Aristotle purports that happiness is the “highest good,” that it is exclusively chosen for its own sake, never “for the sake of something else,” and furthermore, that happiness, then, is “found to be something perfect and self sufficient, being the end to which our actions are directed” (10). I find these affirmations to be incomplete. I contend health is the true highest good and, thusly, molds to these qualifying premises more correctly. Firstly, happiness, as will be expatiated, is a necessary condition for the conception and embodiment of the good life, but not sufficient. Happiness, although subjective in its pursuit, is too narrow by way of its incompatible character; that is, happiness cannot be directly synonymous with the highest good because whereas happiness denotes a mental state, the highest good extends to realms outside of mental state. Exercise, may serve as one example that reflects an external virtuous practice—the virtue itself perhaps being labeled as something akin to strength—that produces this final goodness. Secondly, then, health is more inclusive and, even so, is not subject to the same subjective character as happiness; the constituents that construct the health I speak of may be corroborated by scientific literature, enabling a firmer, objective methodology by which to follow and, subsequently, prove. Now, happiness may be understood within this context; it is, too, a necessary property of health, but only health is a sufficient property of the good life.
Significant—but supplementary—to this project is the relationship between the virtue of wisdom and the ensuing manifestation of happiness, and, too, the associated activity of contemplation. Aristotle propounds the idea that “contemplation is both the highest form of activity (since the intellect is the highest thing in us, and the objects that it apprehends are the highest things that can be known) and also . . . the most continuous” (174). So, just as wisdom is the keystone virtue—and the habitual practice of learning is its catalyst—eco-virtue is the keystone virtue in support of health; the version of health that I will soon define. To understand eco-virtue, I maintain that we must examine the nexus between psychological, neurological, and physical wellbeing; the nexus between wellbeing and certain practiced behaviors by individuals, and the deeper connection between the individual and the ecological environment.
A Brief Explanation of Happiness and Health
Although Aristotle doesn’t explicitly define the overall concept of happiness or its various neuropsychological underpinnings, he does craft logical criteria for how one may achieve and, further, recognize it. He purports happiness to be a relatively complete and sufficient good; he corroborates this affirmation with the following premises: that it is desired for itself; it is not desired for the sake of anything else; it is achievable and agreeable to any man; that it may come to satiate all other formations of desire (i.e. ones derived through practices of pure hedonism and monetary wealth, for example), and that it is fairly immune to instability brought upon by other cultivations of virtue (Aristotle, 5-10). Therefore, in this primary way, happiness is the highest good, and, seemingly, although never phrased explicitly, the ultimate purpose of human existence. Happiness is often communicated as an emotional state, but Aristotle refines this interpretation, stating that it is an “activity.” To expand upon this notion, he says that if the “function of man is to live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed it is performed in accord with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue” (Aristotle, 11).
To recapitulate, I contend happiness is a necessary property of the highest good, but is not sufficient. Thus, it must follow, happiness is not the ultimate end by which we should—or do—direct all our activities; counter to Aristotle’s claims, it is not desired for itself, but, in fact, for the sake of something else. As Aristotle constructed these assertions with only contemplation and reflection, I will take a similar course, but include scientific literature to corroborate foundational claims. Firstly, living—the state of being alive—is most obviously the thing which is desired for itself, for which all our activities are directed towards and motivated by. But, as living is only a baseline condition for any kind of inquiry into this matter, we must further shape our understanding of it. In other words, life—and the quality of it—is a product of our health, not our happiness. It follows, then, if one actively chooses to maintain life, they actively decide to remain healthy, in some sense or another. In this primary way, health is highest good. Metrics of health determine a certain quality of life and sustain that which sustains us. So, what are these metrics of health that contribute to the functioning of such systems? I will do my best to define these terms and outline my overall criteria for health, but it will most likely be incomplete or lack specificity; for this reason, to cover the greatest area of thought, I will make relatively general propositions about the concept and practices of health.
