Happiness and Virtue
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics reveals the author’s proactive conception of good, happiness and virtue. Each activity is undertaken for certain end. The ultimate end, according to Aristotle, is the good, which is often equated to happiness. However, happiness is not a state. Aristotle marks out three prominent types of life – the life of enjoyment, the political life and the contemplative life. The approach to happiness differs within each type of life as the differences are found among ends. So long as the political life is considered as an ideal, Aristotle focuses on it and explains that virtue is the end of political life. However, the virtue itself cannot make one happy. While the philosopher distinguishes between things good in themselves and things useful for something else, the virtue may be considered as a condition for achieving happiness. Happiness is a thing good in itself and desired always for self, whereas virtues are chosen for the sake of happiness. Possessing the virtue is not enough. Only when the virtue is exercised, it can bring happiness. “Happiness, then, is something final and self-sufficient, and is the end of action” (Aristotle). Therefore, happiness is achieved through a function of man. It means that the person’s activity should be based on reason because this is the ability intrinsic to human beings exclusively. While “the function of man is an activity of soul which follows or implies a rational principle” (Aristotle), the better this function is performed, the easier the way to happiness is. Still, whatever the function, the activity of soul should be always performed in accordance with virtue.
In this way, happiness is the activity of soul, while the virtue is a premise for this activity. The virtue can be regarded as the potential for becoming happy, which means becoming successful. All in all, happiness is achievable only for those who take steps for exercising their virtue.