Morality and the Desire for Happiness
Moralityand the Desire for Happiness
Moralityand the Desire for Happiness
Great philosophers such as Kant, Socrates, and Plato among othershave covered the question of what truly makes people happy. Moralissues concern right and wrong. An action may be immoral if it causesharm to others and ethical if it brings benefits. A controversialidea is about sacrificing the interests of the minority for the goodof the majority. Happiness is a feeling of joy and pleasure, orotherwise lack of pain and suffering. Desires are the unending wantsof the human (Higgins, Cornwell & Franks, 2014). In my view,happy life involves doing justice to others and having peace of mind.I will use the works of Plato, Socrates, and principles ofutilitarianism to build my argument why a moral and happy lifeinvolves doing justice to others.
Accordingto Socrates, an immoral life lacks joy. Such a life Socrates claimsis filled with guilt consciousness regrets and is undesirable. On theother hand, a virtuous life yields peace of mind and happiness.However, people should not be content with just a happy life. Thetruth happiness comes when one seeks the higher realms of the truth(knowledge). Socrates believes that the real joy comes from exploringwhat one does not know. According to Socrates, pleasure is relative.For example, the first abuse of drugs feels good to the user.However, addiction, which results from long-term use of a drug, isnot pleasurable. In other words, it is pleasurable to use the drugsat the start (Phillips et.al, 2017), but long-term use does not yieldpleasure. Consider another example of somebody who has just landed ajob after being jobless over a year. Working will feel pleasurable tothem, however, after some years working, the job no longer give thempleasure. Therefore, happiness is relative.
TheGorgias conversation gives another chance to look at Socrates viewson morality and pleasure. Socrates puts three interlocutors(Callicles, Polus, and Gorgias) to task over their stand about whatconstitute pleasurable and happy life. Callicles (Athens politician)claims that pleasures are achieved when one`s desires are satisfied.Notably, the human desires are about gaining unlimited power andunrestricted comfort. In other words, every person struggles to gainpower and influence over the others. The Callicles argument is basedon materialism. The idea that, a happy life is achieved when everywant is met (everything one needs). However, no human desires canever be fulfilled. Moreover, it is likely that in the pursuit ofhappiness, people end up hurting others. The use of individuals as anend to one`s goal is immoral (Phillips et.al, 2017).
Socrates makes a case of the dictator Archelaus, to demonstrateCallicles view as flawed. Archelaus as a dictator orders publicexecutions of the opponents, rapes women among other heinous crimes.The reason why he can do all this is because he wields unlimitedpower. According to Socrates, Archelaus cannot be consideredpleasurable, because his conscience is troubled. According toSocrates, happiness comes from doing justice to others (Higgins,Cornwell & Franks, 2014). The actions of the Archelaus do notconstitute any justice to the victims.
Socratesgives an example of a man who suffers injustice and the one whocauses the injustice to the others. Between the person who commitsthe injustice and the others who suffer from the action, who leads ahappy and pleasurable life? The answer lies in defining what is truehappiness (Higgins, Cornwell & Franks, 2014). The greatest joycomes when the soul is satisfied. In other words, one cannot be happyunless the conscious is free from regrets. Therefore, the man whosuffers the injustice did nothing wrong. The conscious is nottroubled. On the other hand, the man who commits the injustice act ishaunted by the actions of the past. Therefore, though Archelaus mayhave gained pleasure from executing the opponents and raping women,he never truly led a happy life (Phillips et.al, 2017).
Considera situation where the industrialized world amassed wealth bypolluting the planet. The economies of Europe, North Americaprospered. However, the global climate changed due to the highemissions of carbon dioxide (greenhouse) gas from the industries tothe atmosphere. Consequently, the temperature of the earth is risingand droughts have become more severe. The people who have sufferedthe most from the effects of climate change are the developingcountries of Asia and Africa (Anton, 2015). For example, droughts inAfrica devastate populations, killing livestock and food crops dryingup. Notably, these countries have also the lowest concentration ofindustries. Therefore, they are the least polluters. The people inEurope and America who are the sole beneficiary of industrializationremain oblivious of the sufferings in Africa and Asia. Essentially,the innocent are suffering while the guilt enjoys. In this case,going by the views of the Socrates, the residents in these countriesleads a happy life from the moral point of view.
