Aristotle Concept of Eudaimonia
Aristotle Concept of Eudaimonia
Aristotle (Ancient Greek: ??????????? , Aristoteles) (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greekphilosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music,logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology. Together withPlato and Socrates (Plato’s teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy.
Aristotle’s writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality, aesthetics, logic, science, politics, andmetaphysics. Aristotle’s views on the physical sciences profoundly shaped medieval scholarship, and their influence extended well into the Renaissance, although they were ultimately replaced by Newtonian physics. In the zoological sciences, some of his observations were confirmed to be accurate only in the 19th century.
His works contain the earliest known formal study of logic, which was incorporated in the late 19th century into modern formal logic. In metaphysics, Aristotelianism had a profound influence on philosophical and theological thinking in the Islamic and Jewish traditions in the Middle Ages, and it continues to influence Christian theology, especially the scholastic tradition of the Catholic Church. His ethics, though always influential, gained renewed interest with the modern advent of virtue ethics. All aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy continue to be the object of active academic study today.
Though Aristotle wrote many elegant treatises and dialogues (Cicerodescribed his literary style as “a river of gold”), it is thought that the majority of his writings are now lost and only about one-third of the original works have survived.  Aristotle’s Ethics Aristotle conceives of ethical theory as a field distinct from the theoretical sciences. Its methodology must match its subject matter—good action—and must respect the fact that in this field many generalizations hold only for the most part. We study ethics in order to improve our lives, and therefore its principal concern is the nature of human well-being.
Aristotle follows Socrates and Plato in taking the virtues to be central to a well-lived life. Like Plato, he regards the ethical virtues (justice, courage, temperance and so on) as complex rational, emotional and social skills. But he rejects Plato’s idea that a training in the sciences and metaphysics is a necessary prerequisite for a full understanding of our good. What we need, in order to live well, is a proper appreciation of the way in which such goods as friendship, pleasure, virtue, honor and wealth fit together as a whole.
In order to apply that general understanding to particular cases, we must acquire, through proper upbringing and habits, the ability to see, on each occasion, which course of action is best supported by reasons. Therefore practical wisdom, as he conceives it, cannot be acquired solely by learning general rules. We must also acquire, through practice, those deliberative, emotional, and social skills that enable us to put our general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are suitable to each occasion. Aristotle wrote two ethical treatises: the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics.
He does not himself use either of these titles, although in the Politics (1295a36) he refers back to one of them—probably the Eudemian Ethics—as “ta ethika”—his writings about character. The words “Eudemian” and “Nicomachean” were added later, perhaps because the former was edited by his friend, Eudemus, and the latter by his son, Nicomachus. In any case, these two works cover more or less the same ground: they begin with a discussion of eudaimonia ( “happiness,” “flourishing”), and turn to an examination of the nature of arete (“virtue,” “excellence”) and the character traits that human beings need in order to live life at its best.
Both treatises examine the conditions in which praise or blame are appropriate, and the nature of pleasure and friendship; near the end of each work, we find a brief discussion of the proper relationship between human beings and the divine. Though the general point of view expressed in each work is the same, there are many subtle differences in organization and content as well. Clearly, one is a re-working of the other, and although no single piece of evidence shows conclusively what their order is, it is widely assumed that the Nicomachean Ethics is a later and improved version of the Eudemian Ethics.
(Not all of the Eudemian Ethics was revised: its Books IV, V, and VI re-appear as V, VI, VII of the Nicomachean Ethics. ) Perhaps the most telling indication of this ordering is that in several instances the Nicomachean Ethics develops a theme about which its Eudemian cousin is silent. Only the Nicomachean Ethics discusses the close relationship between ethical inquiry and politics; only the Nicomachean Ethics critically examines Solon’s paradoxical dictum that no man should be counted happy until he is dead; and only the Nicomachean Ethics gives a series of arguments for the superiority of the philosophical life to the political life.
The remainder of this article will therefore focus on this work. Although Aristotle is deeply indebted to Plato’s moral philosophy, particularly Plato’s central insight that moral thinking must be integrated with our emotions and appetites, and that the preparation for such unity of character should begin with childhood education, the systematic character of Aristotle’s discussion of these themes was a remarkable innovation. No one had written ethical treatises before Aristotle.
Plato’s Republic, for example, does not treat ethics as a distinct subject matter; nor does it offer a systematic examination of the nature of happiness, virtue, voluntariness, pleasure, or friendship. To be sure, we can find in Plato’s works important discussions of these phenomena, but they are not brought together and unified as they are in Aristotle’s ethical writings. Aristotle on eudaimonia The principal idea with which Aristotle begins is that there are differences of opinion about what is best for human beings, and that to profit from ethical inquiry we must resolve this disagreement.
He insists that ethics is not a theoretical discipline: we are asking what the good for human beings is not simply because we want to have knowledge, but because we will be better able to achieve our good if we develop a fuller understanding of what it is to flourish. In raising this question—what is the good? —Aristotle is not looking for a list of items that are good. He assumes that such a list can be compiled rather easily; most would agree, for example, that it is good to have friends, to experience pleasure, to be healthy, to be honored, and to have such virtues as courage at least to some degree.
The difficult and controversial question arises when we ask whether certain of these goods are more desirable than others. Aristotle’s search for the good is a search for the highestgood, and he assumes that the highest good, whatever it turns out to be, has three characteristics: it is desirable for itself, it is not desirable for the sake of some other good, and all other goods are desirable for its sake.
