Book 01
Chapter 08
What we say about happiness versus what common opinion says.

But let us stop and make sure that the starting points we are going off of will mesh well with common thinking on this topic. Common thinking, right or wrong, goes off facts. If we have good starting points then they will not only work with the facts people are familiar with, but also they will be something that people can relate to and so our starting points will not sound weird or mysterious to them. What I am talking about here is how people think about the soul and how we use that word when we talk about happiness and the good. Is it going to make sense to people or not? Let us take a look at opinions about the soul that people already commonly hold, and I mean here opinions that make sense to people, and then let us try and relate that to things we were talking about before.

OK, first, things that are good can be divided into three separate columns: (1) outside goods, ones that are not of the body nor of the soul (e.g. money), (2) goods of the body (e.g. health), (3) goods of the soul (e.g. virtue). And it is commonly said that the goods of the soul are more truly good than either of the others.

Now those things that we do with our minds, we say relate to our souls. We said that the good of humans is to see what good there is to be done and do what needs to be done to make it happen. The good of humans is to use their souls well, just as a good flute-player plays the flute well. So we can see here that what we are saying about the soul and the good agrees with things people already believe (including philosophers), and so it has to make sense in some way. Why? Because even if commonly held beliefs turned out wrong somehow, still it is not as though commonly held beliefs would be completely nonsensical or foolish, but rather mistaken on some point. Note also, that because we make right living to be the ultimate thing to be got at, our chief good is among the goods of the soul, and not one of the goods that is outside a person, and so, according to commonly held opinion, our good will be ranked as the highest.

We can also see that what we set down about happiness agrees with common opinion. How so? Well, common opinion is that the happy man lives well and does well. What we say is that happiness means living right, and from that doing well follows, just as from playing the flute well, beautiful music follows.

Any of the things people commonly say about happiness can be seen to follow from the things we have set down. And what do they say? They say happiness means having virtue. They say happiness means being wise in the things of everyday life. And some say happiness means being wise to the greatest and deepest things of the universe. Other people say pleasure goes along with happiness. And others say prosperity goes with happiness. Some of these views have been held by many people, others by the wise ancients, and still others by the most famous of people. So, it is not at all likely that any of these views should be totally wrong, but rather it is likely they are right in at least some respect (or perhaps even most respects).

First, for the people who put happiness and virtue (or some one virtue) together, what we say agrees with them. Having virtue means doing virtuous things. But it is important to note that it makes a big difference whether we claim the most good thing to be a state of mind or if we claim it to be an activity. See here, if we said it was a state of mind then from that there would follow things that do not at all sound right. How so? A person can be in a state of mind and not be doing anything. They can be asleep or otherwise inactive. It does not sound right to say that one can have the greatest good of the soul while they are sleeping or sitting around doing nothing. How is that the greatest good if it nothing comes of it? This is more like the case where we said having money and then doing nothing with it cannot be considered "the good".

But now, if we say what is most good is an activity that happens within the soul, then that means you will see good things flowing out from that activity, because to be active means to make things happen and good activity means making good things happen. Think about the Olympic Games. In the Olympics, it is not those who have great beauty or strength (which are like having a good state of mind) who are crowned, but those who get out there and compete. So also in life, those who take action are the ones who win, and rightly so, the noble and good things in life.

Also, for such people, it feels good to be alive. This is because pleasure is an affection of the soul. To each man, what he loves is pleasing to him. A lover of horses is pleased by horses. A lover of sights is pleased by sights. It is as much true also that a lover of justice takes pleasure in acts of justice, and a lover of virtue takes pleasure in virtuous acts and things which show themselves to be excellent.

So we can see, the life of the virtuous does not need to have pleasure added to it in order to be good, such a life will already feel good to the person living it.

We can add to this that a person is not good at all unless they feel good about doing good things. If someone happens to have acted justly but is not also glad to have done the thing, then no one is going say that the person acted as a just person. Likewise, if someone gives something to a friend in need, but did not want to do it, then no one is going to say that the giver is a generous person.

Happiness, we can say, is all at once the best, and most noble, and most pleasing thing in the world. These three things are not at all separate, as the famous inscription at Delos would tell you:

What is most just is what is most noble, / what is best is health, / what is most pleasing is to get what we want.

But all of these things go with the best activities, which are what we say make for happiness.

Yet it seems to be the case that we may need things outside of ourselves in order to be happy. Why? Because it is impossible, or certainly not easy, to get things done without the proper equipment that we need in order to do things. To do some things we have to have friends to help us and riches and political power. Also, there are certain things, where if we do not have them, it takes the shine off of happiness. Here I mean that we will want to be born into a good family, to have good children to bring up, and to be beautiful ourselves. Ugly people and people with bad families or no family and people with no children are not very likely to be happy. We might also say that a person is even less likely to be happy if he had rotten children or friends, or had good ones but they died. As we said, happiness seems to mean we must also be prosperous. Just as some people say that where you find happiness, you will also find some personal excellence with it, we say that where there is happiness, there is good fortune to be found along with it.


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