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How philosophy conceives happiness

Feb 14,2024 - Last updated at Feb 14,2024

Happiness is a positive emotional state characterised by feelings of contentment, joy, satisfaction and well-being. It goes beyond temporary pleasure and is often associated with a sense of purpose, fulfillment and life satisfaction.

Happiness can be influenced by various factors, including personal experiences, genetics, social relationships, environmental contact, cultural values and individual perceptions of one's own life. Happiness reflects the emotional and psychological well-being of individuals and communities, contributing to a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

Philosophy has a rich history of exploring the concept of happiness and its significance in human life. Various philosophical traditions have offered diverse conceptions on what constitutes happiness, how it can be achieved, and its relationship to a meaningful life. 

Eastern philosophies like Buddhism and Taoism, of around the 5th Century BC offer perspectives on happiness. Buddhism teaches that suffering arises from attachment and craving for maternal things and pleasures, and true happiness is achieved through the cessation of these attachments. Taoism, however, emphasises living in harmony with the natural flow of life, leading to a state of contentment and inner peace.

Aristotle, a Greek philosopher of the 4th Century BC, believed that true happiness is achieved through living a virtuous life in which individuals develop their potential and engage in activities that align with their nature; virtues such as courage, wisdom and kindness.

Hedonism is a philosophical stance that posits pleasure and happiness as the highest goods. While there are different variations of hedonism, they generally prioritise the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy advocating self-control, resilience and acceptance of fate to achieve inner peace and tranquility. It teaches that true happiness is achieved by aligning one's inner values and attitudes with the natural order of the universe. Stoics emphasise the importance of cultivating virtues such as wisdom, courage and self-control, which lead to inner peace and resilience in the face of external circumstances.

Avicenna, also known as Ibn Sina, was a Persian polymath who made significant contributions to various fields, including philosophy, medicine and science. According to Avicenna, true happiness could only be achieved through the realisation of one's intellectual and spiritual capacities. He believed that human beings possessed rational faculties that enabled them to understand the principles of ethics, metaphysics and the nature of the universe. By cultivating these intellectual virtues and seeking knowledge of God (or the ultimate reality), individuals could attain a state of inner harmony and fulfillment.

Utilitarianism of the 19th century, a moral theory, asserts that actions are right if they promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill were key proponents of this theory, emphasising the importance of maximising pleasure and minimising pain. Happiness is understood in terms of pleasure and the absence of suffering.

However, Marx in the 19th century believed that true human fulfillment could only be achieved in a society where the means of production were collectively owned and controlled by the workers, rather than being privately owned by a capitalist class. In such a society, individuals would have the opportunity to engage in meaningful, creative and fulfilling work that contributes to the common good. Economic and social equality would replace exploitation and class conflict, allowing for the full development of human potential.

Schopenhauer's conception of happiness in the 19th century was deeply influenced by his pessimistic worldview and his belief in the inherent suffering of human existence. He viewed happiness as elusive, ultimately advocating for a state of inner peace and contentment that transcended the pursuit of desires and the external circumstances of life.

In the 20th century an English philosopher called G. E. Moore defined happiness as a complex and multi-faceted concept that includes more than just pleasure; it might also involve fulfillment, contentment and overall well-being. While pleasure can be a part of happiness, it cannot fully capture the entire meaning of happiness. Meanwhile Existentialist philosophers, like Jean-Paul Sartre, explored the concept of happiness within the context of individual freedom. He considered that creating one's own meaning and purpose in a seemingly absurd world could lead to authentic happiness, even in the face of challenges. A similar view of Viktor Frankl's approach, known as logotherapy, focuses on finding meaning in life as a path to happiness. He believed that individuals can find purpose even in the midst of suffering and that a sense of meaning contributes to psychological well-being.

In conclusion, these perspectives underscore the complexity of happiness, suggesting that it transcends mere pleasure and is deeply intertwined with individual autonomy, freedom, social interaction, self-realisation, creating a purpose of life and existential fulfillment.

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