Concerning Happiness

November 18, 2008

What is happiness?

1. It seems that happiness is pleasure, for happiness is the end of all men, and all men pursue pleasure, according to their separate definition.
2. It seems that happiness is wealth, for happiness is an action, and the wealthy man possesses more tools to aid his action.
3. It seems that happiness is the prosperity of good, for all men desire that what they consider good prospers.
4. It seems that happiness is the success of one’s actions, for all men desire that their actions achieve their goal.

On the other hand, many who pursue pleasure and possess wealth are not happy, so happiness is neither of these things. Furthermore, the prosperity of good and the success of one’s actions do not lie wholly within one’s own powers, and so if happiness is either of those, happiness would be a condition. But happiness is an action, as is proven elsewhere. Therefore, happiness is neither the prosperity of good nor the success of one’s actions.

Rather, since happiness is a proper end, it must be the pursuit of good, not of pleasure. And since happiness lies within one’s own power, it must be the pursuit of pleasure only insofar as it lies within one’s power. And since happiness cannot rely on unknowable information regarding the future and conditions external to one’s actions, happiness must be not the pursuit of good with respect to what one knows after the action, but that before. Thus, happiness is the pursuit of good insofar as one is able with respect to information contemporaneous to the action.

Hence:
1. Happiness is the end of all men, but only the prudent choose suitable means toward their end. Thus, happiness is only the pursuit of pleasure for the prudent man.
2. Not all sources and uses of wealth are good. Thus, happiness is only wealth insofar as wealth is acquired and used rightly. Furthermore, some have greater means of acquiring wealth than others, which fact cannot hinder the latter’s ability to pursue happiness. Thus, happiness is in no case wealth absolutely, but rather the right use of opportunities for wealth.
3. All men ought to wish that good prospers, but while to fail to do this would be an inhuman withholding of moral judgement, to bind one’s happiness to that which is not within one’s control is foolish. The expression of contentment of the wise man is not “That which I have loved has prospered”, but rather “I myself have acted justly”.
4. Many actions, well intentioned and well planned, go astray. Thus, were happiness bound to the success of one’s actions, the fool who acted imprudently yet succeeded would have a greater claim to happiness than the prudent man whose well-laid plans went astray for reasons outside his knowledge and control. When the wise man says “I have done well”, he means not that his actions have succeeded, but that, if he faces an identical situation, with the same knowledge, he would act the same.

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