There has been discussion in our class on Aristotle’s beliefs of various issues. These included God’s existence, what constitutes as a good life, and the relationship between the two. First off, Aristotle believes that there is only one god. He explains the reasoning for this conclusion using the Metaphysical concept of the “unmoved mover”. He states that the heavens are a constantly moving entity that is eternal. Since it is constantly in motion and communications motion to all things, it requires the presence of an Unmoved Mover. This mover is one that shows potential to be something else and one that always stays consistent in itself. It is made up of all the attributes that define its existence, while it also shows potential to exist as another entity exists. The Unmoved mover exists for the purpose of moving the first mover while remaining unmoved and eternal. The first mover moves the heaven without itself being moved, either self moved or moved by another entity. Aristotle believed that the Unmoved mover is that of God, because He could not impart motion as the first efficient cause. In order to do so, it would suggest that God himself is a movable entity, and if God can be put into motion, then He would be moved and movable. God is the only being that has found to be Distinct from the natural world. He is self-existing, and therefore necessarily exists apart from everything.
He is the only entity that can transcend past itself while still being of itself. He is eternal, unchanging, and therefore does the best thing. God believes that contemplating is the best of things. He believes that the best things are those that are good and simple in nature. Because of his own contemplation of his thought, Aristotle believes in God’s existence. One of human nature can reach fulfillment and enlightenment through contemplating God’s existence. The following premises state:
(Premise 1) If Happiness is a virtuous activity, then it will be in accord with the most supreme virtue.
(Premise 2) The most supreme virtue is theoretical study and contemplation.
(Premise 3) The most supreme object of contemplation is the divine.
(Conclusion) It follows that happiness consists in the activity of contemplation of the divine.
This conclusion emphasizes why God exists, and it is a fair assumption to believe that God is needed for the fulfilling life. Aristotle’s main philosophy is all about how we as humans can have a fulfilling life. He lays out some of the most prominent doctrines concerning human ethics that we still use and discuss today. His definition of Happiness has been used to shape much of our thinking in the western world. For one to be happy, they must simply be a virtuous person.
Where does God fit into Aristotle’s plan though? For Aristotle, happiness is something that we can work towards. We achieve it through our life style. So in that sense, we do not need God to be happy. We can be happy all on our own. However, human fulfillment is an entirely different thing.
The God of Aristotle is described as the first mover. He is the One who started the universe in motion. But that’s where He left it for Aristotle. God is far too busy contemplating the things that He has created and span the vast universe to care too much about the few humans that live on earth. But the best that we can do is to try and focus on the divine intellect of God. “The intellect is the highest thing in us, and the objects it apprehends are the highest things that can be known.” This means that the greatest Good that we can do for ourselves in this lifetime is to think about the highest things, or the things that God would think about.
It is in that sense that we need God for the complete fulfillment of our lives. However, he doesn’t seem to say much else on the matter. The majority of his time is spent explaining how we can be happy and live a pretty good life, not necessarily around God. Aristotle puts more emphasis on the Doctrine of the Mean.
Aristotle believes that a good life is lived through being virtuous. These virtues should become a habit within the person. Because of this misconception, it is believed that living a life of mindless routine is the happy life. However, this is not the case. Aristotle believes that one must actively live with moral virtue. By doing so, the mortal virtue is a “hexis”. This is the active condition one must try to hold themselves to.
The way we can do this is to always be prepared of all the external circumstances we may face in our life. New obstacles in life allow the person to face adversity, and they can either fall deficient of the mean or excessive of the mean when acting with virtue. The different event triggers the passive condition because the person is unaware of how to act while observing the situation. After repeated exposure, the passive condition becomes the active condition because the virtuous action becomes a habit. However, this action is not virtuous unless one is in stable equilibrium of the soul. One needs to be able to choose his or her actions knowing for the sake of doing what is right.
The desires and impulses that surround us propose a distraction when trying to live the virtuous or good life. Throughout life experience, we become more adapted to such temptations. Even though temptations are passive, they are consistent throughout our life. Through repeated exposure of these temptations, we can either give in too much or give in too little. We then fall outside of “The Doctrine of the Mean”. We are then not content because we are either acting deficiently or excessively on our desires. Only through living virtuously in the mean, can we be truly happy.
This moral activity can be taught unto young children from society. When young they are naïve, but they are more mature as they age. This maturity defines his or her character because of their virtuous activities, which becomes an active condition. This can be seen in society because one must conform to society at least to some extent in order to be recognized as virtuous. An example of a person that defies a life of living virtuously could be psychopaths because they selfishly give in to desires excessively without the care of others. In an individualistic society, this can be seen as rash. However, the person that conforms too much can be seen as cowardice in this individualistic society because he or she is not being true. However, these actions can be viewed subjectively by person, but objectively by society. An example of a system that enforces virtuous activity would be our justice system. However, Aristotle believes that people do not take our laws as seriously when trying to live a life of virtuous activity. Instead, our actions are influence more by the people close to us or what he considers genuine friendship. He believed that genuine friendship is a beautiful thing because we are able to act selflessly virtuous for our good friends. Without genuine friendship or the highest form of friendship, one cannot obtain happiness. He believed that the highest good in this realm is the beautiful. By living virtuously, one experiences the beauty of doing good to one another.
