By Brian Taylor | January 2nd 2011 01:35 AM | 12 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    In this first of two installments defining eudaemonia we will attempt the impossible, circumnavigating the sphere of "the good."

    For something to be eudaemonic it must be conducive to our happiness. It is not just our “happiness” because there are connotations attached: success, fulfilment, flourishing, promotion, evolution, action and contentment. In ancient Greek, “eu” is “well” and “daemon” is “spirit.” So it could be said we have room for interpretation. There is the philosophical movement of Eudaemonism, which is a system of ethics that puts a moral value on the likelihood of actions producing eudaemonia. Then there is eudaemonia itself, which is often incorrectly described as “happiness.” However, “happiness” alone does not completely define what eudaemonia is, nor even what it means to be happy. Any generalization of “good, right or true,” is also lacking. We will attempt to redefine eudaemonia as the worthy goal of anti-social engineering, a pathway to virtue. In order to do this we must develop an appreciation for the Aristotle's ethics and refine his philosophical habit of contemplation.

    When we discuss the Nicomachean Ethics, we are looking at Aristotle's ideas on what the purpose of life is and how to go about living it. In his estimation, which, with minor adjustments, we share, Ari believes that all of us seek “the good life.” This good life is a product of our actions and everything seeks happiness. However, not everyone agrees on what makes them happy. Aristotle believes that the good life is sought by having a good spirit, which is something that can be developed with effort and time. Ethics are the study of bare principles and this is something we can practise. Virtue is the ability to choose “rightly” when considering alternatives, so too can we develop the habit. Aristotle delivers in his Ethics a practise that seeks what he calls the Golden Mean, a balance between excess and deficiency. He believes that like a horseman becomes excellent at his skill through practise, those seeking virtue can also hone their skills. He says, “We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

    Let's start with the idea of happiness, what is it? How do we find it? Aristotle asks us to examine things we choose for their own sake and things we choose for delayed rewards. (For him, being able to make this distinction explains a lot about what makes humans unique from other animals.) Ari argues that if you were to pursue everything you desired to its end, you will always wind up considering your happiness. For example, if someone asked me, “What would you do with ten million dollars?” and pursued the answers I gave with, “Why? Why? Why?” I would always end up saying, “because it makes me happy.” Something like this: “What would you do with ten million dollars?” I would buy a house. “Why?” So I could be comfortable and raise a family. “Why?” So I could love, be loved, share my life with people and pass something of myself onto the future. “Why?” Because it would make me happy. So happiness is not a means to an end, it is the end. It is the desired result of whatever thought or activity taking place. Aristotle believes that all human activities aim to accomplish something we consider “good.” Therefore, seeking something that is an end, in and of itself, such as happiness, should be an “ultimate good.”

    Being happy, for Aristotle is “good.” Well, that's a start. He breaks the idea of “types of goods” into two groups: Apparent Goods and True Goods. Apparent Goods are the things we seek in life that may or may not lead to actual happiness. (The big boat, the expensive baubles, the promotion at work...) Don't confuse the idea of “good” with the idea of an object as a good. Good in this case is something we find eudaemonic, not merely existent. Apparent Goods can only provide pseudo-happiness. True Goods are real. So, as in the classic film, Citizen Kane, a grumpy old curmudgeon on his deathbed will come to realize that all of his wealth and power was for nought. He has missed out on the true goods of his life, in the pursuit of apparent goods. This means, of course, that we can be wrong about what we think is going to make us happy. This is particularly true when we become convinced by someone else of what will make us happy. (These we could call socially engineered goods.)

    Still, “good” needs to become something standardized for us to all agree upon what it means. We all can determine our own pleasures, yes, but there must be some aspects of “goodness” that are definable. Aristotle says that everything has a function and the ability to perform that function well points to eudaemonia. You can, for instance, hammer a nail into a board with a flute but it is not going to work very well. Or, if you are a medical student, you might have a Professor who is an excellent Doctor but a horrible Teacher. Form, therefore, precedes function, but happiness is function living up to form. This is a key distinction that helps us separate eudaemonia from mere happiness. A flute cannot be “happy” or “unhappy” but its use as a hammer is definitely not eudaemonic. This harkens back to the Aristotelian definition of “essence.” (A knife is not a knife if it has no edge, a chair is not a chair if you can't sit in it, etc.)

