If You Are Unhappy, You Are Immoral: Ethics of Virtue

If you are unhappy, you are immoral: Ethics of Virtue

You think the title sounds surprising and pointless, don’t you? Why would being unhappy be immoral? It’s like we’re giving the fallen one another a kick, right? Interestingly, a name you know well, albeit indirectly, claims this: Aristotle! In fact, we shouldn’t put all the blame on him. The claim in this title, “If you are unhappy, you are immoral,” was adopted by most of the ancient Greek philosophers, but it was outlined by Aristotle. Now, let’s take a look at the depth under this striking sentence we used in the title!

What is happiness?

Before examining such an understanding of morality, it is necessary to define happiness well, which is one of the key conditions for being moral. According to our customary understanding, happiness consists of joy, isn’t it? When we get a new sweater, when we have a fun day, when we get good grades on an exam, when we get a promotion, etc. We think that we are happy in those events. However, in fact, happiness is a permanent feeling that we can achieve without the need for any other conditions and events, according to Aristotle. According to this definition, the word happiness we use during the day is actually not the right definition. It should be noted that we do not think that any human being has attained or will attain the happiness that Aristotle speaks of. No one is always happy or has strayed that far from worldly pleasures. No one has yet attained unconditional happiness. However, let’s listen to Aristotle about how we can lead a good life as a moral person, leaving this prerequisite aside for now.

Virtue ethics happiness

How Do We Be Moral?

Before we move on to this part, let’s briefly talk about what morality is and what exactly ethics tries to do. Morality, in its simplest definition, is a guide for how to make this life a “good” one. It is for us to understand what is right or wrong. Let’s not confuse the definition of good in daily life with the word “good” here. When we define a good day in our daily lives, we do not talk about the morality of our actions. We use it to describe things that we will have more fun or find peace of mind. The definition of “good” here is made possible by what we do, even if we don’t want it to do. Ethics, on the other hand, serves as a guide that tells us how to lead the “good” life shown to us by this morality. In other words, if morality is justice, ethics are laws. Just as justice is one, laws vary from country to country, or according to our understanding of justice, we agree with some laws and disagree with others. Ethics and morality also have this relationship. For this reason, it is believed that while there are many ethical systems, there is actually only one morality.

Virtue ethics ethics

What is Virtue Ethics?

We have come to a belief developed almost 2400 years ago. According to this understanding, the only thing that ensures morality is permanent happiness. A person does not reach this happiness with possessions, friendships, or professions. Instead, one can be truly happy by having the virtues believed in ancient Greece. These virtues include courage, honesty, etc., are good features. There is a very simple-to-understand way of accessing these as well. There is a saying that describes this way: “Fake It Until You Make It.”  If we go through the example, I think it will be better understood. For example, let’s say John Doe is a very cowardly person, but he wants to be moral. He wants to be happy. For this, he hopes for help from Aristotle. When John Doe went to Aristotle with this, Aristotle said, “Bring a brave person in front of your eyes.” to him. John Doe thinks of Popeye for this. Now says Aristotle, “What would he do, during the day, if he faced the things you were afraid of?”

ethics virtue

He tells John Doe to live his whole life this way and to act bravely like Popeye, even if he is afraid. In this way, his fears will gradually be replaced by the courage he imitated, and John Doe will learn not to be afraid. Aristotle thought that this could be practiced on any virtue so that eventually, one could get to the top, just like climbing a mountain. When we get to that hill, we will have all the features for a good life, and eventually, we will find happiness. So how do we know we’re living a bad life? The approach of Aristotle and people with this understanding is very simple. If you’re unhappy, you’re doing something wrong in your life, so you’re living a bad life. If you are already living a bad life, you are not progressing on a moral path, so you lack in behaviors that require virtue. In other words, if you put all the pieces together, the result “If you are unhappy, you are immoral” comes with it. Of course, it should be remembered that all of these were developed 2400 years ago and that the values ​​of that period were much different from those of today. Who knows? Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong. Isn’t that the beauty of philosophy?

References and Further Readings

Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (2023, March 1). Virtue ethics . Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 2, 2023, from

Hursthouse, R., & Pettigrove, G. (2022, October 11). Virtue ethics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved April 2, 2023, from

Virtue Ethics. Internet encyclopedia of philosophy. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2023, from

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Tufan Özdemir

Hello there! I'm Tufan Özdemir. I am a philosophy student at METU. Philosophy has been a big part of my life and my life. For this reason, most of my articles on this site are on philosophy.

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