Happiness As a Goal
In many contexts, the word good literally means the ideal or the upright course which ought to be chosen when confronted with a decision between good options. Good is usually perceived as the opposite of evil and is therefore of interest in the field of ethics, morals, philosophy and religion. The main reason for this is that good is closely associated with rationality, which is a form of objectivity. Reason is closely related to goodness because it is a form of mental states, which are the basis for making sense and justifying choices. However, it is important to note that we use the term good in different ways and that what appears good to one person may not appear good to another.
According to the traditional morality, there is only one supreme good which is God. The traditional morality defines the ultimate end or purpose of human life by reference to God. This is based on the assumption that humans are rational and can understand the ultimate end or purpose of their life in a distinct and monotheistic way.
According to some other philosophers, however, there is more than one supreme good which includes many levels of morally perfect acts. For instance, an act which leads to happiness is considered a good act, while an act which leads to passion, hatred or fear is not. Anger and joy, for example, may both be considered ends but they differ in the sense that anger, which leads to destruction, destroys things whereas joy causes creation. Similarly, to see a person perfectly is to see him at his most perfect and therefore goodness and happiness are also included in the description of the good.
For Descartes, meanwhile, there are only two ultimate ends or purposes of human life: God and pleasure. He argues that man is basically an animal, with all the other animal characteristics that make up his ability to feel good and be happy arising from a psychological need to survive. The real problem comes from when a person’s happiness is at odds with God’s morality or his utility. Humans must choose whether they are to be moral and good or if their happiness is only a means to an end. Man’s ability to choose between the two options is what makes him a better being than animals who can’t.
According to John Locke, the most important element in determining a person’s happiness is his knowledge of God. Since Locke believes that the only properly moral and good ends are those which are desirable to man as a whole, it follows that to have knowledge of God is to have a good and happy life. To know God is, in fact, to have the good or happiness that is necessary for a complete and satisfactory completion of oneself. In Locke’s logic, knowledge of God can provide a foundation for practical reason because it can help to make possible ends which are necessary and good. Locke thus holds that to know God is to have happiness.
According to some religious ethicists, it is possible to pursue happiness by working hard at making certain things perfect. Perfection, they believe, is good because it sets up an expectation of eventual reward. In other words, a person would be satisfied (and happy) if he had a perfect body, a perfect mind, and a perfect house in which to live. Perfection thus seems to be a good thing, even if it sometimes leads to the person getting caught up in pursuing something that does not have the goodness it initially seems to have.