Sunday, April 12, 2009



Eudaimonia


Once again my early morning run has triggered thoughts. That thoughts might be coursing through my brain like so many electro-chemical reactions is not surprising, but that I am capable of considering them and wondering why still makes me pause to reflect.
One fundamental idea that underlays my being is that of eudaimonia. For some this may seem a strange word - it is a classical Greek word often translated as 'happiness'. Etymologically, it consists of the word "eu" ("good" or "well being") and "daimōn" ("spirit" or "minor deity", used by extension to mean one's lot or fortune). Although popular usage of the term happiness refers to a state of mind, related to joy or pleasure, eudaimonia rarely has such connotations, and the less subjective "human flourishing" is often preferred as a translation.

I mention that in the spirit of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics where he states, "every art and every scientific inquiry, and similarly every action and purpose, may be said to aim at some good. Hence 'the good' has been well defined as that at which all things aim."(Book I, Chapter I) According to Aristotle, the hierarchy of human purposes aim at eudaimonia as the highest, most inclusive end. This is the end to which everyone in fact aims. Further, it is the only end towards which it is worth undertaking a means. Eudaimonia is constituted, according to Aristotle, not by honor, or wealth, or power, but by rational activity in accordance with virtue over a complete life.

That is quite a goal for one, but worth pursuing if only because it is an ideal to be aimed at in evaluating your life activities. Elsewhere in the Nicomachean Ethics (Book X, Chapter VII) he claims the greatest happiness is activity in conformity with the highest virtue, (i.e., with that which is the virtue of the best part of man). Intelligence is man's highest possession and the objects of intelligence are the highest objects within his grasp, thus it is clear that the life of contemplation and theoretical wisdom must be the greatest of human virtues and the highest form of happiness. I am not suggesting some ethereal spiritual activity but one more practical in the sense that it is integrated with the goal setting and seeking process in which thinking humans engage. This is rationality in action and the ideal is in its execution over time. Developing a habit as Aristotle or William James might say - developing a habit much like the habit of running in the park. Perhaps it is enough to consider one's thoughts and in so considering seek eudaimonia as the chief good to which you subordinate all other actions.

3 comments:

Lisa said...

When I started my blog three years ago, I decided to call it Eudaemonia. It wasn't until then that I learned about it and I'm surprised it's not a more commonly known concept. Great post!

James said...

It's a secret amongst us philosophical types.

candyschultz said...

Well since I've spent my life reading and studying I think I have been pursuing those goals. I can't say my thoughts when running are as high minded as yours but I do get a lot of thinking done on my runs.