Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics” considers the best way to achieve happiness. In every human action, the individual intends for it to end in some type of good, with most of these activities being means to a higher end. Aristotle addresses two types of goods, those of which are subordinate and those of which result in higher ends. Subordinate ends may only be means to higher ends, such as human activity which brings about pleasures, whereas, higher goods are goods that are ends in themselves. The highest ends, therefore, is the supreme good and is the “only final end …the object of which we are in search” (Aristotle 52).
There are many disagreements among individuals of what is happiness. For there are three main types of happiness that are disputed, the sensual, the political, and the life of though. Happiness cannot be based on sensualities as animals share this quality with humans and animals are not able to experience happiness. Additionally, it cannot be political because “a man may possess virtue and yet be asleep or inactive throughout life, and not only so, but he may experience the greatest calamities and misfortunes” (Aristotle 52). Furthermore, happiness is defined by the function of many, the life of thought.
It is an “activity of soul in accordance with virtue” (Aristotle 53). Thus, we aim at happiness in order to be happy, not to receive another end. Happiness is dependent on living out a virtuous life. Virtue encompasses two aspects, intellectual virtues and moral virtues. Intellectual virtues can be taught and learned, telling an individual what to do, while moral virtues are realized through an individual’s habits and doing what is right. It is essential to understand that virtue is relative to one’s self. Practicing virtue is acting as the mean between the extremes of excess and deficiency.
For this reason, there is not a specific rule as how to excel in living a virtuous life as the relative mean varies for each person. As a young child, my parents taught me that being an upright person is acting with relative means in everything I do. However, being human, I continually struggle with Aristotle’s proposition. As a college student, perfectionist, and an aspiring lawyer, I notice myself spending a great amount of time devoted to my academics. Many times, I will find myself committing countless hours to my studies, refining every assignment in hopes of receiving a desirable grade, enabling me to gain acceptance into top law chools.
However, as I talk with mom, she often reminds me the importance of my social life and creating friendships and making memories. She advises me to find a healthy balance between my academics and my social life. Yet when I do go and socialize, I am conflicted as I am thinking about all the homework and studying I have to finish. This exquisitely portrays Aristotle’s idea of living virtues through relative means. It is crucial that I find the means between socializing and academics in order to balance these virtues and find happiness in doing them.
At the heart of Immanual Kant’s “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals” is that actions are right or wrong based on the individual’s intention. Kant states that the morality of an individual is based on their reason. Qualities such as intelligence, courage and perseverance are all desirable in many respects, but “these gifts of nature may also become extremely bad a mischievous if the will which is to make use of them and which, therefore, constitutes what is called character, is not good” (Kant 57).
However, a good will is inherently good, even if it brings about negative results. The goal of person’s reason is to bring about this good in itself, not for a particular purpose, such as for happiness. The responsibilities of the good will are called duties. Kant distinguishes these duties stating that “Actions be done from duty, not from inclination” (Kant 58), “Action don from duty derives its moral worth…from the maxim by which it is determined” (Kant 58), and that “Duty is the necessity of acting from respect for the law” (Kant 58).
Since individual circumstances cannot be exact in considering the morality of the action, the moral law cannot be a certain requirement to perform or not perform a particular action. Therefore, the moral law must be relevant in all situations. The law of morality is acting in a way that the maxim of the action becomes a universal law. Because we do not know if action is purely performed by duty alone, we can never know if actions are moral. Imperatives are the commands of reason.
The categorical imperative states that “an action as necessary of itself without reference to another end, that is, as objectively necessary” (Kant 60). A hypothetical imperative is an action that is “good only as a means to something else” (Kant 60). The universal law can only contain categorical imperatives because hypothetical imperatives depend on something else. The categorical imperative may be formulated as an “act only on the maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should be a universal law” (Kant 60) and by treaty humanity, “in every case as an end withal, never as a means only” (Kant 62).
