Moore’sView of Aristotle’s Idea of Happiness
Oneof Aristotle’s most influential works is the Nicomachean Ethics,where he presents a theory of happiness that is still relevant today.The key question Aristotle seeks to answer is “What is the ultimatepurpose of human existence?” What is that end or goal for which weshould direct all of our activities? Everywhere we see people seekingpleasure, wealth and a good reputation. However, while each of thesehas some value, none of them can occupy the satisfaction forhumanity. To be an ultimate end, an act must be self-sufficient andfinal, “that which is always desirable in itself and never for thesake of something else” (Nicomachean Ethics, pp 30 -34), and itmust be attainable by man. Aristotle claims that, nearly everyonewould agree that happiness is the end that meets all theserequirements. It is easy enough to see that we desire money,pleasure, and honor only because we believe that these goods willmake us happy. It seems that all other goods are means towardobtaining happiness, while happiness is always an end in itself.
ForAristotle, however, happiness is a final end or a goal thatencompasses the totality of one’s life. It is not something thatcan be gained or lost in a few hours, like pleasurable sensations. Itis more like the ultimate value of your life as lived up to thismoment, measuring how well you have lived up to your full potentialas a human being. For this reason, one cannot really make anypronouncements about whether one has lived a happy life until it isover, just as we would not say of a football game that it was a“great game” at halftime since we know of many such games thatturn out to be blowouts or duds. For the same reason, we cannot saythat children are happy or an acorn is a tree, as the entirepotential or flourishing human life has not yet been realized. AsAristotle says, “for as it is not one swallow or one fine day thatmakes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a manblessed and happy.” (Nicomachean Ethics, p 18)
Aristotledefine happiness as, “Thefunction of man is to live a certain kind of life, and this activityimplies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is thegood and noble performance of these, and if any action is wellperformed it is performed in accord with the appropriate excellence:if this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity ofthe soul in accordance with virtue”(Nicomachean Ethics, p 13).
Fromthe last quote, we can see another important feature of Aristotle’stheory: the link between the concepts of happiness and virtue.Aristotle tells us that, the most important factor in the effort toachieve happiness is to have a good moral character, what he calls“complete virtue.” But being virtuous is not a passive state, asone must act in accordance with virtue, and is not enough to have fewvirtues rather, one must strive to possess all of them. Aristotleadds,” He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue andis sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chanceperiod but throughout a complete life” (Nicomachean Ethics, p 10).
Mooreis famous for advancing the idea that good is a non-natural propertythat cannot be defined by reference to any natural properties butrather it’s an indefinable. He compares the indefinable grasp ofgoodness to our indefinable perception of the color yellow. Mooredistinguishes the color of yellow as a simple property. Moreover,Moore thinks goodness is an analogously simple and irreducibleproperty because the concept of the “good” does not simply reduceto any of the various things we generally call “good” or withwhich philosophers have repeatedly tried to identify it.
Good,as a concept is not just the concept of pleasantness or the conceptof what we desire. There are unpleasant things that we call ‘good’but the fact is, they aren’t desirable. It is worth noting that,there are useful things that are neither pleasant nor desiredpsychologically, and there are things we desire which may not beuseful and/or pleasant. The fact that we can ask any particular thingthat we find ourselves calling pleasant, useful, or desired thefurther question, “but is it good?” indicates to Moore that theconcept of good cannot be strictly identical to any of these. Thisresult to a dilemma since it does not conceptually rule out theintelligible question, “yes, but is it good?”
Moorealso coins the term, “naturalistic characterizes fallacy.” Thenaturalistic fallacy as any attempt to move from something’s simplybeing the case to its being good. Something’s being pleasant alonecannot be said as desired. Other authors such as David Hume hadalready noted that, there is nothing about a fact statement thatinherently entails an obligation. Just because something is gooddoesn’t indicate to us that it ought to be the best since what isand what ought to be and the charge that we can never infer whatought to be from an investigation of what happens to be is anotherversion of the naturalistic fallacy charge.