What is the good life, and how are we to achieve it?
What is the good life and how can we be truly happy? This is a very complex question with very different answers for different persons since everybody has different point of views and thinks in various ways. In this paper I will try to answer this question with my specific answer, specially arguing if whether or not there is a relationship between happiness and morality, I will also talk about what is happiness for me and define what is a good life and how can it be lean toward to morality.
I will also talk about that if there is in fact a kind of life that is good for us to live, and that we can come to knowledge about that kind of life via philosophical arguments. I will mainly answer some of the most asked question in philosophy, for example, is the good life the pleasurable life? Is the good life the virtuous life? Can it be can be a mixture of both?
It is very difficult to determine whether or not there is a relationship between happiness and morality and it has been one of the greatest debates between the greatest philosophers in all time. Most of the philosophers we studied in class believed that the good life for a human being involved doing distinctively humans things, and engaging in certain activities. For example Aristotle thinks that the best way to have a good life is by living a life of virtue. He also thinks that to maximize our happiness we must also live with moral virtues. Aristotle thinks that to be totally happy we need to add other components not only virtue, but also wealth, pleasure, and honor. He thinks that people who are wealthy, privileged, educated, and highly regarded in society would be the happiest and that the rest would fall somewhere below this number and blend together in an adequate range of happiness. By this he is practically saying that our happiness not only depend on ourselves but also in our place in society. And that happiness could be achieved by practicing virtues.
But it falls into this question, which person decides what is a virtue? Society establishes what is good or bad, and to act in accordance with virtue is to act with what is defined as good, for example the laws established by every society, and a person who is not following what is considered as good is considered an immoral person. By this I think that happiness is a socially defined word, because the better we are at thriving and trying to fit into a society the happier we are. The more the society flourishes as a whole, the higher our individual capabilities of being happy are. Aristotle also states that happiness is a personal goal of human beings because every man has a different function that differentiates him from others, and therefore happiness is a personal goal.
By the other hand Mill also identifies happiness with pleasure, but he considers pleasure an intrinsic value, that is, good in and of it, and for him that is all what happiness is. This particular philosophy means pleasure makes certain states of good. For example, Mill’s philosophy of life on which Utilitarianism is based, is that the only things that are desirable as ultimate ends are pleasure and freedom from pain, and any desirable thing one can conceive of, is ultimately desirable either for pleasure in and of itself, or to promote pleasure. He also thinks that we need to act in the way that would procure the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. For Mill to determine if an action is moral or not you have to calculate the good and the bad consequences of your actions and if the good consequences outweighs the bad, then this particular action is moral because it can cause a greater happiness for a greater number of people.
Mills definition of happiness contradicts with my way thinking of what happiness and living a good life is, and I disagree with him in certain ideas. He states that happiness is pleasure and that if you obtain pleasure then you are happy. But what about someone who is a criminal and enjoys committing crime and this produces him pleasure? for example a rapist who enjoyed raping young girls and this gives him pleasure? For Mill he sure is happy but for me he is not acting morally or in a virtuous way and this can lead to have an unhappy life specially because there is a chance to feel guilty the rest of your life and this blocks you from happiness. I also disagree with what morality is for Mill, as I stated before for Mills way of thinking to determine if an action is moral or not, you need to study the consequence of your action and if the bad consequences overtake the good consequences then this action is moral, even though this action could have a small amount of ad consequences as well.
I think that by these he meant like the example we talked in class about the baby stuck in the car when the train is coming, for me the moral action is to try to do your best to save the baby even though you can die on the way of doing that. But for Mill the moral thing to do is recognize that both can die and it’s better that only one dies, so the best thing to do is to get out of the way and leave the baby in the car. There is one last thing that I don’t agree with Mill, and this is that he thinks that everybody needs to act in a way to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, even though you sacrifice your own happiness to obtain this. I think that this way of thinking is wrong specially because for me happiness is a personal goal of human beings because every man has a different function that differentiates him from others, and therefore happiness is a personal goal.
An example of this could be that killing someone can produce greatest happiness for a great number of people and this action not necessarily need to be moral even though if the good consequences could overtake the bad ones. For example if I kill Hitler I will bring a great happiness for a lot of people, but I will feel guilty for the rest of my life because I know that I did an immoral action, But for Mill this is a way of acting that can lead someone to happiness.
In conclusion after analyzing this two important philosophers, I obviously feel more identified on Aristotle way of thinking. In my personal opinion I believe that for us to live a good life and to maximize our happiness we need to live a moral, pleasurable and virtuous life. I think that there is a relationship between happiness and morality since for me happiness is a reward of moral actions and morality could do a greater happiness for al mankind for example, I believe that being moral will pay me back someday in a kind of “good karma” that will make me happy, and will leave me without guilt, and I think that guilt is the greatest enemy of happiness, since guilt is one of the most powerful emotions in a man’s conscious and it can shape his personality as well as to govern our behavior, shape the way we think of ourselves, and can also change our outlook of the world.