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Some have translated the classical Greek word "eudaimonia" (εὐδαιμονία, used by Aristotle) as the word "happiness," although Princeton University Aristotle scholar John M. Cooper proposes the translation, "human flourishing."


Aristotle on Eudaimonia

According to Aristotle and other classical philosophers, the hierarchy of human purposes aims at a highest, most inclusive end: eudaimonia (happiness or human flourishing). This is the end that everyone in fact aims at, and it is the only end towards which it is worth undertaking means.

Eudaimonia is constituted, according to Aristotle, not by honor, or wealth, or power, but by rational activity in accordance with excellence. Such activity manifests the virtues of character, including courage, honesty, pride, friendliness, and wittiness; the intellectual virtues, such as rationality in judgment; and it also includes non-sacrificial (i.e., mutually beneficial) friendships and scientific knowledge (knowledge of things that are fundamental and/or unchanging is the best).

At a talk given on the 19th February 2005 at the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, Huston Smith, author of "The World's Religions" and former professor of Religion at UC Berkeley and of Philosophy at Syracuse and MIT, also translated eudaimonia as personal flourishing. Smith said that an activity at which a person experiences eudaimonia is a pointer to what that person's life work (in the sense of spiritual and personal fulfillment) is.

Part 1

  • Every act, craft, decision (i.e., all (intentional) human activity) aims at some end that seems good to the agent in some sense.
  • There are two types of ends: those that are themselves activities (e.g., *playing the flute) and those that are products beyond the activity (e.g., housebuilding).
  • There is a highest end or good.
  • Knowledge of the highest end is useful.
  • The highest end is the subject of practical wisdom. (This is only in Book 1, Later Aristotle says the highest end is the object of sophia that is philosophical wisdom)
  • Practical wisdom has its own degree of exactness.
  • Practical wisdom is useful for those who are guided by reason.

Part 2

  • The highest good is commonly agreed to be eudaimonia.
  • Something must satisfy the following formal criteria if it is to be a suitable candidate for the highest end.
    • Some ends are complete, others are incomplete. The highest end must be complete.
    • Complete ends must have the following features:
      • They must be choiceworthy for themselves and not for some other end.
      • They must be self-sufficient. (They cannot be complete if they lack something.)
      • They must not become greater if another good is added to them.
        • For example, my salary becomes greater if I add a cookie to it. The good life does not necessarily become better if I add a cookie to it.
      • The highest good may be considered "the First Cause," or that than which no greater can be conceived, in the Medieval interpretation; that which is the greatest good, which all other good emanates from.
        • In contemplating this "Unmoved Mover," one attempts to exercise the highest degree of rationality, the greatest possible end.

*Eudaimonia satisfies these criteria.

Part 3

  • Function (ergon) argument:
    • Everything has a peculiar function.
    • What is good for an x depends on x's function. So, in order to determine what is good for x we must determine its function.
    • The function of human beings is to have and use reason.
      • There are two parts of the soul relative to reason: that which possesses reason in itself and that which merely participates in it.
    • We must distinguish the capacity for reasoning and the activity of reasoning. The essence of a capacity only comes out when it is used so it is the activity of reasoning that is the function of human beings.
      • It is possible to have reason without activating it and to both have and activate reason. The human function is the souls activity which expresses or requires reason. (Note the reference to the two parts of the soul here.)
    • That which displays its function well displays arete.
      • Note that we are talking about excellence here rather than moral virtue in the narrow sense.
      • Every function can be performed well or badly. It must be performed well if the thing is to be excellence.
      • The human function must be performed well if it is to display arete.
    • [Stability Requirement] The good life requires permanence and stability over time. The required activities must be displayed over time.
    • The human good is the activity of the soul which expresses or requires reason insofar as that activity is performed well and displayed over time.
  • So, eudaimonia is:
    • The activity of those parts of the soul;
      • It is an activity, not a product;
      • It is more than just a capacity (the good life cannot consist in the mere possession of the peculiar capacities, it must consist in their use or actualisation)
      • It is an activity that is itself an end and is not intended to produce a further result.
    • which are peculiar to the human soul;
      • What matters are the parts of the soul that are peculiar to human beings because Aristotle wants to pick out the typical function of human beings.
    • If this activity is in accordance with human excellence;
      • Since every capacity can be used well or badly the activity of the human soul must be a good one, if we want to describe the good life for human beings.
    • If this activity is constant (can be ascribed to the complete human life);
      • Stability requirement.
    • Or, if there are several aretes, in accordance with the best and most perfect of them.
      • There are two parts of the human soul which are able to display excellence, that which displays reason and that which listens to reason. Aristotle seems to want to say that one of the excellences is better, and that the good life must be in accordance with that excellence.

See Also

Nicomachean Ethics

Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46