Aristotle believes that the chief ingredient for a life of happiness is virtue. Virtue is a state of the soul that disposes and prompts our actions and is meant to guide our behaviors in society and enable us to practice moderation. Aristotle believes that human happiness, which is not to be equated with the simple-minded pursuit of pleasure, stems from fulfilling human potentialities. These potentialities can be identified by rational choice, practical judgment, and recognition of the value of choosing the mean instead of extremes. The central moral problem is the human tendency to want to acquire more and to act unjustly whenever one has the power to do so. According to Aristotle happiness is the highest good and the goo life comes from the realization and perfect practice of virtue.
In order to lead a life of goodness there must be a foundation of adequate health (goods of the body), adequate wealth (external goods, property), and goods of the soul (virtue, wisdom). People think that a moderate amount of virtue is enough, but set no limit to their desires of wealth and property, power, reputation, and all such things… – i.e. of external goods. (1323 a35-40) Happiness is more often found in those who are cultivated in their mind and in their character, and have only a moderate share of external goods, than among those who possess extensive external goods but are lacking in higher qualities. The good life you lead or experience is an inner sense of well being. This is the active life of virtue and this is all for the sake of the soul. We may therefore join in agreeing that the amount of happiness which falls to each individual man is equal to the amount of his goodness and his wisdom, and of the good and wise acts that he does. 1323b21
Aristotle said we must act naturally in order to be happy. He believes nature is our guide and that nothing is good which is contrary to nature. According to Aristotle there are two types of reason that, if used well, will make you happy. The first type is calculative reason. Calculative reason is practical wisdom which leads to moral virtue. Included in the Aristotelian moral virtues are temperance, courage, liberality, gentleness, and proper pride. The idea behind this kind of practical wisdom involves knowing how to allocate time – judging the right moment to switch back and forth between practical action and intellectual activity, so as to strike the right balance between means and ends.
The second type of reason is speculative reason, which is used to deduce the true nature of reality. Speculative reason is also referred to as scientific reason. There are four ways Aristotle thinks it is important to use scientific reason to really know happiness. The first is thought. We are most like the gods when we use thought. Second is that the quality of the pleasures one pursues must be marvelous in purity and duration. Third is independent thought or self-sufficiency. The fourth is that the process of learning is a joy and is rewarding in and of itself. Thus reason, if exercised well, will bring happiness and well-being. Use your reason well and you will be fulfilled. (Kaplan lecture, October 2000) Another important ingredient in the pursuit of happiness is leisure. There must be adequate free time to organize ideas and grow our knowledge or speculative reason.
The city or ideal polis facilitates the nature of a good life. A good life is a life of active goodness involving fortitude, temperance, justice and wisdom. Aristotle is clearly against imperialist and military cities because he believes they are unjust, however he believes fortitude is a virtue because a collective readiness to defend ones country is required (but not desirable). The ideal city should not be overly populous one so that top citizens can be properly acquainted with one another.
The ideal polis maximizes the opportunity for its citizens to display goodness and afford happiness. In the ideal polis, the foundation of the ideal social structure is based on serfs and slaves. That is, it is implicit in Aristotles conception of the good life that not everyone is meant to achieve goodness and that these people are better off serving those who can. Elite citizens own property, but it is the slaves and serfs that farm and run this property, and do all the necessary work that is not associated with political activity.
In the ideal state the elite citizens always have time for leisure activities and political activities thanks to serfs and slaves. Leisure is based on participation in political activities, recreation (rest and rejuvenation) and cultivation of the mind. Public service is part of life in the ideal polis but it is important to note that these political activities always include time for leisure. During the younger years one engages in civil activities including military and defense. The middle years are devoted to government. During the older years one is to be responsible for the conduct of public worship in the church.
In accordance with his goal of goodness for full citizens, Aristotle has a unique approach to the proper use of land to help create equality in society. In this ideal world the soul and body are taken care of by the city. To accomplish this he believes that the top citizens should not be committed to one type of land use but instead they should have public land and private land. Public land is to be used for service of the gods, and provides food and income for the clergy. Public land also facilitates collective feeding, a system of common meals available for citizens and their family (adequate health). Because land near the border is more likely to be taken over by neighboring states private land is separated into two plots. One plot near the center of the city and one plot of land close to the border. This would allow each citizen adequate wealth and help with foreign affairs. A state cannot be happy unless it prospers and Aristotle argues that the above system will lead to prosperity and virtue.
Finally, Aristotles education system is required to obtain his goal of active goodness. First, a uniform system of public education prepares one for military service. There are four phases in Aristotles system and the purpose of his curriculum is to foster moral virtue, useful knowledge and readiness for the proper use of leisure. The first stage is early childhood which begins at birth and continues until age seven. During this stage training is done at home because it is important that kids start with the right familial influence. Aristotle favors censorship, and does not want small children exposed to foul language (he actually punished people for using profanity.) Furthermore, if home, the young cannot mingle with the slaves and contract slave-like habits. The second phase comes at age seven through puberty. The emphasis here is on physical training with a focus on the development of courage. The aim here is to be physically fit and capable of military service and not be burdened by mental activities. Aristotle does not want to burden adolescents by dividing their time between training of the mind and training of the body. The next educational phase attacks the mind and begins during puberty. Here the emphasis shifts to the mind with training in reading, writing, drawing and music. Phase four begins early in the high school years. The aim of this training is preparation for the military and includes hard physical training and a strict diet.
According to Aristotle a proper social structure and education system will result in a life of active goodness for the individual and the collective society.