Non-Muslim and non-Iranian philosophers - Part II
A look at the evolution of the meaning of the term "happiness" in Western intellectual history puts these questions in a helpful, broader perspective. Happiness was originally understood as a product of chance. Etymologically, the English word derived from the Old Norse happ, which means "luck" or "fortune." This etymological connection between happiness and luck occurs in virtually every indo-European Language (McMahon 2006, cited in Lachs &;Talisse, 2008 ).
Socrates and subsequent ancient philosophers argued that happiness is at least partly a function of human choice. By volitionally cultivating virtue, we can develop a character that is more conducive to happiness. The cultivation of virtue requires the development of good habits of thought and action.
With the rise of Christianity, the emphasis remained on the cultivation of virtue, but the means for its cultivation and its expected results changed tremendously. For Christians, Virtue was something that could be achieved only with divine help. And a virtuous life was no guarantee of earthly happiness, but rather a pathway to happiness in the after life.
It was in the modern period that happiness was seemed not as a function of chance or as a reward for the arduous few, but as a birthright for all. With unprecedented advances in science, technology, and medicine, it seemed that the causes of human unhappiness could be eradicated and that each person would be able to pursue happiness in their own way.
The two most influential types of theories of happiness in philosophy and the social sciences today are hedonic theories and eudemonic theories for hedonic theorists; happiness is a function of the way we feel in each moment of our lives. The psychological researcher Edward Diener, for sample, defines happiness as "subjective well-being" which he operationalizes in terms of high positive affect, low negative affect, and high life satisfaction. In other words, the more pleasant emotions you have, the fewer unpleasant emotions you have, and the more satisfied you are with life, the happier you are. On this definition of happiness, empirical research indicates that most people are, in fact, happy, and that it is possible to become sustainably happier.
For eudaimonic theorists, happiness is more than a function of subjective states. Following Aristotle (whose term eudemonia means "happiness" or "human flourishing"), these theorists argue that happiness requires certain objective conditions of wealth, friendship, physical attractiveness, high social status, and good children. For the contemporary philosopher Martha Nussbaum, the list necessary for happiness includes, among other things, living a normal life span, enjoying good physical health, experiencing normal human emotions, and having control over one's environment.
While Thomas Jefferson and the signers of the Declaration of Independence may be correct that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human right, happiness itself seems very difficult to define, and even harder to achieve. Modern optimism about the achievement of happiness has been difficult to sustain, given the intractability of certain diseases, the frequency of natural catastrophes, and perhaps most of all, the high degree of misery humans continue to visit on each other. John Dewey criticized hedonic theories of happiness on the grounds that growth sometimes requires unpleasant choices. He would argue that those who live their lives in the quest for good feelings actually stunt their own growth.
It is good for these and similar critiques to temper naïve optimism about the achievability of happiness and to clear the ground for the hard work of realistic progress. Current Scientific study of well-being and human flourishing may not be able to guarantee everyone immediate happiness, but it may help us learn how to become more effective in its pursuit (Powelski; cited in Laches & Talisse, 2008). Socrates was of the opinion that money and power were not bad in themselves, thus the wealthy might have been admirable if they had earned money virtuously (De Batton, 1969).
Socrates believed that happiness was acquired through doing virtuous deeds (De Batton, 1969).
If other thinkers had preceded Socrates with moral and social criticism, he was certainly the first to challenge his fellows on an individual basis with maxim that "the unexamined life is not worth living" (Ap. 38a). Socrates believes that this is the condition of all human beings - as such they are neither good nor bad, but owing to their needy nature all have a desire for the good and the beautiful, the possession of which would be happiness for them. Because all people want happiness, they all pursue the beautiful to the best of their ability (205a - 206 b). In each case, they desire the particular kinds of objects they take to provide the fulfillment of their needs.
He admits the explanation of the refinement and sublimation that a person experiences by recognizing higher and higher kinds of beauty (210 a - 212 a). Starting with the love of one beautiful body, the individual gradually learns to appreciate not only all physical beauty, but also the beauty of the mind, and in the end it gets a glimpse of the supreme kind of beauty, the From of the beautiful itself, a beauty that is neither relative nor a matter of degree. Suffice it to say that the elevation to a place 'beyond the heavens', where the best souls get a glimpse of true being, symbolize the mind's access to the Form, including the nature of the virtue (247c-e). Depending on the quality of each human soul, an individual will live either a carnal, earthy life and lose its wings, or it will live a spiritual, philosophical life in pursuit of beauty. In each case, the quality of the beauty pursued will also determine the cycle of reincarnations that is at store for each soul (248c-249c) (quoted from Frede, 2003).
