Other Philosophers – Variations on Theme (Part 4)

In my previous post, I discussed the more modern philosophers, Bentham and Mill. Both are Utilitarians whose ethical philosophy is very similar to that of Epicurus, however with a twist. Rather than emphasize pleasure for the individual as the road to happiness, they emphasize maximizing pleasure for all citizens of a society. That is the twist – pursuing those actions that maximize pleasure for a collective society rather than individuals.

Both of these philosophers are considered consequentialists as well – the ends justify the means. In other words, what is important in not how you go about obtaining pleasure but rather the amount of pleasure that is secured. The goal of these philosophies is to reach happiness at all cost, and happiness is defined as pleasure (or the absence of pain).

In earlier posts, I discussed Scotus, who was a philosopher contemporary with Aquinas.  He held similar positions as Aquinas but went further in promoting justice as being part of the moral good of our actions.  Scotus was concerned that the philosophers before him placed too much emphasis in obtaining one’s own happiness and not enough concern with the flourishing of others.  Essentially, Scotus took the virtue of justice (concern for others) and Aquinas’s love of neighbor and added additional weight to it to ensure that the concern for others was also not ignored in our actions.  That additional emphasis on justice by Duns Scotus was the twist on the teachings of the ancient philosophers mentioned in my book.

The final philosopher that I mentioned in my last few posts was Kant.  Like Scotus, Kant was concerned with moral actions and justice.  But, unlike Scotus, Kant did not think that the goal of life was to achieve happiness.  He believed that the goal of life was to perform one’s duty through moral actions, independent of the outcome of those actions.  He believed that those individuals with a proper sense of reason would make the correct moral decisions by following the laws before us.  While Kant was unique in his thinking, he still resembles the ancient Stoics.  The Stoics believed that the virtues, and only the virtues, would provide the proper knowledge and reason to understand those actions necessary to achieve happiness.  That is the twist – Kant resembles the Stoics’ regard for reason, even though he does not claim that the virtues will deliver the proper reason nor will reason lead to happiness but rather a sense of satisfaction for performing one’s duties properly.

So, we have discussed four influential philosophers that resemble the four ancient philosophers mentioned in my book.  The reason that these four are not included in my book is that they don’t add enough to the narrative of the road to happiness and would simply complicate the description.  They are just variations on a theme which has already been discussed by the ancient philosophers.  However, they are worth mentioning in that they help to contrast and better define the road to happiness discussed in my book.

I hope that these last few post have been helpful.  I also hope that after reviewing these alternative philosophies you might have a better appreciation of the road to happiness discussed in my book.

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