Leandro M. Salvacion III Ethics MWF 3:30 -4:30 May 10, 2019
“Count no man happy until he is dead “
"Count no man happy until he is dead". This quote came to be when the great Athenian sage,
Solon, came to visit the Lydian king, Croesus. In the story by Herodotus, King Croesus was
happy to have the famous sage visit his kingdom. He asked his servants to show Solon the
magnificence of his kingdom and to tour him around his territory. When the king was sure that
the sage was already awed by his wealth and power, he asked him who is the happiest man that
he has ever seen.
Having shown Solon all of his wealth, King Croesus was quite confident that
the sage will parrot out his name in response to the question, but to his dismay, it was not him.
The happiest man according to Solon was Tellus of Athens, aman with agreat family and aman
who died valiantly in a battle to defend his countrymen.
Hoping that he will be the second
happiest man, King Croesus, again, asked Solon who is the second happiest man that he has ever
seen, but again it was not him. They were the brothers Cleobis and Bito who were honored for
their great love for their mother and who died with such honor. To make the long story short,
Solon doesn't consider the king as ahappy man because according to him, "count no man happy
until the end is known" (McKay, B., & McKay, K.
This line originally came from Solon, but itbecame so famous and controversial that alot of
philosophers gave their own explanation of it. One of these philosophers is Aristotle.
For Aristotle, he interpreted the said line in two different approaches. The first approach
being the literal interpretation. In this interpretation, it is said that only in death can we find
happiness. That we experience happiness in our afterlife. This interpretation was, however, not
generally accepted due to its contradiction to generally accepted Greek beliefs. Greeks believe
that the Underworld is a gloomy place that brings no happiness to the dead. According to
(DuBois, 2014), it can be read in Greek literature that the underworld is only associated with
gloomy shades and shadows. He also added that the underworld is referred to by Homer as a
place without happiness (Dubois, 2014). Taking this into account, we will have to contradict
Aristotle's first interpretation. If the abode of the dead brings no joy and happiness, therefore itis
impossible for men to find happiness in death. This is true for the case of Aristotle's first
Let's now proceed to Aristotle's second interpretation of the quote. In his second
interpretation, it is said that we can never consider aman happy or unhappy until he is dead. In
this context, happiness is not seen as an emotion, but rather an assessment of whether he attained
virtue and excellence, achieved all his aims, and lived his life to the fullest (Dubois, 2014). In
this interpretation, with all the wealth and fortune that aman has, he can be considered lucky,
but never happy. This view looks at happiness not only for today or tomorrow. It considers
happiness for the entirety of human life. A man may only be considered happy if he died as he
had lived. This means that in order for aman to be considered happy, he should have lived an
ideal life until his death. While aman is still alive, nothing is for certain. He may have wealth
and fortune today, but all of this may be lost tomorrow. In death, however, man is already out of
reach of misfortunes. Therefore, if aman lived an ideal life and died still with such life, he is
happy. This second view, however, is still faced with doubts and controversies. In Greek belief,
the dead are still affected with the dishonors and misfortunes that their living descendants may
go through. Considering this, the second interpretation of Aristotle is again put into question
(Dubois, 2014; Pritzl, 1983). This issue was put to rest by Aristotle's argument that the dead are
not anymore or only to asmall extent affected by the misfortunes of the living.
Aristotle said that it is virtue that produces or brings happiness to living beings. It doesn't
depend on what other people have to say but solely on how aman has virtuously lived his life.
In the case of the dead, the misfortunes of the living have very little to no impact on them
This statement may or may not be true depending on what aperson believes in. Personally,
however, Iwill have to stay neutral on the issue. If it is true that aman still has consciousness
after death, yes he may be happy that he will not have to face problems anymore but for sure
there will be apart of him that will be sad as he will have to live his family and friends. If aman
loses consciousness after death, yes he may be happy, but he also may not be. No one knows as
no one has come back to tell what it's like after death.
Dubois, E. C. (2014, January). Does happiness die with us? An Aristotelian examination of the
fortunes of the dead. Journal of Philosophy of Life. 4(1), 28-37.
McKay, B., & McKay, K. (2018, November 7). Count no man happy until the end is known. A
Man ‘s Life, On Manhood, On Virtue, Philosophy. Retrieved from
Pritzl, K. (1983, April). Aristotle and happiness after death: Nicomachean ethics. Chicago
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