Can one be happy and free, and nonetheless be moral? This question occurs at the core of daily life and is, as well, a question as old as philosophy itself. In Can Virtue Make Us Happy? The Art of Living and Morality, Otfried Höffe, one of Europe’s most well-known philosophers, offers a far-reaching and foundational work in philosophical ethics.
As long as one understands "happiness" purely as a feeling of subjective well-being, Höffe argues, there is at best only an accidental unity between it and morality. However, if one means by "happiness" the quality of doing well in the sense of one’s own successful existence, then one must include actions that undoubtedly have a moral character and are named virtues. He uses clear and general language to present what one understands by "happiness" and "freedom" while illuminating the blind alleys in the history of philosophy as well as the difficulties raised by the issues themselves. What has priority: good ends or right action? Is freedom always anarchy? Is it possible to think of a freedom enhanced by morality? Is "morality" only a pretty word for stupidity? Does humanity have a good or a bad character? Is there such a thing as evil? Höffe offers us enlightened philosophical reflection and foundational orientation but no simple formulas; this is precisely what is at stake because anyone who wishes to live a self-determined life rejects any and all formulas.