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Link between Happiness and Virtuous Living

According to Plato, individuals always pursue happiness but they do not know where their happiness lies.  Humans desire happiness and when the objects of our desire turn out badly, this was not the object of our real desire since all human desire is directed towards achieving happiness.  All failure to achieve the desired happiness occurs involuntary, that is, by mistake.  Plato argues that the human soul (the person) consists of three parts namely: reason, spirit, and appetite.  Reason refers to prudence which is the wise component of the human soul. Spirit, on the other hand, is that part of the soul which harbors moral codes upon which a person operates.  Lastly, appetite refers to the physiological drives of humans.  In order for a person to achieve happiness according to Plato, reason needs to be in control of both spirit and appetite.  Reason is the source of knowledge and, therefore, knowledge is necessary to achieve happiness.  Lack of knowledge is equal to ignorance a situation which leads to undesired objects for humans.  Happiness results when humans achieve desirable objects and this requires knowledge to eliminate ignorance.  Thus, according to Plato, knowledge is necessary to achieve happiness.  Knowledge, according to him, is the human skill which brings success.

From Plato’s perspective, virtues-wisdom, temperance, justice, piety and courage-are all linked by the function of wisdom.  A wise person is one who is knowledgeable about what is right and what is wrong.  Consequently, he does what is right and abstains from what is wrong.  Knowing what is right or wrong is the skill of virtue.  True virtue occurs only in those persons whose reason is in control of the other parts of the human soul namely; spirit and appetite.  A person who is aware of what he or she is doing will act virtuously since he or she knows that such action will bring happiness.  Thus, persons do what is wrong out of ignorance or mistakes. Virtue is, thus, linked to knowledge which is the key to achieving happiness.

Socrates defines virtue as the knowledge of what is good and bad.  According to him, if a person knows what is good and what is bad, then he or she is completely virtuous.  Socrates identifies four parts of virtue which are courage, temperance, justice, and piety.  He further defines courage as the knowledge of what is right or wrong in the future; temperance as knowledge of what is good or bad for oneself; justice as the knowledge of what is right or wrong against others; and piety as the knowledge of what is right or wrong against the gods.  Socrates emphasizes that each kind of knowledge is as important as the others.  He also subscribes to the idea of relationship between knowledge and happiness.  According to him, if one discusses virtue more often, the he or she will achieve the knowledge of virtue.  Socrates claimed that knowledge of virtue is sufficient for being virtuous and being virtuous is sufficient for being happy.  Thus, Socrates believed that knowledge of good and bad is sufficient for happiness and since virtue is the knowledge of good and bad, virtue is sufficient for happiness.

Aristotle on his part contends that the supreme good to which every human being aspires is happiness.  He further argues that a happy man is a good and virtuous man.  According to him, virtue is acquired strictly through education and virtuous activities are what constitute happiness.  He goes on to identify two categories of virtue namely intellectual and moral virtues.  Intellectual virtue arises from teaching while moral virtue is because of habit.  According to Aristotle, moral virtue does not arise in us by nature.  He claims that there are three things that make men virtuous which are nature, habit, and rationality.  Nature endows us with the capacity to be virtuous.  In order to acquire actual virtues, education through instruction or habituation becomes necessary.  Through education, we are able to acquire virtues and wisdom that are imperative to achieving our potential happiness.  It is only through education that we can actualize our potential happiness.  Thus, the art of living has to be learned.

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