Admittedly, there are few authors wherein I feel grossly under-prepared. But, heck, lets get into it anyway, it would be unreasonable not to at this point.
As many of you know, I got myself pretty ramped up for Socrates and his Republic. What can I say, it was a first read. But this voyage into the philosophic lead me to wonder what else there was to explore. As it just so happened, I came across a true titan of philosophy: Aristotle.
It is worth mentioning that this is not the first time I have read Aristotle’s Ethics. The first time was when I was a younger man, fresh out of high school and seeking truth wherever I could find it. As it so happens that Aristotle’s Ethics are widely available through places like archive.org and sacred-texts.com, I was grateful to have found a copy as a young man. As it was that I didn’t have a smart phone at the time (they weren’t even a thing), and carrying a laptop around was way to heavy to be considered, I used the printer at my job at that time (bank teller) to print off the Nichomachen Ethics. While I can rightly say that I didn’t really understand much of what I read at the time, it wasn’t until I was in college that I found myself more interested in his works again.
While I was in college, there were many things that were going on in my life. Drugs, girls, parties, classes, homework and employment. It was a barrage of distraction and responsibility all at once. When I came across the Ethics for a second time as a college student, I can say that I was much more moved by some the things that I read. Most particularly his words about friends, pleasure and love. But most of it really didn’t stick, and I think I was too busy being enveloped in hedonistic living to really allow it to sink it.
Now, I can guarantee you that there are few authors who have fully explored their world with the scope of their minds as Aristotle has. With superior focus of mind and exceptional nuance, Aristotle is able to work his way through a conversation about what is the ultimate aim of life and how best to pursue it, this is what Ethics is about after all.
As you might have guessed from the title of this post that Happiness is the ultimate aim of all of man’s actions. More than wisdom, or honor, or duty, or truth; man is a practical animal who yearns for his cherished happiness.
From the get go I can tell that you are thinking, well happiness is different for everybody, how could Aristotle accurately depict a path to get to happiness? Well, I am so glad asked because you see, pleasure is not the same as happiness. In fact, Aristotle takes a considerable amount of time to show his readers what he means by happiness, and it is most certainly not the same as pleasure.
You see, for Aristotle, the object of happiness can be found in the sum total of life. No, it isn’t like you are going to be happy at the end of your life, rewarded for all your righteous actions. Happiness is something that is said of the entirety of someone’s life, as if to say that their life is being well lived. With that, one needs to understand that someone who is pursuing pleasure all of the time may seemingly live a happy moment here and there, but being driven by the winds of pleasure-seeking will drive a person to such extremes that their wiles will be anything other than reasonable.
Happiness, in the eyes of Aristotle, is something that is found between the extremes of life, in the means to be specific. He would argue that a reasonable life is a happy one. An unreasonable life is a miserable life. And there is no better way of expressing it than this: when you do unreasonable things or unreasonable actions, do you anticipate that you will receive reasonable returns or rewards? We’ve all heard the phrase, risk it for the biscuit – but is this sentiment simply a pass at being foolhardy, or the opposite of cowardly, and anything but courageous? I would argue that a courageous person would say something like strike when it is right.
But hey, you didn’t come here to learn about extremes and means, and pleasure isn’t happiness. Did you? You came here for some kind of list that said: ten ways to be happier… or something like that. Well, I could do that for you, if you really needed it. But I doubt that. And my reasoning is that Happiness cannot be found in some list that says follow steps one through three, and number seven will blow you away! No, Happiness is something that you must contemplate on. You must reflect deeply and use the divine gift of reason inside of you to determine how best to proceed forward in your day to day actions. Not living in the extremes, but finding the accurate means necessary to live a well lived life.
Now if you are still wondering something like, but Alixander, how do I contemplate life, well… why don’t you take up the work of reading Aristotle’s Ethics and learn for yourself. I can assure you that a well contemplated life is one worth living, and if you will take the time to think about what would be reasonable for you to do to make your life a happy one, instead of me, you will achieve results that would make mere mortals jealous beyond belief.