Socrates says that happiness is in a life in which pleasure and knowledge are combined with each other. Reaching such happiness requires striving and endeavor. Those who reach this happiness are really prosperous. Socrates believes that happiness is obtained through preventing carnal desires. The happiness of each individual is acquired through the society's happiness (Forughi, 1997).
Socrates found out that mankind's happiness is in self-recognition and nurturing one's spirit and soul. Moreover, He believed that acquisition of knowledge, piety and virtue was the origin of happiness.
Socrates admitted that our true happiness is promoted by doing what is right. When our true utility is served (tending our soul), we are achieving happiness. Happiness is evident from the long- term effect on the soul.
Socrates anticipates Thoreau in arguing that the "unexamined life is not worth living". For Socrates, this meant that happiness and moral living were linked to each other. While we are pursuing virtue, we are in fact pursuing happiness, since to be virtuous is also to be happy. Socrates makes it seem both very appealing and quite possible that there is a relationship between human virtue and human happiness. For Socrates, happiness is truly possible only when the soul has been perfected, and so all but the most virtuous are denied happiness.
Like all ancient philosophers, Plato maintains a virtue-based eudemonistic ethics. That is to say, human well-being (eudaimonia) is the highest aim of thought and conduct, the virtues (aréte = 'excellence') are the requisite skills and character - traits (Frede, 2003).
Plato and Aristotle believed that a happy man is the one who is able to think. Thinking is the highest man's function. A thoughtful person is less dependent on the external and outer conditions. His happiness is inside him. It means that he is dependent upon his inner conditions or powers, while a seeker of fame or wealth is seeking that which is affected by external conditions; this is a fleeting happiness. Therefore, satisfying fleeting feelings is pleasure and not happiness. Happiness is not an imaginary or emotional state. It is a fundamental bond which encompasses all man's attachments, dependencies or interests. In other words, the real happiness of man is in actualizing of his particular perfection. This rarely obtained man's happiness is actualizing his potential aptitudes (Rendel & Bakler 1996). Plato's ethics is based on man's happiness that is to actualize the man's highest virtue. It can be said that this virtue is the real development of man's personality. When the man's soul is in a state, which it should be, man is happy (Copleston, 1989).
Plato considers happiness as the highest virtue, and believes that reaching the virtue is the results of acquiring knowledge and episteme. Plato considers happiness as the pure and real pleasure that has a spiritual aspect (Naqib zadeh 1993).
The man's highest virtue, i.e. happiness, includes the knowledge and recognition of God. A man who does not know the divine aspect of the being cannot be happy.
Plato has allocated the part twelve of his "republic" to "happiness and unhappiness". He believes in this regard that happiness is circumscribed by a number of properties -freedom, lack of need, and lack of fear (Pojman, 2003). He adds (in the Republic) that the worst person is also the unhappiest person. Since morality is the rule of the rational mind, then a moral life is far happiness and more desirable.
In the tradition of Aristotle, happiness is broadly understood as something like well-being and has been viewed, not implausibly, as a kind of natural end of all human activities. Happiness in this sense is broader than pleasure, insofar as the latter designates a particular kind of feeling, whereas well-being does not. Attributions of happiness, moreover, appear to be normative in a way in which attributions of pleasure are not. It is thought that a truly happy person has achieved, is achieving, or stands to achieve certain things respecting the "truly important" concerns of human life. Of course, such achievements will characteristically involve states of active enjoyment of activities - where, as Aristotle first pointed out, there are no distinctive feelings of pleasure apart from the doing of the activity itself (Audi, 2001).
Aristotle considers the happy life as the good life for man. He says that happiness is the soul's activity in accordance with complete virtue (Popkin & Stroll, 1995).
Since the most distinguished property of man is his power of thought, the more this power is increased the higher he will be. Therefore, the intellectual life is the basic provision of happiness (Durant, 1983).
Happiness is the very virtue that is obtained through intellection. Happiness can be the acquired morality based on moderation (Kardan, 2002).
Aristotle believes that the origin and essence of happiness is the complete knowledge and spirit purity (Durant, 1983). One of the requisites of virtue is that one enjoys those things he should do and hates those things he should not do. "Friendship" and having good friends can help humans achieve to happiness but an average wealth along with a behavior based on virtues is sufficient (Koshentzo, 1998). Man can reach the highest rates of pleasure following his intellect.
Adapted from the book: "Foundations of Happiness"
Share this article