Exercise Virtue, Find Happiness


Brynn Jaspersen – period 6 – HB

In Aristotle’s Book X of Nicomachean Ethics, he expands upon what the ultimate good is in life, or the good, versus just simply a good.  He determines that the ultimate goal of one’s life is happiness, that in which requires exercising virtue and discovering a state of contemplation.

He begins this book by shedding light upon why some people mistake pleasure as being the good, while others view it as altogether bad.  When I think of pleasure, I have a direct correlation to a happy or pleasurable feeling.  However, all feelings are fickle and never last.  If there were to be a final good, it would certainly have to be constant and stable.  While pleasure may have a good effect on men, it cannot be the good, for you may feel pleasure in one moment but soon after feel displeasure.  For instance, let’s say you are eating a cookie—the first cookie may be pleasurable, but by the 11th cookie, you would most likely feel discomfort.  Thus, pleasure can be good, as demonstrated after eating one cookie, but can quickly revert to a negative or dissatisfying feeling, as demonstrated with eating the 11th cookie.

So, if pleasure is not the good, what encompasses the good life?  Aristotle notes that “the more contemplation the more happiness is there in a life,” and that “happiness is a kind of speculation or contemplation.”  Men, having unlimited wants, need external good fortune as well.  However, Aristotle dually notes, “it is not the superabundance of good things that makes a man independent…that man’s life will be happy who has virtue and exercises it.”  Simply put, “happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.”  To Aristotle, virtue is an ability you have gained, something you work your whole life to acquire and build upon, to achieve happiness.

Aristotle also views happiness as having to do with leisure.  He thinks that things that are good are things that do not produce any further good—they are final.  He implies that “useless things,” things in which do not spark further growth, are the good.  Aristotle writes that “the exercise of reason,” “things that “aim at no end beside itself,” “leisurely and inexhaustible” things will be the complete happiness of man.  He notes that things that give value to life are considered leisure.  For example, learning in school, or having a debate in Econ class, would both be considered leisure to Aristotle.

With all this in mind, I’m afraid Aristotle would not be very satisfied with our society today, one that is a culture of “instant gratification”.  We often look to pleasurable things to quickly satisfy our needs and desires, but as mentioned before, those pleasurable feelings fade, and we are left worse off.  I think it is wise to assert that through exercising virtue, along with leisure and contemplation, happiness is the end result.  We must flee from seeking pleasure and instead pursue virtue.


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