    So what is the human essence? We know our form quite well, what is our function? Ari, in his typical thoroughness, attempts to reduce this question to what humans are able to do, as what distinguishes us from other species. His answer is: Rationality, we are able to reason about what we know and choose. Specifically, because we are able to reason and other creatures are not, rationality must be our essence. Therefore, the good life is achieved by developing and exercising this ability.

    Now, at this point, you might wonder about Ari's definition of rationality, or even reason, because many other animals can reason. This is true. A crow can solve multistage problems, build job specific tools and use them, all without being taught or otherwise having any previous experience with the particular skill set used. A crow, while a social animal, is certainly not on the same level as a man. This is true, so far. Herein lies the point, Aristotle, a huge fan of biology admittedly, was not an expert on everything. In fact, there are many aspects of the Nicomachean Ethics, as well as other works belonging to Aristotle, such as the Politics, that expose him to be, at least in part, a product of his times. (We shall not disparage him for this.) Ari's world is one where one knows his or her place. Women are lesser than men, but not quite “property.” Slaves, be they male or female, are property, therefore cannot be citizens. This can be the only place where Aristotle's ideas can come from. He has no qualms about fashioning “the good life” for his time and place, specifically. It doesn't occur to him that the world may abolish slavery, or perhaps even that exemplary ideas change. (Which is a rather odd thing to think about: If Aristotle can't remove the blinders we find limiting him a mere two thousand years later, can we remove ours in the present? Can we even identify our current blinders?) Humans are very fond of looking back and feeling superior. We need to reverse this process, to look forward knowing we're taking the right steps in the present, to get there. At any rate, we will take what we need from Aristotle and ignore his dustier ideas.

    You might also have wondered about definitions of a word like “good.” How are we going to define “good” when we can't even properly define “red” or “7”? The answer, which Aristotle reminds us of throughout his work, is “you can't.” Everyone is different and what is good for the murderer may not be good for the milkmaid. Everyone must decipher their own ethics. Ari, in his “Doctrine of the Mean” is not unlike ourselves at this point, working through our own, private Philosophy Generator. The only thing that can be said about “goodness” is that it points to eudaemonia. Eudaemonia, in turn points to happiness, which seems to give us carte blanche. However, eudaemonia is not an end, such as mere happiness. Eudaemonia is an activity, a means to plural ends: Happiness and (something more.) We wish to define the “something more.”

    For the ancient Greeks, eudaemonism was apparent. If one walked through the streets of Athens in the time of Aristotle, the eudaemonic citizens would be vibrant, successful, friendly and energetic. This is why eudaemonia is not an inner, emotional state in such a way that mere happiness is, but to be eudaemonic is to put energy into action. One may find happiness in sitting around doing nothing all day, but it would be short lived. Even the laziest person in the world contemplates, (which is an action,) and has friends, relationships, etc. (At least, this is the case for healthy humans.) Thus, there is an active role for you to place in your eudaemonia, it is your choosing and doing well. Choosing well is the path to virtue. Doing well, acting rightly and being aware of it mark eudaemonia. If these definitions are true, then Aristotle is correct to deduce that they are ongoing exercises. It is a process, not a result. The result will always be varying degrees of virtue.

    Read part two: Promotive Eudaemonia

    (This discussion was taken from my book Anti-Social Engineering the Hyper-Manipulated Self.)
    Click here to watch the book trailer


    Gerhard Adam
    I would like to consider your definition of rationality a bit more, since this seems a bit of a flawed concept.  More to the point, is actually what constitutes being "irrational".  After all, if we don't have any good examples of this, then rationality is a bit of a dicey concept.  Please note, that I'm referring to irrationality as a trait or action, not the product of a defective mind.

    I'm also curious as to why you seem to suggest that eudaemonia is only applicable to humans.  Why would that be?
    Mundus vult decipi
    I agree that rationality  is dicey. (but then again, what isn't?)
    When I refer to rationality, I, along with Aristotle, refer to the degree to which a human exercises their reason.
    I can appreciate that there are other animals on the planet that reason, that exercise different degrees of rationality, but none that we know of that do so as well as we.  (Or at least, as well as we are capable.)
    For me, irrationality is not a flawed rationality, it is a lack of rationality.
    Irrational actions are undertaken, to be sure, but these actions are not to be considered eudaemonic.

