Aristotle’s conception of eudaimonia

Ian asked:

Eudaimonia is the feeling of perfect satisfaction with ones life?

Answer by Caterina Pangallo

I think ‘perfect satisfaction’ is a little over the top.

The word can almost be literally rendered in English as ‘good spirits’. This implies all the good things that make a person be of good spirits. Like prospering in your career, having good friends, eating well etc.

Generally we translate the word as ‘happiness’. For Aristotle this includes achieving a state of being good and generous with others. He thinks that being generous, altruistic and charitable belong also to eudaimonia.

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says that eudaimonia means ‘doing and living well and being content’. For Aristotle this implies that eudaimonia involves activity and a striving for excellence. It is human nature to strive for self-development. Therefore the best form of eudaimonia is gained by the proper development of one’s best powers and the most humane attitude. This identifies us as ‘rational animals’. It follows that eudaimonia for a human being is the attainment of excellence (arete) through the use and application of reason.

So all these issues hang together. Further, he claims this excellence cannot be isolated and so it requires social competence as well as high professional standards. From this it follows that eudaimonia, living well, consists primarily in activity. Which is to say, to be fully engaged in the activity of his/her work and in a social network of friendships in order to achieve success.

In Aristotle’s ethical theory, eudaimonia is a virtue. This is because it is a balance between two possible defects. One can be ‘too happy’, too carefree without striving for excellence. Some people on the other hand never stop complaining, even when they are successful.

Actually I believe that Aristotle discovered something really fundamental about human beings.

As a philosopher he asked himself, ‘what do humans really want out of life?’ Answer: ‘Happiness’. To achieve this you need not be the wealthiest person of your tribe. You need to strive, recognise your potential, aim for self-fulfilment and cultivate love and friendship. This is the way to eudaimonia. Just as we say, ‘money can’t buy love,’ so Aristotle would say, ‘You can’t buy eudaimonia’. It’s something you have to do.

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