Inkanyiso: Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

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Happiness as an end: A critique of Aristotle’s rational eudaemonism

Edward Uzoma Ezedike


This paper examines Aristotle’s concept of happiness as encapsulated in his Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle argues that happiness is the supreme practical good because it is perfect, final, self-sufficing and complete in itself. For him, happiness is simply defined as rational eudaemonism (an activity of the soul according to reason in contrast with mere sensual pleasure). In view of the foregoing, this paper raises the question of whether happiness is actually an end as Aristotle posits. What is happiness and how can we find it? Our objective is to critically evaluate Aristotle’s position on the questions raised here and to see whether we can develop a new moral thesis that can truly reflect our existential realities. Although
Aristotle’s position gives us a moral leap and is quite commendable in its ethicoepistemological profundity, this paper, however, maintains that happiness is an elusive concept. It argues that if at all anything termed happiness exists in this world, it might only be transient, ephemeral and illusory and cannot be seen as an end in the physical absolute terms when viewed from the standpoint of Plato’s metaphysical dualism. The paper also argues that Aristotle did not say enough about what we are supposed to do to attain happiness. He gives detailed descriptions of many of the virtues, moral and intellectual, but with a persistent 'air of indeterminacy'. The paper concludes that moral virtues are a necessary component, but not a sufficient condition for happiness.

Keywords: Happiness, rationality, virtue, means, end

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