    Eudaemonia, in it's classic form,  is applicable to other creatures and things.
    My new definition, more clearly defined in the second half of this discussion "Promotive Eudaemonia," is what determines it to be a strictly human trait.
    Classic eudaemonia is "happiness" + (roughly) "flourishment." This means that a horse or a dog could certainly be touted as having aspects of their lives be considered eudaemonic.
    By replacing the idea of "flourishment" with "promotive" I have restricted eudaemonia to those of us able to consciously act on behalf of the reasons for doing so.
    All thinking "things" act on behalf of the reasons for doing so, but only humans have the ability to know this, claim this, choose this or deny this.

    For example, Uncle Ari says a knife is not knife if it has no edge. So if we have a nice sharp knife, is the knife eudaemonic? I say no, a knife cannot be "happy" or "unhappy" regardless of well it is "living" up to it's purpose. (Therefore, eudaemonia can't be used in any way to describe that which is "not alive.")
    What about oxen? They are alive. They have a purpose to live up to or not live up to. They may be considered to be "happy" or "unhappy," particularly as I have defined happiness. So, are the working oxen, well fed and cared for eudaemonic? Aristotle would say yes, but I say no. They may be "happy," they may be "flourishing," but they are not being promotive. They can't be, they're incapable of the conscious cognisance we are. An ox does not feel pride in a job well done, nor would he miss that job if it was taken away. (This part is free ammunition for you ;)

    I look forward to your reply.
    Gerhard Adam
    So, are the working oxen, well fed and cared for eudaemonic? Aristotle would say yes, but I say no.
    One more point to consider here.

    Oxen, in this example, are domesticated.  Being "well fed and cared for" are human interpretations only.   You can see this problem more clearly when you are dealing with a wild animal that has lost its freedom.  There is little doubt that it is aware of the change, and it can be quite difficult to get them to accept their new situation regardless of how well fed they may be.  This also suggests that animals must be strongly coerced into such a change, which also suggests that they are keenly aware of the differences in the lifestyle. 

    Therefore we have a simple test.  If such an animal is incapable of making a conscious decision to live according to its nature, then why do we need cages?  Doesn't this mean that the cage is necessary because if the animal were allowed to make its own choices/decisions, then it would choose a different life for itself?  If this latter is true, then animals must be capable of living a life we could consider to be eudaimon.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    One of the reasons I brought up rationality, is because of the second part of your definition.  So, if a creature is "rational", how can it be said that it can also be "irrational"?  Certainly that terminology can be associated with a particular idea or action, but it can't rightfully be said of the creature/individual that decided it. 

    One of the problems here is that it makes no sense to talk about a creature being irrational, since that would mean that it acted without any reasoning or rationale whatsoever.  For this reason, I would argue that there is no such thing when applied to any individual (or creature).  However, the reasoning may be flawed, or be erroneous, it would still be a rational decision.  If there is no way we can see that a creature can ever be classified as being "irrational", then it becomes more difficult to argue that eudaemonia is only available to "rational" creatures.  By definition, there is no creature that is capable of thought that can be irrational.

    This is especially important when you consider that eudaemonia cannot be established by an individual, but only by external examination, since anything an individual interprets would be subjective.
    I have restricted eudaemonia to those of us able to consciously act on behalf of the reasons for doing so.
    While I can appreciate the conscious element of this, the problem remains since it cannot be shown that an individual ever makes a decision that could be considered irrational (i.e. without reason).  Similarly when it comes to animals, can we state that a wolf that vies to become the alpha does so without reason?  What about a stallion that challenges the leader of a herd?  When a male lion kills cubs to bring a female into heat, is this without reason?

    We can certainly question how "conscious" such a decision is, but it can't be considered simply reflexive or instinctive, since an animal clearly recognizes when it is outside if its capability to attain those positions.  Therefore there is a decision-making process occurring in which the costs vs benefits is able to be assessed.  Should this be considered as occurring without reason?

    If we have eudaemonia occurring regardless of the actor's ability to assess it, and it is only subject to external verification, then we are hard pressed to argue that it is anything except acting as true to one's nature as is possible.  This, of course, would extend to animals as well as humans, insofar as they are capable of controlling their specific behaviors.

