The definition of the concept of happiness may vary consistently and, in actuality, it is rather the question of the personal philosophy than a part of some philosophical movement. At the same time, it should be pointed out that such a trend to the individualization of the concept of happiness may be a result of the development of the contemporary western civilization and its impact on human perception of the surrounding world, personal views and beliefs and, therefore, the concept of happiness. In fact, the definition of happiness in personal terms is typical for the highly individualistic society, but it does not necessarily mean that it is the only possible approach to the definition of the concept of happiness. In stark contrast, in the course of the development of mankind the problem of happiness was one of the major problems that disturbed minds of all people, including the most outstanding philosophers living in different epochs, such as Aristotle, Adam Ferguson, Jeremy Bentham or Friedrich Nietzsche.
Basically, different epochs and different philosophers had their own view on the concept of happiness. At the same time, it should be pointed out that, as a rule, philosophers distinguished two aspects of happiness, personal and social. In other words, they often viewed happiness as a concept that should be perceived on two levels: the level of an individual and the level of society. The former implied personal happiness in the life of an individual due to his personal achievements and certain way of life, while the latter implied the happiness as an ideal social order that could make people happy.
However, I would not distinguish these two dimensions, individual and social. Instead, I would lay emphasis on the concept of happiness as the harmony between the internal world of an individual and his/her social environment. In such a way, ideally happiness should be a perfect balance between individual needs and desires and his/her social environment, which could provide ample opportunities for an individual to fully realize his/her inclinations, desires and talents.
Speaking about various philosophical views on the concept of happiness, it is possible to refer to ancient thinkers who started the western philosophy and created the foundation of the western philosophy, including philosophical views on happiness. In this respect, it is necessary to dwell upon philosophical views of Aristotle, who produced a very significant impact on the development of western philosophy and his views persisted for a long time. Even nowadays, his ideas are still quite popular. At the same time, it should be pointed out that Aristotle, being one of the prominent philosophers of ancient Greece, was inevitably influenced by the norms and traditions of his epoch.
To put it more precisely, he developed his philosophical views on the basis of the observation of the surrounding reality and it is the surrounding reality that, to a significant extent, defined his philosophical views, including those on the concept of happiness. On analyzing his views on the concept of happiness, it is necessary to underline that Aristotle stood on the ground that happiness is an uncommon concept and humans should strive to achieve happiness in order to succeed in life. It is worth mentioning that, speaking about happiness on the individual level, Aristotle underlined the fact that happiness is rather a kind of the state or activity of a soul than some material concept. In other words, he rejected the idea that happiness could be achieved through the excessive physical pleasures or accumulation of material wealth, for instance. Instead, he insisted that in order to live a good life an individual should live a balanced life and avoid excesses. In such a way, an individual could achieve the best activity of the soul, which Aristotle defined as eudaimonia, i.e. a happiness or joy that pervades the good life (Guthrie, 78). According to the philosopher, the balance in life, which was an essential condition of happiness, could be achieved when an individual found a golden mean between two vices – one an access and another deficiency (95).
In such a way, Aristotle developed the idea of a moderate, but happy life. In fact, it is possible to estimate that the moderateness makes the life of an individual balanced. Consequently, while avoiding extremes, i.e. excess and deficiency, an individual can achieve the personal happiness because his/her internal world will be balanced. Obviously, Aristotle promoted the idea of happiness which was probably affected by the surrounding life the philosopher observed. At any rate, his recommendation to avoid extremes was based on the negative effects of excess and deficiency on an individual which could destruct not only his/her body but also his/her spirit and soul.
At the same time, it should be pointed out that the philosopher paid a lot of attention to the social order established in the society. He underlined that the organization of society was very important and it could influence an individual dramatically. Consequently, the existing social order and social relations were important factors that determined happiness of an individual. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that Aristotle strongly believed that “man is by nature a political animal” (113). This is why he insisted on the necessity of the creation of such a political and social order that could fully satisfy the needs of an individual and make his/her life happy.
In actuality, Aristotle suggested that the individual happiness was highly dependent on the community he/she lived in. In this respect, it should be said that he viewed cities as the most effective form of a state. In fact, the concept state was foreign to Aristotle and he substituted this concept by cities that was quite natural because in his epoch Greek city-states emerged. At the same time, he did not view cities as state formations. In contrast, Aristotle believed that cities were natural, organic formations. According to the philosopher, cities were natural communities formed by people and he viewed them not as state formations but rather as a kind of family. In other words, the community life was compared by Aristotle to that of family, but, it is important to underline that he viewed the community to be prior to the family.