According to Socrates, the person who suffers an injustice is betterthan the one who commits the act. Therefore, the actions of thedeveloped world are no different from what Archelaus did to the poorwomen and men who suffered injustices. Furthermore, following on theSocrates views, then societies in the developed world cannot havehappy lives (Anton, 2015).
Another important debate question in the Gorgias concerns doing whatone wants and what is fit. Importantly, Socrates argues that a manwho is punished for the crimes committed is better than one whoavoids punishment. Socrates observes that the penalty clears theconscience. Therefore, facing the consequence is the fit thing to do.Escaping the justice is doing what one wants.
For instanceconsider the case where after the great recession, corporationsoffered employment to people with a college degree. The actions ofthe companies in the job discrimination can be considered asunethical. Acts of injustices will be committed on the people who aredenied access to employment opportunities. Therefore, companies andthe government are simply doing what they want and not what is fit.The right thing here to do is to open up more opportunities so thatevery kid born in America has an equal chance to get a job and pursuethe American dream. Furthermore, because minority groups have lowergraduation rates, their chances to succeed in life will besignificantly reduced. Mostly, college degree as a basis for successmay claw back the gains of the American society as egalitarian. Itmay be the case that, the college degree may be the start of newsegregation. The few that are academically gifted will be having itall, while the many who are not talented in intellect will havenothing at all (Higgins, Cornwell & Franks, 2014). Apparently,this type of society cannot be considered moral. A virtuous lifemeans pursuing motivations that produce the maximum benefit to thelargest majority.
Another look atSocrates views on what constitutes a moral life is the discussionwith Meno. Meno is interested in understanding how virtues can betaught to other people. In other words, now that they all agree thata virtuous life that constitutes doing good to others, how can themass be taught to live such a life? Socrates starts by asking Meno todefine what he understands to be virtues. In the views of Meno, eachperson possesses inherent attributes. According to this definition,there cannot be harmony in virtues since groups have their definedset of virtues. Looking at Meno point of view, segregation is notevil. Essentially, the whites have a different set of attributescompared to the blacks (Phillips et.al, 2017). Therefore, the whitescannot be accused of not living a virtuous life. The majority agreethat segregation as was the case with apartheid in South Africa iswrong (unethical). It is exactly, the point why segregation laws wereabolished in America. A virtue must have universality according toKant. In other words, an action can only be moral (virtuous) if itmotivates other people (majority) to act in the same way.
Therefore, Menodefinition of virtue is rejected. The second suggestion he gives isthat virtue is about having power over other people. Notably,Callicles (Gorgias) holds the view that happiness (pleasure) comes bygaining free power and unending pleasure. Again, if this definitionwere to be taken, it would mean a slave owner leads a virtuous life.Essentially, the slave owner has power over the slaves. On thecontrary, people abhor slavery. In fact, the adoption of theuniversal women suffrage was a realization that dominion of men overthe women has to end. In other words, the men control of women wasunethical and therefore not virtuous (Anton, 2015). In any case, adictator who rules over the powerless subject is not regarded asliving a righteous (happy and desirable) life. Meno definition of thevirtue is again rejected.
Socratesconsiders power to be a virtue only when it is applied justly. Inother words, those lacking in authority do not suffer from actions ofthose having unlimited power. One surest way of ensuring justice isholding leaders accountable. It is exactly why people clamor fordemocratic governments. Simply, the people have the authority toquestion acts of injustices committed by the government (Phillipset.al, 2017). On the contrary, people living under dictatorship lackany power to challenge or hold the government to account overinjustices. Having failed to give a satisfactory answer to Socrates,Meno defines virtue as justice. Socrates asserts that while justiceis a form of virtue, it does not define morality in its entirety.
Meno havingstruggled to provide a precise definition of virtue poses a questionto Socrates. The question is about shape and color. Socrates gives avery accurate explanation on shape, but his definition of the coloris based on sophists and ends up being ambiguous (Phillips et.al,2017). The ambiguity is part of the reasons why Socrates hatessophists. It produces pretense. In the last trial, Meno definesvirtue as the desire for good things, having the powers to get thembut only doing so in a just way.
