Eudaimonia, sometimes anglicized as eudaemonia or eudemonia, is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, "human flourishing or prosperity" and "blessedness" have been proposed as more accurate translations.
Etymologically, it consists of the words eu "good" and daimōn "spirit". It is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics and subsequent Hellenistic philosophy, along with the terms "aretē" most often translated as "virtue" or "excellence" and "phronesis" often translated as "practical or ethical wisdom". In Aristotles works, eudaimonia based on older Greek tradition was used as the term for the highest human good, and so it is the aim of practical philosophy, including ethics and political philosophy, to consider and also experience what it really is, and how it can be achieved.
Discussion of the links between virtue of character ēthikē aretē and happiness eudaimonia is one of the central concerns of ancient ethics, and a subject of much disagreement. As a result there are many varieties of eudaimonism.
The Definitions, a dictionary of Greek philosophical terms attributed to Plato himself but believed by modern scholars to have been written by his immediate followers in the Academy, provides the following definition of the word eudaimonia: "The good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well; perfection in respect of virtue; resources sufficient for a living creature."
In his Nicomachean Ethics §21; 1095a15–22, Aristotle says that everyone agrees that eudaimonia is the highest good for human beings, but that there is substantial disagreement on what sort of life counts as doing and living well; i.e. eudaimon:
Verbally there is a very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is. And even Epicurus who argues that the eudaimon life is the life of pleasure maintains that the life of pleasure coincides with the life of virtue. So the ancient ethical theorists tend to agree that virtue is closely bound up with happiness arete is bound up with eudaimonia. However, they disagree on the way in which this is so. We shall consider the main theories in a moment, but first a warning about the proper translation of arete.
As already noted, the Greek word arete is usually translated into English as "virtue". One problem with this is that we are inclined to understand virtue in a moral sense, which is not always what the ancients had in mind. For a Greek, arete pertains to all sorts of qualities we would not regard as relevant to ethics, for example, physical beauty. So it is important to bear in mind that the sense of virtue operative in ancient ethics is not exclusively moral and includes more than states such as wisdom, courage and compassion. The sense of virtue which arete connotes would include saying something like "speed is a virtue in a horse", or "height is a virtue in a basketball player". Doing anything well requires virtue, and each characteristic activity has its own set of virtues. The alternative translation "excellence" or "a desirable quality" might be helpful in conveying this general meaning of the term. The moral virtues are simply a subset of the general sense in which a human being is capable of functioning well or excellently.
The Questionnaire for Eudaimonic Well-Being developed in Positive Psychology lists six dimensions of Eudaimonia: self-discovery, perceived development of ones best potentials, a sense of purpose and meaning in life, investment of significant effort in pursuit of excellence, intense involvement in activities and enjoyment of activities as personally expressive.
2. Etymology and translation
In terms of its etymology, eudaimonia is an abstract noun derived from eu meaning "well" and daimon daemon, which refers to a minor deity or a guardian spirit.
Eudaimonia implies a positive and divine state of being that humanity is able to strive toward and possibly reach. A literal view of eudaimonia means achieving a state of being similar to benevolent deity, or being protected and looked after by a benevolent deity. As this would be considered the most positive state to be in, the word is often translated as happiness although incorporating the divine nature of the word extends the meaning to also include the concepts of being fortunate, or blessed. Despite this etymology, however, discussions of eudaimonia in ancient Greek ethics are often conducted independently of any super-natural significance.
In his Nicomachean Ethics, 1095a15–22 Aristotle says that eudaimonia means doing and living well. It is significant that synonyms for eudaimonia are living well and doing well. On the standard English translation, this would be to say that happiness is doing well and living well. The word happiness does not entirely capture the meaning of the Greek word. One important difference is that happiness often connotes being or tending to be in a certain pleasant state of mind. For example, when we say that someone is "a very happy person", we usually mean that they seem subjectively contented with the way things are going in their life. We mean to imply that they feel good about the way things are going for them. In contrast, eudaimonia is a more encompassing notion than feeling happy since events that do not contribute to ones experience of feeling happy may affect ones eudaimonia.
