And so said Aristotle. He says that all human purposes aim at that highest of goals, Eudaimonia. Loosely translated as 'happiness', it can be better referred to as 'human flourishing'. So each and every action is geared to the attainment of this higher "virtue".
More importantly, this higher purpose/ aim is derived from both 'virtue' (as exemplified by courage, honesty, etc.) and knowledge (here, the knowledge of good and evil, OR, right and wrong). Aristotle adds that Eudaimonia is constituted not by honor, wealth or power, but by rational activity done with knowledge. Therefore, simple deduction leads us to infer that ethical
behavior and virtuosity lead the rational person to the best course of action, which, in turn, leads to happiness.
So we all act as rational, thinking and aware human beings, all of us pursuing the most sensible, rational, best and right course of action. And live happily ever after!
Yes, that is indeed the fairy tale it sounds like. For how many of us actually do that?
not me, for one (and so goes the story of my life :)
Are we fallible? I think so- at least I think the human race deserves the benefit of doubt :)
Herein, lies the concept of Akrasia, which is defined as "the state of acting against one's better judgement".
Why would any person ever do that? So asks anybody with a "rational" mind.
Yet we all do it, all the time.
Socrates called akrasia an "illogical concept", and attributes it to a breakdown of reasoning. However, Aristotle (again to the rescue) contends that akrasia is not a result of irrationality, but is a result of opinion. And opinion is personal, and may or may not represent the truth.
Any judgment that we make may be based in objective reason or subjective analysis. Yet the chosen path of maximum virtue may not be adhered to, ever so often.
Or it may be the conflict of reason and emotion (again, the fact that they are considered on opposite sides of the fence is dismaying).
However, I do reinforce the notion that akrasia may be very damaging for being happy- or attaining the highest purpose of eudaimonia.
Having personally experienced it, I also firmly believe in Festinger's Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. And that can lead to tremendous mental and emotional turbulence.
So maybe one should just do what one believes is right. And that remains the eternal question. What is Right?
There exist innumerable normative notions of "rightness" and yet, no two people have the same rights or wrongs.
Therefore, I do what I think is right.
"Dharma Matigrah Udghrutah:"
Dharma is what your mind tells you is right.
Dharma is what your heart tells you is right.