On the otherhand, Socrates defines virtue as something that is inborn in allhuman beings, but that is forgotten with time. Therefore, learningvirtues is essentially rediscovering oneself. However, to this point,Socrates had not given, Meno the answer on whether virtues can betaught. Just like many other Socrates dialogue, even this one isinconclusive, no reply is given and the question is responded to inan argument (Phillips et.al, 2017). Knowledge, which is taught, is arecollection of the account of an everyday life of a person. On theother hand, virtues encompass wisdom, which cannot be taught.
Plato definesa virtuous life as having as having four values. First, a happy lifemust be filled with wisdom, which is the intellect. The sense willhelp a person to determine a moral reality and then apply it toeveryday life. In other words, wisdom builds rationality in thedecision-making process. Therefore, a wise person will rely on theinborn intellect to act in a moral way that yields happiness. Anotherimportant feature of Plato principles of morality concerns courage,which has to do with the abilities to confront one`s convictions. Forexample, if one is convinced slavery is wrong, and then they musttake steps to fight it. An obvious example of courage is Socrateswillingness to die for his convictions (Anton, 2015).
A paramountconsideration in the human pursuit of happiness and desires is aboutmoderation. Essentially, people should not let their desires controlthem. Lastly, a happy life must also be about justice. An individualwho commits just actions leads a more fulfilled life and is at peace.
According toJeremy Bentham, an action produces happiness if it is consequence isgood. Particularly, the action is right if it produces the greatestgood to the biggest majority. In addition, it must be just, in otherwords, it should not cause harm to the others. Consider the case ofcollege degrees in America.
The collegedegree has been marketed as the surest way to live the Americandream. One side of the argument is that education is the only way tosuccess, without education one has few chances of living a productivelife. However, the American society has always been egalitarian, theidea that everybody deserves equal opportunity (Higgins, Cornwell &Franks, 2014). In making the college degree a pre-requisite forsuccess in the American society, otherwise, the pursuit of theAmerican dream, isn`t America rolling back its commitment toegalitarian society? In other words, in categorizing the better jobsand the low jobs, isn`t the America giving opportunities to thetalented and condemning the majority who either cannot afford or donot possess the capabilities to pursue a college degree. An action ismoral if only it gives the greatest happiness to the largestmajority.
Another concernrelates to the college degree being used to subterfuge the minoritygroups. Notably, the rates of college graduation among the whites inAmerica were estimated at 81% in 2011(Higgins, Cornwell & Franks,2014). The same year, the graduation rate for the African-Americanwas 15%, the whites rates are more than five times that of the blackAmericans. If the college degree becomes the pre-requisite, only thewhites will benefit, and the minority will suffer. In the past, therewere segregation laws that gave the whites more opportunities thanthe whites were.
America todayhas one of the largest income disparities in the developed world. Thegap between the very wealthy and the have-nots is growing. Notably,the concentration of the people with the degree is also in the middleand the upper class. If a college degree comes to define the successof achieving and living the American dream, only the middle and theupper class will enjoy the benefits. In addition, academicintelligence has been associated with the environment and geneticinheritance. In other words, some people (minority) have an advantageby the genes they possess. Notably, the genes require a favorableenvironment that supports their expression. Most of the low incomeslive in ghettos where gangs run the street and controlsneighborhoods. The environment does not support learning. On theother hand, the middle and upper income live in communities that arepeaceful and secure, exactly what is needed to express the genes(Higgins, Cornwell & Franks, 2014). Therefore, a collegeeducation cannot be the solution of inequality in America society. Infact, it could result in more inequality and economicmarginalization. In the perspective of utilitarianism, therequirement for a degree to gain employment is an injustice to theminority groups and majority lacking inborn intellect.
In conclusion, the argument about moral happiness has not beenfully settled. However, in all discussions, one thing stand out,justice. No one can achieve true happiness by committing injusticesto others. Therefore, the pursuit of desires and happiness should notlead to exploitation of other people.
Anton, A. L.(2015). Kant on Irresistible Inclinations: Moral Worth, Happiness,and Belief in God. Minerva: An Internet Journal ofPhilosophy, 19.
Higgins, E. T.,Cornwell, J. F., & Franks, B. (2014). Happiness” and “thegood life” as motives working together effectively. Advancesin motivation science, 1, 135-179.
Phillips, J., DeFreitas, J., Mott, C., Gruber, J., & Knobe, J. (2017). Truehappiness: The role of morality in the folk concept ofhappiness. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146(2), 165.
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