Eudaimonia depends on all the things that would make us happy if we knew of their existence, but quite independently of whether we do know about them. Ascribing eudaimonia to a person, then, may include ascribing such things as being virtuous, being loved and having good friends. But these are all objective judgments about someones life: they concern a persons really being virtuous, really being loved, and really having fine friends. This implies that a person who has evil sons and daughters will not be judged to be eudaimonic even if he or she does not know that they are evil and feels pleased and contented with the way they have turned out happy. Conversely, being loved by your children would not count towards your happiness if you did not know that they loved you and perhaps thought that they did not, but it would count towards your eudaimonia. So eudaimonia corresponds to the idea of having an objectively good or desirable life, to some extent independently of whether one knows that certain things exist or not. It includes conscious experiences of well being, success, and failure, but also a whole lot more. See Aristotles discussion: Nicomachean Ethics, book 1.10–1.11.
Because of this discrepancy between the meaning of eudaimonia and happiness, some alternative translations have been proposed. W.D. Ross suggests "well-being" and John Cooper proposes "flourishing". These translations may avoid some of the misleading associations carried by "happiness" although each tends to raise some problems of its own. In some modern texts therefore, the other alternative is to leave the term in an English form of the original Greek, as "eudaimonia".
3.1. Main views on eudaimonia and its relation to aretē Socrates
What we know of Socrates philosophy is almost entirely derived from Platos writings. Scholars typically divide Platos works into three periods: the early, middle, and late periods. They tend to agree also that Platos earliest works quite faithfully represent the teachings of Socrates and that Platos own views, which go beyond those of Socrates, appear for the first time in the middle works such as the Phaedo and the Republic. This division will be employed here in dividing up the positions of Socrates and Plato on eudaimonia.
As with all other ancient ethical thinkers, Socrates thought that all human beings wanted eudaimonia more than anything else. However, Socrates adopted a quite radical form of eudaimonism see above: he seems to have thought that virtue is both necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia. Socrates is convinced that virtues such as self-control, courage, justice, piety, wisdom and related qualities of mind and soul are absolutely crucial if a person is to lead a good and happy eudaimon life. Virtues guarantee a happy life eudaimonia. For example, in the Meno, with respect to wisdom, he says: "everything the soul endeavours or endures under the guidance of wisdom ends in happiness". Which is to say, to be fully engaged in the intellectually stimulating and fulfilling work at which one achieves well-earned success. The rest of the Nicomachean Ethics is devoted to filling out the claim that the best life for a human being is the life of excellence in accordance with reason. Since reason for Aristotle is not only theoretical but practical as well, he spends quite a bit of time discussing excellence of character, which enables a person to exercise his practical reason i.e., reason relating to action successfully.
Aristotles ethical theory is eudaimonist because it maintains that eudaimonia depends on virtue. However, it is Aristotles explicit view that virtue is necessary but not sufficient for eudaimonia. While emphasizing the importance of the rational aspect of the psyche, he does not ignore the importance of other goods such as friends, wealth, and power in a life that is eudaimonic. He doubts the likelihood of being eudaimonic if one lacks certain external goods such as good birth, good children, and beauty. So, a person who is hideously ugly or has "lost children or good friends through death" 1099b5–6, or who is isolated, is unlikely to be eudaimon. In this way, "dumb luck" chance can preempt ones attainment of eudaimonia.
3.2. Main views on eudaimonia and its relation to aretē Pyrrho
Pyrrho was the founder of Pyrrhonism. A summary of his approach to eudaimonia was preserved by Eusebius, quoting Aristocles of Messene, quoting Timon of Phlius, in what is known as the "Aristocles passage."
"Whoever wants eudaimonia must consider these three questions: First, how are pragmata by nature? Secondly, what attitude should we adopt towards them? Thirdly, what will be the outcome for those who have this attitude?" Pyrrhos answer is that "As for pragmata they are all adiaphora undifferentiated by a logical differentia, astathmēta, and anepikrita. Therefore, neither our sense-perceptions nor our doxai tell us the truth or lie; so we certainly should not rely on them. Rather, we should be adoxastoi without views, aklineis uninclined toward this side or that, and akradantoi unwavering in our refusal to choose, saying about every single one that it no more is than it is not or it both is and is not or it neither is nor is not.
