|Type of paper:||Essay|
|Categories:||Politics Happiness Philosophers Ethical dilemma|
Aristotle's works on ethics and politics have been a matter of debate for the last millennium. These works have been the springboard for the consideration of some of the most pertinent ethical and moral problems and dilemmas. While some of the arguments in these works have drawn skepticism, the questions presented remain as relevant in modern times as the Hellenistic period (de Lara et al. 63). The relationship between happiness and politics, according to the Aristotelian school of thought, is neither clear nor obvious (Malcolm 3). As a result of the existing inconsistencies, different interpretations of the Aristotelian relationship connection between happiness and politics have emerged. With the help of both primary and secondary sources, this paper seeks to reconcile the differences in viewpoints to provide an accurate interpretation. Some of the accomplished and widely accepted Aristotelian interpretations, such as the works of Malcolm Schofield, will be instrumental in this discussion. The paper begins with elaborating on some of the fundamental elements of Aristotle's arguments, which constitute the main line of argument, before pinpointing the strengths and weaknesses of the interpretations. Equally important, this paper details my point of view regarding the connection between politics and happiness in Aristotle's works.
Happiness is an integral part of Aristotelian ethics. The sole role of ethics, according to Aristotle, is to provide human life with an ultimate purpose, which highlights the Aristotelian teleological emphasis. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle describes ethics as "all actions and undertakings that seem to seek some good." Ethics is categorized under practical sciences since its primary purpose is for application or practice rather than for the sake of knowledge. Aristotle's stance on ethics demonstrate a proper practical investigation, and a close touch with the day-to-day experiences and common opinion. People are right in their affirmation that all actions of man are in the pursuit of at least some good. However, if all the possible goods that one can pursue are endless, then what is the "topmost of all achievable goods"? The answer to that ethical question, according to Aristotelian thinking, is "happiness." Happiness is the ultimate form of good that an individual can achieve since all other possible goods are intermediate in nature, while happiness is final (Nichomachean Ethics 83). While people pursue other goods to find some happiness, happiness is valuable in itself and thus supersedes all other goods. We are all aiming for happiness; it is something ingrained in human nature. Even when people engage in politics, their sole desire is to use politics as a means of happiness. In this sense, politics and human happiness are intertwined. However, the connection between happiness and politics is neither straightforward nor implicit - it demands an in-depth understanding of the basic tenets of Aristotle's political-philosophical approach.
The Aristotelian approach to politics is deeply rooted in the philosophy of nature. Aristotle proposes that all the laws that govern natural phenomena also extend to the social world of human beings. The opening of Aristotle's politics makes two crucial propositions that are pivotal to the philosophical approach to politics. First and foremost, the polis city is a creation of nature and thus exists as a natural phenomenon. In the second place, Aristotle claims that man is a political animal (Politics 2). These two propositions are vital in understanding the Aristotelian connection between happiness and politics. The first proposition implies that the polis or the city exists as a natural phenomenon, thus functions according to natural laws. The second proposition suggests that human beings are members of a species that is naturally adapted to habiting within such a natural environment. Within a natural setting, each single entity has a defined function. All entities in the natural world have a distinctive set of characteristics that make up their respective identities (Nichomachean Ethics). It is these set of natural properties that gives a natural being a sense of purpose. Through acting or functioning in accordance with these natural properties, an entity is fulfilling the purpose of its creation (Burger 7). The same law applies to artificial creation. Biological essentialism is the belief that the characteristics of a biological being are innate and a prerequisite for its identity and function (Malcolm 7)). The natural essence of a human being lies in our reasoning and intelligence. Human intelligence is the most distinctive characteristic that sets humans apart from the rest of other creatures. As Aristotle puts it, "we do not roar or kill like the animals of the jungle," instead, "we are engaged in an activity of the soul in accordance with reason." (Nichomachean Ethics) In other words, Aristotle argued that reasoning is critical to a human's purpose in life.
The biological essence of the human species is to engage in the activity of the soul in accordance with reason. It is the natural characteristic that marks out human beings from the rest of creation. In fulfilling this function, or perfecting this biological task of reasoning, it is like we have an end goal or a target that is the driving force, what is it that we are aiming for? All human beings are striving for happiness. The biological essence of us humans is to live in accordance with reason, and in the process, achieve happiness (Everson 15). Thus, when people participate in politics, it is because we are aiming for happiness. A rational life, being the distinctive or characteristic activity of humans, constitutes the activity of the soul in accordance with reason (Malcolm 30). This implies that a good person should exemplify a rational life most nobly to count as good. Human good, as such, centers on virtue. According to Aristotle, happiness is a consequence of fulfilling one's task, which is to be a good person (Nichomachean Ethics). However, achieving happiness does not happen instantaneously. One cannot achieve happiness by practicing great rational tasks well over a short period. Therefore, the pursuit of happiness is a lifelong process that demands the strength of character to keep doing good, being virtuous, and being rational over a prolonged period (Everson 24). Where an ideal life is that which upholds the highest level of reason and virtue, then the devotion of an individual or individual to the highest level of virtue for the entire polis is the highest level of politics. In a nutshell, politics aim to pursue the happiness of people living in a society.
