Essay: Aristotle's Ideas and Thoughts on Happiness

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Aristotle's ideas and thoughts on happiness, friendship and justice are part of his "Nicomachean Ethics," one of the key texts on ethics that the history of philosophy has delivered. In many ways, many of the principles that Aristotle laid down in his work are still very actual across time, despite the new dynamism and challenges of the society of the 21st century.

This paper will aim at presenting some of the key elements of Aristotelian philosophy and connect these to the relationships that are formed in a working environment, in a modern office. At the same time, the paper will also examine some of the elements from these relationships that the Aristotelian ethics cannot explain.

For Aristotle, happiness, in all beings, takes a functional form in that a being is happy as long as it accomplishes its most important function. In the case of a human being, this is the rationality, which is the only characteristics present only in man and also the characteristics that makes the human being so different from any other being. In order for the individual to be happy, he must function in accordance to his rationality: as long as his decision making process follows rational approaches, he should be, in theory, happy.

Certainly, at a later point in his works, Aristotle also enumerates some of the elements that, according to his belief and philosophical approach, could make an individual happy. These include wealth, good health, friends and good luck, as well as the capacity and ability to do intellectual and moral things, again, in accordance with his functionality.

Friendship is seen by Aristotle as belonging to one of the three following categories: friendship of pleasure, friendship of utility and friendship of the good or of character. The friendship of pleasure is the type of friendship encountered between individuals who simply have a good time when they are together. This type of friendship may have no other implications and may simply not go beyond the idea of getting together and feeling well with one another over a drink, for example.

The friendship of utility is the friendship where one of the parties is interested in having a gain. This type of friendship does not necessarily need to have the negative meaning one might attribute to it today. Aristotle includes in the friendship category something that today may not go further than a simple business relationship or, otherwise, a simple acquaintance level relationship. The utility can thus be translated in the two parties of an agreement working together to make their relationship as efficient and productive as possible.

The third type of friendship is also the most complex one from Aristotle's point-of-view. It is something that is long-termed and based on mutual affinities, on characters that match. As such, this is the most profound of all the types of friendships mentioned and also the one that is most likely to withstand for a longer period of time.

Justice is also related to the idea of gain. An action is unjust if it produces an unjust gain. On the other hand, it is often difficult (although Aristotle makes an extensive explanation around this subject) to discern between vice and injustice, although the former is at a different scale and does not produce positive material effects.

The working environment today has become more and more complex, as have the relationships between the individuals as part of an organization or corporate culture. The issues that have been previously discussed, as seen and explained through Aristotle's ideas often appear in ethical contexts in the workplace, although, because of the complexities of relationships in today's society, it is sometimes harder to associate them directly with the examples that Aristotle has given or, even more, to identify whether his ideas actually apply today as well.

For example, the idea of friendship has three different perspectives, as Aristotle has pointed out. One can enumerate friendship of utility, friendship of pleasure and friendship of character. It is difficult to believe that the individual today can reach the third and highest level, that of friendship of character, in the office space. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, many corporate cultures do not necessarily encourage the development of friendships of character, more profound types of friendships, in the office. In my opinion, actions such as team building are interested more in developing a pleasant environment which stimulates the first two categories of friendship, utility and pleasure, rather than the third one. The interest of management is to stimulate the relationships between individuals in the organization to the degree to which they can better understand one another and be more productive.

The primary goal of any corporation would be that of maximizing its profits rather than of creating the environment that would encourage friendships of character. From the company's perspective, whether the friendships from the two categories will actually transform into friendships of character is irrelevant from the point-of-view of the company's objectives. In fact, in many situations, the management is keen to take measures against such a situation.

The example that comes to mind here is that of office romance. Ideally, office romance could be identified as a friendships of character (sometimes, it is also a friendship of pleasure or of utility, but most often companies do not necessarily forbid this type of relationship, but rather one that has a more profound, deeper meaning) and some companies take measures to ensure that colleagues do not get involved in romantic relationships with one another.

The reasoning behind this could be (and often is) that a romantic involved could mean that the two individuals involved in the relationship are more likely to share secrets of the company, including things they are working on and that this is detrimental to the overall activity of the company. Notably, this is something that occurs in businesses where sharing secretes can indeed affect the proper development of the company, such as in law firms.

However, the argument that this paper will support referring to this case starts with Aristotle interpretation of an unjust act. This act, since it is forbidden by the company, should be considered unjust in the relationship created between the company and one or the other of the two individuals involved in a relationship. According to Aristotle, the act would be unjust if one of the parties (in this case, one of the two individuals involved in the relationship) would stand to gain something from their act of injustice. However, in many cases, this is not the actual thing: the two people involved in a relationship do not share a secret because they stand to gain something out of it, but simply because the office space is such an intrinsic part of both their lives.

Going even further with this reasoning, the two individuals may also share a secret because, according to their beliefs, sharing secrets is also part of the more profound friendship they have reached, a friendship of characters. Sharing secrets is, for individuals, a way to show another person that he or she trusts him or her. Quite often, for many individuals this is one of the highest means of individual appreciation for another individual that someone can have.

This situation can lead to the following question: in the current working environment, are some of Aristotle's principles, as previously described, contradictory? In other words, could a friendship of character become unjust for the company at some point? If we stick only to the argument that unjust necessarily needs to have a gain component for the individual who is unjust, then the overall conclusion probably does not hold its ground. However, one can often see how the rules and regulations that the company management imposes can limit the development of personal friendship relationships in the office.

It is often more than this. The current technology also encourages the development of friendships over the Internet. This mostly happens for individuals that spend a large amount of time in the office, but do not find the office as an environment where they could build friendships. The development of friendships over the Internet, facilitated by social connectors such as Facebook or My Space, is a characteristic of today's society, but also a product of the preeminence of office time in the overall time of an individual, leaving him a limited capacity to develop friendships in other environments. As all products, it comes as a response to the need of the individual to socialize. Going further, the need to socialize often transforms itself in the need to build friendships, quite often even more profound friendships than the pleasure or utility categories.

Translating Aristotle's idea of happiness in the workplace, one will most likely find this transformed into Maslow's pyramid of needs, with one or two additional changes. First of all, happiness is brought about by good health, corresponding to Maslow's first two levels in his hierarchy of needs, namely the categories relating to physiological and safety needs. According to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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