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Aristotle’s Notions of Happiness

October 22nd, 2020
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Aristotle is one of the most celebrated philosophers in history. He conceived ethical theory as a very distinct field from the theoretical sciences. Just like Plato, Aristotle conceived ethical values as complex aspects, rational, emotional and social issues. In discussing aspects of ethical theory, Aristotle came up with three important aspects that include the notion of happiness, virtue or excellence and contemplative life.

Aristotle’s notion of happiness refers to the activity of the soul that goes in accordance with the arête. Here, the issue of the best good comes in and refers to the thing that is desired for its own sake and for the sake that human beings desire all other good or ends. Happiness is characterized by the notion of living well or performing well in the affairs of life in the world. Happiness is achieving the end to that which human beings explore in their life (Goethals, Burns and Sorenson 45).

Virtue/ excellence, also known as arête, refers to what something is good for. Aristotle defines virtue or excellence as a balance between excess of a trait and a deficiency. Therefore, virtue or excellence is a fulfillment of a particular function including functions of a reason. A virtue or excellence of an individual is a moral state that makes him or her good and be able to perform his or her functions properly.

Aristotle defines the contemplative life as a complete life that presumes a morally good life. In contemplative life Aristotle looks at a human being as a hybrid between god and animal and has reason and moral values that serve to control his nature. Therefore, the contemplative life of human being is the life that is guided by moral standards where human beings act in consideration of the existent moral values. According to Aristotle, complete happiness can only be achieved as a function of contemplative life where an individual engages in contemplation (Goethals, Burns and Sorenson 45).

Aristotle uses three concepts in order to promote good life. As Aristotle points out, complete happiness is a function of contemplative life that is based on intellectual activity. In this, he calls for people to use reason and morality in the decisions and choices they take pertaining to the positions that are presented to them. It is only through reason and an intellectual ability that a human being can pursue happy life. This is because the use of reason enables a person to distinguish the moral from immoral standings that will influence the virtue or excellence which a person will use to perform his or her functions well.

Contemplative life enables human beings to omit their actions from their animalistic behaviors and comprehend the highest values known to human beings. Contemplation cannot be successful if the virtue or excellence is omitted from the process. Happiness is the product of combining excellence and contemplative life. As Aristotle puts it, the contemplative human beings get closer to their goods. However, contemplative life cannot be understood as a supreme good or end in themselves because there are other essential aspects that contribute to the ultimate happiness including the virtue or excellence. In this regard Aristotle argues that human beings justify their actions as either ends or goods in themselves which are performed for their own sake of happiness (Goethals, Burns and Sorenson 46).

For Aristotle, happiness is that is desired or ought to be desired as the highest good. The mind of a human being conceives the virtue/ excellence as that which lies between the means of two extreme possibilities. This is where the intellectual aspect comes in to offer the rational disposition that a person can use to choose between two extreme positions in desiring the highest good or end that is happiness. The disposition to choose the mean between two opposing positions in accordance with practical wisdom is reserved for those who maintain a consistent contemplative life. The contemplative life is one that uses the rational disposition in addition to the present morals to search for the highest knowledge that ensures greater happiness. Therefore, happy life is that which consists of many requirements that have been fulfilled including the things that preserve and maintain physical well-being of a person. These include healthcare, food, water, sexual satisfaction and good family bonds among other aspects.

In addition to the above, there are certain moral and intellectual needs that must be met for one to achieve happiness. This is where the issues of virtue/ excellence and contemplative life come in. Issues such as justice, democracy and a peaceful community are aspects that help an individual to function well and reach the happiness that he or she is seeking. A contemplative life helps an individual to use the available structures and morals to make the required judgment, function well and realize happiness. In this regard, therefore, Aristotle’s notion of happiness is inclusive in the sense that it integrates intellectual virtues, rational contemplation, moral virtues and the ability to achieve both physical and intellectual needs in a way that a person is seen to flourish (Goethals, Burns and Sorenson 46).

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It is impossible for one to achieve happiness if other two concepts are not integrated into process of search for that happiness. Happy life cannot be reduced to a contemplative life or existence of virtue/ excellence. Not all aspects of happiness belong to the contemplative activity. This means that for one to achieve happiness he or she must put practical wisdom into play in order to provide the way that encourages contemplative alternatives from scientific knowledge. Therefore, aspects of practical wisdom and excellent character are issues that must be integrated with others to form an ongoing process of the happiest life that can be achieved through contemplative life. Thus, for one to achieve happiness, he or she must integrate theoretical and practical pursuits.

If we consider the contemplative life alone, Aristotle points out that moral life is not sufficient in its own right because it can exist without activity thus leading to unhappiness. Therefore, happiness engages both intellectual arête and moral issues. Certain external forces are necessary for exercise of activity that leads to happiness to occur (Goethals, Burns and Sorenson 47).

Plato’s comments on the happiness or the good come into play here. His theory of forms assumes that there is a single form of good or happiness. However, this cannot be the case because there is a diversity of things that are considered good. Happiness is the highest good and involves different practical ends that people pursue in everyday life.

It is important to remember that the contemplative life stems from intellectual virtues and as such suggests educational implications. The contemplative life requires people to use reason and rational dispositions. This requires high amount of intelligence to do that. This has educational implications in sense that an educated person has higher chances of achieving a contemplative life because education helps one develop his or her thinking and reason to be able to act rationally (Goethals, Burns and Sorenson 48).

In conclusion, Aristotle uses three concepts of happiness, virtue/ excellence and contemplative life in order to promote good life. These concepts work in an inclusive and integrative manner to achieve good life. Irrespective of the confusing nature of application of the three concepts, Aristotle manages to show how the three can be applied to achieve good life.

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