September 4, 2012

A Different Look At Happiness

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says (about Happiness) that “for both the multitude and persons of refinement speak of it as Happiness, and conceive the ‘the good life or ‘doing well’ to be the same thing as ‘being happy.’ But what constitutes happiness is a matter of dispute” (Aristotle 7). However, what about those persons not of “refinement,” those looking to make others miserable and those who find happiness in making others miserable? The word that might come to mind is the German word, “schadenfreude” for which there is no English equivalent. It literally means “ pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.” So, what do you think Aristotle’s position on schadenfreude would be? Is it ethical? Would someone engaging in schadenfreude be “virtuous” or “good” in Aristotle’s mind?


jake buck said...

I think that's a very valid point, and I found myself wondering similar instances as I was reading. I think the closest Aristotle comes to touching on this subject is when he states that "uncertainty surrounds the conception of Good, because it frequently occurs that Good things have harmful consequences (7)". He talks about the premises of such uncertainty being necessary to understand in order to begin gathering a conception of "Good". Aristotle refers to politicians as "Moral Nobility", so I think that he would find someone practicing schadenfreude not to be worthy of such a position, and the general reason for this uncertainty.

John Smith said...

It's funny that you mention this.

Throughout the reading Aristotle seems to work from an already supposed viewpoint. Yes, he works out his ideas of paper, but it seems like he has already come to several exclusionary conclusions by the first paragraph.

" has been well said that Good is That at which all things aim." (Aristotle 3)

A bit later,

"But such is manifestly the science of Politics; for it is this that ordains which of the sciences are to exist in states, and what branches of knowledge the different classes of the citizens are to learn, and to what point." (Aristotle 5)

In short, I agree with you. Aristotle (in my opinion) is kind of making a covert class consciousness move here. I'm not sure if it's anything like Marxism, but there are clear, but subtle distinctions between "levels" of people that appear throughout the text. From his standpoint of being learned, he refers to people who are less aware of these "truths," as "ordinary." (Aristotle 11) He also seems to point out a group of people who as the "generality of men," are "vulgar." (13) He even goes as far to say the words, "utterly slavish" shortly after. (14)

This vulgar group, or simply the more "ordinary" of the bunch might fall into the category of Life of Pleasure, where it's baser instincts are the governing factors of "Choice." Yet, for the schadenfreude, the normal principles of "Good," even in the confines of this base and menial group, wouldn't hold up.

However, Aristotle might argue it like this:

In speaking of Involuntary and Voluntary actions, there is a social stigma attached to each. Voluntary carries with it weight of recognition; the agent is aware of his doings, and in completing a Voluntary action, is in entire account for his decisions. Thus, if someone voluntarily committed murder, that is, for "fun" or pleasure, and not by social pressure, there would be no pity for the charges brought. Yet, if he were an involuntary or a compulsory agent, then the social reaction would be of mild, bitter acceptance. The shadenfreude could be believed to be a social phenomenon; one birthed out of a strange, uncontrollable (by ways of Aristotle definition of Choice) circumstances, that would have to live off the pain of others in order to deny himself a greater transgression against what is "Good." Or perhaps, Aristotle would allow the freude into a niche where this supposed aversion to good would actually benefit another viable pursuit. If the freude was an interrogator, or one in the military, he would be an able tool to help a more sophisticated individual reach his personal "Good" in the field of strategy.

Of course, the other possibility is that Aristotle would say its an "involuntary birth defect," or simply omit them (as he did in this) from his discussion.

Great Question, and I'm pretty certain I didn't answer any of it.

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