The following occurred to me when teaching Nic. Eth. 10.7-8 today, in connection with my previous post on Aristotelian monotheism.
Prove: An atomist cannot be happy.
- Happiness is activity in accordance with the virtue of sophia (1177a12).
- Thus, no one who lacks sophia can be happy.
- Sophia is knowledge of first causes (1141a19-20).
- No one who has false beliefs, and lacks true beliefs, in that respect has knowledge (1139b20-21).
- Thus, no one who has false beliefs, and lacks true beliefs, about first causes, has knowledge of first causes.
- Atomists have false beliefs, and lack true beliefs, about first causes.
- Thus, no atomist has sophia.
- Thus, no atomist can be happy.
'Atomist' of course stands proxy for that class of people who, on Aristotle's terms, lack knowledge of first causes.
We might grant that there are some philosophers who lacked sophia, but who nonetheless approached happiness in some way, because their beliefs were insightful approximations to the truth (e.g. Plato on the Good, Anaxagoras on Mind).
What the above argument does, is to raise a question about the importance of truth for happiness. Does happiness require that we attain to truth about the most fundamental things? Aristotle's remarks in the opening of the Metaphysics, and his definition of sophia as knowledge, would suggest that it does. If 'all men by nature desire to know', then those who fail, fundamentally, to know, will have failed to attain a 'natural good'--and 'a happy person has all the natural goods' (NE 1169b19).
The argument also takes seriously the fact that happiness is objective, not subjective, for Aristotle. A person can think he is happy, and not be so (see Kraut, "Two Conceptions of Happiness"). Similarly, a person who thinks he has wisdom, but does not, may think he is happy, but is not. (And note the Socratic resonances in this.)