TABLE OF CONTENTS
His Biography … … … … … … 1
Major Influences… … … … … … 5
His Works … … … … … … 7
Aristotle’s Ethics … … … … … 11
NATURE OF HAPPINESS
Popular Notion of Happiness … … … 15
Philosophers’ view of Happiness … … 16
2.2.1 The Ancient Era … … … … … 16
2.2.2 The Patristic Age … … … … … 20
2.2.3 The medieval … … … … … … 20
2.2.4 The modern Epoch … … … … … 22
2.2.5 Contemporary Age… … … … … 25
ARISTOTLE’S DOCTRINE ON HAPPINESS
Happiness: The End of Human action … 27
Virtue … … … … … … … 33
3.2.1 Kinds of Virtue … … … … … 35
Golden Mean: Key to Happiness … … … 37
Virtue as Mean … … … … … 38
GENERAL EVALUATION AND
General Evaluation … … … … 45
Bibliography … … … … … … … … … … … … … … 56
It is already a known fact that man has great desire
for happiness. This desire is so clear that it does not need any explanation or
argument. Man struggles everyday and directs his toils, efforts and labors
towards attaining this deep desire – happiness. For this, happiness becomes the
ultimate quest and end of all men.
had this in mind when he began his moral philosophy by saying that every art
and every inquiry and similarly every action and pursuit is thought to aim at
some good. After a thorough analysis, Aristotle came out with the result that
happiness is an end in itself not a means to an end.
desires to be happy but not everybody is happy. People seek different ways of
attaining happiness ranging from wealth, pleasure, fame, honour et cetera.
Aristotle in trying to give an answer to how happiness can be attained came up
with the well-known doctrine of the mean popularly referred to as “Golden
Mean”. In this doctrine, he shows how we can be happy through maintaining the
middle course in our daily activities. Virtue is the necessary midpoint between
two extremes of vices. Thus, the saying, “Virtue stands in the middle.”
This work is meant to do a critical evaluation of this
doctrine of the mean with a view to seeing how far it has gone in helping man
achieve his ultimate end, which is happiness. It is also meant to expose the
loose ends of the doctrine, which has made it unacceptable to many philosophers
For the purpose of this long essay,
it would be a big jump not to begin with a clear knowledge of the philosopher
we are examining his philosophy. Consequently, it is pertinent first and
foremost to look at the life of Aristotle, the influences that motivated him
and finally, the product of his philosophical life.
1.1 HIS BIOGRAPHY
Aristotle was born in the summer of
384 B.C in the small town of Stagira on the north east coast of Thrace. His
father, Nichomachus, was a court physician to Amyntas III king of Macedonia,
father of Philip II and grandfather of Alexander the Great. His parents were
both Ionians in origin. Aristotle was thus not an Athenian by birth although he
lived a greater part of his life and did all his writings in and around Athens
Being a son of a doctor, he was heir
to scientific tradition. He was thus introduced to Greek medicine and biology
at an early age. It was the custom according to Galen, for families in the
guild of Asclepiadae to train their sons in the art of dissection. While
Aristotle was still a youth, he lost his father. Under the auspices of
Proxenus, probably a relative of his father he studied in the platonic academy
for twenty years. He was said to have been called by Plato, “the intellect of
the school.” He was greatly influenced by Plato’s thought and personality
though he was eventually to break away from Plato’s philosophy in order to
formulate his own version of certain philosophical problems. The years
Aristotle spent in Plato’s academy formed the three main periods comprising his
On Plato’s death in 348/47 B.C,
Aristotle left the academy and accepted the invitation of Hermeias to come to
Assos. He gathered a small group of thinkers into his court, and here Aristotle
was able for the next three years to write, teach and carry on research. While
at Hermeias’ court, Aristotle gave a sentimental collaboration to their tie by marrying
Hermeias’ niece and adopted daughter, Pythias, who bore him a daughter. Later
when he had returned to Athens, his wife died and Aristotle entered into a
relationship with Herpyllis who bore him a son, Nicomachus, after whom the
Nicomachean Ethics was named.
In 343/42 B.C, Philip of Macedon
invited Aristotle to become the tutor of his son Alexander who was then
thirteen years old. As a tutor to a future ruler, Aristotle’s interests
included politics. He was to prepare Alexander for his future role as the
military leader of the now United Greek World. Upon Philip’s death, Aristotle’s
duty as tutor came to an end as Alexander now ascended the throne. A brief stay
in his hometown of Stagira saw him once more in Athens.
Upon his return in 335/34 B.C in
Athens, Aristotle founded his own school, the Lyceum. The school was so
organized that it included philosophical discussions, lectures and technicals,
for small audiences and others of a more poplar nature for a larger audience.
For twelve of thirteen years, Aristotle remained as head of the Lyceum teaching
and lecturing and above all, formulating his ideas about the classification of
the sciences, fashioning a bold new science of logic and writing his advanced
idea in every major area of philosophy.
When Alexander died in 323 B.C, a
wave of anti-Macedonian feeling arose making Aristotle’s position in Athens
very precarious because of his close connection with Macedonia. Aristotle was
charged with impiety for the elegy he wrote to Hermas twenty years before.
Recalling the fate of Socrates, he fled to his mother’s property in Chalcis
declaring, “I will not let the Athenians offend twice against philosophy.” He
lived in Chalcis for some months and died in 322 B.C of a digestive disease of
long standing. His will discloses the care with which he puts his affairs in
order. He provided for his wife as she wished.
Aristotle’s thought was of such
decisive power that it was to influence philosophy for centuries to come.
Having gone so far, let us examine certain elements in Aristotle’s eventful
life, which might have left their influences on his thought.