The Definition of Health
To begin, health is, too, an activity—for to be healthy, is to habitually practice that which produces states of health. The health I speak of may be situated within the subject of balance as figuratively described in Taoism (i.e., the harmonious oneness that all tend towards as a result of the yin and yang polarity) (Bresnan, 15). Specifically, it may be characterized as the achievement of a stable equilibrium between two distinct operations within the mind or body, or between the greater mind and body. Health, then, is—generally—categorized by mental and physical balance. Mental balance may be defined within the context of psychological states and neurological functioning. I use the term psychological states to include that which does not constitute strict operations of the brain and synaptic functions; thus, it may distilled into four faculties of balance: conative, attentional, cognitive and affective. Such terms were introduced in Buddhist philosophy and have continued to be utilized in Western studies of mental well-being, most recently being appropriated by clinical psychologists in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disease. B. Alan Wallace is the primary figure whom studies and applies such interdisciplinary approaches, working as a Buddhist practitioner across several parts of Asia and Europe. I will be using one his most comprehensive pieces, “Mental Balance and Well-Being Building Bridges Between Buddhism and Western Psychology,” which discusses the aforementioned four faculties of balance under the purview of clinical psychology.
Psychology and Mental Balance
Conative balance refers to the “faculties of intention and volition,” and the ability to recognize and demarcate desires from the intent to act. According to this philosophy, “although the primary sources of mental suffering are internal mental afflictions such as craving, hostility, and delusion, it is common for people to mistakenly identify external objects, people, and situations as the true sources of their misery, anxiety, and frustration” (Wallace, 695). When people act in accordance with these displaced impressions, they exacerbate conative imbalance. As such, the result of conative balance is the “decrease in interest in achieving an excess of such things as sensual pleasures, material acquisitions, and social status and a growing commitment to leading a meaningful and deeply satisfying life” (Wallace, 695).
Attentional balance is the balance achieved through a “development of sustained, voluntary attention” in respect to “performance in any kind of meaningful activity” (Wallace, 696). Such a form will correct occurrences of “either laxity or excitation,” as when laxity sets in, a “remedy [may be to] arouse the attention by taking a fresh interest in the object of meditation, whereas when the mind becomes agitated, the first thing to do is to relax more deeply,” and, thus, such extremes will be equalized and overcome (Wallace, 696).
Cognitive balance may be considered the most significant component of overall mental balance with respect to my analysis of health and happiness. It entails an outlook and engagement with the external world, whereby one’s experiences are free of “imposing conceptual assumptions or ideas on events,” and in this way, one is able to better remove “misapprehen[sions] and distortions” about reality (Wallace, 696). This kind of balance does not prescribe one to jettison, or make insignificant, occurrences of subjective comprehension, but asks one to be “calm and clearly present with [an] experience as it arises moment by moment,” and, furthermore, view the world “without the imbalances of cognitive hyperactivity, deficit, or dysfunction” (Wallace, 696). An example of how such cognitive imbalances may manifest is described in the relationship between perspective and emotional projection; that is, one may not initially perceive an object clearly (i.e., cognitive deficit), and, thus, is prone to project a certain expectation or emotion on the object (i.e., cognitive hyperactivity), often resulting in a misidentification of the object (i.e., cognitive dysfunction) (Wallace, 697). Similarly, imbalances may, too, be translated to the human subject, as individuals may mistakenly interpret an emotional state of another due to their own subconscious projections.
Lastly, affective balance, which is a product of the aforementioned forms, involves a “freedom from excessive emotional vacillation, emotional apathy and inappropriate emotions” (Wallace, 698). In this way, balance is found through the thorough regulation of one’s internal and external emotional processing. Psychological well-being in this form, though, is not emotional disassociation and does not entail a separation from one’s own emotional faculties. Rather, it is, the recognition of one’s emotional investments and the ability to adjust the weight of such investments depending on the kind of exchange (i.e., matters of love, friendship, study, etc.).
The confluence of all modes of balance may define the greater psychological balance of an individual; the way in which such balances may be cultivated in the context of this discourse will be detailed in the latter part of this piece.
