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The Cause and Effect of Happiness Within Human Nature

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Taylor Armour

Philosophy 106 – Grob

31 March 2016

The Cause and Effect of Happiness within Human Nature

        Typically, when someone is asked of his or her own opinion of what true happiness really means, most of them would not know. That is because most people do not need a definition to tell them what happiness is; they know it when they feel it. Maybe it is not possible to define happiness, but it can at least be said that “life has…no higher end than pleasure…no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit” than the pursuit of happiness (Mill, 10). Looking into the book, Utilitarianism, by philosopher John Mill, the reader can see a subjective view of the lifespan – and variety of different species, if you will – of happiness, and how that view is shown to be a counterargument of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, and his objective view on the same topic on how to achieve the ultimate “end” that is mutually known as happiness. Through the idea of utilitarianism, Mill supports the claim that the desired end of happiness is achieved strictly by empirical means, and without obeying any further external sources.

To start off, all humans have their own idea of what pleasure is to them, and Mill can agree that all of those unique pleasures are what ultimately adds up to become a person’s unique idea of happiness. Happiness is the ultimate goal for everybody, but how to get there is not the same for everyone. So, how does one get there? Well, as Mill has said, “Questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof” (8). There is not an exact scientific formula for how to be happy, because each person has his own desires and wants, and different means in which to fulfill them. One should not question how to be happy, but what makes him happy. Every person has his own experiences and observations that are unparalleled to anyone else’s. In turn, the unparalleled ideas can always be picked apart to find parallels that compliment and line up with others’ ideas. In the end, all of the individual thoughts of one another come together in a large pool to coincide with others’ individual thoughts of what makes them happy to form a more massive, mixed - but complimentary – form of happiness, instead of following a guideline by an overall society of what happiness should be.

That being said, although supporters of a utilitarian society believe that fulfilling one’s pleasures can bring him happiness, the larger truth is that the maximum amount of happiness can be achieved in numbers. Naturally, humans influence and learn from one another to form a unity with their peers, so they learn quickly that “a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness,” and their individual desires become a lot more selfless (11). Instead, it is encouraged that people use their own experiences and observations gained from their pursuits of individual happiness to identify with others within their community, building off of one another to form an even happier, functioning society. Eventually, people within this utilitarian society will find pleasure in sacrificing their own happiness for another’s, and will start to develop an even more profound meaning from happiness, and deeper purpose for life overall.

In contrast, Aristotle argues against Mill’s subjective ways of analyzing happiness by taking a more objective point-of-view. Even though Aristotle has a completely objective and neutral take on how to get to the almighty goal of happiness, it is invalid because it is mostly based on what his opinion of what happiness is. Aristotle expects a society to be submissive to his pathway to happiness, obeying his ways without question with means to reach this “final end.” Happiness is such a strong, natural feeling that should not be influenced by an unrealistic standard that is not entirely recognized by everyone. Mill likes to start off by using the unique observations and experiences of a person to find their desires, which is then used to naturally determine what makes them truly happy; however, Aristotle goes backwards (Utilitarianism). Instead, he starts off by determining what happiness is– a virtuous lifestyle that not everybody is a candidate for – and then artificially conditions people on what kinds of experiences and observations they should be having to become happy (all in the same way). It is ideal for Aristotle to explain what his idea of happiness is, and how we get there, through institutions that are built to teach this structure and decrease chaos (Nicomachean Ethics). In contrast, chaos is inevitable when people are restricted against their true desires, unable to find their true happiness. Mill’s whole argument holds institutions as means for learning as invalid because something as natural and valuable as happiness cannot be validated by external sources. Anything that is natural and valuable is not taught, but is achieved.

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