With respect to aretē, the Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus said:
If one defines a system as an attachment to a number of dogmas that agree with one another and with appearances, and defines a dogma as an assent to something non-evident, we shall say that the Pyrrhonist does not have a system. But if one says that a system is a way of life that, in accordance with appearances, follows a certain rationale, where that rationale shows how it is possible to seem to live rightly and tends to produce the disposition to suspend judgment, then we say that he does have a system.
3.3. Main views on eudaimonia and its relation to aretē Epicurus
Epicurus ethical theory is hedonistic. His view proved very influential on the founders and best proponents of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Hedonism is the view that pleasure is the only intrinsic good and that pain is the only intrinsic bad. An object, experience or state of affairs is intrinsically valuable if it is good simply because of what it is. Intrinsic value is to be contrasted with instrumental value. An object, experience or state of affairs is instrumentally valuable if it serves as a means to what is intrinsically valuable. To see this, consider the following example. Suppose a person spends their days and nights in an office, working at not entirely pleasant activities for the purpose of receiving money. Someone asks them "why do you want the money?", and they answer: "So, I can buy an apartment overlooking the ocean, and a red sports car." This answer expresses the point that money is instrumentally valuable because its value lies in what one obtains by means of it – in this case, the money is a means to getting an apartment and a sports car and the value of making this money dependent on the price of these commodities.
Epicurus identifies the good life with the life of pleasure. He understands eudaimonia as a more or less continuous experience of pleasure and, also, freedom from pain and distress. But it is important to notice that Epicurus does not advocate that one pursue any and every pleasure. Rather, he recommends a policy whereby pleasures are maximized "in the long run". In other words, Epicurus claims that some pleasures are not worth having because they lead to greater pains, and some pains are worthwhile when they lead to greater pleasures. The best strategy for attaining a maximal amount of pleasure overall is not to seek instant gratification but to work out a sensible long term policy.
Ancient Greek ethics is eudaimonist because it links virtue and eudaimonia, where eudaimonia refers to an individuals well being. Epicurus doctrine can be considered eudaimonist since Epicurus argues that a life of pleasure will coincide with a life of virtue. He believes that we do and ought to seek virtue because virtue brings pleasure. Epicurus basic doctrine is that a life of virtue is the life which generates the most amount of pleasure, and it is for this reason that we ought to be virtuous. This thesis - the eudaimon life is the pleasurable life - is not a tautology as "eudaimonia is the good life" would be: rather, it is the substantive and controversial claim that a life of pleasure and absence of pain is what eudaimonia consists in.
One important difference between Epicurus eudaimonism and that of Plato and Aristotle is that for the latter virtue is a constituent of eudaimonia, whereas Epicurus makes virtue a means to happiness. To this difference, consider Aristotles theory. Aristotle maintains that eudaimonia is what everyone wants and Epicurus would agree. He also thinks that eudaimonia is best achieved by a life of virtuous activity in accordance with reason. The virtuous person takes pleasure in doing the right thing as a result of a proper training of moral and intellectual character See e.g., Nicomachean Ethics 1099a5. However, Aristotle does not think that virtuous activity is pursued for the sake of pleasure. Pleasure is a byproduct of virtuous action: it does not enter at all into the reasons why virtuous action is virtuous. Aristotle does not think that we literally aim for eudaimonia. Rather, eudaimonia is what we achieve assuming that we arent particularly unfortunate in the possession of external goods when we live according to the requirements of reason. Virtue is the largest constituent in a eudaimon life. By contrast, Epicurus holds that virtue is the means to achieve happiness. His theory is eudaimonist in that he holds that virtue is indispensable to happiness; but virtue is not a constituent of a eudaimon life, and being virtuous is not external goods aside identical with being eudaimon. Rather, according to Epicurus, virtue is only instrumentally related to happiness. So whereas Aristotle would not say that one ought to aim for virtue in order to attain pleasure, Epicurus would endorse this claim.