Neurology and Mental Balance
The other part of mental balance is neurological balance (i.e., the balance of executive functioning and neural chemical processes). Balance is this context does relate, in small part, to the aforementioned concepts of even distribution and equitable or correct proportion, but, in larger part, to the steady or stable operation of brain activity. That is, this form favors balanced performance over proportion. As to not enter into a comprehensive exposition on the complexity of neuroscience, I will, again, generally explain the basics of the kind of executive functioning as relevant to my research. To do this adequately, I will employ, “Brain Facts: A Primer on the Brain and Nervous System” by Mona Miller: a work written and produced by the Society for Neuroscience, the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians concerned with understanding the brain and peripheral nervous system.
The executive system constitutes the larger cognitive functions responsible for managing and controlling senses and perception (i.e., the “processing of external information through the sensory systems”) (Miller, 24); learning, memory and language (i.e., the “ability of the prefrontal cortex to . . . encode [new experiences] and [appropriately] store, organize, consolidate and retrieve . . . such memories [for their respective] use in present or future situations) (Miller, 25, 27); and voluntary movement or complex movement (i.e., the “voluntary activation of the motor cortex [and] cerebellum to help [one] adjust motor output in order to deal with changing physical conditions”) (Miller, 31). These umbrella headings provide an adequate frame from which we may list the specific functions of the executive system: activation, timeliness, planning, attention, effort, emotional control, memory and action. Balance, then, specific to the executive system, is the steady and stable performance of one’s executive functions.
The balance of neural chemical processes will be defined by performance for the development of human brain activity and proportion for the production of neurotransmitters—and their subsequent—neuropsychological functioning. The development of the human brain begins, generally, with the “[creation] of nerve cells [and] the delicate processing of neurons” (Miller, 13). The complete brain and central nervous system then develop in distinct stages which take place at various benchmarks (e.g., “induction,” “proliferation,” “migration,” “neural connection” and “myelination”) throughout gestation, infancy, and even throughout childhood into adulthood (Miller, 15,16). However, such developments will only achieve the balance of mental health I speak of if the whole nervous system itself is “plastic,” meaning that it possesses the ability to “modify itself and adapt to challenges of the environment” (Miller, 17).
With this foundation outlined, we may explore the aforementioned neurotransmitters that operate in a formed, active brain. Neurotransmitters “transmit information to other nerve cells, muscles or gland cells” (Miller, 9). In this primary way, they are essential for the deeper functioning of the human brain and body and must be present for one to have the potential to achieve health. The primary regulatory synaptic neurotransmitters are acetylcholine, which “trigger muscle contractions”; dopamine, which “modulates mood”; GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter responsible for “motor control, vision and other cortical functions”; glutamine, which “associates with learning and memory”; norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that is “important for attentiveness, emotions, sleeping, dreaming, learning [and the] release [of] hormones into the bloodstream, where it causes blood vessels to contract and heart rate to increase”; and serotonin, which supports “various functions, such as regulating body temperature, sleep, mood, appetite, and pain” (Buznikov and Shmukler, 1996). To restate more generally, each neurotransmitter uniquely contributes to one’s neuropsychology and neurophysiology, and, therefore, are integral to both headings under mental balance and, too, particular aspects of the not-yet-discussed physical balance. Balance, then, is the steady or stable performance of one’s nervous system to produce brain activity, and, additionally, the steady or stable transmission of neurotransmitters through the nervous system.
Physiology and Physical Balance
Physical balance in this discourse is defined by the balance of physiological processes. The study of physiology explains events that take place in the body; it “emphasizes the purpose of a body process and the underlying mechanism by which this process occurs” (Sherwood, 2). As mental balance was defined almost exclusively within the mind/brain region, the exploration of physical balance will tend towards the body. Lauralee Sherwood, a prolific scholar of human psychology, expatiates on the role of balance within this scientific field in her work, “Human Physiology: from Cells to Systems.” The brief definition of the study demonstrates that a kind of balanced performance of interacting bodily parts may yield relatively balanced results. That is, under this mode of thought, we may “view the body as a machine, whose mechanisms of action can be explained in terms of cause-and-effect sequences of physical and chemical processes” (Sherwood, 2).
