Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

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The passage by Aristotle mainly promotes the notion that an individual’s satisfaction is derived from the behaviors he or she engages in, rather than from enjoyment and amusement. When Aristotle writes that pleasure comes from activities, he is making a conditional statement. To feel joy, one must take vigorous action and succeed in their endeavors. “The happy life is thought to be one of excellence; now an outstanding life necessitates exertion,” he writes. In addition, the author draws a parallel between two items in order to understand the root of happiness. First, he argues that serious matters are preferable to amusing and humorous matters. Also, anything that elicits excitement is laughable and cannot, therefore, be better than an activity that demands seriousness. Secondly, when comparing two events, the better activity is more aligned with the nature of happiness. Also, between two men performing different activities, the person conducting the better activity is happier than the other individual. In fact, Aristotle asserts that the better action by one man is superior to the other activity by the other man. To stress the point that pleasure does not offer happiness, the writer provides an example by showing the unhappiness of a slave. Aristotle claims that anyone, including a slave, can experience pleasure as long as there is an opportunity. However, to make a slave happy, a person should give the servant a share to human life. The passage ends by repeating the initial assertion that happiness is not a by-product of bodily pleasures and occupations but a result of excellence in performed activities.

Assumptions

Aristotle makes several assumptions throughout the passage to support the thesis statement that genuine happiness comes from excelling in activities. First, the writer assumes that the only way to attain excellence is by exerting oneself in rigorous activity. Further the statement “now an excellent life requires exertion and does not consist in amusement” show the assumption that an individual cannot acquire excellence through amusement. However, one would argue that distinction does indeed require activity but also intelligence and wit to attain the expected results. It is possible for a person to be actively engaged in a poorly planned activity and therefore the effort does not produce a desirable result. Also, the first assumption dismisses any chance that excellence in amusement can produce happiness.

Secondly, the writer assumes that serious things and activities are better than laughable things. Given the assumptions that some activities are better than others and laughable issues do not constitute happiness, the writer concludes that people who engage in superior matters are better than people who engage in amusements. However, while the claims may be true, one wonders the metrics for determining which activity, issue or person is better than another. For instance, the passage raises the question how an individual would decide which is the serious circumstance between saving lives as a doctor and engaging in entertaining spectacles to alleviate stress and depression for the mentally ill. Essentially, every activity seems important in its right. Claiming an event or a person is better is an assumption.

Thirdly, in the example of the happiness of a slave, the writer assumes that a slave cannot be happy unless he is assigned “a share in happiness” through “a share in human life.” Evidently, the writer does not consider a slave to be sharing in human life as long as the servant is not happy. Further, the author assumes that a slave will be happy when free and ignores other possible sources of disappointment. The third assumption leads Aristotle to conclude that the only source of happiness for people in disadvantaged situations such as slaves lies in doing what other people do, but not in any forms of activities that bring pleasure.

Reasoning

Aristotle concludes that happiness does not lie in laughable things, amusement activities and occupations that offer bodily pleasure. The initial thesis statement is that happiness comes through excellence. The author reasons that excellence is a by-product of engaging in rigorous activity as opposed to entertaining, amusing occupations. Furthermore, the writer sought to make a distinction on the type of activities that bring excellence and consequently pleasure. He asserts that some activities are better than others thus producing more instances of happiness. Also, the people who perform better activities are also happier, and in fact, they are superior to others. To disprove any notion that pleasure may bring happiness, Aristotle reasons by showing the misery of a slave even in the face of pleasurable occupations. Given that entertainment cannot offer happiness to an individual, the passage concludes that happiness to a slave and a person in misery can only come from being granted a share in human life through excellence in different activities. Having shown the reasons why better activities result in happiness and pleasurable occupations cannot offer happiness, the author concludes that “happiness does not lie in such occupations, but, as we have said before, in excellent activities.”

In conclusion, Aristotle presents a series of assumptions which he elaborates on to form the conclusion. Also, the example of the happiness of a slave accentuates the assertion that happiness cannot form amusing occupations but rather a life consisting of excellence through activities. However, the assumptions raise critical questions about the legitimacy of the writer’s proposition.

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