Archive for November, 2005

Eudaimonia

by Jason Stotts

As I study the idea of Eudaimonia for my senior research, I’m struck by how this concept has been lost in our language: we do not even have a word for it in our language. You see, Eudaimonia means something like “human flourishing,” it’s the state of “happiness” that proceeds from being a good person and having favorable external conditions.

Yet I hesitate to use happiness since that is the one word that Eudaimonia is usually translated as; nevertheless there is a distinct difference between the two concepts since our modern idea of happiness is something that more similar to “pleasure” than “flourishing”.

The problem is that the contemporary dominant philosophies don’t even have a conception of human nature nor of what it means to be a truly good person (i.e. a person who is doing those things that are part of human nature well).

To draw a quick example: a “good” knife is one that performs the function of a knife well – in this case that means cutting. So a good knife is one that cuts well.

This kind of analysis is called “teleology” – which is just a fancy way of talking about the end of a thing, where “end” means nothing more than goal or proper state.

Without an idea of human nature, one certainly can’t talk about whether one is fulfilling the goals of one’s nature.

This is problematic since with its loss we have lost any true ideas we have about Happiness (properly defined), we have lost Virtue, and we have lost the right to say that someone is a good person. Nonetheless, these are things that we feel we should do and that seem very important to us as people.

I would even go so far as to say that the loss of the idea of Eudaimonia has caused much of the rampant depression that we see around us in this day and age: without an idea of what it means to be truly happy not everyone is able to stumble across the right path and they end up wandering dark roads of ignorance without the light that comes from the knowledge of Truth.

Eudaimonia is a very important concept and I shall be writing about it more as my research progresses – but if you’re curious about where to find out more about it I’d recommend two sources: 1. “The Virtue of Selfishness” from The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand and 2. The Eudemian Ethics by Aristotle. If anyone would like more precise directions to the concept in Aristotle, leave a comment and I’ll post them.

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