What Constitute Happiness to Man

Topics: Ethics, Happiness, Meaning of life Pages: 15 (6479 words) Published: April 18, 2011
The great questions about happiness are concerned with its definition and its attainability. In what does happiness consist? Is it the same for all men, or do different men seek different things in the name of happiness? Can happiness be achieved on earth, or only hereafter? And if the pursuit of happiness is not a futile quest, by what means or steps should it be undertaken? On all these questions, the great books set forth the fundamental inquiries and speculations, as well as the controversies to which they have given rise, in the tradition of western thought. There seems to be no question that men want happiness. "Man wishes to be happy," Pascal writes, "and only wishes to be happy, and cannot wish not to be so." To the question, what moves desire? Locke thinks only one answer is possible: "happiness, and that alone." But this fact, even if it goes undisputed, does not settle the issue whether men are right in governing their lives with a view to being or becoming happy. There is therefore one further question. Should men make happiness their goal and direct their acts accordingly? According to Kant, "the principle of private happiness" is "the direct opposite of the principle of morality." He understands happiness to consist in "the satisfaction of all our desires: extensive, in regard to their multiplicity; intensive, in regard to their degree; protensive, in regard to their duration." What Kant calls the "pragmatic" rule of life, which aims at happiness, "tells us what we have to do, if we wish to become possessed of happiness." Unlike the moral law, it is a hypothetical, not a categorical, imperative. Furthermore, Kant points out that such a pragmatic or utilitarian ethics (which is for him the same as an "ethics of happiness") cannot help being empirical, "for it is only by experience," he says, "that I can learn either what inclinations exist which desire satisfaction, or what are the natural means of satisfying them." Such empirical knowledge "is available for each individual in his own way." Hence there can be no universal solution in terms of desire of the problem of how to be happy. To reduce moral philosophy to "a theory of happiness" must result, therefore, in giving up the search for ethical principles which are both universal and a priori. In sharp opposition to the pragmatic rule, Kant sets the "moral or ethical law," the motive of which is not simply to be happy, but rather to be worthy of happiness. In addition to being a categorical imperative which imposes an absolute obligation upon us, this law, he says, "takes no account of our desires or the means of satisfying them." Rather it "dictates how we ought to act in order to deserve happiness." It is drawn from pure reason, not from experience, and therefore has the universality of an a priori principle, without which, in Kant's opinion, a genuine science of ethics- or metaphysic of morals-is impossible. With the idea of moral worth-that which alone deserves happiness-taken away, "happiness alone is," according to Kant, "far from being the complete good. Reason does not approve of it (however much inclination may desire it) except as united with desert On the other hand," Kant admits, "morality alone, and, with it, mere desert, is likewise far from being the complete good." These two things must be united to constitute the true summum bonum which, according to Kant, means both the supreme and the complete good. The man "who conducts himself in a manner not unworthy of happiness, must be able to hope for the possession of happiness." But even if happiness combined with moral worth does constitute the supreme good, Kant still refuses to admit that happiness, as a practical objective, can function as a moral principle. Though a man can hope to be happy only if under the moral law he does his duty, he should not do his duty with the hope of thereby becoming happy. "A disposition," he writes, "which should require the prospect of happiness as...
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