Vanier starts by pointing out that happiness, whatever else people may say, is the greatest concern of our life. In other words, to be happy, to know happiness is the great desire of every man and woman. In this book, Vanier shows that Aristotle is one of the great witnesses to this quest for happiness.
As a vital activity, happiness touches on important moral question for today: “Is human life merely a matter of being successful, of doing one’s work and performing one’s civic and familial duties well? Is human happiness resting in the awareness that we have lived successfully, have been awarded honour, and are surrounded by our family and friends? Where, in that case do celebrations and possessions belong? Isn’t happiness for some people today more readily associated with exciting activities and moments of exaltation and enthusiasm?”
In answer to these questions, Vanier explains that if he had to devise a moral philosophy for our time that was accessible to everyone he would start with three points: First, every human being, regardless of his or her limitation, culture or religion, is important and valuable and should be respected. Second, the worst ill is disdain of another person, which can lead to oppression and suppression or human life. Third, in order to progress towards the fullness of life that is inscribed in his or her being every person, at some time or the other need others – needs relationship.
Addressing both the value and short coming of Aristotelian ethics, Vanier suggests that a person should not be defined according to his or her capacity for reason, but rather his or her capacity for relationship. Vanier stresses “capacity” for relationship and not relationship itself. In this way, he offers a more complete vision of what it means to be “a person,” and how we can know happiness.