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The Relationship between Virtue and Happiness in Aristotle and Al-Fārābī’s Views

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ID: <oai:doaj.org/article:d35515d8b9b8470daa4990efefd13f37>


Throughout the history, different schools including both descriptive and non-descriptive ones, have been concerned with revealing relationship between happiness and virtue. As the First and Second teachers, Aristotle and Al-Fārābī can be named as having very important roles in this sense. So, the main tenet of ethics for these two philosophers is happiness, which is mostly derived from virtue. Considering theories of these two philosophers, it became evident that Aristotle had significant effects on Islamic thinkers. In other words, they claim they have been strongly influenced by Aristotle’s ideas. An obvious example for this can be ‘Nicomachean Ethics’ which attracted the attention of both western and eastern thinkers. As the greatest and the most salient commentator, Al-Fārābī could elaborate on Aristotle’s ideas on ethics and so suggest a comprehensive theory of ultimate happiness and Utopia' ('al-madīnat al-fāḍilah'). On the other hand, following Aristotle, Al-Fārābī divided ethics into two theoretical and practical branches. Hence, basis of ethical theories introduced by the two of these philosophers is based on happiness; However, Al-Fārābī added notions of Islam and mysticism to happiness. The most straightforward definition that Aristotle offers for happiness concerns an ultimate goal which humans are eagerly seeking to acquire it. He considers the best life as a happy life which can be reached by reasoning about humans’ actions and reactions and through adopting a viewpoint. In this sense, Aristotle introduced three types of lives, namely life with pleasure, political life, and life with intellect; he knows the third type of life better and more sublime than the other two. In his book on ethics, Aristotle defined happiness as soul’s performance according to perfect virtue. Regarding soul, Aristotle divided virtues into moral and rational ones. He believed that virtue is inasmuch as its genus is a hexis (habit) and regarding to its species is a middle term. All in all, he believed in doctrine of virtue as being a “golden mean” between the extremes of excess and deficiency. Concerning the relationship between happiness and virtue, he believed that these two elements are neither dependent on nor independent of one another. Therefore, to distinguish between these two ends, attention must be paid to rules and goals: happiness is according to goals and virtue is according to rules .He contended that virtue does not guarantee happiness and that happiness requires something more than virtue. As the founder of Islamic philosophy, Al-Fārābī’s definition of happiness is similar to that introduced by Aristotle. That is, he knows happiness as the perfection that appeals to all humans and every in some ways attempt to reach it. In civil science whose aim is to define happiness, Al-Fārābī divides happiness into two categories: true happiness which is gained because of its essence and speculative happiness which is delusive one. The latter can be also named as common shares such as wealth, knowledge, etc. What Al-Fārābī speaks of virtue is mostly like what Greek people conceived of ‘Arête’. He named virtue as a thing with inherent goodness and as a fundamental concept of achieving happiness. He classifies virtues into four classes of theoretical virtues, intentional virtues, moral virtues, and practical arts. Following Plato, Al-Fārābī deems of 'virtuous city' ('al-madīnat al-fāḍilah') as a healthy complete body whose parts would function well. In this view, 'virtuous city' ('al-madīnat al-fāḍilah') is a society where its members know happiness, cooperate to achieve it and ultimate destiny of all members is interweaved. For exemplifying the relationship between happiness and virtue, he presents the allegory of soul and body. In his viewpoint, both happiness and virtue imply perfection in a way that humans can achieve the second perfection (happiness) through acquiring the first perfection (virtue); this type of happiness include humans’ ultimate sublimity and great happiness. Therefore, considering those two as the goals, Al-Fārābī knew these two elements as being dependent on one another and no separate from one another. Moreover, he expressed that happiness is in a higher rank than virtue.

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