It should be said that the life of the community was an essential part of the concept of happiness in Aristotelian philosophy, because he believed that the ultimate goal of the formation of community and community life was not the avoidance of social inequality or strife for the economic stability, but the major goal and function of the community was to live a good life. In such a way, Aristotle believed in the positive impact of the community on the life of an individual, but he argued that to make the life of an individual really good and happy, the relations within the community should be based on the principles of partnership, which may be viewed as the precursor of philosophical developments of the concept of the social contract. Aristotle insisted that “political partnership must be regarded, therefore, as being for the sake of noble actions, nor for the sake of living together” (Guthrie, 137). Thus, the community partnership was an important condition of happiness. On the other hand, the idea of partnership naturally implied the avoidance of extremes that was also a constituent part of Aristotelian concept of happiness.
Naturally, views of Aristotle on the concept of happiness could be viewed as quite simple, especially in regard to the political aspect of his concept of happiness, because in the course of time social relationships grew more and more complicated and the traditional Aristotelian approach to community as a kind of family or social organization based on principles of partnership became practically irrelevant. It should be pointed out that the relations within communities became more pragmatic and based on the economic interaction rather than on interpersonal or purely political relations. As a result, by the late 18th century, the social relations became extremely complicated while the progress of the early capitalism practically eliminated Aristotelian illusions concerning the possibility of partnership within communities, because the life of communities was based on pragmatism and social injustice.
Nevertheless, such a dramatic change in the social life had not eliminated the desire of people to be happy, though it influenced consistently the definition of the concept of happiness in the epoch. In this respect, it is possible to name Adam Ferguson as one of the most prominent philosophers of the 18th century. Basically, his views on humans could be compared to those of Aristotle, since Adam Ferguson insisted that humans are social beings that may be interrelated with Aristotelian idea of humans as political beings by their nature. In actuality, this means that both Aristotle and Adam Ferguson viewed humans as parts of the community and, therefore, it would be illogical to distinguish an individual and community as well as individual happiness and his life in community. At the same time, it should be pointed out that Adam Ferguson laid emphasis on the individual while defining the concept of happiness.
It should be said that Adam Ferguson paid a lot of attention to the development of his ethical system. In general, the philosopher believed in the progress of human race and it was an essential condition of the further improvement of each individual. His philosophical concept of happiness is closely interrelated with his views on the morality and it is possible to estimate that his concept of happiness is the product of his ethical system (Russell, 267). To put it more precisely, Adam Ferguson underlined that the perfection could be attained only through moral approbation. Basically, this principle of moral approbation implies that the concept of happiness is inseparable from morality. In other words, it is only highly moral individual may be really happy and the obedience to the basic moral norms and principles lead an individual to a happy life. Ideally, an individual can be absolutely happy when he/she reaches perfection in his/her life from the moral point of view.
In fact, such an approach to happiness may be compared in way to the concept developed by Aristotle. Obviously, the attainment of moral perfection may be viewed as a kind of extreme Aristotle recommended avoiding, because moral perfection implies the excess of virtues that could not make the life of an individual really happy. On the other hand, Adam Ferguson brought in a new aspect of happiness compared to works of Aristotle, the aspect of morality.
Nevertheless, speaking about Adam Ferguson’s concept of happiness, it should be said that it has a substantial drawbacks since it is entirely oriented on the internal world of an individual and his/her morality, while the philosopher does not really take into consideration social aspect and its influence on happiness of an individual though he underlines that humans are social beings. In such a way, it is possible to speak about internal contradiction in the concept of happiness developed by Adam Ferguson since, on the one hand, happiness is the matter of an individual’s morality, while, on the other hand, an individual is a member of community that implies that he should be affected by his/her social environment. Consequently, his/her happiness should be also dependent on his/her social environment and life within the community, but Adam Ferguson prefers to focus on the sphere of morality, though which he believed humans could achieve perfection.
