In the work, Nicomachean Ethics, the philosopher Aristotle creates a guideline for those who are serious about pursuing happiness. Aristotle's recommendations for finding happiness are not accepted today without some struggle and careful examination. In Aristotle's time, slaves, women and children were not truly considered human; so in many cases the philosopher is directing his words towards free males only. It is necessary to understand that by overlooking this discrimination and applying it to all people, one can discover the timeless wisdom of Aristotle.
To begin, one must learn what happiness means to Aristotle. He considers happiness to be simply the name of the good life. This is not to say that the good life produces happiness, but that happiness is the title for the good life that is sought. Aristotle goes on to distinguish the good life as one which fulfills the purpose of a human being. This belief in part is derived from Aristotle's personal definition of good. In the 1990s, one would begin to explain good by calling it nothing more than a positive value. Aristotle's idea is one that involves action. For him, good is "that at which everything aims" (Cobb, Nicomachean Ethics, Book One). This view is considered a part of teleology, because it deals with the notion of goals or ends. Therefore, through Aristotle's definition of the word good, one can better understand why his view of the good life centers around the purpose of a human being.
Aristotle examines the purpose of a human by drawing attention to the capacity for reason. Reasoning ability is the primary distinguishing characteristic between humans and other animals. Thus to be more exclusively human, one must exercise the capacity to think. Aristotle divides the rational part of the soul into two parts: one which guides action, and one which works at understanding. Only when these two aspects of the soul are engaged can one be closer to achieving happiness. Aristotle refutes elitist thinking by stating that all people have the capacity to reason within the soul. The good and bad characteristics in people come from the kinds of activities that they desire to undertake. Aristotle also generally defines the good life as simply doing what one wants to do, but happiness can only truly be achieved when one desires to do the correct things.
The next topic to consider, then, is what kind of rational activities fulfill the purpose of a human being. Aristotle feels that as a human, one should actualize the capacities of the soul through activity. Here one encounters the debate of activity versus productivity. In current society, productivity is the measure of success, and activity for its own sake is rarely considered worthwhile. Aristotle does not believe in the importance of productivity relative to one's happiness. Instead, he feels that one should engage in activity for no external end or result whatsoever. Those activities that are chosen simply because of a...