Happiness isn’t something that can be completely defined. It’s interpreted in distinct ways, some believe it to be a value, while others see it as an emotional state, but everyone sees it as something they want to achieve in life. Hobbes believes that human happiness is nothing more than, “continual success in obtaining the things you want when you want them” (Hobbes 27). Hobbes argues against many philosophers, saying that our happiness is rooted in materialism.
Some people may agree with this, thinking if they had more money or certain things than all or most of their problems would be solved and they could finally be happy. For some this could actually be possible, if Hobbes’ philosophy is entirely correct. A thing doesn’t always have to mean an extravagant or unnecessary object. Some people believe that having a house, food and running water will satisfy their needs and give them happiness, which may actually make that person happy. A person like this is basing their happiness on things, which makes sense to most.
However Hobbes’ quote could be disagreed with if it was taken to an extreme, say someone wanting many things and thinking all of those things would give them happiness. An extreme like someone’s happiness based on them acquiring a yacht, a plane and becoming a millionaire, might be able to make someone happy, but most of the time does not keep that person happy. The reason why it may not actually keep a person happy is because humans are never fully satisfied with what they have, which does not always mean a thing a person may want an education, knowledge, love, friendship, time or respect.
To agree with Hobbes one has to take his quote lightly, it’s hard to totally disagree with him if you aren’t taking the extreme side of his quote into consideration. However one can disagree with Hobbes’ belief that human happiness is nothing more than obtaining things, because happiness can come in many different forms. Aristotle’s philosophy is completely different than Hobbes’, he believes that happiness is based on different conditions. Aristotle doesn’t think that happiness is something that comes and goes continuously, he sees happiness as a goal in ones life or the ultimate value of ones life so far.
Verbally there is a very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise” (Nicomachean Ethics, 4). Aristotle finds that only the wise know what true happiness is and it has to do with doing well for oneself, which can be interpreted differently from person to person.
There is no exact thing Aristotle is relating to doing well, it’s more like one personally sets a goal or decides whether their life is good which translates into happiness. Maybe what Aristotle is saying isn’t that one will be continually happy with the position they are in in their life, but that one will be content with how their life is going and accept it, as in happiness depends on what a person does to make themselves happy. When a person usually thinks of anyone being happy they probably think of someone smiling or laughing while doing some kind of activity, but who is to say that is what happiness is?
Happiness could just be getting out of a tough time in one’s life and being in a better position than they once were, which doesn’t really mean they might be smiling or having a good time, it simply means they are living a better life. “For the former think it is some plain and obvious thing, like pleasure, wealth, or honour; they differ, however, from one another- and often even the same man identifies it with different things, with health when he is ill, with wealth when he is poor; but, conscious of their ignorance, they admire those who proclaim some great ideal that is above their comprehension” (Nicomachean Ethics, 4).
Aristotle is indirectly talking about Hobbes in the first line, in that happiness is as plain and simple as a thing. The thing Hobbes is talking about usually relates to whether or not they could afford the thing that can make them happy, which has to do with their wealth. “The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else” (Nicomachean Ethics, 5).
Aristotle is further debunking Hobbes’, in that a thing we are seeking is not useful for us and therefore neither is the wealth we think we need to obtain that thing. “Some identify happiness with virtue, some with practical wisdom, others with a kind of philosophic wisdom, others with these, or one of these, accompanied by pleasure or not without pleasure; while others include also external prosperity.
Now some of these views have been held by many men and men of old, others by a few eminent persons; and it is not probable that either of these should be entirely mistaken, but rather that they should be right in at least some one respect or even in most respects” (Nicomachean Ethics, 8). All people are different, while one may think that having the latest car will make them happy another may think starting a family or living a stable life is their source of happiness.
Maybe neither philosopher is truly right, but when taking parts of their perspectives it is possible they can form an actual truth. Aristotle’s view is more realistic than Hobbes’ because it’s proven and seen more in everyday life. There are many well to do people with an abundance of things that are depressed and there are some that are happy with their life. Happiness should be based on what life throws at a person and how one deals with that to create their own form of happiness. One cannot let a material thing be their source of happiness.
Happiness should be a feeling that life is, overall, satisfying, it cannot be based on a thing because that happiness is fleeting. Which is why on cannot determine how happy their lives are with how they are feeling one moment, because in the next moment they might think they are happy. Aristotle’s view makes more sense because he believes in happiness being achieved, that ones true happiness cannot be determined until they are no longer living, until all of ones happiness can be completely accounted for.