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Pursuit of Happyness

essential human right

Happiness and personal growth

were a major purpose of life, and a
central goal of education.
Confucius, Socrates

Educating the mind without

educating the heart is no
education at all.

"life, liberty and estate (property).

John Locke

"life, liberty and pursuit of

Thomas Jefferson

Epicurus was an "egoistic

hedonist" (someone who
championed the pursuit of
personal pleasure)

"happiness is the aim of life.


History of Happiness

pursuit of happiness began in

China, India and Greece nearly
2,500 years ago with Confucius,
Buddha, Socrates, and Aristotle


the unexamined life is not worth


knowing that he knew nothing

happiness is obtainable by
human effort

gaining rational control over your

desires and harmonizing the
different parts of your soul

In doing so would produce a

divine-like state of inner tranquility
that the external world could not

he is the first known figure in the

West to argue that happiness is
actually obtainable through human

Greeks had a rather pessimistic

view of human existence

Happiness was deemed a rare

occurrence and reserved only for
those whom the gods favored

The idea that one could obtain

happiness for oneself was
considered hubris, a kind of
overreaching pride, and was to be
met with harsh punishment.

The key to happiness, is to turn

attention away from the body and
towards the soul.

By harmonizing our desires we

can learn to pacify the mind and
achieve a divine-like state of

Greek philosophy consisted primarily of

metaphysical questions(at that time):
Why does the world stay up?
Is the world composed of one substance
or many substances?

Socrates was more interested in ethical

and social issues:
What is the best way to live?
Why be moral when immoral people
seem to benefit more?
Is happiness satisfying ones desires or is
it virtuous activity?

Socrates himself admits that he is

ignorant, and yet he became the
wisest of all men through this selfknowledge.

Like an empty cup Socrates is open to

receive the waters of knowledge
wherever he may find them; yet through
his cross examinations he finds only
people who claim to be wise but really
know nothing.

The price Socrates paid for his

honest search for truth was death:
he was convicted of corrupting
the youth and sentenced to die by
way of Hemlock poisoning.

Instead of bemoaning his fate or

blaming the gods, Socrates faces
his death with equanimity, even
cheerfully discussing philosophy
with his friends in the moments
before he takes the lethal cup.

he was unafraid to meet death, for

he believed it was the ultimate
release of the soul from the
limitations of the body

In contrast to the prevailing Greek belief that

death is being condemned to Hades, a place
of punishment or wandering aimless ghost-like
existence, Socrates looks forward to a place
where he can continue his questionings and
gain more knowledge.

The Euthydemus
This is the first piece of philosophy in the West to
discuss the concept of happiness, but it is not
merely of historical interest.

Although Socrates didnt write

anything himself, his student Plato
wrote a voluminous number of
dialogues with him as the central

happiness is what all people

desire: since it is always the end
(goal) of our activities, it is an
unconditional good

happiness does not depend on

external things, but rather on how
those things are used

A wise person will use money in the right way

in order to make his life better; an ignorant
person will be wasteful and use money poorly,
ending up even worse than before. Hence we
cannot say that money by itself will make one

Money is a conditional good, only good when

it is in the hands of a wise person. This same
argument can be redeployed for any external
good: any possessions, any qualities, even
good looks or abilities.

A handsome person, for example, can

become vain and manipulative and hence
misuse his physical gifts. Similarly, an
intelligent person can be an even worse
criminal than an unintelligent one.

happiness is not to be found in the goods that

one accumulates, or even the projects that
form the ingredients of ones life, but rather in
the agency of the person himself who gives
her life a direction and focus

The Symposium
This dialogue takes place at a dinner party, and the
topic of happiness is raised when each of the
partygoers takes a turn to deliver a speech in honor
of Eros, the god of love and desire.

The doctor Eryximachus claims that this god above

all others is capable of bringing us happiness, and
the playwright Aristophanes agrees, claiming that
Eros is that helper of mankindwho eliminates
those evils whose cure brings the greatest
happiness to the human race.

For Eryximachus, Eros is that force which gives life

to all things, including human desire, and thus is the
source of all goodness. For Aristophanes, Eros is
the force which seeks to reunite the human being
after its split into male and female opposites.

For Socrates, however, Eros has a darker

side, since as the representation of desire, he
is constantly longing and never completely

Eros is that power of desire which

begins by seeking physical
pleasures, but can be retrained to
pursue the higher things of the

The human being can be educated to move away

from the love of beautiful things which perish to the
pure love of Beauty itself. When this happens, the
soul finds complete satisfaction. Socrates describes
this as a kind of rapture or epiphany, when the
scales falls from ones eyes and one beholds the
truth of ones existence.

