Briefly explain why Aristotle makes reference to his theory of the soul in his argument for the proper definition of happiness. Explain what it means to say that Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean is a universal moral principle that allows for individual differences, and explain the difference between a person who is continent with regard to physical pleasures versus a person who possesses the virtue of temperance.

In the philosophy of Aristotle, you could say Aristotle articulates a line of traits that lead to happiness. He seems to think the pleasant prompts virtue, and virtue produces happiness. For Aristotle, “Happiness is an activity of the soul.” The temperate person doesn't feel pleasure that goes against the harmony of their soul. The continent person, however, feels pleasure that counters their soul. Yet they have the power to resist the wayward pleasure.

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In the philosophy of Aristotle, it seems like the soul is something of organizing principle. That is, you could claim Aristotle sees the soul as the foundation for what eventually becomes happiness.

According to Aristotle, “Pleasure is a state of soul.” Yet it seems like, in Aristotle’s mind, pleasure can become pleasant when someone loves what isn’t in conflict with their nature but what is in harmony with their nature. For Aristotle, the pleasant leads to virtue, which leads to happiness. As Aristotle himself says, “Happiness is an activity of soul in accordance with perfect virtue.”

As you might have noted, Aristotle seems to place considerable emphasis on harmony. His focus on harmony seems to lead to his distinctions between the continent person and the temperate person.

According to Aristotle, a temperate person will “have neither excessive nor bad appetites.” They don’t feel pleasure that opposes the harmony of their being. They are always, in a way, balanced.

The continent person, however, is susceptible to bad appetites. They appear to feel pleasure that might not be in harmony with their being. However, they have the ability to not be led around by this feeling of wayward pleasure.

As for differences and universality, you could say Aristotle allows for both because he acknowledges that people will interact with people differently depending on their identity. What benefits a wealthy person might not benefit a person of a lower class. There are differences. Those differences don’t mean you can act in a harmful way to some people. It means you have to make adjustments so that your conduct is beneficial to all people. The emphasis on conducting yourself in a way that helps all people could be considered rather universal.

Last Reviewed by eNotes Editorial on October 30, 2020
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