Essay on Morality and Happiness

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From my perspective, I think the best philosophy of human nature that I have learned from the class is Immanuel Kant compared to other philosopher such as Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, Karl Marx, and Freud.

Plato was known as the father of idealism and one of the forefathers of philosophy; which is the love of wisdom. Whereas, Kant was known as the father of modern philosophy; and also, his ideas and theories were thought-provoking and complex.

In comparing and contrasting Plato and Kant, I find that they have many similar viewpoints; yet they have different observations as well.

The similarities between the two great minds are quite numerous. Plato believed that there are Forms that exist in an unchanging, unseen world; these Forms never change, they do not perish, or come to an end. It is these ethical Forms that position definite principles for us. While Kant believed that there is an unseen moral law or force that governs us. It is this moral law or force that we must abide by no matter what the circumstance or situation; thus we ought to do what is right, despite the outcome.

The differences that they have goes as follows: Plato did not believe in God, in the sense that God is an omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent being. His view of God is synonymous with the Forms of Goodness within the universe; that is there are Forms of Goodness that are in an unseen world, where the paradigm of goodness is complete; whereas Kant believed in God. Another difference is that Plato believed that learning is a form of recollection; while Kant believed that there are three different forms of knowledge. They are empirical (a posteriori), what is observed; analytical, what is reasoned or logical; and synthetic (a priori), meaning that they cannot be proved. Kant also believed that every event has a source and through every stage or phase, something is preserved.

The modern philosopher Kant is a typical representative of the ethics of Deontological Theories. The ancient great philosopher Aristotle is a typical representative of the ethics of happiness. On the issue of morality and happiness, Kant and Aristotle are more precisely opposite to each other.

To say that the two people are different in morality and happiness, or even opposite each other, does not mean that they have no common ground. They both have a deep mutual agreement on some key details. For example, Aristotle said: 'Because happiness is a kind of activity in which the soul follows all virtues, we must explore virtues.' This connection between virtue and human reality is deeply consistent with Kant, and these actions according to virtue are voluntary and based on rational choice, this is also recognized by Kant.

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However, the differences that they have are as follows: Firstly, morality and happiness, Aristotle believed that it should be a combination of the two, both are inseparable. However, Kant believed that morality and happiness are two isolated issues. he thinks that it is necessary to be separated due to the perspective of moral legislation. Secondly, Aristotle believed that happiness is the purpose of morality itself. Whereas, Kant believed that morality is not for happiness, it is the purpose itself, it is the root of human beings. Thirdly, speaking of the importance of morality and happiness, Aristotle believes that happiness itself is the most essential thing to human beings, morality is ultimately serving happiness. In other words, happiness comes first then morality. Yet Kant put morality in the first place, and happiness in the second place. He thinks that only if people have morality, they are entitled to happiness.

A comparison between Hobbes and Kant, surely, has a limit that cannot be breached, because they are usually considered to be oriented in opposite directions and represent different political and philosophical trends: While Hobbes is considered to be a classical realist, Kant is usually regarded as a liberal advocate. Nonetheless, Hobbes and Kant share many ideas regarding their social contract theory, which altogether, may reveal that the gap between them is narrower than has previously been considered.

The differences that they have are as follows: Firstly, Hobbes did not think that it is important, because morality to him was only a strategy for getting whatever human happens to want. Furthermore, he believed that morality is entirely relative, depending on what ends we are trying to achieve. However, Kant believed that intentions are all that matter because human beings must do their duty, even if the consequences are unpleasant. He believed that human beings should treat reason as an absolute (whether it is or not), and morality is no different. Secondly, speaking of the motivation of a human being, Hobbes believed that as creatures naturally seeking survival, security, and happiness (and trying to avoid war), we will have the desire for selfishness, but we have to live in society. But Kant believed in so far as we are naturally drawn to truth, principle, consistency, and an objective view of behavior. Thirdly, speaking of politics, Hobbes believed that a society is a network of contacts built up over generations. Its vital element is a strong authority to enforce broken contacts, thus making mutual trust possible. Yet Kant believed that a single universal principle of government, based on individual rights and corresponding duties, with all rational citizens receiving due respect.

The similarities between Marx and Kant are they considered that as people are rational they are capable of making free choices and should be treated with respect, ends in their own right, now as means to a capitalist end. Furthermore, people should collectively act as though they were members of law-making the kingdom of ends.

However, they have different opinions about the idea of freedom and religion. Firstly, Marx believed that freedom should not be given to every human being, it can only be given to a selected few (such as a king or queen in the Middle Ages). Kant believed that human beings are born to be free, and they deserve to live in freedom for the rest of their life. He also believed that freedom lies in people's inner self-determination and acting voluntarily, without being forced and bound by external forces, so freedom transcends causality and determinism. However, there is no freedom in the natural field to be constrained by causality. Only in the field of morality, human beings as moral subjects, by the moral laws they have established for themselves, act by 'should', is the real freedom. Secondly, Marx described religion as an “opium of the masses”. He believed that religion served as a function of giving human beings hope or purpose to live in this society and help them to reduce the suffering of living in this world. Yet Kant claimed that even though it is impossible to prove the existence of God from the perspective of epistemology, he believed that only in the assumption of a supreme being, with a basis for harmony with character, the world can achieve the highest good, the assumption of ‘God exists’ is necessary in the field of morality.

The uncertainty of life value and spiritual loneliness have caused troubles for human beings for a long time. Although human beings can never prove the existence of God by their knowledge and senses, human reason has an attempt to explore the infinite, so the hunger for God is an inevitable outcome when exploring infinite connotations with only a limited range of intellectuality. Sometimes, the greater the power of science, the more empty the human mind is. Under the conditions of highly developed modern science and technology, although human beings are more aware that 'God' is merely a hypothesis, the vain God cannot truly solve the 'goodness' problem of human freedom, equality, and happiness, but in his own Before the great wise men in the same category who could completely solve such problems, 'God' is still an irreplaceable choice.

The difference between Freud and Kant goes as follows: Freud believed in Determinism. “The first is his strict application of determinism—the principle that every event has preceding causes—to the realm of the mental.” (Leslie, 209) Freud believed that there’s no accidental event that happens in human behavior such as slips of the tongue, forgetting about something, dreams, and neurotic symptoms. He claimed that every thought or behavior that happens in human beings must have certain hidden mental causes behind it, it also means that he did not believe in free will. Whereas, Kant held an opposite idea with Freud. “Kant was a rock-solid believer in human freedom and moral responsibility. He saw humans as free, rational beings who can make choices that are not predetermined; after all, we are capable of acting on moral reasons, not just on self-interested desires.” (Leslie, 176) He believed that human beings are born to be free, therefore they must have free will in themselves.

Work Cited:

    1. Plato Introduction, (PHIL 205 D2L site, spring 2019)
    2. Aristotle Introduction, (PHIL 205 D2L site, spring 2019)
    3. Leslie, Stevenson, David L. Haberman, and Peter Matthews, Twelve Theories of Human Nature, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013)
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