The Republic
Socrates wants to prove that the just person is
happier than the unjust person.

all men naturally desire happiness,

then we should all seek to live a
just life.

The first argument Socrates presents concerns the

analogy between health in the body and justice in
the soul.
health is nothing but the harmony among different
parts of the body, each carrying out its proper

Justice, it turns out, is a similar kind of harmony, but

among the different parts of the soul. Injustice on
the other hand is defined as a sort of civil war
between the parts of the soul: a rebellion in which
one rogue elementthe desirous part of our
naturesusurps reason as the controlling power.

In contrast, the just soul is one that possesses

psychic harmony: no matter what life throws
at the just man, he never loses his inner
composure, and can maintain peace and
tranquility despite the harshest of lifes

Socrates effectively redefines the

conventional concept of happiness: it is
defined in terms of internal benefits and
characteristics rather than external ones.

The second argument concerns an analysis of

Socrates wants to show that living a virtuous
life brings greater pleasure than living an
unvirtuous life.

But Socrates wants to show that there are

further considerations to emphasize the higher
pleasures of the just life: not merely peace of
mind, but the excitement of pursuing
knowledge, produces an almost godlike state
in the human being.

Most pleasures are not really

pleasures at all, but merely result
from the absence of pain.

For example, if I am very sick and

suddenly get better, I might call my
new state pleasurable, but only
because it is a relief from my

A few hundred years after Socrates, the

philosopher Epicurus would take up Socrates
argument and make a very interesting
distinction between positive and negative

Positive pleasure depends on pain because it

is nothing but the removal of pain: you are
thirsty so you drink a glass of water to get
some relief. Negative pleasure, however, is
that state of harmony where you no longer
feel any pain and hence no longer need a
positive pleasure to get rid of the pain.

Positive pleasure is always

quantifiable and falls on a scale:
do you have more or less pleasure
from Facebook rather than from

Negative pleasures, however, are

not quantifiable: you cannot ask
how much are you not feeling

Epicurus concludes from this that the true

state of happiness is the state of negative
pleasure, which is basically the state of not
experiencing any unfulfilled desires.


All human beings naturally desire happiness

Happiness is obtainable and teachable

through human effort

Happiness is directive rather than

additive: it depends not on external
goods, but how we use these external
goods (whether wisely or unwisely)

Happiness depends on the education of

desire whereby the soul learns how to
harmonize its desires, redirecting its
gaze away from physical pleasures to the
love of knowledge and virtue

Virtue and Happiness are inextricably

linked, such that it would be impossible
to have one without the other.

The pleasures that result from pursuing

virtue and knowledge are of a higher
quality than the pleasures resulting from
satisfying mere animal desires. Pleasure
is not the goal of existence, however, but
rather an integral aspect of the exercise
of virtue in a fully human life.


He argued that we should only proportion belief to

empirical evidence and logic, and he propounded
the scientific view of atomism, according to which all
facts in the macroscopic world are caused by the
configuration of atoms or indivisible elements in the
microscopic world.

In ethics he is famous for propounding the theory of hedonism,

which holds that pleasure is the only intrinsic value.

there is no reason to fear the gods and that human

beings have complete freedom to choose their own
path in life and to obtain happiness in the here and

Epicurus spent most of his early life on the island of

Samos, an Athenian settlement off the Aegean
peninsula. He studied in Athens and after digesting
the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and Democritus,
he eventually returned there to start his own school,
The Garden, which attracted many adherents.

In ethics he is famous for propounding the theory of

hedonism, which holds that pleasure is the only
intrinsic value.

For Epicurus, the most pleasant life is one where

we abstain from unnecessary desires and achieve
an inner tranquility (ataraxia) by being content with
simple things, and by choosing the pleasure of
philosophical conversation with friends over the
pursuit of physical pleasures like food, drink, and

instead of dwelling on the pain, recollect one of

those moments in the past when you were most

Happiness is Pleasure

that we all desire happiness as an end in itself, and

all other things are desired as a means for
producing happiness

"Pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the

starting point of every choice and of every aversion,
and to it we always come back, inasmuch as we
make feeling the rule by which to judge of every
good thing."

there are two self-imposed beliefs that do the most

to make our lives unhappy or full of pain
first, the belief that we will be punished by the gods
for our bad actions, and second, that death is
something to be feared

Both of these beliefs produce fear and anxiety, and

are completely unnecessary since they are based
on fictions.

Death is meaningless to the living because they

are living, and meaningless to the dead because
they are dead.

