Eudaimonia is a Greek word, which refers to a state of having a good indwelling spirit or being in a contented state of being healthy, happy and prosperous. In moral philosophy, eudaimonia is used to refer to the right actions as those that result in the well-being of an individual. In this case, well-being becomes an essential value.
In a more literal sense, eudaimonia means to have a good guardian spirit. As the ultimate goal, eudaimonia is an objective state rather than a subjective state, which characterizes a well-lived life regardless of the emotional state of the one experiencing it. In a more general sense, eudaimonia can be perceived as any theory that places the personal happiness of an individual and his or her complete life at the core of ethical concern.
History of eudaimonism
Like other ancient thinkers, Socrates believed that human beings desire the state of eudaimonia more than anything else. However, Socrates believed that virtues such as justice, courage, self control and wisdom were essential and, when practiced, sufficient to achieve eudaimonia. Virtue, he held, was a form of knowledge of both good and evil that is necessary to achieve the ultimate good (eudaimonia) desired by all human beings. (Read more on the ultimate good in the benefits of gratitude article)
On the other hand, Plato suggested that when an “evil” person does something that is wrong, the person is likely to feel guilty even when there is no fear for punishment for their actions. By doing what is wrong, the person will be miserable. To guide all desires and actions of an individual to eudaimonia, Plato noted that the rational part of the mind and or soul has to lead the emotional, appetitive and spirited parts.
Aristotle on the other hand emphasized that eudaimonia is constituted by rational activities that are associated with virtue rather than power, honor or power. According to Aristotle, the rational activity has to be manifested as pride, wittiness, friendships that are mutually beneficial, pride and honesty among others.
Hedonists, including Epicurus, agreed that eudaimonia is the highest good. Epicurus based this on pleasure, stating that pleasure is the only thing that human beings value for its own sake. As such, its presence or absence becomes something that is immediately apparent to every individual.
In the event that it would ultimately result in greater pleasure in the long term, Epicurus noted that it may be necessary to forgo a short term pleasure. However, Epicurus also noted that some pleasures were not worth experiencing since they only resulted in greater pains, while some pains resulted in greater pleasures, and are therefore worth having.
Although the stoics believed that eudaimonia was the highest good to some extent, they also believed that virtue is essential and enough for eudaimonia. Stoics also noted that a eudaimonian life is a morally virtuous life. As such, they insisted that a moral virtue is essentially good, while a moral vice is bad and anything else, including honor, health and riches, are simply neutral. Immanuel Kant opposed the notion that happiness is the highest good. Instead, Kant emphasized happiness to be the ingredient of the highest good on the condition that it is deserved.
Watch Mark Thorsby’s intersting video on Eudaimonia:
Whereas happiness is closely associated with an assessment of the quality of an individual that that is subjective, eudaimonia is more concerned with a life that is desirably objective. This therefore makes eudaimonia a more encompassing notion as compared to happiness given that bad events that do not affect the happiness experience of an individual, tend to affect their eudaimonia.
Although a majority of the ancient ethical theorists perceived eudaimonia as the highest human good, their opinion about how to achieve it was different. Although there are a variety of eudaimonism, two of the most influential ones remain to be those of stoics and Aristotle.
Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Martin Oswald. New York: The Bobs-Merrill Company, 1962. Online. Retrieved November 11, 2008.
Plato. Plato’s Complete Works. Edited by John M. Cooper and D.S. Hutchinson. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1997. ISBN 0872203492.
Vlastos, Gregory. Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.