Ethics is a broad field within the larger field of moral philosophy that aims at distinguishing between good and bad. It sets the standard by which people in a society should behave towards each other. Since morality helps in distinguishing between good and bad, it then begs the question can moral behavior lead to happiness? Or better still, is moral behavior a precursor to a happy life? Considering that both morality and happiness are abstract terms, it is therefore important to look at how each contributes to the fulfillment or attainment of the other. This essay argues that indeed moral behavior leads to happiness. To accomplish this feat, the paper will open by presenting the definition of moral behavior and happiness. Following this, a discussion of how moral behavior leads to happiness will be presented. The essay will employ relevant ethical theories and examples in support of the stand taken.
Morality and Moral Behaviour
Morality has been defined variously by different authors. One such definition opines that morality is a good character which conforms to the system of values that lead to good conduct 1 . From this definition, it can be argued that morality is not subjective. It can also be deduced that morality goes beyond the personal values and sense of right or wrong and includes the norms or acceptable values as prescribed by a society to which an individual is a member. Therefore, morals can be defined as the collection of rules, values or principles prescribed by a society as a guide for its members' day to day living. A person's value must, therefore, mirror those of the society in which s/he belongs because, in principle, all members of a society are expected to behave in a similar fashion 2 . Based on this assertion, it can then be inferred that good morals are distinguishable from bad ones on the premise that the former is chosen over the latter for the common good of the society and these good morals often lead to correct and appropriate behavior.
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Kent, one of the most celebrated deontologists of our time is among those who believe that an action can only be right if it is based on a moral rule or principle that has been proposed for the society members. The author supports this stand pointing out that “[…] to have moral worth mentioning an action must be from duty” 3 . In this regard, it can then be asserted that good moral behavior is the capacity of observing moral rules as an individual's rationality dictates. Moral behavior can, therefore, be defined as the ability to become a moral agent and practice virtues 4 .
From the definitions above, it can, therefore, be inferred that moral behavior consists of practicing or upholding good values or morals in view of achieving what is widely and conventionally acceptable. Further, it can be argued that moral behavior is the right way of conducting one's life in line with rational choices and morality.
Arguably, happiness is one of the most elusive terms to define. Similar to morality which is subjective, happiness is also subjective. This is because there is no universally accepted or uniform standard that has been agreed upon as a true measure of happiness. Happiness comes from the Greek word Eudaimonia, which is translated to mean blessedness. Aristotle defines happiness as “an activity in accordance with virtue” 5 . He opines that it is something perfect, an end to which all our actions are directed 6 . From these assertions, it seems that happiness depends on a good way or virtuous way of living which is an end product of moral behavior.
Connecting Happiness and Moral Behaviour
Looking at Aristotle's definition of happiness as an activity in accordance with virtue, it, therefore, follows that these actions must be good and virtuous and must be done by a good person. The word virtue is translated from a Greek word Arete, which means excellence. Virtues are often considered to be habitual acts, done not occasionally but always, and they often lead to good actions and the end product is happiness. Additionally, in virtue ethics, virtue is defined as a character trait that one needs to live well and flourish 7 . Some notable examples of these virtues include fairness, honesty, generosity, faithfulness, and prudence.
Up to this point, we have seen that moral behavior results from the right or correct way of conduct. This proves that moral behavior is a typical form of a virtuous life and as thus, it is vital to happiness. Furthermore. Aristotle's virtue ethics has proved that happiness is an activity in accordance with virtue meaning that a person who is in pursuit of happiness must formulate and partake of activities that will lead to the attainment of happiness. These activities must be guided by moral behavior and since the behavior is an individual's conduct, we can extend this and say happiness can only be achieved when a morally upright person (one who conducts self morally) does what s/he is supposed to do.
Moral behavior is characterized by three important virtues- honesty, courage, and justice, all of these when embraced leads to happiness. It might be argued that all of these are subjective terms but, in our case, we are assuming that we are referring to a moral being, one who has purposed to behave in a moral way. Courage is the ability to take risks or face dangers, justice is the ability to act fairly and honesty is the capacity, to tell the truth. Justice is often seen as a super virtue of sorts. A person who practices justice by extension exercises both truth and honesty.
Aristotle calls justice a “complete virtue” 8 . For instance, when a moral person receives extra change upon buying an item from a seller, such a person will act justly by returning the extra change to the seller. This actor behavior is motivated by the fact that the individual has chosen moral behavior over immoral behavior, which would manifest if s/he did not return the extra change. Returning the extra change frees the person from the guilt that would have kicked in had s/he decided to walk away with the change. In the event that the seller later discovered that the buyer had pocketed extra change, shame would arise. Acting morally in the example above helps to protect the buyer, promotes his or her integrity and promotes happy living.