According to Aristotle there are three different kinds of lives that a person can live: a life for pleasure, a life for politics and a life of studying. Being a little bias Aristotle chose the life of studying to be the highest form of life, in particular studying the good life. The good life for Aristotle is centered on being good, virtuous and finding our telos. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines the word good as many different things. He defines the word good as “what-it-is, as god and mind, in quality, as the virtues, in quantity as the measured amount, in relative, as useful, in time as the opportune place” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book I Chapter 6, 25-27). All of these definitions for the word good make it tough to decipher which exactly correlates to the good life for human beings. One would assume that Aristotle was talking about the virtues when he was deciding what the best life for humans was because he goes into such great detail of the virtues. The virtues are all encompassing and if followed to a tee would produce the greatest of lives. Human good is found in happiness because happiness is the means to our end. That happiness is found in the virtues and more accurately stated by Aristotle, “and so the human good proves to be activity of the soul in accord with virtue and indeed with the best and most complete virtue” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book I Chapter 7, 16-19). If indeed that is true then what is the highest and most complete virtue? This is debatable and while all virtues are important to the entire picture the two virtues that govern the others are wisdom and prudence. Wisdom combines experience with knowledge in order to make rational decisions while prudence is a measuring stick used to stay between the excess and deficiency. One could assume that a person who was wise and also prudent would live the best life because they would not only know the virtues, but they could find a perfect balance of the two. According to Aristotle, the telos acting in accord to virtue and the highest virtues of wisdom and prudence allow us to work towards the greatest end.
Aristotle believes that, “human beings should aim at a life in full conformity with their rational natures; for this, the satisfaction of desires and the acquisition of material goods are less important than the achievement of virtue. A happy person will exhibit a personality appropriately balanced between reasons and desires, with moderation characterizing all. In this sense, at least, "virtue is its own reward". True happiness can therefore be attained only through the cultivation of the virtues that make a human life complete” (Nichomachean Ethics I7). He explains that through the nature of virtue is when we develop virtues of character. The virtues are repetitive until they become habit. Aristotle believes that we should all strive for that intermediate state of being. This means that we should neither indulge excessively or deficiently. This claim is supported by his well known “The Doctrine of the Mean “. An example put to practical use would be courage. A person should neither be overly courageous or he or she would be considered rash. However, he or she should neither be deficient in courage or they would be considered cowardice. A real life example could be a terrorist sacrificing his own life. His actions appear rash, at least in our perception. A person who is deficient in courage may fail to take a test because of the fear of failure, despite studying. This person is then viewed as cowardice.
Aristotle believes that worldly pleasures will lead us to an incomplete and unfulfilled life. However, this is difficult because it is our human nature to be constantly tempted and distracted by such things. He states that it is the actions that lead to these virtues that will guarantee the most happiness. However, every person should do different actions due to their different innate abilities. One should repeatedly do what they enjoy doing as long as it is not in the excess or deficient. For example, an artist should keep on painting, and a musician should keep on playing music. One needs to do this in order to find a meaningful and fulfilling life. This prevents one from boredom and the monotony of life’s routines. It gives a person a purpose for living in this life.
Aristotle believes that “contemplation is the highest form of moral activity because it is continuous, pleasant, self-sufficient, and complete” (Nichomachean Ethics X 8). Since God is so supreme, it is impossible to fully comprehend God’s reasoning behind the things he does. Therefore, contemplating on his nature is a never ending process for one to do. One cannot get tired of such an activity because progression of learning about God’s nature cannot be measured in objective terms. Therefore the debate on God’s existence is never ending. It is safe to assume that this activity gives a person individual purpose and a sense of conformity because one can question God’s nature either individually or in a group setting. If one is able to contemplate God’s existence, one should act as if he or she is thriving to live like God. By doing otherwise, one will fall shorter of upholding “The Doctrine of the Mean”. Since God is the knower, creator, and first cause, one must thrive to live up to his standards. The only way to do this is to first contemplate God’s existence in order to understand his reasoning.
It can be argued that Aristotle’s views seem biased or one-sided given that he was a philosopher and that he believed that theoretical wisdom was the ultimate virtue. How convenient of him for believing that everyone else is like him. The claims he makes are supported only by a hodgepodge of premises that cannot even be proven. However, the beauty of his works contributed to further investigation and examination of such claims. True or not, his claims have influenced the opinions of countless individuals throughout time.