To create a layered schema from which we may organize our exploration, let us breakdown the body into five categories: the cell, tissue, organ, body, and organism. The cellular level represents certain chemical processes that contribute to the functioning of—and provide the grounds for—a balanced body and, thus, a healthy body; the cell is the “fundamental unit of both structure and function in a living being [and is] capable of carrying out the processes associated with life” (Sherwood, 4). The combination of functioning cells form structures or tissues, which make one’s muscles, nerves, organs etc. This brings us to the level of the organ; functioning organs enable one’s internal body systems to operate productively. Similarly, then, the organized grouping of organs produce the level of the body system—a relatively higher level defined by the “performed related functions and interactions” of organs to facilitate the survival of the human body as a whole (Sherwood, 7). The highest level is the organism: the balanced coming together of differing higher body systems. The organism is the harmonious confluence of such body systems and will come to define the larger attributes associated with one’s physical balance and, so, health.
More scientifically, perhaps, balance in the field of physiology is called “homeostasis,” or the “maintenance of a relatively stable internal environment” (Sherwood, 9). In this way, the general functions performed by each body system support homeostatic states and, thereby, maintain within the body the “environment required for the survival and function of all cells” (Sherwood, 9). This form of balance, then, is “essential for the survival of each cell, and each cell, through its specialized activities as part of a body system, helps maintain the internal environment shared by all cells” (Sherwood, 9). Put simply, homeostatic control systems give substance and specificity to the aforementioned physiological processes that help to define physical balance.
Balance and Interconnectivity
All core operations of body and mind must be internally balanced, but balance must also occur of a similar kind between the larger categories of balance. That is, aspects of the mental must, too, be in balance with aspects of the physical. I wish nothing to be immune to my condition of balance in this discourse. As everything is interconnected to some degree—one’s psychology to nervous system and nervous system to physiology—no one system must be imbalanced. Although my explanations seem to favor the balance of core operations, I want to make clear that such outer operations must be balanced themselves and balanced amongst the greater layered system in whole. Then, of course, even the most macrocosmic must be in balance—mental and physical balance itself must abide by such rules; they may represent the highest ‘yin and yang’ relationship from which all subsumed microcosmic elements tend towards.
A Brief Introduction on Cultivation
To follow the course of Aristotle, each state of balance must be cultivated through specific habitual practices. Aristotle states that the “function of man is to live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed it is performed in accord with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue” (Aristotle, 13). Firstly, though, “goods” can be divided into three types: “external,” “goods of the body,” and “goods of the soul” (Aristotle, 16). Further, the “soul” may defined in two parts: the “rational” and the “irrational,” and, of this, the latter into “vegetative” and “appetitive” (Aristotle, 13, 19). Vegetative seems to the closest mode by which one may achieve the highest good (i.e., health) that I purport; it is that which “causes nutrition and growth” and, therefore, is the most conducive to mental or bodily health (Aristotle, 19). That is, without nutrition, our mind and body would surely deteriorate and become systematically unbalanced. But, again, this is supplementary to the Aristotle’s project of happiness—what is primary is virtue, or complete virtue, without “excess [or] deficiency” (Aristotle, 28). More specifically, virtue, too, can be divided into two categories: “intellectual virtue” which comes from “learning,” and “moral virtue” which comes from “habit” (Aristotle, 25). Without entering into a greater discussion of what constitutes the performance of truly virtuous actions, suffice it to say, activities of a character of wisdom and prudence are necessary for the achievement of happiness. And, too, as Aristotle concludes, “Happiness extends, then, just so far as contemplation does, and those to whom contemplation more fully belongs are more truly happy, not as a mere concomitant but in virtue of the contemplation; for this is in itself precious. Happiness, therefore, must be some form of contemplation; so, then, the “life of the man who is active in accordance with virtue will be happy” (Aristotle, 176). Two questions arise from these affirmations, specific to my project of health: one, what performances may come to cultivate the aforementioned states of mental and physical balance and, therefore, health; and, two, what kind of virtue, so to speak, must be exercised if one desires complete or perfect health?
