Aristotle and Me

So I’m taking a course in Humanities and one of our recurring assignments is to compare ourselves to philosophers. Here’s my first essay:

Aristotle

Imagination is one of the key traits that differentiates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. While the ability to fantasize and dream is indeed, an impressive feat; it is utterly useless when practiced without the constraints logic and reasoning. Logic and reasoning are what allow us to use dreams to our advantage. They enable us to distill fantasies into practical ideas. Aristotle postulated that our sense of reason is what distinguishes us from all other species. Furthermore, he proposed that reasoning not only enables us to classify everything we see, but obligates us to do so. Finally, he believed that the only way to achieve true happiness is through a balanced combination of pleasure, obligation, and philosophizing. While I too, am a staunch believer in human reasoning and our predilection for classification, our philosophies on achieving happiness differ significantly.

Aristotle believed that reason is what sets us apart from all other animals: “Man grows and absorbs nourishment like plants, he has feelings and the ability to move like animals, but he also has a specific characteristic peculiar to humans, and that is the ability to think rationally” (113). Humans share many traits with other animals, everyone has at some point in their life, bonded with an animal. For instance, my family owns a cat; based on my interactions with him, I believe that he is more than just an organism trying to survive. I can tell he has feelings, he has memories, he has a personality; he remembers who feeds him, who pets him, and especially those who wrong him, just like a. He treats each member of our family according to how we treat him, the same way a person would. This proves that he, like a human is capable of learning. However, it is clear that he lacks the ability to reason. Whenever he does something he shouldn’t, my mom punishes him by hitting him on the hindquarters or yelling at him threateningly. Thus, he should understand what he is doing is wrong. Where he lacks reason is when he chooses to do it again. My mom has shooed him off the dinner table countless times yet he continues to go up there in search of leftovers but never gets any. If he had the ability to reason, he would know that if he jumped on the table, he would be punished, thus he should not jump on the table. Instead, he sees food, and jumps on the table to try and get it. There is no analysis of the situation, no reasoning behind his actions. He has never actually obtained food by jumping on the table but rather, is punished every time he tries; based off of this information, a person would conclude that the ends (no food and a punishment) do not justify the means (jumping on the table). Thus he would reason that it is not worth it to jump on the table.

Another tenet of Aristotle is that everything in nature falls into categories and more subcategories: “Aristotle wanted to do a thorough cleaning of nature’s ‘room.’ He tried to show that everything in nature belongs to different categories and subcategories” (111). I believe it is human nature to try and explain our surroundings to the best of our abilities; the most efficient method of doing so would indeed, be through categorization. I have never come across any object that defies categorization. While some objects or abstractions may be more difficult to group than others, nothing defies categorization because a category is in essence, a trait and nothing exists that is completely indescribable. For example, love is a confusing and complex idea, but already in this very sentence, it has been categorized multiple times as an idea; not just an idea but a confusing and complex idea. To elaborate, it is also an emotion, a feeling, a hormonal attraction, a primal urge, a noun, an abstraction… and the list goes on. If one was to think about it, even things that “defy categorization” are technically part of a category. Defying categorization is a trait, which makes it a category by definition.

Although my philosophy and that of Aristotle are aligned in many ways, where the differ greatly is in our interpretations of how to achieve happiness. Aristotle claims that happiness can only be achieved through a combination of three separate components: “The first form of happiness is a life of pleasure and enjoyment. The second form of happiness is a life as a free and responsible citizen. The third form of happiness is a life as a thinker and philosopher. Aristotle then emphasized that all three criteria must be met present at the same time to achieve happiness and fulfillment” (114). Our philosophies on happiness and how to achieve it are fundamentally different. I believe that as long as I am enjoying myself, then I am happy; responsibility and philosophy have nothing to do with it. If anything, responsibility and thinking only make me miserable. I find that I am most content when I am with friends, no plans, just spontaneously having fun. When I start thinking through plans and decisions, I overanalyze the situation discovering every little thing that could possibly go wrong, at that point, my mind begins automatically assuming that the worst is bound to happen which puts a damper on my happiness. True happiness is being caught in the moment and forgetting about all one’s troubles. When one begins to think, rationality and cynicism take over and happiness diminishes. I also deny that being a responsible citizen promotes happiness. Being responsible is difficult and there are not always rewards for doing so. It is however the “right thing to do.” For some people, being responsible make them feel good about themselves. However for most, being responsible is a burden put upon us by society and we would stop if given the chance. I have personally never been happy as a direct result of being responsible. Aristotle’s idea of happiness is too idealist. He assumes that people need to do good to feel good. I am just being realistic, humans want to look out for their own best interests and enjoyment; everything else is secondary.

My philosophy is similar to Aristotle’s in many aspects. We agree that reason is what sets us apart from other animals and that classification is part of our nature, but our ideas of happiness and how it is achieved are fundamentally different. A lot of what Aristotle said two-thousand years ago remains relevant to this day. For example, his teachings on classification and reasoning laid the foundations for logic as a science; but I find his view of happiness to be almost foolishly innocent. While Aristotle’s work as a logician will never be forgotten, he fell somewhat short in his analysis of human desire.

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