Politics is based on human relationships. Aristotle uses two types of relationships to develop a sociological model. The first form of relationship is the male-female relations for reproduction. It characterizes the most primitive form of community, which is the household (de Lara et al. 63). This form of relationship, though crucial for the reproduction of the human species, is taken for granted from a political perspective (Malcolm 38). The most social unit, according to Aristotle, is the village, which comprises several households that form a permanent association (Sebell 88). The village confers a collective effort that enables the households to fulfill the essential and natural human needs such as food, protection, education, and sexual reproduction (Everson 16). Social life is in a state of a natural progression from primitive nomadic tribal organizations to more complex social units (Mara 400). The polis represents the most advanced social unit, wherein several villages come together to form a single community, large enough to be self-sufficient (The Politics). The most basic advantage of living in because it is self-sufficing; however, it goes beyond that. People do not opt to reside in the polis merely for the sake of its material provisions, although it offers that. Instead, the most significant appeal of the polis comes from its advancement in social interaction, which allows the citizens to acquire and practice virtue, make new friendships, engage in politics, among other needs.
Understanding the point of politics requires us to understand the complex nature of the polis and its impact on an individual. According to Aristotle, once we end up in the complex world of a polis, we become political animals that are naturally adapted to its conditions. The polis is structured in a manner that permits individuals to practice their reasoning capacities and offers them a moral compass (Everson 16). To live a good life in the polis, we need rational thinking, and we also need practical skills to enable use fit in (Sebell 88). Political science is thus concerned with producing citizens that are suited to the environment of the polis. Aristotle argues that the point of politics is to create virtuous individuals (The Politics). Thus, the essence of living in a polis is to horn and develop practical, rational, political life. The Aristotelian stance on polis reflects Plato's idea that no man is an island, that we are social creatures that must co-exist together for our mutual benefit and survival (Mara 391). In other words, Aristotle is implying that social relationships are a prerequisite for a good life. There can be no good life outside the social sphere, as Aristotle posits, "He who is unable to live in a society or has no need for it because he is self-sufficient, must either be a beast or a god." (The Politics 7)
Politics is supposed to confer a good life to the members of a social set-up such as an organization or a polis. In doing so, it provides people with an opportunity to pursue their happiness. Politics demands that a community is optimally organized within a constitutional set-up to offer its members the right framework to develop and practice their reason and judgment (Malcolm 35). In this manner, the politics of the polis is not meant to diminish the freedom of the individual; rather, it enables the individuals to exercise their freedom most constructively. Aristotle emphasizes that it is impossible to live a good life in isolation from one another (The Politics 3). People need a structured social life to fulfill their purpose and attain happiness. Politics ensures that the social life around the polis is structured in a manner that confers to the members a conducive environment (de Lara, Emma, and Rene 63). Laws are given in politics to instruct the masses on what is right, and what is virtuous (Mara 400). Through civic education, the law is meant to shape up the individual into more rational beings with a strong sense of virtue (The Politics). At the same time, the law is intended to compel people who might not be sensible enough to understand the rationality of the law to observe the law. In this manner, politics steer society in the path of virtue in the process, enhancing the happiness of its members.
Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, ed. Roger Crisp (Cambridge: CUP, 2000), Book 5, pp. 81-88 Malcolm Schofield, 'Approaching The Republic' in The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought, ed. Rowe and Schofield (henceforth CHGRPT), (Cambridge: CUP, 200), pp. 217-232
Aristotle, The Politics, in The Politics and The Constitution of Athens, ed. Stephen Everson (Cambridge: CUP, 1996), Bk 1, pp.11-21.
Burger, Ronna. "Aristotle's' Exclusive'Account of Happiness: Contemplative Wisdom as a Guise of the Political Philosopher." The Crossroads of Norm and Nature: Essays on Aristotle's Ethics and Metaphysics, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield (1995): 79-98.
de Lara, Emma Cohen, and Rene Brouwer, eds. Aristotle's Practical Philosophy: On the Relationship between His Ethics and Politics. Springer, 2018.
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