Cultivation and Health
The habitual performance of four activities come to cultivate—uniquely—the two properties of mental balance (i.e., psychological and neurological) and singular property of physical balance (i.e., physiological)—they are: contemplation, exercise, macrobiotic consumption, and land ethical behaviors. Contemplation in this discourse is slightly more narrow in scope that what I imagine Aristotle would claim, but does, in fact, yield an outcome that I think Aristotle may partially accept, as it enables a person to comprehend his or her position and ultimate potential for goodness in this world. I contend that if one contemplates—particularly, thoughtfully and honestly—their place within the natural environment, that one will reach a mutually desirable conclusion, between themselves and Earth, and, in respect to my project, psychological balance.
For this kind of contemplation on the relationship between self and environment, we may look towards notions presented by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau contemplated the ego and operation of apolitical man against political man; he sought to understand the condition of natural man and his position relative to society and the natural world. By contemplating our existence in such a frame, we may better understand our purpose, consequence, and true reality. This quote by Rousseau in Discourse on the Origin of Inequality describes, exquisitely, the condition of man:
“The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said ‘This is mine,’ and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying. to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody” (Rousseau, 23).
We must recognize—through this unique contemplation—the veracity of these affirmations. That, as to not appear weak among our fellow citizens, we drink the liquor of polity in greater quantities, and in our drunkenness, become weak and forget; our ego and artificial sense of agency take over. We continually lose a sense of connectedness to that which has formed us and crafted the society we so proudly and blindly participate in: nature. In the absence of connectedness, we assume a specious hierarchy, which begets inequality. Our symbolic inebriation causes us to act materialistically and to commodify entities of nature. Further in our drunken stupor, the abundance of nature is appropriated by society. We no longer participate agreeably with nature, but against it. We are driven to acquire for the sake of sheer value and, thusly, consume above subsistence. Such a reality must be contemplated; for, I contend, it is the most efficacious way in which the four modes of psychological balance (i.e., conative, attentional, cognitive and affective) may be actualized. Most obviously it would clarify disillusion of reality associated with cognitive imbalances by making clear our true engagement with the world around us and one’s own ontology. Secondly, it would be conducive to conative balance via the consequences of a unique enlightenment, one characterized by ecocentric outlooks; if one truly comes to terms with the idea that Earth itself “belongs to nobody,” I hold the drive to acquire—for material sake—will abate. Thirdly, such Rousseauian sentiments may better produce affective balance. The following passage better explains the implicit operation of connectedness that colors our rather ecologically conscious behaviors:
“The earth left to its own natural fertility and covered with immense woods, that no hatchet ever disfigured, offers at every step food and shelter to every species of animals. Men, dispersed among them observe and imitate their industry, and thus rise to the instinct of beasts; with this advantage, that, whereas every species of beasts is confined to one peculiar instinct, man, who perhaps has not any that particularly belongs to him, appropriates to himself those of all other animals, and lives equally upon most of the different aliments, which they only divide among themselves; a circumstance which qualifies him to find his subsistence, with more ease than any of them” (Rousseau, 7).
In this way, we are merely products of the natural world; further, our existence and sustained survival depends upon the vigor of the environment and its natural members: flora, fauna and microbes. Certainly, it is these entities that gave us life and allowed us to “imitate their industry.” Thus, should we not extend our deepest emotions towards them? We should embrace this connectedness as it will succor both us and them. And, so, since affective balance is produced through the appropriate allocation of emotion, it is only appropriate that we learn—from such contemplation—to direct our emotions in accordance with this true relationship between our existence and that of the greater ecosystem. Finally, if we continue in this naturally pedagogic relationship, we will come to find attentional balance. That is, in this comprehension, we may conclude upon which matters deserve our attention: matters related to ecological conservation and animal welfare. And so, as the activity of this certain contemplation brings us balance, another, rather distinct, activity lends the same favorable process and conclusion: exercise.