Epicurus makes an important distinction between

necessary and unnecessary desires.

Necessary desires are those which are necessary

to produce happiness, such as desiring to get rid of
bodily pain, or desiring a state of inner tranquility.

the end of all our actions is to be free from pain and

fear, and once this is obtained the tempest of the
soul is quelled.

state is ataraxia, which literally means freedom

from worry.

we need wisdom to see which pleasures are really

pleasurable, and which pains are necessary to
produce pleasure

It has been found that income, marriage, good

looks, even winning the lottery only have a small
impact on ones lasting happiness.

the greatest secret to happiness is to be as

independent of external things as possible

Being content with the simple things in life ensures

that you will never be disappointed.

crass hedonism which emphasizes physical

pleasure, and instead claims that the philosophical
pursuit of wisdom with close friends is the greatest
of pleasures

By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in

the body and trouble in the soul.
It is rather sober reasoning, searching out the
grounds of choice and avoidance, and
banishing those beliefs that lead to the tumult
of the soul."

if one practices these precepts, he will become a

god among men, for he will have achieved an
immortal state even whilst in a mortal body

with one who is like minded.

the indispensable value of friendship as a crucial
motivator towards ones own true happiness


1. Happiness is Pleasure; all things are to be done

for the sake of the pleasant feelings associated
with them

2. False beliefs produce unnecessary pain; among

them, that the gods will punish us and that death
is something to be feared

3. There are necessary and unnecessary desires.

Necessary desires, like desiring to be free from
bodily pain, help in producing happiness,
whereas unnecessary desires, like desiring a
bigger car or a more luxurious meal, typically
produce unhappiness

4. The aim is not the positive pursuit of pleasure

but rather the absence of pain, a neutral state he
calls ataraxia, which is freedom from all worry,
often translated simply as inner tranquility.

5. This state of ataraxia can be achieved through

philosophical contemplation rather than through
pursuit of crass physical pleasures

6. Happiness is not a private affair: it can be more

readily achieved in a society where like-minded
individuals band together to help inspire one
anothers pursuit of happiness


one of the greatest thinkers in the history of

western science and philosophy

a student of Plato

The Philosopher

the first to classify areas of human knowledge

into distinct disciplines such as mathematics,
biology, and ethics

the first to devise a formal system for

reasoning, whereby the validity of an
argument is determined by its structure rather
than its content

the founder of the Lyceum, the first scientific

institute, based in Athens, Greece

advocate of a liberal arts education, which

stresses the education of the whole person,
including one's moral character, rather than
merely learning a set of skills

According to Aristotle, this view of education is

necessary if we are to produce a society of
happy as well as productive individuals.

Happiness as the Ultimate Purpose

of Human Existence

"Happiness depends on ourselves."

happiness depends on the cultivation of virtue

Virtue is achieved by maintaining the Mean,

which is the balance between two excesses.

the mean was a method of achieving virtue

One of Aristotle's most influential works is the

Nicomachean Ethics
The key question Aristotle seeks to answer in
these lectures is

"What is the ultimate purpose of human


What is that end or goal for which we should

direct all of our activities?

Aristotle claims that nearly everyone would

agree that happiness is the end which meets
all these requirements.

The Greek word that usually gets translated

as "happiness" is eudaimonia, and like most
translations from ancient languages, this can
be misleading.

For Aristotle, however, happiness is a final

end or goal that encompasses the totality of
one's life.

It is more like the ultimate value of your life as

lived up to this moment, measuring how well
you have lived up to your full potential as a
human being.

"for as it is not one swallow or one fine day

that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a
short time that makes a man blessed and

The Hierarchical View of Nature

In order to explain human happiness, Aristotle

draws on a view of nature he derived from his
biological investigations. If we look at nature,
we notice that there are four different kinds of
things that exist in the world, each one defined
by a different purpose:

Mineral: rocks, metals and other lifeless

The only goal which these things seek is to
come to a rest. They are "beyond stupid"
since they are inanimate objects with no soul

Vegetative: plants and other wildlife.

Here we see a new kind of thing emerge,
something which is alive. Because plants seek
nourishment and growth, they have souls and
can be even said to be satisfied when they
attain these goals

Animal: all the creatures we study as

belonging to the animal kingdom.
Here we see a higher level of life emerge:
animals seek pleasure and reproduction, and
we can talk about a happy or sad dog, for
example, to the extent that they are healthy
and lead a pleasant life

Human: what is it that makes human beings

different from the rest of the animal kingdom?
Aristotle answers: Reason.
Only humans are capable of acting according to
principles, and in so doing taking responsibility for
their choices. We can blame Johnny for stealing the
candy since he knows it is wrong, but we wouldn't
blame an animal since it doesn't know any better.

by reasoning things out we attain our ends,

solve our problems, and hence live a life that
is qualitatively different in kind from plants or

The good for a human is different from the

good for an animal because we have different
capacities or potentialities.

