Eudaimonia at last?

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George Inness (American, 1825 – 1894 ), The Lackawanna Valley, c. 1856, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Huttleston Rogers , National Gallery of Art

In my previous posts, I discussed the difference between “eudaimonia” and “happiness”, or good luck that brings external goods in our life; the meaning of eudaimonia as the highest good we seek for its own sake and for the sake of nothing else; and the three popular misconceptions about the best life: a life of enjoyment, the political life and the life of money making that Aristotle presented and rejected as inadequate.

So, where do we go from here? What is the philosopher’s own view about the highest good and the best life?

The questions Aristotle asks: What is the best human life?

From the start, Aristotle says he aims his theory to be practical. It’s not enough to know about virtue – what is important is to be virtuous. He analyzes how we can “live well” and “do well” as human beings out of personal choice and effort. He accepts that eudaimonia can be affected by chance, since we are human and mortal, but it doesn’t depend on chance, not totally at least, and so we shouldn’t leave it to that.

We should consciously choose to be good and do what is right. To believe that eudaimonia is the result of effort, rather than chance, gives us hope that we can attain it. How? If we use the virtues we have acquired and matured through habituation, or continuous and conscious practice, until they become permanent states of character (hexis). And more than that, we can attain eudaimonia through reason, our unique human function.

To analyze whether eudaimonia is an activity within our control, the philosopher asks:

–       What is the ultimate goal of human life?

–       What is the best life for human beings?

–       What is the best life for me?

–       What does a life of eudaimonia consist in?

–       What kind of persons do we want to be?

–       How can we be good persons?

The philosopher tells us not that we should aim at eudaimonia, but that we do aim at it; not that we ought to live a life of eudaimonia, but what such a life consists in. As such, he isn’t moralizing. Rather he is presenting an objective and naturalistic account of how character and intellect guide us toward the best life that meets specific criteria, and shows us the way to fulfill our human nature to make a success of our life.

As an expert in ethics, he is guiding us. Why? Because in all areas of life we turn to the experts for advice. Why? Because we don’t know. We all say we seek eudaimonia, but then disagree as to what it is, it means different things to each of us. In reality, our initial agreement was only in words. What is needed, Aristotle thinks, is to define the human good and the best life objectively so that we can pursue it with a clear vision.

So, he presents the elements eudaimonia consists in:

One side: Living well and doing well

·  Nature-fulfillment: Why we do the things we do

·  Reason: Our unique human function

·  Independence: A complete and self-sufficient good

·  Whole life: A long term process

·  Virtue: Character and intellectual excellence

 The other side: Contemplating

·  The activity of wisdom

These are the elements I’m going to analyze in the posts that will follow.

Take care, Sophia P.