Sunday, 16 November 2008

Aristotle, Buddhism, Kant, and Happiness

From a Buddhist discussion list I am on, there has been recent discussion of Aristotle's view of happiness:

From the Nicomachean Ethics (book 1):
"We are unwilling to call the living happy because changes may befall them and because we believe that happiness haws permanence and is not amenable to change under any circumstances."

"For it seems that to some extent good and evil really exist for a dead man, just as they may exist for a man who lives without being conscious of them, for example honors and disgraces, and generally the successes and failures of his children and descendents."

"Happiness, as we have said, requires completeness in virtue as well as a complete lifetime."
Additionally, I just found this:
Yet evidently, as we said, it needs the external goods as well; for it is impossible, or not easy, to do noble acts without the proper equipment. In many actions we use friends and riches and political power as instruments; and there are some things the lack of which takes the lustre from happiness, as good birth, goodly children, beauty; for the man who is very ugly in appearance or ill-born or solitary and childless is not very likely to be happy, and perhaps a man would be still less likely if he had thoroughly bad children or friends or had lost good children or friends by death. As we said, then, happiness seems to need this sort of prosperity in addition; for which reason some identify happiness with good fortune, though others identify it with virtue. (N.E. Book 1.8 - bolding mine)
This is opposed by Kant, in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, wherein what is to be saught is not happiness but a good character (which, Kant assures, leads one to be worthy of happiness):
Good character, he wrote, should not be confused with
four other kinds of things we normally think of as good:
mental talents such as intelligence, wit, and judgment;
desirable temperamental qualities such as courage,
resoluteness, and perseverance; "gifts of fortune," as the
Greeks had called them, like power, wealth, health, and
honor; and, finally, what we all crave, happiness, that is,
"complete well-being and contentment with one’s state."(*)
Both Kant and Aristotle found unique value in the human capacity of reason. This is, at least prima facie, a far different starting point from Buddhism, which seems to focus on the path from suffering to its end (wherein reason Kant and Aristotle understand it lies in that journey is difficult matter to understand). Aristotle gave primacy to theoretical reason (theoria) and Kant to practical reason (morality).

As a Buddhist-Kantian I would suggest that the Buddha's emphasis was also on practical reason, the path to nirvana. But that could be too much splitting of hairs to be useful.

Anyhow, file this under rantings and ravings for now - no real point, just some points, perhaps to ponder.

* Roger Sullivan. The Review of Metaphysics Sept 1995 v49 n1 p77 (15)