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Aristotle on Pleasure 

Abstract:  Aristotle's ethics is reviewed and his distinction between pleasure and happiness is explained.

A summary of Aristotle's ethics clarifies several important distinction between happiness and pleasure.

  1. Eudaimonia: the state of personal well being, having self-worth; exhibiting a zest for life; radiating energy; achieving happiness, "good spirit," or self presence.


  2. Hence, happiness is activity of the soul in accordance with areté (excellence or virtue).

    1. I.e. Living well and doing well in the affairs of the world.

    2. Picture yourself at your best.   Compare Maslow's self-actualizing person or Jung's individuation of a person with Aristotle's description of eudaimonia..

  3. Good is that to which all thing aim; i.e., the good is that which performs its proper function.


    1. What constitutes a good wrench or a good coffee cup? The peculiar areté of excellence is established by its purpose. The peculiar excellence is teleological.


    2. What constitutes a good person?"


      1. Activity of the soul in accordance with reason (that capacity which is unique to us as persons).


      2. This activity is both moral (doing the right thing at the right time) and intellectual areté (practical wisdom or phronesis).


      3. Aristotle notes that some external goods are necessary for the exercise of that activity.


  4. Moral Virtue is not the end of life, for it can go with inactivity, misery, and unhappiness.

  5. What is good for a person cannot be answered with the exactitude of mathematics.


    1. Ethics attempts to formulate general principles whose application is dependent upon the circumstances at hand (i.e., initial conditions). (Note that Aristotle's theory does not imply ethical relativism!)


    2. The doctrine of the mean is not a doctrine of relativism but doctrine applied to specific circumstances. E.g., what and how much one eats differs for a weight-lifter and a ballerina--even so, proper diet has guidelines and standards which apply differently according to different initial conditions.


  6. Pleasure, itself, is a side-product of activity; pleasure results from activity without hindrance.


    1. As Aristotle expresses it, pleasure is the natural accompaniment of unimpeded activity.


    2. Pleasure, as such, is neither good nor bad, but is something positive because the effect of pleasure perfects the exercise of that activity.


    3. Even so, Aristotle emphasizes that pleasure is not to be sought for its own sake. (Cf., the hedonistic paradox.)


  7. It is Aristotle's reasoning, as we shall see, which breaks down Hedonism, simpliciter, for otherwise the happiness or pleasure induced by a drugged state or the happiness of insanity would be an intrinsic good.



  8. Recommended Sources

    Quiz on Aristotle's Ethics:  Aristotle's ethical theory reviewed with true/false questions.
    Quiz on the Doctrine of the Mean:
    A short quiz on Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean from Introduction to Philosophy.
    Aristotle's Ethics:  Aristotle's ethics is a common sense ethics built on naturalism and self-realization. Of all the classical theories considered here, his is the farthest from an ethics of self-interest. 
    Aristotle's Ethics: An excellent discussion from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Aristotle's ethics drawn from the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics by Richard Kraut.

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