The Better Morality: Kant and Aristotle on Happiness

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Immanuel Kant and Aristotle agree that all rational beings desire happiness and that all rational beings at least should desire moral righteousness. However, their treatments of the relationship between the two are starkly opposed. While Aristotle argues that happiness and morality are nearly synonymous (in the respect that virtue necessarily leads to happiness), Kant claims that not only does happiness have no place in the realm of morality, but that a moral action usually must contradict the actor’s own inclination toward happiness. Because Kant and Aristotle hold practically equal definitions of happiness, the difference must arise from the respective relationships between happiness and each author’s framework of morality. Because Kant…show more content…
Likewise, Kant says that there is no reliable concept of happiness (4:399) and that we can only infer the objects related to happiness through experience, which is inherently misleading as a source of truth (4:418). Lastly, both philosophers believe that happiness relies on reason. As previously discussed, Aristotle’s conception of the path to happiness depends entirely on our use of reason to conduct virtuous activity. And although Kant says that reason distances us from happiness (4:395), I argue that reason and science have raised our standard of living throughout history. Does he really believe that the cavemen huddling around fires were happier than the healthier, longer-living and more enlightened modern man? Furthermore, reason gives us the tools to pursue wealth and power, whose category he labels as happiness. Lastly, he specifically calls happiness “Power, riches, honor, even health, and the entire well-being and contentment with one’s condition” (4:393). Self-awareness is a faculty of cognizance, and thus to be “content with one’s condition” requires some level of reason. Thus, as I have shown, Kant’s and Aristotle’s definitions of happiness are equal: both require fortune, neither is universal, and both require reason. If both philosophers define happiness in equal terms, yet treat it in opposite manners, then the difference must arise in their
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