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Sethomas Sethomas is offline
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Old Apr 3rd, 2008, 12:26 PM        Eudaemonia versus happiness
I was reading someone's profile online, and she included a line like "I try to be happy all the time, because I don't see the point in trying to be anything else." She did seem to be fairly intelligent and interested, if not versed, in philosophy. So, that got me thinking back to my classical training.

In Ancient Greece, you can distinguish all kinds of different strains of types of thought depending on what you're talking about. The one that stands out the most is Platonic Rationalism, the idea that anything should be figured out by just thinking about it for a long time, versus Aristotelian Empiricism which says that you should figure things out by analyzing them directly in as many perspectives as possible. The dichotomy that came to mind, however, was the Greek ideals of seeing the pursuit of happiness as the greatest good (Epicureanism) or whether the greatest good is the pursuit of meaningful fulfillment. This latter idea is embodied with a Greek word transliterated as eudaimonia which really doesn't have any direct English translation.

My problem is that I'm not skilled in Greek enough to read these works in their original yet, so I can't say for sure when Aristotle talks about happiness and when he talks about eudaimonia in works like his Nicomachean Ethics. This is a pain because Aristotle's references to happiness and eudaimonia are often BOTH translated as just "happiness" out of convenience, even though this is very wrong.

Eudaimonia is often translated as "the good life" as well, but that's more of a euphemism. I personally would translate it as "the proper spirit". Classically, it refers to the pursuit of being a positive force in the world through virtue. Its proponents say that it's far more important to be a good person, even from your own perspective, than to simply achieve pleasure. In short, no matter how miserable you feel virtue will give you a more complete and aesthetically sound reward.

Although Epicureanism has always enjoyed some amount of popularity through history, mainstream philosophy has usually been of the attitude that eudaimonia is more mature and legitimate. A lot of people like Aristotle say that happiness is good if you have it, like a cake with extra icing, but it's not something that you should worry about all that much. Later folk like Boethius and Marcus Aurelius actually argued that happiness is bad and destructive because it's a cheap imitation for eudaimonia, and it is ALWAYS fleeting.

Despite the fact that modern philosophy very often talks about how counteractive and destructive the Christianization of classical philosophy was, nobody can really deny that it's what got us to the lens through which we view philosophical questions today. Folks like Augustine and Aquinas generally tried to sidestep the question of whether happiness of eudaimonia was more important by linking them together theologically. Their basic idea is that if we live for the pursuit of eudaimonia, God will reward us with happiness if we need it. If we DON'T need it, as John of the Cross explored, we might suffer but this suffering will ultimately make us better people.

With the advent of post-Christian philosophy, at least in the popular realm of understanding, this eudaimonia thing was treated as if it were a God fixation from the Christians and should thus be ignored. It was seen as a uselessly long road to the more important end of happiness, I guess.

Even in secular philosophical circles that nominally reject Epicureanism, I've never seen the idea of eudaimonia taken seriously even though it's very often discussed. Modern philosophy invented terms like "aretology" to talk about it, yet this seems to always been in a deconstructivist historical context.

In my life, I've always had a physiological or emotional block from happiness. i have no memory ever in my life of thinking I was happy. By high school, even though I never heard the term "eudaimonia" I had acquired an indirect understanding of it through many different paths and thought that it was much more rewarding. In early college I still held this view, but it was really really pissing me off that I wasn't happy anyways.

In the past few months, my chronic depression mysteriously disappeared. It was so subtle that I barely noticed until long after it was gone. I can't honestly say that I'm happy or that I'm not, because i can't honestly make that judgment call from the perspective I'm at right now. The problem is that I'm getting mad at myself now for not having more interest in eudaimonia as I always have, as if by not being terminally miserable I've become a worse individual. So, I need to find a way to balance the two, I guess.

Oh shit, I made a philosophical post in the conspiracy theory/news-of-the-weird forum. Sorry.
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Pub Lover Pub Lover is offline
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Old Apr 3rd, 2008, 02:17 PM       
Confused.

But without the effort or will to ask for the particular points I want explained.

I like that you're posting again, Mister P.
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Old Apr 4th, 2008, 12:21 AM       
Wow. Nicely put.

I've experienced the same sort of dichotomy between happiness and "eudaimonia" (though I never knew it was called this), and I agree wholeheartedly that they are very different. I spent most of my first 2 years of college feeling isolated, depressed and damn near suicidal, yet I also found time to listen to other people's problems, and try to make them feel better about themselves. This kept me going when I was at my bleakest, and your post neatly explains, if not psychologically then philsophically, why this was the case.

In addition to Aristotle, most of the classic religious texts will say much the same thing, albeit steeped in faith and worshipful rhetoric. Generally being nice to others is a good thing, and one for which you should strive. This also sounds a lot like another philosophy text I once read (I think in high school, maybe Locke?). If I may be so cliche, it also resembles Trek - "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one". God, I'm such a nerd.

Being happy only satisfies one aspect of my life - aspiring to be virtuous (simplifying that Greek word that I couldn't pronounce on a bet) can and does satisfy many more.

If it was up to me, you could post philosophy topics on this forum any time. Peace.
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Last edited by Colonel Flagg : Apr 4th, 2008 at 12:27 AM. Reason: checked spelling and grammar
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Old Apr 6th, 2008, 03:20 PM       
Current Vegas odds on Seth posting something that the rest of us don't have to google the shit out of before discussing: 116:1

I love you, Seth.
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The One and Only... The One and Only... is offline
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 12:16 AM       
Sanctification and the Resurrection. 'Nuff said.
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 06:53 AM       
I seem to remember Helm saying one time that there were more important things than happiness, I guess this is probably (maybe) what he was talking about.

