Virtue and Happiness

by Peter Saint-Andre


One of Aristotle's signature claims in ethics is that virtue and happiness go hand in hand. To our ears this sounds questionable at best, because we think of virtue as a matter of following rules and doing your duty, whereas we think of happiness as a matter of having fun and experiencing pleasure. "Do your duty and you'll have lots of fun?" Um, no!

Because Aristotle was one of the most brilliant people who ever lived, it's doubtful that he would have adopted and passionately defended such a ridiculous position. This prods us to dig beneath the surface and understand what he really meant.

If we render ἀρετή as "excellence" or "thriving" of character and εὐδαιμονία as "flourishing" or "fulfillment" across a person's lifetime, then we can begin to see that true fulfillment depends on completely developing your capacities, fully maturing as a person, and guiding your life based on real self-knowledge and a deep understanding of human nature. Suddenly the gap doesn't seem so wide, does it?

Naturally, this is the merest sketch - fleshing it out in detail is a lot of work. I'll devote quite a few pages to delivering on this promissory note in my forthcoming book on Aristotle's conception of human fulfillment.

(Cross-posted at


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