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Pursuit of Happiness

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So states the US Declaration of Independence written mainly by Thomas Jefferson, however it is believed that Benjamin Franklin may have wrote the phrase

Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness

Changing it from

Life, Liberty and Property

in Jefferson’s draft. However it was put back to Life, Liberty and Property in the Bill of Rights.

I’m not sure anyone quite knows why the changes occurred. I don’t believe the change was explained during Jefferson’s lifetime. The pursuit of happiness is the better slogan but perhaps legally “Property rights” is a more important (or at least easier to understand legally) concept to legislate for.

It is thought that the phrase is based on the writings of, English philosopher (and other moral thinking of the time), John Locke, who expressed a similar concept of “life, liberty, and estate (or property)“. Locke said that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” Strong legal property rights are now a fundamental for forging a modern healthy economy and society but were only developing under English common law at the time. At the time, it was probably not readily thought of as an essential component of liberty which we take for granted in many societies today.

However, on a moral philosophy level, I would like to speculate that the phrase was influenced by Aristotle and his Nicomachean Ethics.

Aristotle argued that eudaimonia is the goal of life, and that a person’s pursuit of eudaimonia will result in virtuous conduct.

Eudaimonia has no direct translation in to English but is often thought as best translated as happiness. And so the Declaration also has this ethical dimension.

On this dimension, does the right to pursue happiness also give use the “right” to fall in love and find our life long partner?

I think it does. In this way our pursuit of love and hence happiness is an unalienable right that is self evidently true….

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  • About me

    I'm a playwright and investment analyst. I have a broad range of interests: food, gardening, innovation & intellectual property, sustainability, architecture & design, writing and the arts. I sit on the board of Talawa Theatre Company and advise a CIS investment trust on socially responsible investments.

  • Recent Work

    Recent plays include, for theatre: Nakamitsu, Yellow Gentlemen, Lost in Peru, Lemon Love. For radio: Places in Between (R4), Patent Breaking Life Saving (WS).

  • Nakamitsu

  • Yellow Gentlemen