the economy due to human nature: humans are naturally selfish people.[9] Humans are considered selfish people because though we do what is in line with society’s morals, those actions typically cater to our own personal wants and needs.Thus, Marx’s theory of communism catered to him by helping him achieve what he wanted to happen in the world. Marx hoped to achieve his ultimate happiness, which was financial equality for all. In reality, Marx would not achieve that happiness because communism cheats people by taking their hard earned money and giving it to someone else.[10] This would not bring him the ultimate happiness because it would cause more frustration than happiness among the different social classes due to human nature, or humans being greedy and wanting more for themselves than anyone else.

Communism would work for an ideal world but unfortunately does not work for each individual person. Communism is the idea to take from the rich and give to the poor, or in other words to acquire financial equality for all[11] . In this case, the rich would be handed a disadvantage because they would not be rewarded for their hard work. In addition, Communism would not only frustrate the rich but also cause issues between the social classes. Equality for all would cause problems because without a social hierarchy no one would have power over another and consequently the world would erupt into anarchy.  Therefore, communism would not please everyone, only the poor who would benefit from the process. On the other hand, from an individual perspective, communism would allow some people to achieve the ultimate happiness. Communism would allow those who are unable to work to earn money, for example, those with physical or mental disabilities, would then be able to achieve the ultimate happiness because they would attain equality without the guilt of cheating to achieve that goal.

Contemporary society is built on a set of implicit morals, which are in accordance with the needs of society. As humans, if we choose to abide by these morals then we would be able to achieve the ultimate happiness for all. Unfortunately, we decide to ignore these standards and act as we choose. We cheat to achieve what we want in life and do not care for the needs or feelings of those we hurt along the way; we deprive ourselves of Aristotle’s ultimate happiness. His theory of the end being the ultimate happiness and humans making all decisions to achieve that ultimate happiness is nothing but a hope which will never be fulfilled.[12]  Similar to Marx, Aristotle’s hope to achieve what he believes is the ultimate happiness is also never fulfilled because of the fact of human nature, or all humans being greedy and wanting more for themselves. As humans, it is in our nature to focus on pleasing ourselves, rather than the needs and wants of those around us. We are selfish human beings; we choose to cheat to achieve our goals rather than being satisfied with what we can accomplish with our own natural talents. We could have the ultimate happiness if we chose to treat each other with respect instead of becoming wrapped up the false reality of wanting to be better than our neighbor.

[1] Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. 2005. Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything. New York: William Morrow.

[2] Flew, Antony. 1979.  A Dictionary of Philosophy. London: Pan Books in association with The MacMillan Press.

[3] Hemingway, Ernest. 1960. Death in the afternoon. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

[4] Hemingway, Ernest

[5] Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.” In How to Find Happiness without a Free Lunch. ed. Bernardo Aparicio. Accessed 2015.

[6] Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.”

[7] Levitt, Stephen D., and Stephen J. Dubner

[8] Marx, Karl

[9] Marx, Karl

[10] Marx, Karl

[11] Marx, Karl

[12] Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.”

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One thought on “How do we deprive ourselves of Aristotle’s ultimate happiness?

  1. I liked how you incorporated everyday, relatable examples of cheating. It made the article easier to follow. In addition, I liked how you said that if one cheats, they must be willing to be cheated on. I wrote my article on incentives, and I hadn’t even taken this theory into account. Great topic and great article! -AT Period 2

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