In this response paper, I want you to think about the connection between virtue and happiness. This is an Aristotelian theme that was taken up by the Christian tradition early in the history of Christianity. Review what was said about morality and justice. Both were teleological and honorific. The idea is that one needs to have an idea of the purpose of an institution or practice before you can make judgments about what traits deserve the reward. This was the point of the Callie Smartt example and other examples Sandel used in the chapter on Aristotle. We expanded on this in lectures as it relates to morality (and not justice). For Aristotle morality was both teleological and honorific. He argued that human nature has a function or purpose and that a good human being, one who deserved honor, was the one who exhibited the virtues or excellences of character that made for a well-lived life. Aristotle called the person who lived well happy, a eudaimon. Eudaimonia, translated as happiness, means a well-lived life. On this view, the point of morality was not to follow a set of rules, though rules are important, so much as to develop practices and institutions that lead to living well. Immoral choices are those that lead one away from a well lived life and moral choices lead one toward a well lived life. The virtues, the character traits of a person living well, are those which make a person good. In Aristotle’s day, the focus was on four virtues, the Cardinal Virtues, courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom.
The main tradition of Christian ethics has as its goal a well-lived life. For that reason, it is not considered a deontological system but a eudaimonistic, or virtue, one. How then is Christianity related to Aristotle? Christianity recognized the cardinal virtues, but also added a whole different set of virtues to go along with the cardinal virtues. But the idea is the same: morality is about becoming a good person. In Christianity, what it means to be a good person is related to the kind of being God created human beings to be, that is, human nature as created by God.
One of the most difficult things for students to understand is this idea that morality is not about rules but about character, not about what you do so much as what you are (though obviously they are related).
In this response paper, I want you to read through Chapter One of Wadell’s book and to reflect on this way of understanding happiness. Earlier in the semester, we read the “Ring of Gyges” story from Chapter 2 of Plato’s Republic. Remember that in the story, Gyges found a ring that made him invisible. Using the ring, he was able to seduce the King’s wife, murder the King, and ascend to the throne himself, where one assumes he died after a long and prosperous reign as King.
Here is the question for the response paper, given the teleological understanding of happiness found in Aristotle and Christianity, could Gyges be happy? Why or why not? I will be looking to see how well you understand the teleological nature of ethics as understood by Aristotle and Christianity and its relationship to living a good life.
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