    Going back to the example of the knife, the question then becomes, how dull does a knife have to become before it ceases being a knife?  Isn't a dull knife still a knife even if it lacks an edge?  What would be responsible for its transformation?  Perhaps you could make that argument if the dull knife was incapable of holding an edge because of how it was manufactured, but even that seems to be a stretch.  Also consider that if a toothbrush is sharpen to be used as a knife, does that make it a knife or is it still a toothbrush?
    An ox does not feel pride in a job well done, nor would he miss that job if it was taken away.
    Actually we don't know how an ox would feel and we don't want to be anthropomorphic.  However, if a stallion successfully defeated the current herd stallion, it would be hard to imagine that the challenger doesn't feel "happy" or "prideful" (at least in the horse equivalent sense).  After all, something motivated the challenge, just as something would reinforce a defeat if it occurred.  So, while we clearly can never know exactly what a horse would feel under these circumstances, it is equally clear that they feel something.

    We've all experienced it with a pet that gets into something and recognizes that we are angry.  It may not know the reasons why, and certainly it doesn't understand what may have made us angry, but there is also something that enables them to connect the two events to make them recognize that something in their actions gave rise to our anger. 

    Also, if animals can play and control themselves, then they understand the cause/effect nature of their behavior.  I have a 67 lb. Akita that loves playing with a 10 lb. cat.  However, despite the size difference and their tussling, the Akita always controls the use of his size/strength with the cat.  This indicates that there is an awareness that the same degree of roughness that would be used for a comparably sized dog is inappropriate for a small cat.

    My point here, is that these animals are conscious of making choices regarding their behavior, even if it is at a lower level than humans are capable of, but they are capable of acting according to their nature (which would be a eudaimon life) versus a perpetually caged animal.  This would occur regardless of their individual abilities to consciously choose their behavior.  The same could be said of humans suffering from addictions or other maladies which may well preclude directing their conscious choices differently.
    Mundus vult decipi
    It has taken me several days of purposeful thinking and daydreaming to come up with the following: I think we have found a second thing upon which we may disagree.
    For me eudaemonia is the product of "acting on account of the reasons for doing so" and specifically not, "being on account of the reasons for being so."
    This "promotiveness" is what restricts eudaemonia to the human animal.
    You would contend that the oxen has something that he would consider a eudaemonic life and if presented with it, it would naturally choose to live it.
    This is true.
    But the oxen is working from within its instinct. It does not consider options from "without," as we are able to do.
    Happiness answers the question of eudaemonic being.
    To be promotive must answer the question of eudaemonic doing.
    A eudaemonic oxen doesn't end up that way without being what I would call, lucky.
    Gerhard Adam
    For me eudaemonia is the product of "acting on account of the reasons for doing so" and specifically not, "being on account of the reasons for being so."
    Here's the problem.  In considering why "flourishing" is a better translation than "happiness" the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states:
    It is for me, not for you, to pronounce on whether I am happy, or on whether my life, as a whole, has been a happy one, for, barring, perhaps, advanced cases of self-deception and the suppression of unconscious misery, if I think I am happy then I am — it is not something I can be wrong about. Contrast my being healthy or flourishing. Here we have no difficulty in recognizing that I might think I was healthy, either physically or psychologically, or think that I was flourishing and just be plain wrong. In this respect, “flourishing” is a better translation than “happiness”.It is all too easy for me to be mistaken about whether or not my life is eudaimon (the adjective from eudaimonia) not simply because it is easy to deceive oneself, but because it is easy to have a mistaken conception of eudaimonia, or of what it is to live well as a human being, believing it to consist largely in physical pleasure or luxury for example.
    This raises the central question;  can an individual assess whether they are living a eudaimon life or this something that can only be externally determined? 
    You would contend that the oxen has something that he would consider a eudaemonic life and if presented with it, it would naturally choose to live it.
    If an individual cannot make such an assessment for themselves, then it doesn't matter whether the oxen is operating from instinct or deeply analytical thought processes.  In short, there is much emphasis on the role of virtues with respect to eudaemonia, however, there is also an essence of "behaving properly" within the context of humans as social animals (or potentially for any social animal, as well).

    This would lead one to the interesting observation, that perhaps the reason we need the definition of eudaemonia that we have, is because humans are the one animal that is capable of NOT living the eudaimon life and therefore needs the philosophical framework to guide their actions.  In other words, the oxen and elephant, instead of not being capable of living the eudaimon life, are the standard against which human virtue and behavior will measure their success.

    This doesn't mean that humans are somehow "less" than animals, but rather that humans have the ability to act against their nature, so instead of idealizing animals, it is more of an indication that the animal will always live according to its nature, whereas the human may not.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Your concerns with flourishment being a better defining word for U, than happiness, are valid, as are Aristotle's. This is not in question. My problem is flourishing is no less subjective than happiness, thus, promotive. Eudaemonia must still be determined by the self, but it is determined by external forces working upon you, because you are, after all, in the world.