Aristotle thinks everyone will agree that the terms “eudaimonia” (“happiness”) and “eu zen” (“living well”) designate such an end. The Greek term “eudaimon” is composed of two parts: “eu” means “well” and “daimon” means “divinity” or “spirit. ” To be eudaimon is therefore to be living in a way that is well-favored by a god. But Aristotle never calls attention to this etymology, and it seems to have little influence on his thinking. He regards “eudaimon” as a mere substitute for eu zen (“living well”).
These terms play an evaluative role, and are not simply descriptions of someone’s state of mind. No one tries to live well for the sake of some further goal; rather, being eudaimon is the highest end, and all subordinate goals—health, wealth, and other such resources—are sought because they promote well-being, not because they are what well-being consists in. But unless we can determine which good or goods happiness consists in, it is of little use to acknowledge that it is the highest end.
To resolve this issue, Aristotle asks what the ergon (“function,” “task,” “work”) of a human being is, and argues that it consists in activity of the rational part of the soul in accordance with virtue (1097b22–1098a20). One important component of this argument is expressed in terms of distinctions he makes in his psychological and biological works. The soul is analyzed into a connected series of capacities: the nutritive soul is responsible for growth and reproduction, the locomotive soul for motion, the perceptive soul for perception, and so on.
The biological fact Aristotle makes use of is that human beings are the only species that has not only these lower capacities but a rational soul as well. The good of a human being must have something to do with being human; and what sets humanity off from other species, giving us the potential to live a better life, is our capacity to guide ourselves by using reason. If we use reason well, we live well as human beings; or, to be more precise, using reason well over the course of a full life is what happiness consists in.
Doing anything well requires virtue or excellence, and therefore living well consists in activities caused by the rational soul in accordance with virtue or excellence. Aristotle’s conclusion about the nature of happiness is in a sense uniquely his own. No other writer or thinker had said precisely what he says about what it is to live well. But at the same time his view is not too distant from a common idea. As he himself points out, one traditional conception of happiness identifies it with virtue (1098b30–1).
Aristotle’s theory should be construed as a refinement of this position. He says, not that happiness is virtue, but that it is virtuous activity. Living well consists in doing something, not just being in a certain state or condition. It consists in those lifelong activities that actualize the virtues of the rational part of the soul. At the same time, Aristotle makes it clear that in order to be happy one must possess others goods as well—such goods as friends, wealth, and power.
And one’s happiness is endangered if one is severely lacking in certain advantages—if, for example, one is extremely ugly, or has lost children or good friends through death Aristotle’s says that one’s virtuous activity will be to some extent diminished or defective, if one lacks an adequate supply of other goods. Someone who is friendless, childless, powerless, weak, and ugly will simply not be able to find many opportunities for virtuous activity over a long period of time, and what little he can accomplish will not be of great merit.
To some extent, then, living well requires good fortune; happenstance can rob even the most excellent human beings of happiness. Nonetheless, Aristotle insists, the highest good, virtuous activity, is not something that comes to us by chance. Although we must be fortunate enough to have parents and fellow citizens who help us become virtuous, we ourselves share much of the responsibility for acquiring and exercising the virtues. ————————————————-
Eudaimonia is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, “human flourishing” has been proposed as a more accurate translation.  Etymologically, it consists of the words “eu” (“good”) and “daimon” (“spirit’’) .  In Aristotle’s works, eudaimonia was (based on older Greek tradition) 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. ————————————————-
Definition 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: Aristotle points out, saying that eudaimon life is a life which is objectively desirable, and means living well, is not saying very much. Everyone wants to be eudaimon; and everyone agrees that being eudaimon is related to faring well and to an individual’s well being.
The really difficult question is to specify just what sort of activities enable one to live well. Aristotle presents various popular conceptions of the best life for human beings. The candidates that he mentions are a (1) life of pleasure, (2) a life of political activity and (3) a philosophical life. Aristotle In outline, for Aristotle, eudaimonia involves activity, exhibiting virtue (arete sometimes translated as excellence) in accordance with reason.
This conception of eudaimonia derives from Aristotle’s essentialist understanding of human nature, the view that reason(logos sometimes translated as rationality) is unique to human beings and that the ideal function or work (ergon) of a human being is the fullest or most perfect exercise of reason. Basically, well being (eudaimonia) is gained by proper development of one’s highest and most human capabilities and human beings are “the rational animal”. It follows that eudaimonia for a human being is the attainment of excellence (arete) in reason.
According to Aristotle, eudaimonia actually requires activity, action, so that it is not sufficient for a person to possess a squandered ability or disposition. Eudaimonia requires not only good character but rational activity. Aristotle clearly maintains that to live in accordance with reason means achieving excellence thereby. Moreover, he claims this excellence cannot be isolated and so competencies are also required appropriate to related functions. For example, if being a truly outstanding scientist requires impressive math skills, so that one might say “doing mathematics well is necessary to be a first rate scientist”.
From this it follows that eudaimonia, living well, consists in activities exercising the rational part of the psyche in accordance with the virtues or excellency of reason [1097b22–1098a20]. Which is to say, to be fully engaged in the intellectually stimulating and fulling work at which one achieves well-earned success. The rest of the Nicomachean Ethics is devoted to filling out the claim that best life for a human being is the life of excellence in accordance with reason.
Subject: Nicomachean Ethics,
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 30 October 2016
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