Friday, November 21, 2008

Eudaimonia, Eudaemonism

  • From The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy in Religion & Philosophy

Eudaimonia (Greek, happiness, well-being, success) The central goal of all systems of ancient ethics; according to Aristotle, the ‘best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world’. Eudaimonia is a place-holder waiting for further specification, and different ethical theories will fill it out differently. Aristotle conceives of it as the active exercise of the powers of the (virtuous) soul in conformity to reason. Eudaimonia is usually translated as happiness or well-being, but it has some of the same connotations as ‘success’, since in addition to living well it includes doing well. For example, it can be diminished by events that happen after the subject's death, and it is not a state that children can possess. It is complete and self-sufficient, to be attained for no other end than itself, so it includes all other ends that are pursued for themselves. It therefore includes pleasure, but goes beyond it. In Bk. x of the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle extols the life of study as the essential realization of eudaimonia.

  • From The Oxford Companion to Philosophy in Religion & Philosophy

Eudaimonia Literally ‘having a good guardian spirit’, i.e. the state of having an objectively desirable life, universally agreed by ancient philosophical theory and popular thought to be the supreme human good. This objective character distinguishes it from the modern concept of happiness , i.e. of a subjectively satisfactory life. Much ancient theory concerns the question of what constitutes the good life, e.g. whether virtue is sufficient for it, as Socrates and the Stoics held, or whether external goods such as good fortune are also necessary, as Aristotle maintained. Immoralists such as Thrasymachus (in Plato's Republic) sought to discredit morality by arguing that it prevents the achievement of eudaimonia, while its defenders (including Plato ) argued that it is necessary and/or sufficient. The Kantian conception of morality binding on rational beings independently of their well-being was absent from Greek thought.

Prof. C. C. W. Taylor

  • From Encyclopedia Britannica, Academic Edition

Eudaemonism also spelled Eudaimonism, or Eudemonism, in ethics, a self-realization theory that makes happiness or personal well-being the chief good for man. The Greek word eudaimonia means literally “the state of having a good indwelling spirit, a good genius”; and “happiness” is not at all an adequate translation of this word. Happiness, indeed, is usually thought of as a state of mind that results from or accompanies some actions. But Aristotle's answers to the question “What is eudaimonia?” (namely, that which is “activity in accordance with virtue”; or that which is “contemplation”) show that for him eudaimonia was not a state of mind consequent on or accompanying certain activities but is a name for these activities themselves. “What is eudaimonia?” is then the same question as “What are the best activities of which man is capable?”

Later moralists, however—for instance, the 18th- and 19th-century British utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill—defined happiness as pleasure and the absence of pain. Others, still regarding happiness as a state of mind, have tried to distinguish it from pleasure on the grounds that it is mental, not bodily; enduring, not transitory; and rational, not emotional. But these distinctions are open to question. A temporal dimension was added to eudaemonism in ancient times by Solon, who said, “Call no man happy till he is dead,” suggesting that happiness and its opposite pertain, in their broadest sense, to the full course of one's life. Contemporary moralists have tended to avoid the term.

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