I find that I’ve been thinking about happiness more and more recently. It’s probably only because it’s what we’re discussing in ethics class right now, maybe it’s because I’m just in an introspective phase. I don’t really know, and really it doesn’t much matter as I’ve thought about it regardless. My ethics teacher likes to define happiness in the manner it is had been articulated via the works of the ancient Greeks, most importantly, of course, Aristotle. Now I’m not fond of Aristotle for a number of reasons. Smart as have may have been, and boundless contributions to human knowledge as he may have spoken of, a lot of his ideas were poorly constructed. For instance, he, while really enacting the beginnings of early animal phylogenies and taxonomies, had believed that animals did not evolve in any way and that each existed in a perpetually fixed form. Of course being that he acknowledged that the universe must have at one point begun, this brings to light a logical issue regarding the coming into being of animals. Being itself is another thing I really hate about Aristotle, and metaphysics in general. It’s all so contingent: you cannot define being without first acknowledging self-awareness of being, as all constructs of “being” can only be understood in the context of human reason. For instance, saying that a bench is a bench because of its inherent qualities means that we must first assume that the qualities can be acknowledged. If there is no mind to acknowledge the qualities, then the entire concept of being in such a manner may as well not even exist at all. It is the contingency with which such concepts exist that undermines the totality of the discipline of Metaphysics as a whole. If an entire system of thought and means of understanding the world is contingent upon the faculties of man as opposed to being autonomous and objective realities, then what good, truly, can such philosophies do? Of course this is not to say that Metaphysics is a “hack” philosophy, nor is it to say that the philosophy in and of itself is a waste of time. I myself do not have full understanding of it and thus I cannot make true objective statement regarding it but, given that it has been presented to me in a manner that the curricula of my school see fit, I feel that such authority over the knowledge I do have is, in part, able to produce such ideas.
The concept of Aristotelian happiness was provided to me in this manner: Man is truly happy when he reaches his fulfillment, which (being that my teacher has a Christian bent) often involves adherence to the divine will. Or, in other words, “According to Aristotle, happiness consists in achieving, through the course of a whole lifetime, all the goods — health, wealth, knowledge, friends, etc. — that lead to the perfection of human nature and to the enrichment of human life.” (pursuit-of-happiness.org) But such a definition has a lot of issues, because of Aristotle’s metaphysics. His ideal of the metaphysical denotes that certain things make for objectives, or absolutes. Certain things, to the Aristotelian, are absolutely good, definitively good, and objectively good, while others are respectively bad. The issue here arises because of the fact that metaphysics are a contingency that require conceptualization through the human mind. Thus, it would be impossible to draw objectivity out of a subjective means. Health, for instance, cannot be known to be good on the whole for each and every particular person. As an example: Let us suppose that the neurochemistry of a particular individual facilitates in them a disposition towards gluttony. They are most fulfilled when they enjoy those foods that, well, they most enjoy. Now suppose over a lifetime this has resulted in morbid obesity in the individual, yet to this individual happiness has resulted from consumption. Health, in this individual’s case, may not be “a good” as a result of the fact that being thin, and healthy would denote that the individual, whose predisposition is towards food, is not able to fully attain contentment from that which their brain chemistry possess them to attain contentment from. Therefore, to this individual, how can “health” be labeled as a good when it most certainly does not bring about good in terms of how such health impacts them personally?
Of course, the argument can be made that the ultimate good is the sustenance of life as I have previously argued. In such a way “health” may be considered the ultimate good, but I think a key distinction must be made from an ultimate good and what I would deem “real” good. This is real as in having an impact on the individual in an actual, real sense. Ultimate goods are real goods, but only in the sense that they will ultimately bring about the real good of longevity in the person during the later years of their life. Longevity, perhaps, is the only real good that too is ultimate and objective as it ties back into the greatest good, the sustenance of life. In terms of ultimate goods, then, all goods may be articulated in relation to how they make manifest life sustenance, and rightly so. However, to base all realities upon those things that are ultimate leads to a great issue: not all ultimate goods have real counterparts, the health example articulating what I mean. The real good of pleasure brings about happiness to the individual in question and thus, to the individual, such pleasure may be an ultimate good. Subjective in its ultimate nature, yes, but even so the individual’s personal experience mitigates such a good. How exactly may we call the sustenance of life in the case of the obese individual a good when in fact it may bring about negative emotion in the individual, meaning any good to such an individual may either be diminished or non-existent.
Therefore, to the individual, what worth is the ultimate good if it does not facilitate any real or tangible good? Why may we hold such a good, the sustenance of life, in such high regard if the real world consequences of such a good may be negative to the individual? In order that one may be happy, a real good must be accessed, always. It is these real and tangible goods that make manifest happiness cognitively and, as a result, to ignore such goods would be to create the issue discussed earlier. One cannot simply exert all forces of life towards attaining the ultimate good, as living life strictly by absolutes without anything real will result in pain. It is this issue that I truly take with objectivity in morality and in the nature of what may be good. To say that something is absolutely good, without even considering the contingency issue, is to say that is good in all circumstances and all times, when this most certainly is not the case. I can demonstrate this with the good of friends: suppose an individual doesn’t want friends or is highly introverted. The real good of single living brings this person happiness, while the ultimate good is not fulfilled, as dying single does not perpetuate life.
So the question then really is, what do I mean by happiness? I suppose I mean that happiness is a personal reality, a state of being truly. It, in it’s purest form, is the coming together of the real and ultimate goods for not only the satisfaction of the individual, but also the fulfillment of the reason we exist, the sustenance of life. The real goods, pleasures really, must be present in order that we fulfill those desires of our minds. But really, the fulfillment of such desire may be the totality of happiness in and of itself as it is the brain and the real, physical structure and nature of it that demands that we take part in our desire.
I could then question why one should not simply seek pleasure all of the time, the reason for which is the longevity with which such fulfillment may come about. If I spent my time doing those things that I desired all of the time, I would ultimately lack things like a sustainable income, housing, clothing, etc, etc. There is necessary, at any given time, some concession towards the ultimate end of sustaining one’s own life if one wishes for longevity and for the accomplishment of the ultimate good. To the contrary, to be consistently and completely in pursuit of the ultimate good without conscious effort to fulfill the desires of the self also causes issue, as real goods are not to be found. It is for this reason that happiness is dependent upon each individual, and is not objective in any manner. The sustenance of the ultimate good is the goal that all should have morally, but when the ultimate good cannot sustain any real good in a particular individual, there is no good reason for which the individual should even make an effort towards attaining the ultimate good. It is by the individual will that man may determine happiness for himself through the impact of such goods.
To me, that’s happiness.