Aristotle and Haidt about Happines

Desire to be Happy by Aristotle

Many people think about philosophical notions such as the sense of life life after death, an ideal model of justice or what happiness is. It is difficult to give definite answers to these problems. For example, I often use words “happiness” and “justice” in everyday life. Various issues can make me think that the actions, objects and people around make me happy or depressed. Aristotle wrote about his understanding of happiness centuries ago in the work Happiness and the Good Life, but the nature of human beings did not change a lot from the times of Aristotle. Even now, in the 21st century, people still do not know a universal way for everyone to become happy. That is why contemporary philosophers and psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt try to explore the problem of happiness using the ideas proposed by Aristotle centuries ago. Even though they have certain differences in theories, their key idea about the importance of friendship unites them.

Aristotle wrote that achieving happiness is the only thing that needs to be the reason for any human activity. It is not a thing that lasts for a small period of time, it is the sense of life. The desire to become happy is the hymn for the power of human will and desire for perfection. According to the philosopher, happiness is a complicated concept. It consists of justice, courage, citizenship, generosity, and friendship. It is possible to state that the main component of happiness is friendship. It should be originally based on absolute virtue, when a person is altruistic enough not to think about his/her practical needs in the relationships with friends. Such friendship is closely connected with honor and is a rare thing in life. That is why it needs to be preserved carefully (Adler, 1978).

The Happiness Hypothesis by Haidt

Jonathan Haidt combines ancient philosophy with modern psychology to explain the main issues of human life in the book The Happiness Hypothesis (2006). Strengthening social relationships is one of the components that make life better. People communicate with different individuals during their life, and sometimes certain problems appear. Haidt investigates numerous issues that influence the effectiveness of human communication, e.g. the concept of the inner lawyer and the myth of pure evil that are both connected with understanding and solving problems. Aristotle’s idea of friendship is called socialization in Haidt's work, but the latter studies the mechanisms of self-defense when a person is deprived of real friendship.

The situation when an individual thinks that he/she is not the only possible reason for problems is quite common. The majority of people try to find causes for their failure in others. Some say that the circumstances were not favorable; others claim that their colleagues, friends, or relatives were to blame. It takes much inner force to acknowledge that everyone is the creator of his/her happiness. This so-called inner lawyer appears every time the situation becomes bleak, both at the individual and global levels.

There are numerous examples in everyday life when people prefer to switch their inner lawyer on and try hard not to pay attention to deteriorating results of their activity. When I was a child, I was attending piano lessons with my neighbor. Even though the boy was talented at music and had a good pitch, he was not able to sit calmly for 30 minutes. There are numerous ideas in contemporary pedagogy that help make the educational process easier for everyone. The problem is that even the best individual program cannot lead to good results if the student does not practice at home. My neighbor was not trying to study at all, but he was very depressed after the concert where he failed. The situation exacerbated because there were many people in the audience who came to listen to their children’s performance. The boy blamed his teacher, parents, and classmates for his poor performance. It did not occur to him that he achieved the result that was proportional to his diligence. Perhaps, the boy understood that he was not acting the right way and then changed his behavior. In that case, he might have become a professional. However, if he decided not to fight his laziness, he might have ruined his life because of “inner lawyer activity”.

It is difficult to say whether making excuses at the individual level can lead to less horrible results than behaving this way in foreign policy. It is even possible to say that this is the key principle of big politics. Using pseudo evidences to explain failures is one of the major methods of manipulating public opinion. A bright example of using the inner lawyer technique is the war in Vietnam. The United States lost thousands of soldiers there; numerous Vietnamese were killed, and it seemed like nothing could stop this mass assassination. Nevertheless, the official version is that the American soldiers tried to stop the “red alert”.

The Cold War started from the ideological conflict between the USA (capitalistic model) and the USSR (communistic model). The issues that led to decades of arms race between the two countries were populistic. However, they led to real results that could be measured in thousands of deaths. In the beginning, the US accused the USSR of violating human rights and tyranny. The Soviet Union started spreading communist ideas in Africa and Eastern Europe. The US claimed that the USSR tried to create the “Red Empire”. After all these actions, the world was divided into two armed parts: Eastern Bloc (the USSR) and Western Bloc (NATO forces and the US).

The US got involved in the civil conflict in Vietnam, thinking that it might reduce the spread of communism in the region. More than 58 thousand American soldiers died during this war campaign, and those who survived still suffer from depression and post-war syndrome. The government can certainly call itself an expert in creating self-excuses when it promotes the idea that all those people died for democracy and happy future.

Another concept that is closely connected with socialization and happiness is the myth of pure evil. It is easy to think that the enemies are absolutely evil by nature. All their thoughts are dark, and the only reason they commit crimes is that they want to see the world in chaos. This sounds strange because of the preliminary exaggeration, but it is a key idea in the myth of pure evil. Even evil people do not always act because of greed and sadism, and their world view might be diverse and not so horrible. This phenomenon can also be seen both at the individual and global levels.

The concept of pure evil can be found at the global level as well, and the results of such primitive thinking are striking. A bright example of it is the French Revolution of 1789–1799. The revolutionaries executed all people from monarchic political elite when the regime fell. They thought that previous ways of ruling the state were absolutely evil, just as people who were in the government.

The period of violence in France after the Revolution is referred to as the Terror; it was characterized by numerous executions of the enemies of the Republic. Thousands of people were condemned to the guillotine in 1793-1794. Most of the French nobility lost their heads during this period. Among them were Marie Antoinette, King Louis XVI, Louis Philippe II, and the Girondins. Revolution is always radical, and it does not distinguish between “good” and “bad”. It is impossible to imagine that those who ruled with the monarch were pure evil and wanted to ruin the country. Nevertheless, for the new regime, it was so. The idea of radicalism of the revolution was stated by Robespierre, who was one of the ideologists of those changes. He wrote, “The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny” (Robespierre, 1997).

In The Happiness Hypothesis, Haidt investigates numerous concepts that influence the human world view. The concepts of pure evil and the inner lawyer are important in the process of social adaptation. They can be found at the individual level (in everyday life) and globally (in politics). It is difficult to determine which of these levels is more important because the mistakes in both cases can result in great problems, and the examples of the French Revolution and the Cold War fully illustrate this. However, it is obvious that social stratification or lack of virtuous friendship, which was mentioned by Aristotle, is the origin of all these problems. In addition, happy people do not make war.

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