Exercise is a rather recent practice, a method of cultivation that Aristotle does not address. The health benefits related to exercise were not known at the time, I offer not a critique but a possible improvement upon his general discourse. I am not arguing that one must constantly and consistently exercise in order to achieve health as I’ve defined it, but that one must have a balanced lifestyle, equal parts sedentary to active. For if one lives a life of excessive inactivity, they will most surely not be healthy. Before continuing, it is important to define exercise and give it a distinct space within this area of cultivation. Drawing on an array of studies by Carl J. Caspersen, Y. K. Chang, and Louis Bherer—specialists whom deal with matters of physical fitness, neural chemistry, and brain development, respectively—I plan to offer a definition of exercise and a summary of its relationship to psychological, mental, bodily, and, ultimately, environmental health. While general physical activity may be categorized as “bodily movement via skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure,” “exercise” carries these basic qualifiers, but, additionally, is “planned, structured, repetitive [and] goal-oriented towards improving or maintaining [one’s] physical fitness” (Caspersen et al., 127). Simply, exercise carries three focal attributes: intensity, duration, and frequency. Thus, movement alone is inadequate.
Exercise supports the cultivation of both mental and physical balance—specifically, both modes of neurological balance (i.e., executive functioning and neural chemical processes) and physiological processes that contribute to homeostasis. In the context of executive functions, exercise has been proven to have positive effects on “information processing,” “task tracking,” “motor control [for both] simple reaction time and choice reaction time,” and “PASAT attention” (Chang et al., 90); in a separate study, “memory [in areas associated with] free recall, working memory and sequential memory” also followed such benefits (Bherer et al., 2013). Moreover, exercise “boosts hippocampal volume [by both] increasing gray matter [and] preventing the loss [of it]” (Fuss et al., 133). These resulting changes in gray matter concentration are, too, beneficial for “brain regions involved [with] learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking” (Hölzel et al., 38). Implicit in this process is the generation of neural cell bodies and release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin and “small decrease of (norepinephrine) NE clearance [which] contributes to the rise in plasma NE” (Hölzel et al., 40). In this primary way, exercise contributes to the proper functioning of one’s nervous system and, thereby, maintains balance in both areas of performance and proportion. Separately, exercise helps to regulate muscle homeostasis and “reduce chronic inflammation [involved in the] pathogenesis of insulin resistance, atherosclerosis, neurodegeneration, and tumour growth” (Brandt and Peterson, 1). Regular exercise also “offers protection against type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, colon cancer, breast cancer, and dementia” (Brandt and Peterson, 1). In this similar way, exercise engenders general homeostasis across the five physiological systems through preventing such systems from experiencing conditions considered to be destabilizing.
Just as a certain mode of contemplation engenders a greater awareness of one’s own ecological environment, a certain kind of consumption builds the foundation for a more productive way of life. Habitual macrobiotic consumption cultivates all forms of mental and physical balance. To outline the science that makes this claim true would be to commit myself to a rather long explication. Moreover, Aristotle did, in fact, already mention the significance of such a practice in the context of happiness; that is, he did not explicitly say macrobiotic consumption, but did acknowledge that “being a [human]” requires “external prosperity,” for our “nature is not self-sufficient for the purpose of contemplation, but our body also must be healthy and must have food and other attention” (Aristotle, 177). The consumption and digestion of food is a basic necessity—imperatively supporting all processes of the human organism; however, poor consumptive decisions will not yield balance, only elementary survival. So, similar to my alteration of contemplation, I will narrow and specify the scope of this food-related requirement. Macrobiotic consumption is defined by the macrobiotic diet. A macrobiotic diet consists of “about 40% to 60% organically grown whole grains, like brown rice, barley, millet, oats, and corn, 20% to 30% locally grown vegetables, and 5% to 10% beans and bean products like tofu, miso and tempeh, and sea vegetables like seaweed, nori and agar” (Kushi). Additionally, this diet discourages the consumption of “meat, animal fat, eggs, poultry and dairy products,” and rejects “all artificially colored, preserved, sprayed, or chemically treated foods [and] all refined food products” (Kushi). Practicing a macrobiotic diet also means listening to your body (i.e., eating only when you feel hungry and drinking when thirsty), taking meaningful rests between meals, and, while eating, chewing your food thoroughly in an erect posture (Kushi). Therefore, one must follow a balanced, holistic nutrient regime and set of dietary behaviors to correctly cultivate perfect health.
