The Human Function as it Pertains to Happiness
Humans have a function, according to Aristotle, and so it would follow that fulfilling that function makes us happy. Before we can establish that fulfilment of purpose results in happiness, we must first establish what the human function actually is, and also what constitutes good and happiness for humans. Aristotle’s arguments for happiness and human purpose help to provide answers to these questions, though as with all philosophical topics there are those who disagree.
To begin the evaluation of human function and whether or not it brings happiness, defining function and what constitutes human function must occur. The dictionary definition of function is ‘an activity that is natural to or the purpose of a thing’ (Oxford, 1978). So we might assume that, since all the parts of the human body have specific functions contributing to the whole, it would fit that the whole must also serve a function. Having established that humans have a function, it is open to debate what that function actually is. Aristotle was of the belief that everything has a telos, which he includes as the fourth of his Four Casues, Final Causation. Final Causation essentially is the answer to the question ‘what is the purpose or end of X? What is X for?’ Aristotle’s conclusion that everything has a telos explains why things have the characteristics and properties that they do. It can be difficult to single out the principal functions though.
Animals have nutrition and growth, and sense perception as their characteristics in order to achieve the function of survival. Humans share these characteristics with animals and thus they cannot be our functions. As Aristotle defines humans as animals which are capable of rational thought and language, we are therefore rational animals. We have rationality to distinguish us from all other animals. Aristotle then concludes that the human function, in relation to our unique capacities of reason, is to fully realise the potential of the rational part of our mind. Though, just because humans are rational beings, as opposed to non-rational, it does not necessarily mean that humans are not frequently irrational. As Aristotle points out, we should be aware that there is a difference between what something has the potential to be and what it actually becomes, since all things need the right conditions in which they can flourish. An example given in Trigg (1999) is that just because humans may be sociable by nature, does not mean that every individual will always be so. So according to Aristotle’s reasoning, to be the most successful at achieving human function, a person must be good at realizing the full potential of reason and acting upon it.
Prior to deciding whether fulfilling our purpose of reasoning will make us happy, we must first uncover what happiness is for humans. Happiness, in today’s sense of the word, is not what Aristotle was trying to emphasize. The Greek word used was eudemonia,...