19 March, 2000

Author: George Irbe

Back to George's Views



TI- Terence Irwin, Hackett Publishing Co. 1985
DR - David Ross, Oxford University Press 1980
JT - J.A.K. Thomson, Penguin Books 1955


Text Remarks
[JT] Every art and every investigation, and similarly every action and pursuit, is considered to aim at some good. Hence the Good has been rightly defined as 'that at which all things aim'. Clearly, however, there is some difference between the ends at which they aim; some are activities and others results distinct from the activities. Where there are ends distinct from the actions, the results are by nature superior to the activities. When we act while in a normal conscious state, all our actions have a purpose to accomplish something good for us. 
[DR, JT] If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake, and for the sake of which we want all the other ends, and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for this will involve an infinite progression, so that our aim will be pointless and ineffectual), clearly this must be the Good, that is the supreme good. Although we do not consciously think about it, nor specifically seek it, there is an ultimate supreme good that we strive towards.
[TI] - As far as its name goes, most people virtually agree about what the Good is, since both the many and the cultivated call it happiness, and suppose that living well and doing well are the same as being happy. But they disagree about what happiness is, and the many do not give the same answer as the wise. We say that this ultimate supreme good is happiness, but hold different opinions on how one is to know when one has attained it.
[JT, DR] Since there are evidently more ends than one, and of these we choose some as means to something else, it is clear that not all of them are final ends, whereas the supreme good is obviously something final. Therefore, if there is only one final end, this will be what we are seeking, and if there are more than one, the most final of these will be what we are seeking. Therefore we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else. Happiness is defined as the final end.
[TI] Now happiness more than anything else seems unconditionally complete, since we always choose it because of itself, never because of something else. Happiness is so complete that we choose it for its own sake.
[DR, TI] The self-sufficient we now define as that which when isolated makes life desirable and lacking in nothing; and such we think happiness to be; and further we think it most desirable of all things, not a thing counted as one good thing among others. Happiness, then, is apparently something complete and self-sufficient, since it is the end of the things pursued in action. Happiness is the most fulfilling end, the sum of all other ends.
[TI] Now we take the human function to be a certain kind of life, and take this life to be the soul's activity and actions that express reason, and the function of a good man to be the good and noble performance of these. Each function is completed well when its completion expresses the proper virtue. Therefore, the human good turns out to be the soul's activity that expresses virtue. And if there are more virtues than one, the good will express the best and most complete virtue. Moreover, it will be in a complete life. For one swallow does not make a spring, nor does one day; nor, similarly, does one day or a short time make us blessed and happy. To be blessed with happiness we must live our entire life as virtuous and noble souls.
[DR, JT] Now goods have been divided into three classes, and some are described as external, others as relating to soul or to body; we call those that relate to soul most properly and truly goods, and we rank actions and activities of soul as goods of the soul; so that according to this view, which is of long standing and accepted by philosophers, our definition will be correct. It is correct also in that we identify the end with certain actions and activities; for thus it falls among the goods of the soul and not among external goods. Another belief which harmonizes with our account is that the happy man lives well and fares well; because what we have described is virtually a kind of good life and prosperity. Again, our definition seems to include all the required constituents of happiness. For some identify happiness with virtue, some with practical wisdom, others with a kind of philosophical wisdom, others with these, or one of these, accompanied by pleasure or not without pleasure; while others include also external prosperity. Goods of the soul are the  main components of happiness, but a happy man also has a good life and prosperity.
[JT] Now our definition is in harmony with those who say that happiness is virtue, or a particular virtue; because an activity in accordance with virtue implies virtue. Indeed, we may go further and assert that anyone who does not delight in fine actions is not even a good man. Only a good man can attain happiness.
[TI] For no one would call him just, if he did not enjoy doing just actions or generous if he did not enjoy generous actions, and similarly for the other virtues. A virtuous man is known by his good actions.
[DR] If this is so, virtuous actions must be in themselves pleasant. But they are also good and noble. Happiness then is the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world. For all these properties belong to the best activities; and these, or one -- the best -- of these, we identify with happiness.
Yet evidently, as we said, it needs the external goods as well; for it is impossible, or not easy, to do noble acts without proper equipment. In many actions we use friends and riches and political power as instruments; and there are some things the lack of which takes the lustre from happiness -- good birth, goodly children, beauty; for which reason some identify happiness with good fortune, though others identify it with virtue.
Happiness is the best, noblest and most pleasant thing. The pursuit of happiness needs external goods as well.
[DR] Happiness seems, however, even if it is not god-sent but comes as a result of virtue and some process of learning and training, to be among the most god-like things; for that which is the prize and end of virtue seems to be the best thing in the world, and something god-like and blessed. Happiness is the god-like prize of a virtuous life.
[TI] It follows, then, that the happy person has the stability we are looking for and keeps the character he has throughout his life. For always, or more than anything else, he will do and study the actions expressing virtue, and will bear fortunes most finely, in every way and in all conditions appropriately, since he is truly 'good, foursquare and blameless'. The happy man has a stable and virtuous nature..
[JT] When a man bears patiently a number of heavy disasters, not because he does not feel them but because he has a high and generous nature, his nobility shines through. And if, as we said, the quality of life is determined by its activities, no man who is truly happy can become miserable; because he will never do things that are hateful and mean. For we believe that the truly good and wise man bears all his fortunes with dignity and always takes the most honourable course that circumstances permit. Happiness is earned by remaining virtuous even in the face of adversity.
[JT] We are now in a position to define the happy man as 'one who is active in accordance with complete virtue, and who is adequately furnished with external goods, and that not for some unspecified period but throughout a complete life'. And probably we should add 'destined both to live in this way and to die accordingly'; because the future is obscure to us, and happiness we maintain to be an end in every way utterly final and complete. If this is so, then we shall describe these of the living who possess and will continue to possess the stated qualifications as supremely happy -- but with a human happiness. A comprehensive definition of a happy life
[JT] For us it is clear that, from what has been said already, that happiness is one of those things that are precious and perfect. This view seems to be confirmed by the fact that it is a first principle, since everything else that any of us do, we do for its sake; and we hold that the first principle and cause of what is good is precious and divine. Happiness is a first principle and therefore it is precious and divine.
[TI] The virtue we must examine is human virtue, since we are also seeking the human good and human happiness. And by human virtue we mean virtue of the soul, not of the body, since we also say that happiness is an activity of the soul. Happiness is virtue of the soul.
[TI, DR] We have said that one part of the soul is non-rational, while one has reason. The distinction between virtues also reflects this difference. For some virtues are called virtues of thought, other virtues of character; philosophic wisdom and understanding and practical wisdom being virtues of thought, generosity and temperance virtues of character. For in speaking about a man's character we do not say that he is wise or has understanding, but that he is good-tempered or temperate; yet we praise the wise man also with respect to his state of mind; and of states of mind we call those which merit praise virtues. Intellectual virtues and character virtues
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