The Ethos of Happiness?
Ethical theory revolves around the notion of the most final good. This concept originates with Aristotle who argues that if our pursuit of ‘good’ is to make sense, there must be a most final good. A good is most final if it is chosen for its own sake and not for the sake of anything beyond itself. Two other constraints that Aristotle puts on the highest good is that it is to be self-sufficient and most desirable. The Hellenistic philosophers add another constraint to what can be called the final good in that it has to be natural. The Epicureans claim that pleasure will pass all these tests. The Epicureans believe that no actual argument can be provided for the claim that pleasure is a good thing. Cicero points out that children and animals all pursue pleasure and avoid pain as soon as they are born; before their minds have been corrupted by any philosophical teachings (Lane). The Epicurean beliefs that the idea that pleasure is good is ‘sensed just like the heat of fire, the whiteness of snow and the sweetness of honey, none of which needs confirmation by elaborate arguments; it is enough just to point them out . . . ’ (Lane). The reason Epicureans refer to the natural state of humans and animals to argue that pleasure is good, is because they believe that the appearance of design in nature is the product of an evolutionary process, without divine interference. We are not ‘designed’ to find pleasure attractive, we are genetically inclined to pursue it; and that is all there is to it to the Epicurean. The argument is that achievement of a state that we pursue by our very natures, our genetic dispositions, can only count as flourishing and can thus only be good. Epicurus’ argument depends on his particular understanding of pleasure. Pleasure can be thought of as a kind of feeling in itself, or as a way in which we experience various feelings or activities. Happiness in the latter sense, is not the result of feelings...
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