Aristotle's Rejection Of Pleasure In Nicomachean Ethics

In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, a series of different ideas contributing to morals and ethics that relate to the ultimate good of human life were discussed. Aristotle breaks the idea of happiness into three major components, pleasure, wealth, and honor. Having said that, the idea of happiness constantly changes for an individual in certain situations. “Indeed, the same person often changes his mind; for when he has fallen ill, he thinks happiness is health, and when he has fallen into poverty, he thinks it is wealth.” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, 3) Aristotle describes the nature of pleasure as a need you want to be fulfilled. If you are hunger you will experience pleasure when you eat because pleasure is a way to correct pain, otherwise referred to as a deficiency.

As we live life, we make decisions and act for a purpose. Each action has a different purpose whether it is for the sake of doing that action, or to complete the action to move forward for a different motive the bigger picture. Aristotle states that some actions are ends in themselves, meaning they are done for one’s self and leads to no further happiness, while some actions do have further ends. This idea of further means helps the development of character and progress towards who you are and what makes you happy. While one decision, good or bad does not define an individual, actions develop your character. “Our decisions to do good and bad actions, not our beliefs, form the characters we have.” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book III)

In simple terms, Book I: Happiness expresses each person lives their life with a purpose. A person grows up with the idea of having a goal that they set for themselves to achieve. The pressure and expectation of knowing what your goals for next two or three decades into the future is often placed upon us through our families, friends, and society. In many cases we are frequently asked “what's your plan for the future?”, “what do you want to be?” However, children, teenagers, and young adults are rarely ever asked the question “are you happy?” Perhaps, this is because no one truly understands happiness. As we mature, our priorities and habits change. In different stages of life different achievements and successes can bring a person happiness. For example, the same joy of being fed a bottle of milk as a baby, is not achieved once you are an adult. This brings to the table, the concept of happiness. The definition of happiness is not the same for everyone. One person's happiness or means of happiness does not necessarily need to be the same for another. Aristotle embodies the idea that happiness is the central purpose and highest end to life.

Some of the weaknesses of Aristotle's argument would be the lack of taking other factors into consideration. While I agree with Aristotle on the understanding of happiness, I do not think it applies to every person. When Aristotle mentions happiness, he focuses the topic on materialistic people and ideas. He does not consider the happiness derived from making others happy, a feeling that is found through another person’s joy and gratitude. Additionally, honor is for one’s self and is achieved through the recognition of others. Happiness does not always need to be found by the means of gaining something. There is sacrificial happiness, losing something not for gaining something in return, but for the act of being selfless. In modern times an individual with knowledge can easily apply this to help others for no gain. For instance, a doctor who provides treatments for no cost, or a lawyer who fights a case, pro bono for someone who does not have the money to afford a lawyer. If this idea was discussed as a form of happiness, I feel that Aristotle would have given a very inclusive argument for the purpose of life.

Aristotle tells us the highest form of pleasure is contemplation. Contemplation is an activity an individual can perform by oneself or with others. However, it is better achieved when among those with who possess the virtue you thrive towards. Aristotle says to become more virtuous you must be around virtuous people and to contemplate you should discuss with others. Although, I did not feel that Aristotle covered the topic completely, he had a very strong argument that made me reconsider how I interpreted happiness. Aristotle's theory was justified as it was straight to the point, discussing relevant topics.

The following ideas made me think of different actions I have seen people around me take. I was reminded of all the times I felt empty, unhappy, and confused. I was trapped in the idea of happiness and the confusion of whether I was doing things to make myself happy, others happy, or to be able to invest in my future. When discussing the idea of happiness, I found myself unable to determine where I see happiness. Pleasure, wealth, and honor are very different forms of happiness. In order to figure out where I saw myself feeling happiest, I remembered different times where I was happy in all three of the components. Pleasure, being actions done for myself. A hedonistic person is so one who chases one pleasure after another. In an extreme sense the modern hedonistic person is someone who chases indulgences. An example of a modern hedonistic person is seeking pleasure through indulgent food to fulfil a desire. I contemplated on the idea just to realize that I am not a hedonistic person.

Wealth, meaning money is the mean to an end. While I do believe that money gives you the choice to be happy or sad in a more extravagant manner, it is not what makes me happy. When one is sad, by having money they can afford to comfort themselves better than one who is sad but does not have money, the same applies vice versa. However, the presence of money never made me feel content. I have lived a life in which I have dealt with the presence and absence of wealth, yet neither was a time where I was content.

Honor, the need of recognition from others. Quite honestly, I have tried the absence and presence of honor as well, and this did not make me happy either. This led to a lot of self-reflection and internal questioning, to comprehend what exactly makes me happy.

“Happiness above all seems to be of this character, for we always choose it on account of itself and never on account of something else. Yet honor, pleasure, intellect, and every virtue we choose on their own account...but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, because we suppose that, through them, we will be happy.” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, 7)

If Aristotle were to respond to my concerns, he would introduce me to the idea of eudaimonia. He would explain to me that everyone is different, and that there is no way of setting limits upon what is good or bad. Aristotle states, “it is clear that the good cannot be some common and single universal; for if it were, it would be spoken of in only one prediction, not in them all” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, 5) Each person sets the range of what makes them happy and what is right or wrong. He would tell me to find my happiness, because that is the purpose of life.

The concept of happiness and the path to obtained is different for each person. Aristotle discussed the differences between animals, plants, and humans. “For living is apparently shared with plants… we should set aside the life of nutrition and growth. Some sort of life of sense perception; but this too is apparently shared with horse, ox, and every animal. We have found, then, that the human function is activity of the soul in accord with reason or requiring reason.” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, 8-9) The main difference being that humans can reason and choose to be rational. While this is true, another concept to understand is that each human has their own definition of what is right or wrong, good or bad. Therefore, I knew that I could not try to compare myself to others, in order to figure out what makes me happy. I do not see myself enjoying a slavish, wealthy, or honor seeking life. After self-reflecting the idea that Aristotle mentions, eudaimonia was the best possible answer to my conflict. Aristotle argues that even though each person is different, we must individually achieve eudaimonia. By individually being the best, you possibly can be, human flourishing occurs. Through eudaimonia we can work towards the highest good.

In conclusion, Aristotle dismisses pleasure as the ultimate form of happiness because logically, humans are superior to animals and animals are driven towards pleasure. The concepts of happiness that Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics presented were ones that make a person consider all their decisions and ways to feel happy. As a reader, I related to the components of happiness Aristotle discusses. I have seen different people find happiness in each of those categories. Some people are driven through wealth, some honor, and some for pleasure. Yet we all are looking for the same end, happiness. Aristotle conveys his ideas by allowing his readers to relate to their own lives. Through the arts, sciences, and crafts, we build to the end. “Happiness, then, is apparently something complete and self-sufficient, since it is the end of the things achievable in action.” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, 8) Aristotle states that the end is happiness. I relate and agree to the idea of happiness ultimately leading to the end. Through virtues and vices whether it is an excess or deficiency, we can flourish by being the best version of ourselves. Depending on the person, the situation and solution will always be different. Each person is different and that is what Aristotle tries to show his readers. What is right for one individual does not need to be right for another. While Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics was written around 340 BC, the ideas are still relevant to this day. This shows that even though times are constantly changing, and society continues to evolve, we are all still thriving for the same end, happiness.              

16 December 2021
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