Lastly, is the performance of land ethical behaviors. Like contemplation, diet, and exercise, this may not directly engender balance, as the three before, but is a requisite performance, as its fundamental parts construct the foundation of the three before and, thereby, indirectly contribute to each form of balance and, so, perfect health. Without land ethical behaviors, there is only the contemplation of one’s ontological position, no tangible experiences to reference for learning and guidance; in this way, it is an affair of “practical wisdom”—which Aristotle states is a “reasoned and true state of capacity to act with regard to human good” (Aristotle, 95). Experience builds our practical wisdom and makes us prudent. And, so, in particular to my project, experience in matters of land ethics builds one’s practical compass of contemplation, guiding, not the thought process itself, but the alike actions that may result; plainly, it is a “reasoned and true state [of action] with regard to human good.” Concordantly, without the performance of land ethical behaviors, there are little macrobiotic substances to consume.
Land ethical behaviors are behaviors in accordance with Aldo Leopold’s ethical outlook, one which “deal[s] with human’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it” (Leopold, 238). A land ethic “changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it, imply[ing] respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such” (Leopold, 240). The community, thus, is enlarged to include “soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land” (Leopold, 239). What is to be deemed morally right or wrong in this context? Simply, “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise” (Leopold, 259). The component parts, then, of what is to be considered ethical is to be considered healthy; that is, in the case of human interaction, if we are to do what is right, we must commit to a “responsibility for the health of the land, [as] health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal” (Leopold, 258). Implicit, too, in this morality is the cognizement of a new kind of value, one which gives natural subjects intrinsic worth. In sum, land ethical behaviors tend to preserve the balance of the larger biotic community, but, too, facilitate—and subsequently foster—respect for such a community through modes a deeper ecological recognition. It makes exquisitely clear how human operation and environmental productivity are thoroughly interconnected in a kind of symbiotic dance, where anthropocentrism has no place and nature is the leading partner, carrying us towards health and prosperity or dropping us if we misstep; and, again, it is an affair of balance.
Now we come to the final question posed in the beginning of this exposition: what kind of virtue, so to speak, must be exercised if one desires complete or perfect health? I’ve laid the groundwork for one to dually comprehend health and achieve it, if one so chooses. But, there is no current virtue comprehensive enough to possess all the aforementioned comprehensions and, so, no adequate virtue one must exercise to fulfill the highest good that is health. Since our present virtue schema does not support such weight, we must provide a new kind of virtue; I call it eco-virtue. The greatest eco-virtue—that may and can bear the burden of this groundwork—is eco-consciousness. Plainly, this is defined as a higher state of consciousness where one is embracively aware of such ecological axioms above: that we are simply operating under the governing laws of nature and that in order to produce a state of personal and environmental prosperity, one must extend their compassion and moral code to that which has given us life: Earth. I give this entire account an ecological character as it is evident and just to do so; each form of cultivation—and, thus, health itself—is dependent upon an aspect of ecology, either involving the study of it or practices in support of it. Using Aristotelian logic, health, then, extends just so far as the performance of eco-conscious action.