1.2 MAJOR INFLUENCES
The development of Aristotle’s
philosophy was motivated and influenced by a number of individuals and
conditions. A look at a few of these influences will help us situate our study
Firstly, Aristotle’s father was a
doctor and a physician to the king of Macedonia. Little wonder why he so
expertly handled his treatise on Biology. It could be said that his interest in
Biology and science in general was nurtured in his early childhood. This can be
linked to a custom in those days that made it possible for children from
certain families to be taught and trained in the art of dissection.
Furthermore, the influences on his biological works may have come from other
Some of the observations used in Aristotle’s
biological works probably came from the Easter Aegean …we might trace his
biological interests to the academy.
Secondly, the shadows of Socrates and
especially Plato lie across his thought. Aristotle accepted in general the
ethical positions of Socrates and Plato though his philosophical outlook proved
some marked differences. Aristotle was more interested in something else:
…he was more interested
in the concrete details of the moral life than in the abstract underlying
principles, and we have in his Ethics not a description of an ideal community
as we have in the Republic of the moral life as it was found in the Greek city
states of his own day.
Again, the long stay at the academy
of Plato had a huge influence in Aristotle’s thought. This is most evident in
several passages of his work that explicitly reject or defend a platonic
thesis. A close look at some of Aristotle’s work shows that he drank deeply
from the platonic springs.
Thirdly, Aristotle’s life was largely
devoted to the acquisition and dissemination of scientific knowledge. This may
explain his classification of state from the study of a hundred and fifty-eight
constitutions. The age in which Aristotle lived was politically unstable and
his own life was constantly interrupted by external events. This is surely
connected to the stand he maintained and the answers he proffered in his
Ethics. A brief look at his Ethics would help us focus more on the aim of our
1.3 HIS WORKS
Aristotle’s writings fall into three
main periods, the period of his intercourse with Plato, the years of his
activity at Assos and Mitylene, and the time of his leadership of the Lyceum.
By the end of his life, the Lyceum
had become a well-established school. Some of Aristotle’s frequent critical
discussions of Plato and other Academics may have been written during
Aristotle’s years in the Academy. The topics reflect the character of
dialectical debates in the Academy.
There is no specific chronological
order of Aristotle’s work .The order in which his works appear in the Greek
manuscripts goes back to early editors and commentators. It reflects their view
not about the order in which the works were written but the order in which they
should be studied.
In his first period of literary
writings, he adhered closely to Plato, his teacher. To this period belongs:
a. The dialogues of Eudemus, or on the
soul, in which he shares Plato’s doctrine of recollection and apprehension of
ideas in a state of pre-existence.
b. The Protrepticus (an epistle to
Themison) Here he maintains the Platonic doctrine of forms.
c. The Physics
d. De Anima
In the second period, Aristotle began
to diverge from his former Platonic position to adopt a more critical attitude
towards the teaching of the Academy. It is the period of criticism or of the
growing criticism in regard to Platonism. The works include:
a. The dialogue “On philosophy”: a
criticism of some of Plato’s most characteristic theories. For instance the theory
of Forms or ideas,
b. The Timaeus
c. The Metaphysics
d. The Eudemian ethics
e. The Politics: deals with the ideal state and
criticisms of platonic Republic.
The third period carries more of his
activities in the Lyceum. Here, he appears as the empirical observer and
scientist, who is concerned to raise a sure philosophical foundation. Most
lectures here represent his published works. The works of this period include:
The Logical works
prior analysis and posterior Analysis
Works on natural philosophy, Natural
science, psychology etc
Histories of Animals
Parva Naturalia (dealing with subjects like perception, memory, sleep and
Works on Ethics and Politics
Politics (collection of constitution of 158 states)
Works on Aesthetics, History, and
All these works may not have been
written by Aristotle himself as F. Copleston make us believe, but they may have
been initiated by him and done under his supervision.
Having listed Aristotle’s works, in
this long essay, we hope to focus more on his Ethics. Let us briefly see his
1.4 ARISTOTLE’S ETHICS
Ethics as defined by William Lillie
a normative science of the conduct of human beings
living in societies- a science which judges this conduct to be right or wrong,
to be good or bad, or in some similar way.
This explains why Aristotle started
his ethics by giving an account of rational agents, choice, deliberation and
action. Ethics is concerned with the praiseworthy and blameworthy actions and
states of character of rational agents; that is why virtues (praiseworthy
states) and vices (blameworthy states), come in.
Aristotle’s ethical theory is said to
be mostly contained in three treatises: The
Magna Moralia, the Eudemian Ethics and the Nicomachean Ethics. The name
Eudemian Ethics was coined from the name Eudemus (a member of the Lyceum) and
the name Nicomachean Ethics was coined from Nicomachus (son of Aristotle and
Aristotle conceives ‘ethics’ as a
part of political science; he treats the Nicomachean Ethics and the politics as
parts of a single inquiry .His ethical thought is teleological. No wonder he
begins his Nicomachean Ethics with the statement:
Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every
action and choice is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good
has rightly been declared to be that which all things aim.
His ethics in particular seeks to
discover the good both for the individual and the community. We see this in his
For even if the end is the same for a single man and
for a state, that of the state seems at all events something greater…for one
man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or for a city
In order to discover this good, he
begins with an examination of Happiness. Aristotle chooses to start his ethical
theory with happiness because in his view, rational agents necessarily choose
and deliberate with a view to their ultimate good, which is happiness; it is
the end we want for its own sake, and the sake for which we want other things.
In what follows, Aristotle tries to find a more definite account of the nature
of this ultimate goal of man.
This study hopes to give a good
account of how Aristotle described this ultimate goal and complete end of man.
Thus, our next chapter will do justice to “HAPPINESS” carefully parading the
views of different philosophers on what happiness is all about. We shall end it
with what Aristotle, who is the main concern of this study, has to say about
happiness and how it can be attained.