Aristotle on Eudaimonia

Clare Hanrahan will be facilitating a workshop on “The Power of the Purse: Women and War Tax Resistance” at the Gandhi-King Conference on Peacemaking in Memphis, Tennessee. Panel participants will include Judy Scheckel, Pam Beziat, and Kathy Kelly.

In section eight of the first book of The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle asks how well “eudaimonia,” as he has been refining the term, agrees with the then-popular use of the term and with the philosophical state-of-the-art. As far as he’s concerned, it’s close enough that he doesn’t feel like he’s off course or has to invent some new term.

(Here, of course, we run into trouble, since there is no longer a popular use of the term — there is no equivalent term in English — and the philosophical state-of-the-art in Aristotle’s time is something that would require a lot of study to determine and then a lot of speculation to fill in the gaps.)

But he’s also not quite through refining his idea yet. He wants to emphasize that his idea of eudaimonia isn’t just an internal, subjective state but includes objective, real-world thriving as well — living & faring well. Being virtuous can be part of this element of eudaimonia, he says, but only to the extent that this is manifest in real-world actions.

If you love virtue, then the performance of virtuous acts is pleasant — indeed, this defines what a virtuous person is: someone who enjoys virtuous action. (I wonder how one goes about developing a love of virtue if that doesn’t already come naturally.)

From here he slides to a big ergo, without much syllogistic foreplay, but as no big shock either: eudaimonia is the Ultimate End we’ve been hunting for all this time. Virtue and being virtuous (that is, taking pleasure in virtue) is part of this, but more mundane things and accidents of fate play a big role too: social standing, political power, family riches, how well your kids turn out… things like that. Which leads to some questions…

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics