Exploring the Relationship Between Happiness and Moral Ends, and the Dichotomy of Manual and Intellectual Labor

Lucas Charbonnier

Hatched by Lucas Charbonnier

Mar 11, 2024

4 min read


Exploring the Relationship Between Happiness and Moral Ends, and the Dichotomy of Manual and Intellectual Labor


Questions surrounding the nature of morality and happiness have long fascinated philosophers. Can happiness serve as a moral end? Is it possible to define a criterion that can guide our duties? Furthermore, is there a true dichotomy between manual and intellectual labor? In this article, we will delve into these topics and explore their interconnectedness.

Part 1: Happiness as Not a Moral End

Immanuel Kant, a prominent philosopher, rejected the notion of happiness as a moral end. According to Kant, morality entails fulfilling one's duty, which should be disinterested and devoid of any expectation of reward. The moral code does not seek pleasure or happiness. Instead, it focuses on making oneself worthy of happiness. Regardless of whether adhering to moral principles leads to happiness or unhappiness, the uncompromising nature of moral duty remains unchanged. Happiness, in this context, becomes a mere hope and an anthropological need that must be pursued outside the realm of moral duty.

Part 2: Happiness as a Moral End

  • 1. Association of Happiness, Virtue, and Knowledge

The school of eudaimonism posits that happiness and duty are not mutually exclusive but rather intertwined. Happiness, virtue, and knowledge form an association that cannot be separated. This perspective suggests that true happiness can only be achieved through the cultivation of virtues and the acquisition of knowledge.

  • 2. Happiness in Asceticism

Stoic philosophy views happiness as being rooted in freedom and virtue. True freedom lies in the will's ability to not desire what is beyond our control. Pursuing external goods such as health, wealth, or fame makes us slaves to our passions, ultimately leading to unhappiness. Asceticism, in this context, represents a daily exercise of the will to detach oneself from external goods, which are deemed as "indifferents" by the Stoics.

  • 3. The Pursuit of the Supreme Good

Aristotle, in contrast to the Stoics, believes that happiness is the ultimate good and should be pursued for its own sake. However, external circumstances, such as health, material comfort, or political freedom, contribute to the attainment of happiness. While necessary, these conditions alone are insufficient. Aristotle's perspective opposes those who argue that virtue alone is enough, regardless of material conditions.

Part 3: The Dichotomy of Manual and Intellectual Labor

  • 1. The Perception of Manual Labor

In ancient Greek society, manual labor was considered degrading as it only provided for basic needs. It was relegated to those subject to vital necessity, namely slaves. The Greeks held the belief that intellectual pursuits, being the highest activity for humans, led to freedom and self-fulfillment through the contemplation of eternal truths.

  • 2. The Intellectuality of Manual Labor

However, manual labor is not devoid of intellectual aspects. It relies on and develops practical knowledge gained through experience. It involves problem-solving and requires calculated actions. The manual worker must invent solutions to real-life puzzles, demonstrating the use of reason and imagination.

  • 3. The Manual Aspect of Intellectual Labor

Intellectual labor also encompasses manual skills. Writers do not produce their texts effortlessly; they write, edit, and rearrange their words. Biologists, for instance, must master the use of microscopes to observe their subjects. Education should, therefore, emphasize the importance of hands-on skills for all individuals.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Embrace Stoic principles: Practice self-discipline and detach yourself from external goods that do not contribute to your true happiness. Focus on cultivating virtues and acquiring knowledge instead.
  • 2. Pursue moral duty: Understand that happiness is not the ultimate goal of morality. Fulfill your duties without expecting rewards or seeking personal happiness in every action.
  • 3. Appreciate the interplay of manual and intellectual labor: Recognize that both types of work involve intellectual and manual aspects. Embrace the value of practical skills and apply them in your intellectual pursuits.


As we have explored the connection between happiness and moral ends, we find that happiness can both be a moral end and exist outside the realm of morality. Additionally, the dichotomy between manual and intellectual labor is not as clear-cut as it may seem, as both types of work involve intellectual and manual aspects. By embracing these insights, we can find a more holistic approach to morality, happiness, and the nature of work.

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