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Aristotle also argues that "happiness, above else, is held to be" (Book I, 7). He supports this argument by stating that, for every other virtue, people not only seek to obtain that virtue for its own sake, but also consider whether or not they will be happy in doing so. Thus, Aristotle sees happiness as the greatest because it is the only virtue that is sought simply for its own sake. Aristotle, then sees happiness as not only tightly connected with virtue and right or wrong, as a virtue with an ideal manifestation, and as the highest of all virtues, but Aristotle, therefore, also sees happiness as something that is to be pursued like other virtues, such as goodness, kindness, or charity. In addition, the fact that happiness is "the chief good" is also associated, for Aristotle, with the "function of man" (Aristotle Book I, 7). Thus, Aristotle asks, what is the goal of humankind? What should humankind be seeking in their lives? Is it just happiness? When viewed this way, happiness is also more than a virtue, more than an ideal, but also a key in discovering one's purpose.
Gilbert, too, acknowledges the question of man's purpose. As a Harvard Psychologist, Gilbert looks more to Freud in this vein than Aristotle. He quotes Freud's explanation that the question of what is man's function is most likely unattainable, so observers must look at what "men show in their behavior" as to be their ultimate goal. This is happiness; everyone wants happiness (Gilbert 34). Thus, Aristotle and Gilbert are discussing different concepts even in this venue. Aristotle sees happiness as a key by which to decipher man's purpose. Gilbert, as a psychologist, simply sees happiness as a phenomenon of behavior.
Furthermore, the two scholars definitions of happiness are different in their very basic descriptions.
Aristotle's idea of happiness as a virtue with an ideal is different than Gilbert's understanding of happiness as an extremely subjective concept. Gilbert gives the reader a satisfactory example of this with the twins. From Lori and Reba's perspective they are still happy, even if they are conjoined twins. Gilbert writes, "it does not mean that those who don't know what they're missing are less happy than those who have it" (50).
Furthermore, Gilbert elaborates on this point by offering a case study of his own love for cigars. His wife's ability to have happiness without cigars is because she has never tasted them. Her happiness is derived specifically because she does not know what she is missing and does not care to. This suggests that happiness is not an ideal, but rather a subjective concept that each person defines for him or herself. In addition, Gilbert notes that happiness cannot be an ideal because human memory is so weak that it would be impossible for a person to remember an ideal happiness, even if he or she had it. For instance, Gilbert states that "happiness is a subjective experience that is difficult to describe to ourselves and to others, thus evaluating people's claims about their own happiness is an exceptionally thorny business" (54). Thus, for Gilbert, there is no happiness of the superior class in light of happiness of the fools. Each person's happiness is valid. In addition, this applies to the person whose happiness is not necessarily a happiness connected with virtue and moral. The person who feels happiness over killing his parents feels the same type of legitimate happiness that the person who feels happiness over adopting an orphan feels. The stimuli may be different, but since happiness is a feeling, rather than a virtue, the end result is the same. Thus, Gilbert's idea of happiness is different from Aristotle's in that Gilbert does not see happiness as a virtue or as connected with virtue and morality.
3. What kinds of criticisms do you imagine Gilbert might make of Aristotle, when Aristotle offers advice for how to achieve happiness?
In offering advice on how to attain happiness, Aristotle states that happiness should be something that is God-given, but the philosopher acknowledges that this is not the case. Instead, Aristotle writes that happiness comes as a result of "virtue and some process of learning or training" (Book I, 9). Thus, Aristotle holds that achieving happiness is something that can be taught or achieved through a certain righteous type of living. Gilbert will definitely criticize Aristotle's concept of happiness, as he writes, "philosophers have felt compelled to identify happiness with virtue because that is the sort of happiness they think we ought to want"(36). Gilbert states that philosophers including Aristotle have failed to address the real meaning of happiness. Not everyone has the desire to achieve the moral happiness that the philosophers claim to be the highest and the noblest. For many people happiness is something completely different; it is a very personal experience. As Gilbert notes, "happiness is a word that we generally use to indicate an experience and not the action that give rise to it"(37). Gilbert will also argue that happiness is based on our feelings as opposed to our actions, as he writes that "happiness refers to feelings, virtue refers to actions, and those actions can cause those feelings. But not necessarily and not exclusively"(37).
Thus, Gilbert would argue that Aristotle is wrong, not just in what he calls happiness, but also in how he encourages others to attain it. If happiness is not really associated with some virtue or moral or righteous lifestyle, then living such a lifestyle would not achieve happiness for some. For those, whose personal and emotional experience of happiness would respond to these events, it would work. But living a righteous life would not allow all to attain happiness. In much the same way, Gilbert would argue that a person cannot be taught to be happy. Since happiness is a personal, emotional experience, Gilbert would contend that each person must recognize for him or herself, what makes him or her happy. Happiness may come from moral actions, pleasure, commendation, wealth, health, and even disgusting and sick ideas. Still, happiness is personal, and one can achieve it only through knowing one's self.
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