Moreover, considering that moral behavior results when a person appeals to right reason, it means that a moral person is one who makes well-informed choices, those which are founded on good values or virtues. Therefore, a moral person cannot partake of a conduct that goes against morality to attain happiness. Everyone desires wealth, but a moral person cannot accept money offered to him in exchange to allowing another person to do what is immoral. For instance, a moral person cannot accept a bribe from an importer to allow the importer to evade paying taxes. If the moral person does that then he betrays his identity and ceases being a moral person. Similarly, a moral person will embrace the virtue of courage and helps a person in grave danger because he has come to embrace courage which is one of the virtues that back moral behavior.
Happiness, though treated as an end in most cases, must originate from virtuous means. This means that a moral person should not cut corners to get ahead in life and get that promotion and a big check. He must follow the laid down process to advance in life, that process must be based on meritocracy which in itself is a virtue. It feels good to know that one has worked for what he or she has been awarded. Moral behavior is important because it brings together all the virtues or ingredients of true happiness. Therefore, a moral person possesses excellences and is able to live by right reason, and these taken together enables him or her to enjoy good relationships with others and by extension exercise the principle of the mean.
Since moral laws govern a society, they are meant to maintain order within the society. When every member of the society behaves morally, then the members can co-exist in harmony with each other. However, when some members decide to behave in an immoral way, then the harmonious co-existence will be disturbed. Those who break the code of morals prescribed for the society risk being punished. The punishment is meted because actions by the select few can adversely affect the happiness of the entire society which is seen when all members co-exist harmoniously. Those who break the law and are caught will not be happy and their unhappiness can be tied to the fact that they failed to behave morally. It can, therefore, be inferred that happiness is as a result of one behaving morally.
Happiness can also result when one chooses to behave in a moral way towards others. For instance, those who participate in charity work aimed at helping the less fortunate in society are behaving in a moral way and would most definitely reap the reward of being happy. It is often fulfilling to know that the little good you have done for someone who was in a fix has gone a long way to improving their situation. For example, giving food and shelter to the homeless leaves the giver with a feel-good feeling. This feel-good feeling is what is called happiness. From this example, it can be argued that a moral person has the capacity and opportunity of deriving his happiness from making others happy.
Happiness need not be the feeling that the moral person feels, but it can be what the receiver of the kind act feels 9 . For instance, looking at the example above, it is possible for both the receiver and the giver to feel good and happy. Looking at a totally different example, assuming that a family has their breadwinner in dire need of kidney transplant and a moral person decides to donate his kidney to save the breadwinner's life, clearly, the breadwinner and his family members will be happy that someone has come along and behaved morally by donating his kidney. In this case, moral behavior is the act of giving. This proves that when moral people behave morally guided by virtues they often end up making others happy.
A moral person must be just, honest and courageous. This means that he or she must always remember that these three components guide his or her action. For instance, if an injustice has been directed towards a less-fortunate person, the moral person must stand and defend the person. Often times, it takes boldness and courage to take such a stand. A moral person will not look the other way and allow injustices to persist, instead, he will look for ways to remedy the situation even if it means sacrificing his comfort and happiness for the less fortunate. By so doing, the moral person will be putting all the tenets of moral behavior to the test.
Moral behavior applies to all levels of society, a family being a part of the society, it, therefore, follows that members of a family ought to behave in a moral manner. Parents are expected to define the rules that will govern their families for instance if a teenager wants to go out for a party and requests for permission from the parent and the parent says NO, the moral thing for the teenager to do would be to respect the decision of the parent and stay home. However, not all teenagers obey their parents. If this particular one decides to sneak and go to the party and then the parent gets wind of it, the teenager risks being punished for disobedience. If the parent decides to punish the teenager by grounding her for say a month, that would be sad both for the parent, for no parent wishes to punish their children and also for the teenager. This confirms Hume's Moral theory which argues that there is a relationship between the doer of an action and the receiver of the same.
From the discussion, it is clear that moral behavior is necessary for happiness. The examples presented shows how a person's moral behavior leads to happiness. Contrastingly, some examples have also been used to show how immoral behavior leads to unhappiness and sadness. Since individuals are members of the society, it is therefore important that they all behave in a moral way so that everyone concerned can be happy. Good, virtuous and moral behavior can, therefore, lead to happiness.
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