The Pursuit of Happiness and the Union of Aristotle and Genesis

analytical Essay
2821 words
2821 words

The Pursuit of Happiness and the Union of Aristotle and Genesis

Two major schools of thought broadly influenced the development of the moral code of Western Civilization. The Judeo-Christian tradition gave us faith and God through the text of the Bible. The ancient Greeks gave us philosophical inquiry and "the Good" through the teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle proposes that "the Good" is the highest end of man’s actions. Happiness is "the Good" because it is the only end man pursues with no other end in mind. A man obtains this highest end by living his life in a virtuous manner. In marked contrast, a careful reading of Genesis shows that, in the world of the Hebrews, the highest end of a man’s actions is faith in and communication with God himself. Oneness with God is the highest end because no other god exists. A man obtains this highest end by obeying God’s commands and fulfilling God’s plan for him. On first examination, the differences between these two constructs seem negligible. But when we look closely at the ways in which the men of Genesis obtain their highest ends, we find that their means are less than virtuous in the eyes of Aristotle. To reach God, the ends seem to justify the means, while to reach "the Good", the virtuous path is crucial. Although this inherent difference in the two systems of morality seems to oppose them to one another, the difference between them has actually helped meld them together to form our modern view of happiness. We need both views: that wicked means will corrupt even the best ends, and that good ends can justify any means. In fact, there are stories in each text that describe a man who finds happiness through God, or "the Good," ...

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...e which cannot be taken away; second, according to Genesis, because we have been given happiness by communion with a God who is ever present. Although not everyone considered to be a member of Western society holds these views on happiness, one can see these two roots in our construct of happiness. In our very American constitution, we acknowledge our inalienable right to the "pursuit of happiness." This phrase represents nothing other than the ultimate union of Aristotle and Genesis: we are guaranteed as humans, as a God-given right, the ability to strive for happiness through the Aristotelian process.


1. Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, trans. Martin Ostwald (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1999).

2. Genesis, trans. Robert Alter (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996).

3. The Holy Bible, King James Version (New York: American Bible Society).

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how the judeo-christian tradition gave faith and god through the bible, while the ancient greeks gave us philosophical inquiry and "the good."
  • Compares aristotle's concept of "the good" and the god of the hebrews as the ultimate goals of human action.
  • Analyzes how god and "the good" mirror each other in their claim to uniqueness. god asserts his singularity in one of his ten commandments, namely the first.
  • Analyzes aristotle's connection between "the good" and happiness. in genesis, this happiness, or the ultimate end, comes through communion with god.
  • Analyzes how genesis portrays a view that focuses more on the ultimate end, rather than the means to reach this end. aristotle would argue that any action towards noble ends must be equally noble, or the end will be tainted.
  • Analyzes how aristotle orients achieving happiness towards the means securing the ends. a man cannot be happy without behaving in a virtuous way.
  • Argues that in genesis, the highest end, communion with god, is achieved through obedience to god and fulfillment of god's prophecies for one’s life.
  • Analyzes how aristotle's methods of achieving "the good" and communion with god found in genesis form the contemporary western idea of the method of happiness.
  • Analyzes how aristotle refers to priam, the king of troy, as an illustration of a once happy man who will not likely return to happiness.
  • Opines that no supremely happy man can ever become miserable, for he will never do what is hateful and base.
  • Analyzes how aristotle reveals the nearly permanent nature of happiness, and promises that "the good," once achieved through the correct means, will stay with the man through a lifetime.
  • Analyzes how job's story illustrates the permanence of happiness through communion with god. even when god takes away all of job’s family, friends, possessions, and health, job remains faithful to god
  • Explains that they know that their redeemer liveth, and that he will stand at the latter day upon the earth.
  • Analyzes how satan points out to god that job was happy without working for it; he challenges god to turn his back on god if all his worldly goods are taken from him. satan is proved wrong, and job puts himself at god's mercy.
  • Narrates how job answered the lord and said, "i know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withheld from thee."
  • Analyzes how job was able to retain his happiness in his communication with god even through the tests, because god's presence is something permanent.
  • Explains that aristotle and genesis' views on happiness give us the most complete view of happiness.
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