English philosopher, whose political writings essay about philosophy of man particular helped pave the way for the French and American revolutions. How do you Measure Happiness? Depression Test: Am I Depressed?
What most people don’t know, however, is that Locke’s concept of happiness was majorly influenced by the Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Epicurus in particular. Far from simply equating “happiness” with “pleasure,” “property,” or the satisfaction of desire, Locke distinguishes between “imaginary” happiness and “true happiness. In this passage, Locke indicates that the pursuit of happiness is the foundation of liberty since it frees us from attachment to any particular desire we might have at a given moment. So, for example, although my body might present me with a strong urge to indulge in that chocolate brownie, my reason knows that ultimately the brownie is not in my best interest. Because it will not lead to my “true and solid” happiness which indicates the overall quality or satisfaction with life.
It is also the freedom to be able to make decisions that results in the best life possible for a human being, which includes intellectual and moral effort. We would all do well to keep this in mind when we begin to discuss the “American” concept of happiness. English philosophers, making important contributions in both epistemology and political philosophy. Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America are lifted from his political writings. Bacon, Locke and Newton are the greatest three people who ever lived, without exception. Perhaps his greatest contribution consists in his argument for natural rights to life, liberty, and property which precede the existence of the state.
Modern-day libertarians hail Locke as their intellectual hero. Locke attempted to do for the mind what Newton had done for the physical world: give a completely mechanical explanation for its operations by discovering the laws that govern its behavior. Thus he explains the processes by which ideas are abstracted from the impressions received by the mind through sense-perception. As an empiricist, Locke claims that the mind begins with a completely blank slate, and is formed solely through experience and education. The doctrines of innate ideas and original sin are brushed aside as relics of a pre-Newtonian mythological worldview.
There is no such thing as human nature being originally good or evil: these are concepts that get developed only on the basis of experiencing pain and pleasure. When it comes to Locke’s concept of happiness, he is mainly influenced by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, as interpreted by the 17th Century mathematician Pierre Gassendi. If it be farther asked, what moves desire? I answer happiness and that alone. False pleasures are those that promise immediate gratification but are typically followed by more pain. Locke gives the example of alcohol, which promises short term euphoria but is accompanied by unhealthy affects on the mind and body.
Most people are simply irrational in their pursuit of short-term pleasures, and do not choose those activities which would really give them a more lasting satisfaction. He points out that happiness is the foundation of liberty, insofar as it enables us to use our reason to make decisions that are in our long-term best-interest, as opposed to those that simply afford us immediate gratification. Thus we are able to abstain from that glass of wine, or decide to help a friend even when we would rather stay at home and watch television. Unlike the animals which are completely enslaved to their passions, our pursuit of happiness enables us to rise above the dictates of nature. As such, the pursuit of happiness is the foundation of morality and civilization. If we had no desire for happiness, Locke suggests, we would have remained in the state of nature just content with simple pleasures like eating and sleeping.
But the desire for happiness pushes us onward, to greater and higher pleasures. If Locke had stopped here, he would be unique among the philosophers in claiming that there is no prescription for achieving happiness, given the diversity of views about what causes happiness. For some people, reading philosophy is pleasurable whereas for others, playing football or having sex is the most pleasurable activity. Since the only standard is pleasure, there would be no way to judge that one pleasure is better than another. The only judge of what happiness is would be oneself.
But Locke does not stop there. Indeed, he notes that there is one fear that we all have deep within, the fear of death. We have a sense that if death is the end, then everything that we do will have been in vain. But if death is not the end, if there is hope for an afterlife, then that changes everything. If we continue to exist after we die, then we should act in such ways so as to produce a continuing happiness for us in the afterlife. Pious Man if he mistakes, be the best that the wicked can attain to, if he be in the right, Who can without madness run the venture?
Basically, then, Locke treats the question of human happiness as a kind of gambling proposition. We want to bet on the horse that has the best chance of creating happiness for us. But if we bet on hedonism, we run the risk of suffering everlasting misery. No rational person would wish that state for oneself. Thus, it is rational to bet on the Christian horse and live the life of virtue. At worst, we will sacrifice some pleasures in this life. But at best, we will win that everlasting prize at happiness which the Bible assures us.