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Aristotle’s Views on Ethics

In this paper, I will present Aristotle’s ethical views, how they apply to humanity and the purpose of studying ethics. First, I will explain the notion of “eudaimonia,” according to Aristotle. Then I will elaborate on the goals of Ethics as a study and the use of main principles of Ethics for people’s lives viewed in his argument, stating that all humans share a certain function in life. Finally, I will present an objection to Aristotle’s function argument.

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According to Aristotle’s view, human beings live in this world for a reason and their main function is cognition. My objection to Aristotle’s function argument is that asserting all humans have a purpose is imprecise. It is quite possible that there is no certain purpose for our existence. Additionally, even if there is a definite function for all human beings, it does not mean that good life for humans consists of nothing but fulfilling this function.

This objection makes the whole function argument of Aristotle quite weak. His teleological approach is based on the idea that there are a goal and intelligent design behind everything in this world, yet this approach is not the only existing point of view about the structure of the world around.

One of the main notions explored by Aristotle in his “Ethics” is “eudaimonia,” which is the state of human happiness and flourishing. Aristotle argues that a life of happiness is the best kind of life a human being can achieve. The difficulty Aristotle faces in trying to understand the meaning of eudaimonia is his inability to find out which occupations or activities are the keys to a happy human life.

It seems there is no single definable source of eudaimonia for all people in general because the activities that bring happiness to different humans are dependent upon the individual. Aristotle approaches this issue functionally. He studies the kinds of activities that bring happiness to both humans and animals and based on this comparison, he concluded that the main source of pleasure specific only to humans is the exercise of reason.

Since Aristotle argues that human beings have a specific function, he first attempts to establish the kind of activity that could be the expression of this function. According to this approach, an excellent performance of this specific function would be a quality that makes a good human being with a harmonious life.

In looking for this function, Aristotle studies activities specific to creatures other than humans. He excludes functions that are common to both animals and people. As a result of these studies, he concludes that cognition and exercise of reason are the activities specific only to human beings.

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Aristotle identifies these activities as the main functions of humans. The philosopher notes that cognition and exercise of reason are impractical and non-material goods that can only be successful and pleasurable if the individual’s life does not lack any of the physical kinds of happiness.

For example, an unhealthy person, one who has lost his friends or family members, one who lives in poverty, or one who is unhappy in love cannot flourish because he is lacking physical or material comforts. According to Aristotle, a happy person living a good life must have all of his material needs fulfilled first in order to search for non-material happiness successfully.

Aristotle’s function argument does not consider the idea that this world and the humans in it may simply have no special function. This idea is quite common in the contemporary world and it is the basis of my objection to the function argument.

The followers of the Big Bang Theory believe that the Universe appeared out of nothing and without any particular reason. This means that it is quite possible that for centuries, human beings have lived on this planet without any special function or purpose.

Another objection to Aristotle’s function argument is that if there really is a function for human beings, this particular activity does not have to be the criterion that makes a human life good, harmonious and well lived. There could be more than one human function. Besides, the human function does not have to be the activity specific only to human beings such as cognition; it could be any other activity practiced by non-human creatures.

Aristotle’s theory is useful but limited, and therefore, could be supplemented by other ideas. My argument is that there may be no inherent purpose for human life and this whole world in general. Humans may not be meant for any specific activity, nor may they be meant for some non-human activity.

Aristotle uses the teleological approach and bases his function argument on the reasonable way of cognition, claiming that is the only true understanding of the sense of human life, yet he has named one of the possible approaches, when all the other points of view are still quite probable.

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Aristotle’s function argument is meant to discover the way of achieving a happy human life. The goal of studying ethics, according to Aristotle, is to become a good and virtuous person using fulfilling the main purpose of human life. Judging from the objections to the function argument, it is unclear if such purpose even exists.

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