The development of pragmatism in human society could not fail to affect philosophical views of leading thinkers of the 18-19th century. In this respect, it should be said that the ethical system of Adam Ferguson was rather an attempt to respond to the growing materialism and pragmatism of the surrounding world, but, the essence of the epoch, especially the revolutionary epoch of the late 18th – early 19th centuries contributed consistently to the emergence of absolutely new philosophical systems, among which it is possible to single out the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham. The philosopher developed the concept of utilitarianism which became dominant in his philosophy and, to a significant extent, defined views of Jeremy Bentham on happiness.
Basically, his utilitarian views on happiness implied that the happiness is defined by the utility and he argued that the right act or policy was that which would cause the “greatest happiness of the greatest number” (Dinwiddy, 211). In this respect, it should be said that the utilitarian view on happiness, to a significant extent, contradicted to the moralistic view on the concept of happiness developed by Adam Ferguson and, in terms Aristotelian philosophy and concept of happiness, utilitarianism may be also viewed as an extreme because the maximization of utility, according to Jeremy Bentham philosophy, implies the maximization of happiness, while Aristotle insisted on the moderateness, the golden mean as the major condition of individual happiness.
Nevertheless, Jeremy Bentham’s concept of happiness was also justified in a way. At the same time, the utilitarian approach to happiness perfectly reflected the shift to the growing individualism and the domination of interests of an individual over interests of community. In such a context, Aristotelian views seem to be quite naïve as well as view of Adam Ferguson. However, the position of Jeremy Bentham is not absolutely unarguable. In stark contrast, his focus on utilitarianism, as the major principle of happiness, often comes into conflict with morality and ethical principles, which Adam Ferguson promoted actively. Obviously, the greatest utility may contradict to moral and ethical norms. In terms of such a philosophy, it is possible to justify absolutely immoral actions, including crimes and, what is more, these actions, according to Jeremy Bentham’s principles, are supposed to make an individual happy. Naturally, such assumptions are absolutely unacceptable. In addition, it should be said that the position of Aristotle seems to be more convincing in this regard because excessive happiness can hardly make an individual happy. At least, the great happiness apparently undermines the internal balance of an individual internal world, which Aristotle viewed as an essential condition of happiness.
The antagonism of morality, promoted by Adam Ferguson, and utilitarianism, supported by Jeremy Bentham, naturally led to the growing gap in views on the concept of happiness, while the dramatic changes in the life of society and each individual stimulated the development of new concepts and views on happiness. In such a situation, the disenchantment in classical philosophy contributed to the emergence of new philosophical concepts, among which it is possible to single out philosophical ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. The philosopher denied many traditional philosophical concepts, such as free will, self-consciousness, knowledge, truth. In such a way, he challenged the tradition set of values of western society and naturally the concept of happiness could not fail to avoid reconsidering by Friedrich Nietzsche.
On analyzing his views on the concept of happiness, it should be pointed out that Friedrich Nietzsche often tends to emphasize original, primitive instincts and inclination of humans. Moreover, he rejects traditional morals and lays emphasis on the will to power as the major stimulus that guides humans and determines their behavior (Schaberg, 127). In such a way, Friedrich Nietzsche develops his own view on the concept of happiness, which may be measured by the power of an individual over other humans. In other words, the realization of the will to power is closely interrelated with Nietzsche’s concept of happiness.
In this respect, it should be said that Friedrich Nietzsche continues the philosophical developments of Jeremy Bentham and totally undermines moral and ethical principles of Adam Ferguson’s philosophy. At the same time, he also rejects Aristotle’s view on happiness since he rejects the possibility of balance and, instead he suggests the domination of an individual, the power as the determinant factor of happiness.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that in the course of the evolution of western philosophy, views on the concept of happiness have changed consistently. In fact, the concept of happiness evolved from the balanced life of an individual suggested by Aristotle to the radical utilitarianism and individualism developed by Jeremy Bentham and Friedrich Nietzsche. In such a context, appeals to morality as an essential condition of happiness of Adam Ferguson seem to be quite naïve. Nevertheless, on defining the concept of happiness, it is necessary to return to the past. I strongly believe that the idea of balance suggested by Aristotle is very important and should an essential part of the concept of happiness, but it should not be the balance in the sense of moderate life, but rather the balance between the happiness of an individual and happiness of his/her surrounding. At this point, Adam Ferguson’s morality is also extremely important because a person can hardly be happy, if people around him/her are suffering. At same time, being moral and following basic ethical norms an individual can share his/her personal happiness with others and vice versa community can help an individual, support him/her and make him/her happy.