A Comparison of Happiness and Health
With health—and its attributes—fully defined, I would like to refer back to the claims I introduced in the outset and clarify my stance in respect to Aristotle. In the outset, I explained how health is truly the highest good in so far as its intimate relationship with life, but didn’t address the reasons behind my claims regarding necessity or sufficiency, waiting until such conditions and properties of health were explicated. Firstly, and most obviously, I want to consider the character of inclusivity for both happiness and health. In this, too, the presences of subjective versus objective exploration. Happiness is a relatively subjective pursuit and state of being relative to health; although Aristotle works to set out objective criteria for happiness, I maintain that it may be an impossible endeavor. For what makes one happy may not make another; however, what makes one generally healthy, will most likely make another. Yes, each heading does have their elementary parts (i.e., happiness and health do both possess basic objective rules for which one may follow to attain such states), but when we apply maxims of happiness to the masses, we will find evermore fallible this project; maxims of health, though, as they are relatively more scientific in nature, may generally hold their veracity. I do, however, think Aristotle came closest to solving this enigma of life in his discourse on friendship, as I too believe that profound connection—love—is that which is universally most conducive to one’s happiness. It may seem that if a concept is more subjective, it is more inclusive, allowing for an abundantly diverse set of thoughts, feelings and perspectives; but, since Aristotle tries to give one a practical comprehension and subsequent course towards happiness—at the same time invalidating certain comprehensions and courses—he limits the rational scope of the subject, making it fairly exclusive, as opposed to its possibly more inclusive natural scope. And, so, in this exclusivity, happiness suffers. Health, on the contrary, must be preserved as a highly inclusive topic if one wishes to appropriately explore and discuss it. Health is a product of certain, and larger, mental and physical elements, but can the same be affirmed for happiness? I don’t aim to engage in a complex conversation of what produces happiness on a neuropsychological level, but it is just that; happiness is simply a mental state of being, a consequence of a certain, but functioning, brain chemistry. So, then, happiness may aptly fit into the calculus of health, but not the converse, as happiness cannot support the physical side of health. This raises the question: what is happiness without health and vice versa? If one is not healthy—in other words, if one’s mental and/or physical properties are imbalanced—then happiness suffers greatly; the potential for which that happiness may come to reach is immediately blunted. But, if one is healthy, surely happiness isn’t stifled; health and happiness are positively correlated. If I am unhappy, it does not necessarily mean my potential for health is in the same way reduced; again, by way of health being a product of a balanced interconnected system, only a connection may be severed, allowing one to re-cultivate happiness through another related mode of health. It follows, happiness is a necessary property of health, but only health is a sufficient property of the good life.
To be clear, this may be categorized a point of conflict between Aristotle and me, but other points are to be considered improvements. Where I chiefly agree with Aristotle, in a sense, is in the concept and pragmatism of the “mean”; that is, that the middle way—or way without deficiency or excess—is integral if one wishes to achieve the highest good. Plainly, means beget balance.
I hope to leave the reader of this work with two lingering thoughts, one categorized by the significance of balance and the other by the profundity of nature. Firstly, let us be motivated by the conclusion of balance. It is only connate that we actively tend towards such a finality; we may look towards the most elementary model of the physical world in support of this truth. Physics communicates that through the processes of diffusion and osmosis, molecules tend towards equalized concentrations: an equilibrium. This may be defined, simply, as a form of balance. And, so, as it is intrinsic for molecules to reach such a state—dictated by the omnipresent sovereign that is the physical model of reality—it is only natural for us, humans, to be guided by the same governing law. Each one of us is, in effect, a uniquely organized collection of molecules. Balance is the oneness that we most favor; it is only just, then, that our health be defined in this frame. It is our individual and collective raison d’être.
Secondly—and of a similar gravity—let us be thoroughly aware that our existence—and the concurrent quality of it—is a consequence of the natural world. Concordantly, that we owe all that we are and all that we can be to this entity. If nothing else, then, that we must extend the utmost reverence to it. For our health and, thus, as I contend, our sense of the good life—and, further, the good life itself—is intricately and inextricably woven into nature’s own ecological health. To not perform, habitually, actions that preserve and are conducive to the flourishing of this entity, would be to reject the quality of your own existence. It would be inane, irrational and iniquitous. So, then, let us be motivated by this truth: that in order to achieve the highest good that we may attain as a human—a good defined by health—we must extend all our energy put towards this pursuit to that of a similar pursuit, one directed at the health of the collective ecosystem. This is greatest state of balance of all; it is transcendental in all aspects.
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