Does eudaemonia basically have something to do with what I've heard called 'virtue ethics', the ethical view that sees the cultivation of good habits (that is 'virtues' like charity, honesty, courage and so forth) as the key to a good life? Or is that kind of thing more in the vein of the modern 'aretology' that fails to take the concept seriously?
I'd imagine a problem that modern secular philosophy might have with eudaemonia as the pursuit of meaningful fufilment might be the doubt that modern philosophy might be a sort of agnosticism about what could possibly constitute 'meaningful fufilment' for human beings. It would seem that for 'fufilment' to have any 'meaning' you would have to have a theory of human nature and what constitutes it needs to be fulfilled, which is generally absent in modern philosophy.
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 03:40 PM       
Eudaemonia is related to virtue ethics. For a long time secular philosophy overlooked it, but it's been revived in the past couple of decades. Virtue theory has even been extended to epistemology.
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 11:34 PM       
Eudomanianidan is kind of a cheap way of saying that there's a SUPERIOR SATISFACTION TO NORMAL MATERIAL HAPPINESS that can be achieved and because it's more transcedental that means it's more valuable! and we should thus all try to achieve it.

Also audomanianaidnwia is better than happiness because you can neatly roll things like social duties and crap up. It's more good OVERALL because normal happiness is always temporal and related to something physical but nothing else and you can only get "true happiness" (EUDAEMONIA) from being a good person.
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Sethomas Sethomas is offline
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Old Apr 16th, 2008, 03:07 AM       
Well, the problem with talking about eudaemonia in, say, a graduate philosophy class where you’ve been assigned homework where you are to nitpick how Plato used the term versus how Aristotle did or how the Pre-Socratics might have thrown it out, is that academics aim not to build but to dissect. At one level it’s the 9-year-old curious child who takes apart his clock to see how the gears run, and at one level it’s the disturbed adolescent who kills his cat to see what its intestines look like. We might dissect what we love, and we might dissect to learn to love, but we can’t lovingly dissect.

Eudaemonia was the rage in 4th Century BCE Athens, and it stayed integral until Scholasticism. With Humanism, however, teleology shifted from “what is it to be the greatest person” to “how can we better understand what makes us so great”. Nietzsche used his equivalent term for “ascetic” as if it were a homonym for a word meaning “one who fucks his own mother while looking at explicit images of his own son”, if that’s any indication of the direction philosophy took.

With Existentialism, philosophy was redefined in such a way that even non-existentialists would agree with their assertion that personal fulfillment is far too subjective for any positive attributes to be employed in describing it, even if we all agree that fulfillment should be positive and we have a mutual understanding of what all is good and what all is bad. Right now, if you were to impose a definition of eudaemonia without prefacing "someone important in a land, far, far away in a time long, long ago said...", you'd be accused of misconstruing an intrinsically nebulous ideal into a prescribed absolute and they'd make fun of you long after they stop publishing your books.


Hence, the modern scene treats eudaemonia just as I treat the Ontological Argument: we agree with its premise (they agree in such a thing as fulfillment, I agree there is a God) and we are interested in its methodology and impact (they think Aristotle would have been cool if not for the whole pedophilia thing, I wonder how the hell Anselm pieced the whole thing together), but neither of us take it seriously as a means to making any kind of assertive conclusion.

I guess I’m trying to skirt the issue of saying it, but I’ll give up and say it: the history of philosophy is a vital part of the modern curriculum, philosophy itself is dead. The history of philosophy has led us to interesting roads, especially in ethics metamorphosing into moral theory and epistemology into cognitive…whatever. Nobody philosophizes anymore. Some would say that it’s hubristic to posit that anything philosophical hasn’t already been said, but even to face the risk of being called hubristic there’s really no avenue by which philosophy can be spoken any longer.
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The One and Only... The One and Only... is offline
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Old Apr 16th, 2008, 07:48 PM       
Maybe nobody philosophizes where you go to school, but analytic philosophy looks alive and well to me!!

There's all kinds of contemporary epistemological theories, moral theories (including virtue ethics, which was brought back by MacIntyre), formal logics, metaphysics, and so on. I don't know why you think it's "dead." One look at the Stanford Encyclopedia should make it clear there's new material.
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kahljorn kahljorn is offline
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Old Apr 16th, 2008, 11:19 PM       
I've read all kinds of new material about ARE CHIPS INSTALLED IN THE BRAIN ETHICAL? ARE COMPUTERS LIKE PEOPLE?

man I don't remember that part of Nietzsche's philosophy I mean he has the whole overman thing and anyway he was only talking about people who make ideals out of self/life-destruction with the intent of accusing people who have self-confidence and yeas to life of being immoral ;o

to answer your question I think he's talking about eudaemonia a lot in nichomachean ethics i think my book even has the word translated into that form.
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AaronAgassi AaronAgassi is offline
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Old Aug 20th, 2008, 12:26 AM       
No, sethomas, philosophy is very much alive and well, still relevant, thank you.

Philosophy, which began, historically, as the quest for the right way of life, therefore includes questions of motivating value judgment including but not limited to ethics or morality. And seeing as how among those important values are often included clarity, philosophy also includes logic. Indeed, for some, the quest for the right way of life includes or requires investigation of the world we live in, and this gave rise to Natural Philosophy, that which today we call science, along with the philosophy of science consisting in all manner of fundamental questions regarding scientific method.
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kahljorn kahljorn is offline
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Old Aug 20th, 2008, 09:29 PM       
I didn't know that philosophy had it's roots in people who wanted to find the right path of good hearts or whatever.
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