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The Pursuit Of Happiness And The Union Of Aristotle And Genesis

2853 words - 11 pages

The Pursuit of Happiness and the Union of Aristotle and Genesis

Two major schools of thought broadly influenced the development of the moral code of Western Civilization. The Judeo-Christian tradition gave us faith and God through the text of the Bible. The ancient Greeks gave us philosophical inquiry and "the Good" through the teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle proposes that "the Good" is the highest end of man’s actions. Happiness is "the Good" because it is the only end man pursues with no other end in mind. A man obtains this highest end by living his life in a virtuous manner. In marked contrast, a careful reading of Genesis shows that, in the world of the Hebrews, the highest end of a man’s actions is faith in and communication with God himself. Oneness with God is the highest end because no other god exists. A man obtains this highest end by obeying God’s commands and fulfilling God’s plan for him. On first examination, the differences between these two constructs seem negligible. But when we look closely at the ways in which the men of Genesis obtain their highest ends, we find that their means are less than virtuous in the eyes of Aristotle. To reach God, the ends seem to justify the means, while to reach "the Good", the virtuous path is crucial. Although this inherent difference in the two systems of morality seems to oppose them to one another, the difference between them has actually helped meld them together to form our modern view of happiness. We need both views: that wicked means will corrupt even the best ends, and that good ends can justify any means. In fact, there are stories in each text that describe a man who finds happiness through God, or "the Good," and then has it wrenched from him. These stories show why the pairing of these two opposites makes for the most complete view of happiness as being the highest end of human action.

The similarity between the English words "God" and "Good" draws an obvious parallel between them. While Aristotle’s concept of "the Good" has little to do with an all-powerful being, the words he uses when describing "the Good" connote something larger than mankind. Aristotle states: "We reach the conclusion that the good of man is an activity of the soul in conformity with excellence or virtue" (Ethics 17).1 In this quote, he defines "the Good" as a state of being, namely the best state of being towards which every human strives. In Genesis, the patriarchs strive toward God through the covenant he establishes with them. Faith in God and communion with him are the highest ends of the actions of the patriarchs: "And Abram was ninety-nine years old and the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am El Shaddai. Walk with Me and be blameless, and I will grant My covenant between Me and you and I will multiply you very greatly’" (Gen. 17:1-3).2 This speech marks the beginning of the challenge God sets in front of his patriarchs; the...

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