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Happiness and Pleasure in European Thought

John Rawls

In more recent years, philosophers have returned in some ways to views of happiness that are quite similar to that of the virtue ethicists. John Rawls (1921–2002), in A Theory of Justice (1971), provides the best example. Consciously drawing on Aristotle, Rawls claims that "a person's good is determined by what is for him the most rational long-term plan of life given reasonably favorable circumstances. A man is happy when he is more or less successfully in the way of carrying out this plan" (pp. 92–93). The favorable circumstances to which Rawls refers are found in his "primary goods," a notion that links up well with the importance of "external goods" in Aristotle's system. Primary goods, like Aristotle's external goods, are the "necessary means" to achieving "one's system of ends" (p. 93). As such, at least among certain philosophers the view of happiness has refocused on the virtue ethics' position. Still, this is a far cry from saying what Aristotle was able to say in the Nicomachean Ethics, namely, that the identification of eudaimonia (or happiness) as the final good for humans was a platitude. We have surely not gotten back to this position on happiness.

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Tim Duvall

Jeffrey Miller

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Habit memory: to HeterodontHappiness and Pleasure in European Thought - The Hellenistic Era, The Medieval View, Modern Views On Happiness, Act Utilitarianism, Rule Utilitarianism