What Is Eudaimonia, What Does It Mean?July 1, 2021
Eudaimonia is often translated as “happiness”; but this can be very misleading. It is sometimes translated as “spreading”, which, although somewhat crude, has more apt connotations: it suggests an analogy between, for example, the sprinkling of plants and the sprinkling of people. Aristotle believes that we all want eudaimonia, that is, we all want our lives to be on track.
Eudaimon is a life, a life that succeeds. It is the kind of life we would all prefer if we could reach it; It is the kind of life we want for those we love. Eudaimonia is pursued as an end, not as a means to an end. For example, we may try to make money because it offers the opportunity to buy expensive clothes, and we may buy expensive clothes because we believe it will make us more attractive to people we want to look attractive, and we want to be attractive to those people because we believe they have the capacity to make our lives better.
But there is no point in asking why we want our lives to be good. Eudaimonia can serve no other purpose: it is where such a chain of explanation ends. “Why seek eudaimonia?” it is pointless to ask the question; because, according to Aristotle, it is a conceptual truth that all people do this. Eudaimonia is not the only thing pursued as an end in itself; For example, we listen to music or spend time with our children, not because we expect to achieve something more, but because we want to spend time on earth that way. However, in such situations, we pursue them because we believe, rightly or wrongly, to be components of a eudaimonous life.
The sole purpose of the Nicomachean Ethics is to illuminate the search for eudaimonia. The more we know what it is we seek and how it is achieved, the more likely we will be to find what we seek, although, as Aristotle believed, ultimately our early education and current material circumstances will largely determine our capacity to go the right way.
Aristotle, unlike many later moral philosophers, was realistic about the impact that events beyond our control have on the success of our lives. According to Aristotle, the prerequisites for a truly eudaemon life were to have a certain amount of money, a decent appearance, good ancestors and children. Without the advantage of such beings, we may not reach the highest state of eudaimonia, but we must adapt our actions to the particular circumstances in which we find ourselves. According to Aristotle, living well is not a matter of adapting general rules to specific situations, but rather a matter of adapting our behavior to the specific living conditions we have.
Just looking for certainty appropriate to the field in which you are working, says Aristotle, is a sign of intelligence. Judgments about how to live are only usually correct. It does not apply to every individual in all circumstances; Therefore, there are no strict rules. Ethics is not a precise subject like mathematics. A carpenter’s interest in the right angle is a practical interest, very different from that of a geometer. It is wrong to treat ethics as anything other than a practical matter with its own standards of generality. And ethics as a practical matter is not simply meant to provide a better theoretical understanding of what the good life means, but to show us how to be good people.
Although Aristotle believed that we all seek and should seek eudaimonia, he was far from hedonistic in the sense of advocating a life of sensual pleasure. He thought that those who wanted nothing but sex, the pleasures of eating and drinking, descended to the level of cattle. Eudaimonia is not an enjoyable mental state. It is rather an activity, a way of living that brings its own pleasures with it, but which cannot be evaluated by particular actions. To be able to say with certainty that an individual has reached eudaimonia, it is necessary to take into account that person’s entire life:
As Aristotle memorably said, spring does not come with a flower, and a day of happiness does not guarantee a happy life. A tragedy towards the end of your life can put a completely different spin on the question of whether your life as a whole is going well. Therefore, there is some truth in the idea that “we cannot call a person’s life eudaimon until he dies”. Aristotle even examines the ways in which events after your death affect the assessment of whether your life is going well, and comes to the conclusion that the well-being of your descendants after your death can only affect your eudaimonia to a limited extent.