Philosophers at Work: Paula Gottlieb

On November 16th, 2017, Paula Gottlieb presented her talk entitled “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Aristotle’s Ethics”.

The Declaration of Independence hails the importance of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (my emphasis), but what is the happiness that is to be pursued? If happiness is whatever any particular individual thinks it is, then why should a lawgiver pay attention to that if it does not harmonize with others’ good? But if happiness is objective, what is it? To answer these questions I shall take the audience on a tour of Aristotle’s ethical theory from the traits of character required to be happy to the type of friendship needed for a happy life. In sum, Aristotle argues that the decisive factor in being happy is ethically good activity. Therefore, according to Aristotle, my pursuit of my happiness, far from being selfish, should be congenial to others’ pursuit of their happiness also.