3.4. Main views on eudaimonia and its relation to aretē The Stoics
Stoic philosophy begins with Zeno of Citium c.300 BC, and was developed by Cleanthes 331–232 BC and Chrysippus c.280–c.206 BC into a formidable systematic unity. Zeno believed happiness was a "good flow of life"; Cleanthes suggested it was "living in agreement with nature", and Chrysippus believed it was "living in accordance with experience of what happens by nature". Stoic ethics is a particularly strong version of eudaimonism. According to the Stoics, virtue is necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia. This thesis is generally regarded as stemming from the Socrates of Platos earlier dialogues. We saw earlier that the conventional Greek concept of arete is not quite the same as that denoted by virtue, which has Christian connotations of charity, patience, and uprightness, since arete includes many non-moral virtues such as physical strength and beauty. However, the Stoic concept of arete is much nearer to the Christian conception of virtue, which refers to the moral virtues. However, unlike Christian understandings of virtue, righteousness or piety, the Stoic conception does not place as great an emphasis on mercy, forgiveness, self-abasement i.e. the ritual process of declaring complete powerlessness and humility before God, charity and self-sacrificial love, though these behaviors/mentalities are not necessarily spurned by the Stoics they are spurned by some other philosophers of Antiquity. Rather Stoicism emphasizes states such as justice, honesty, moderation, simplicity, self-discipline, resolve, fortitude, and courage states which Christianity also encourages.
The Stoics make a radical claim that the eudaimon life is the morally virtuous life. Moral virtue is good, and moral vice is bad, and everything else, such as health, honour and riches, are merely "neutral". The Stoics therefore are committed to saying that external goods such as wealth and physical beauty are not really good at all. Moral virtue is both necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia. In this, they are akin to Cynic philosophers such as Antisthenes and Diogenes in denying the importance to eudaimonia of external goods and circumstances, such as were recognized by Aristotle, who thought that severe misfortune such as the death of ones family and friends could rob even the most virtuous person of eudaimonia. This Stoic doctrine re-emerges later in the history of ethical philosophy in the writings of Immanuel Kant, who argues that the possession of a "good will" is the only unconditional good. One difference is that whereas the Stoics regard external goods as neutral, as neither good nor bad, Kants position seems to be that external goods are good, but only so far as they are a condition to achieving happiness.
4. "Modern Moral Philosophy"
Interest in the concept of eudaimonia and ancient ethical theory more generally enjoyed a revival in the twentieth century. G. E. M. Anscombe in her article "Modern Moral Philosophy" 1958 argued that duty-based conceptions of morality are conceptually incoherent for they are based on the idea of a "law without a lawgiver". She claims a system of morality conceived along the lines of the Ten Commandments depends on someone having made these rules. Anscombe recommends a return to the eudaimonistic ethical theories of the ancients, particularly Aristotle, which ground morality in the interests and well being of human moral agents, and can do so without appealing to any such lawgiver.
Julia Driver in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains:
Anscombes article Modern Moral Philosophy stimulated the development of virtue ethics as an alternative to Utilitarianism, Kantian Ethics, and Social Contract theories. Her primary charge in the article is that, as secular approaches to moral theory, they are without foundation. They use concepts such as "morally ought", "morally obligated", "morally right", and so forth that are legalistic and require a legislator as the source of moral authority. In the past God occupied that role, but systems that dispense with God as part of the theory are lacking the proper foundation for meaningful employment of those concepts.
5. Modern psychology
Models of eudaimonia in psychology emerged from early work on self-actualization and the means of its accomplishment by researchers such as Erik Erikson, Gordon Allport, and Abraham Maslow.
Central theories are Dieners tripartite model of subjective well-being, Ryffs Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being, Keyes work on flourishing, and Seligmans contributions to positive psychology and his theories on authentic happiness and P.E.R.M.A. Related concepts are happiness, flourishing, quality of life, contentment, and meaningful life.
The Japanese concept of Ikigai has been described as eudaimonic well-being, as it "entails actions of devoting oneself to pursuits one enjoys and is associated with feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment".
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