If humanity is successful in treating others as ends and giving them the freedom to choose, humankind can live in the Kingdom of Ends where “everything has Value or Dignity” (Kant 63). And when humans pursue the Kingdom of Ends, they create the autonomy of their will. As a student, I am constantly faced with the opportunity to lie and cheat on homework and exams. Growing up my parents stressed the importance of telling the truth, even if the consequences are detrimental.
This falls under the principle of deontology as lying and cheating is always wrong. There are no exceptions to lying and cheating, even if the outcome of the lie would be desirable. Lying and cheating has a worse consequence than telling the truth. It causes stress as one is constantly worrying whether they will get caught or not, it is disrespectful to the professors as they lose respect for the student, and lying and cheating is embarrassing because no one will be able to trust you while you are also seen as lazy, selfish, and unintelligent.
No matter the situation, lying and cheating is wrong because, in the end, it only hinders the individual committing the acts. According to the principle of utilitarianism, happiness is “intended pleasure, and absence of pain” (Mill 66). The greater amount of pleasure derived from an act results in more happiness in which the action is considered moral. The more pain derived from an act results in less happiness in which the action is considered immoral. This however does not reduce the meaning of life to pleasure.
Human pleasures are greater than animalistic pleasures, as once an individual discovers their higher facilities, they will purposely never leave it as “no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool” (Mill 66). Higher pleasures, which are particular to humans, are encouraged over lower pleasures because these lower pleasures are what we have in common with animals. Higher pleasures maximize an individual’s dignity, unlike lower pleasures. Utilitarianism acknowledges sacrifices as being good if and only if the consequence of the sacrifice good but it “refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a good” Mill 67). People rely on the history of humanity to tell what is right and wrong. Humans can only make educated judgements on actions and hope that it is right. There are no ethical principles which can include every moral action, because humanity is flawed. It is crucial to note that some good is better than no good, so individuals should do their best to maximize what each individual can get out of the act. In high school is was protocol to practice lockdown drills if a shooter would enter and threaten the students and staff with my school.
Each time we were informed that if we were in the bathroom or anywhere out of the classroom and could not escape the building that if we went to a classroom to try and receive access, the teachers were not allowed to admit our entrance. The reasoning behind this is that the teachers would not know if the gunman was pressuring the student to open the door in order to attach the other students and teacher in the classroom. This is an example of utilitarianism because there would be more pleasure derived if one individual died from being shot rather than an entire classroom being murdered.
The Theory of Moral Sentiments describes Adam Smith’s moral philosophy. When a person “approve[s] of any character or action, the sentiments which we feel, are, according to the foregoing system, derived from four sources which are in some respects different from one another” (Smith 326). First, humans sympathize with how another individual is feeling. Then people enter into being state of gratitude of those who receive the benefit of the individual’s actions. Next, one discern the individual’s conduct has been suitable to the general rules by which those two sympathies generally behave.
Finally, considering the actions as a system of behavior which promotes individual or societal happiness, it appears that beauty is derived from utility. After withdrawing everything that must be recognized to proceed from one or more of the above principles, knowing what remains, is the surplus to moral sense, or to another atypical faculty, “provided that the body will ascertain precisely what this overplus is” (Smith 326). This principle, as what the moral sense should be, should be felt, and in some instances isolated from other principles.
It cannot be imitated or applied y itself and genuine of any action to a traditional rule, or that the general desire for elegance and organization which is motivated by lifeless as well as by lively objects. In today’s culture, social media greatly impacts the way in which children behave. The media aids in the formation of each individual’s moral sentiments. When watching television, listening to music, and using popular apps on my phone, the characters and individuals on these apps have influenced the way I act. I have learned how to sympathize with a variety of characters and people because I have watched them manage situations that I have not yet experienced.
I place myself into the particular situation the characters in the media are confronting. This sympathy I am experiencing aids in shaping the general rules of my morality. Sympathizing with social media has had some positive consequences, however more negative consequences have been established too. Social media has supported my morality as it allows me to sympathize with real situations that I have or may encounter some time in my life. It has negatively impacted my life as sympathize with the beautiful models portrayed throughout social media. It has greatly fashioned the way I view think about myself.