We have a rational capacity and the

exercising of this capacity is thus the
perfecting of our natures as human beings.

For this reason, pleasure alone cannot

constitute human happiness, for pleasure is
what animals seek and human beings have
higher capacities than animals.
The goal is not to annihilate our physical
urges, however, but rather to channel them in
ways that are appropriate to our natures as
rational animals.

happiness turns out to be an activity of the

soul in accordance with virtue

The Pursuit of Happiness

as the Exercise of Virtue

Aristotle tells us that the most important factor

in the effort to achieve happiness is to have a
good moral character what he calls
"complete virtue."

He is happy who lives in accordance with

complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped
with external goods, not for some chance
period but throughout a complete life.

According to Aristotle, happiness consists in

achieving, through the course of a whole
lifetime, all the goods health, wealth,
knowledge, friends, etc. that lead to the
perfection of human nature and to the
enrichment of human life.

In order to achieve the life of complete virtue,

we need to make the right choices, and this
involves keeping our eye on the future, on the
ultimate result we want for our lives as a

We will not achieve happiness simply by

enjoying the pleasures of the moment.

the concept of akrasia, or weakness of the will

some great pleasure obscures one's

perception of what is truly good

it is not enough to think about doing the right

thing, or even intend to do the right thing: we
have to actually do it

There is yet another activity few people

engage in which is required to live a truly
happy life, according to Aristotle: intellectual

Since our nature is to be rational, the ultimate

perfection of our natures is rational reflection.
This means having an intellectual curiosity
which perpetuates that natural wonder to
know which begins in childhood but seems to
be stamped out soon thereafter.

For Aristotle, education should be about the

cultivation of character, and this involves a
practical and a theoretical component.

The practical component is the acquisition of a

moral character, as discussed above.
The theoretical component is the making of a


friendship is one of the most important virtues

in achieving the goal of eudaimonia

While there are different kinds of friendship,

the highest is one that is based on virtue
This type of friendship is based on a person
wishing the best for their friends regardless of
utility or pleasure.

Aristotle notes that one cannot have a large

number of friends because of the amount of
time and care that a virtuous friendship
Aristotle values friendship so highly that he
argues friendship supersedes justice and

Being loved, however, people enjoy for its

own sake, and for this reason it would seem it
is something better than being honoured and
that friendship is chosen for its own sake

a virtuous friendship is one that is most

enjoyable since it combines pleasure and
virtue together, thus fulfilling our emotional
and intellectual natures.

The Golden Mean

Aristotles ethics is sometimes referred to as

virtue ethics since its focus is not on the
moral weight of duties or obligations, but on
the development of character and the
acquiring of virtues such as courage, justice,
temperance, benevolence, and prudence.

doctrine of virtue as being a golden mean

between the extremes of excess and

Courage, for example, is a mean regarding

the feeling of fear, between the deficiency of
rashness (too little fear) and the excess of
cowardice (too much fear).

Justice is a mean between getting or giving

too much and getting or giving too little.

Benevolence is a mean between giving to

people who dont deserve it and not giving to
anyone at all.

Aristotle is not recommending that one should

be moderate in all things, since one should at
all times exercise the virtues.
The mean is a mean between two vices, and
not simply a mean between too much and too

the mean is relative to ourselves, indicating

that one persons mean may be another
persons extreme

Aristotle concludes that goodness of character

is a settled condition of the soul which wills or
chooses the mean relatively to ourselves, this
mean being determined by a rule or whatever
we like to call that by which the wise man
determines it.


1. Happiness is the ultimate end and

purpose of human existence

2. Happiness is not pleasure, nor is it

virtue. It is the exercise of virtue.

3. Happiness cannot be achieved until the

end of one's life. Hence it is a goal and
not a temporary state.

4. Happiness is the perfection of human

nature. Since man is a rational animal,
human happiness depends on the
exercise of his reason.

5. Happiness depends on acquiring a

moral character, where one displays the
virtues of courage, generosity, justice,
friendship, and citizenship in one's life.
These virtues involve striking a balance
or "mean" between an excess and a

6. Happiness requires intellectual

contemplation, for this is the ultimate
realization of our rational capacities.


Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) is one of the

towering figures in Western philosophy and
theology so great that he is even called the
angelic Doctor by the Roman Catholic

Within a twenty year span he wrote over forty

books, including his masterpiece The Summa
Theologica, in which he constructs a vast
system integrating Greek philosophy with the
Christian faith.

In his book, he sets out a systematic answer

to the question of what human happiness is,
and whether it can be obtained in this life.

His ultimate answer is that perfect happiness

(beatitudo) is not possible on earth, but an
imperfect happiness (felicitas) is.

Thomas Aquinas was born in the castle of

Roccasecca, north of Naples, to a wealthy
aristocratic family.

After studying at the University of Naples,

however, he renounced his noble heritage,
made a vow of celibacy, and determined to
become a monk.

He entered the Dominican order and studied

with Albertus Magnus (also known as Albert
the Great), who had initiated the great project
of integrating all knowledge with Christianity.

Aquinas was so stout in stature, and so silent

in class, that he was called The Dumb Ox by
his fellow students.

Albert however, responded: You call him a

Dumb Ox, but I tell you this Dumb Ox shall
bellow so loud his bellowing will fill the world.

Aquinas was ultimately assigned as a lecturer

to various Dominican houses in Italy, but his
real task was the masterpiece, his Summa
Theologica, The Summation of All Theology,
which sets out an entire book dedicated to the
question of happiness.

For twenty years Aquinas worked on this

project, but on a night in December 1273 after
celebrating Mass he experienced a mystical
vision that shattered his entire aspirations.

After that night he never wrote another word,

and he died six months later.

On his deathbed he is reported to have

pointed to all of his books and said After what
I have experienced, all that is just straw.

The Doctrine of Double Happiness

Aquinas had taken a position similar to St.

Augustines, that perfect happiness is not
possible in this lifetime.

Aquinas takes seriously St. Pauls assurance

in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that for now we see as
through a glass darkly, but then we see face
to face.

This world is too plagued with unsatisfied

desires to achieve that ultimate good which
we all seek by nature.

God has basically created us with a desire to

come to perfect knowledge of Him, but this is
hidden from us while in our mortal bodies.

True knowledge of God would require being

able to see him directly, but this is only
possible by a completely purified soul.

we can achieve a kind of imperfect

happiness here on earth

the perfect realization of Truth will only occur

in heaven where we will perceive God face to
face, there is an imperfect counterpart of that
vision here on earth

Aquinas was lead to make a distinction

between perfect happiness which he calls
beatitudo, and imperfect happiness called

Human Nature is not so completely corrupted

by sin as to be totally lacking in natural

We have an impulse in us that seeks God and

other impulses that pull us down to worldly

However, it is possible to begin the process of

healing in this lifetime by exercising the
natural virtues that Aristotle talks aboutthe
virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation,
justice, friendship, etc.

Furthermore, God in his grace has now

revealed to us three additional virtues: those
of faith, love and hope. These will pull us
through to the final end so long as we begin
the effort.

Happiness as Knowledge of God

Aquinas is uncompromising in his view that

our true happiness can only be found in
knowledge of God.
No other worldly good or pleasure can truly
provide us with the ultimate good we seek.

Who alone satisfies your desire with good

things. Therefore, God alone constitutes
mans happiness.

So Reason confirms to us what we already

know deep down in our hearts: that our
ultimate desire lies in absolute perfection,
which can only be found in God, the absolute

we must make a sharp distinction between

enjoyment and happiness

Enjoyment pertains to worldly goods and

physical pleasures: but these tend to be very

And even if all of our worldly desires were

satisfiedeven if we were to experience
every possible enjoymentwe would remain
unhappy, since we would still have a nagging
feeling that something is missing.

perfect happiness is only possible in the


Aquinas own mystical experience at the end

of his life might be just such an example:
perhaps he actually achieved a beatific vision
of God, a vision so strong that it rendered all
of his words obsolete.


1. Perfect happiness (beatitudo) is not

possible in this lifetime, but only in the
afterlife for those who achieve a direct
perception of God

2. There can be an imperfect happiness

(felicitas) attainable in this lifetime, in
proportion to the exercise of Reason
(contemplation of truth) and the exercise
of virtue.

3. Virtue is to be divided into two

categories: 1) the traditional Aristotelian
virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation,
friendship, etc., and 2) the theological
virtues revealed to man through Jesus
Christ: faith, hope, and love.

4. There is an important distinction

between enjoyment and happiness.
Enjoyment concerns satisfaction of
worldly desire. Happiness concerns
obtaining our absolute perfection, which
by definition can only be found in the
absolute Being, which is God.

The End