Lewis Quote

"It is one of the difficult and delightful subtleties of life that we must deeply acknowledge certain things to be serious and yet retain the power and will to treat them often as lightly as a game." CS Lewis, The Four Loves

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The pursuit of happiness

ἡ γὰρ εὐδαιμονία κάλλιστον καὶ ἄριστον ἁπάντων οὖσα ἥδιστον ἐστίν.
Happiness, being most beautiful and best of all, is the sweetest thing.
Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics 1214a

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." US Declaration of Independence

Human beings want to be happy. Happiness then may be described as peculiarly human aim, individually as well as collectively. The question of course is what makes us happy. But even prior to that it is what exactly is happiness. Writers throughout history have tackled the subject. Perhaps all of literature is an attempt to deal with the subject. Perhaps all of life is. So many of us are not happy apparently. So many of us lead lives of quiet desperation as has been said. So many of us think we are aiming at happiness only to miss the mark. Augustine I think once said (I paraphrase) that no matter how much we claim to be aiming for happiness if we are looking in the wrong direction we're missing it (and will never be happy). As Independence Day has recently passed for those who observe it, it's worth quoting the opening lines of the Declaration. To our 21st century ears the Pursuit of happiness may sound funny in the mouth of a founding father. We probably don't know what it means. Aristotle once said something like a preference for sweet or savory is not an indicator of character. Happiness for Aristotle was that ultimate human purpose, what it is we strive for. He answered his own investigation into the topic by stating:

"God is not a superior who issues commands, but is the purpose of the commands that wisdom issues. But 'purpose' is ambiguous, as has been explained elsewhere; this needs saying, since of course God is not in need of anything. To conclude: whatever choice or possession of natural goods - bodily goods, wealth, friends, and the like - will most conduce to the contemplation of God is best; this is the finest criterion. But any choice of living that either through excess or through defect hinders the service and contemplation of God is bad." Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics 1249b

The pursuit of meaning is the natural and supernatural aim of our existence.

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