    Acting against our nature, it would seem, is our prerogative. We then have the opportunity to find our eudaemonia outside "our nature." This then becomes nature.

    The oxen doesn't matter at all. 
    Gerhard Adam
    Eudaemonia must still be determined by the self...
    See that's where I have the problem, because if it is self-evaluated, then you can't be wrong.  So by what definition do you determine that a life is eudaemon?  This would mean that even someone that was completely self-destructive could still consider themselves quite happy and living an eudaemon life, at which point all definitions have lost their meaning.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Time proves any self evaluated false happiness wrong. There are limits in all dynamic systems, including anything you might conclude to make you happy.
    If we take into account the sum decision to determine ones own eudaemonia as briefly as poss, ask:
    1. Am I happy thus?
    2. Am I promotive thus?
    This is all we get.
    The self destructive person is not promotive, by definition.
    This is the reason that "'flourishing" must be replaced, it too, is subjective.
    You Gerhard, my friend, have never written a more true sentence than your last.
    Gerhard Adam
    Time proves any self evaluated false happiness wrong.
    That's only true when it is evaluated externally.  There's not much point in defining eudaemonia if there is no objective view on what it is except for "after the fact" evaluations.

    Promotive may be a part of it, but it also doesn't provide a definition except when viewed externally.  My point is that unless there is an objective definition that can be assessed external to oneself, then the entire process is subjective.  I agree that flourishing is subjective, but that's why I extended it to be defined as "living according to one's true nature".  The point with animals is that they live according to their "true nature" because they lack the mental facilities to undermine that.  Humans need to seek their "true nature" because they have the ability to delude themselves which is why subjectivity isn't a reliable indicator of having achieved eudaemonia.

    Therefore one of the answers one must gain is to explore and understand what is the "true human nature".  This eliminates the superficial and focuses on what we are.  The fact that we are the "thinking animal" clearly suggests that this is one of the primary criteria that should be exploited to be true to our natures.  All other criteria are subject to fads and self-indulgence, but only our "true nature" can make us behave in a way that reflects us as human beings regardless of our station or lot in life.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Perhaps if we discuss a specific example we can reach an agreement.
    Suppose I am a heroin addict.
    I am happy to damage myself for as long as my pleasure continues.
    Time will catch up with me, my happiness will become mere maintenance and my life (reality, the external world,) will begin to point out why this habit is ~U.
    The external evaluation you point out is possible, not necessary.
    The fact that heroin no longer produces the desired results in me, yet I continue to use, couldn't be more of an internal manifestation.
    It is impossible for something to be promotive "after the fact."
    All of the objectivity that is found in my interpretation of U is found in "promotiveness."
    Reflecting on the promotiveness of one's past is not promotive because it is not, "having acted," it is "acting."
    In terms of subjective vs. objective, you and I will find no answers.
    "Living according to one's true nature," negates our entire conversation.
    Gerhard Adam
    OK, using your heroin example, the question needs to occur beforehand.  In other words, if someone were to ask, "how do I live a eudaemon life?" then there should be a reasonable, understandable response.  As it stands, there is no good definition (as witnessed by our own controversy).  This is why my point about "true nature".  However, I want to be clear that when I'm referring to "true nature", I'm not referring to something that is personal, but rather something that is applicable to all humans.

    This is tantamount to many of the "recommendations" in other philosophies regarding our attitudes towards material goods, and attempts to pursue spirituality.  To varying degrees, each of these attempts to define what we are referring to as eudaemonia.

    Perhaps it's simply my own view of what is "wrong" with thinking beings.  In my view, the biggest hazards to human thought is the ability to over-think situations and especially the ability to fantasize and imagine the world in a way that removes us from reality.  As a result, my point was that animals are living eudaemon lives because they live according to their nature (not by any special effort on their part) and that the lessons for humans is to try and recognize what we are and live accordingly.

    As I said, we see such ideas in other philosophies such as "the resistance to life is the root of all misery".  This is an attempt to recognize that we, humans, are not defined by our materialism, but that often our discontent is rooted in attempting to control life instead of living it.  So in that way, I would suggest that one of the elements of the eudaemon life are precisely those things that help us use our intellect in solving/dealing with life's problems instead of fanning our frustrations at not having greater control to exert our own will or fulfill our own desires.
    Mundus vult decipi