Aristotle & Happiness – Notes

The following consists of some notes from pages 160-164 in Jonathan Lear’s book Aristotle: the desire to understand

Lear points out that Aristotle argues that

(H1) there must be at least one end which is not subordinate to other ends and which we pursue for its own sake.

And that according to Aristotle,

(H2) the highest good ( = chief end) of human action is happiness.

This is all fine but where it gets difficult to understand is Aristotle’s next question. Aristotle asks what exactly happiness is.  He believes that we can arrive at an answer by understanding what is distinctive of human life.  I.e. What makes us different from animals, rocks, etc.? His answer is that we need to take a look at what the function of a man is.

(H3) The function of man/human good is an activity in accordance with virtue ( = a certain arrangement or order in the soul).

“If we accept that Aristotle has already argued that every natural organism has a nature, and that man has a distinct nature, a unique inner principle of change and rest, it follows obviously that man’s function is to live an active life which expresses his nature. The end of human life is for man to realize his form to the fullest possible extent – and this Aristotle has identified with the chief good for man.”  ~ pg. 163


The issue: We cannot deny that Jesus had a meaningful life – His life certainly had meaning. The question is – can one have a meaningful life and be unhappy? On the surface it would seem so. Perhaps I live a life where I work at a refugee camp and tragic happenings are a common occurrence. However helping the needy is meaningful.

Another question: Was Jesus happy in Gethsemane?

Matthew tells us:
“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

~ Matthew 26:36-39

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