Some recent discussions here have prompted me to comment on the ideas of happiness and eudaemonia, which are considerations of note in my work. In fact, I’m currently writing a chapter that dares to call itself “The final word on Eudaimonia,” but unless the discussion here turns out to be the most inspirational ever, I’m sure this title will change. I submit my notes sans conclusions complet, I hope you find them eudaemonic...
“Fundamental happiness depends more than anything else upon what may be called a friendly interest in persons and things.” - The Conquest of Happiness - 1930 Bertrand Russell.
Aristotle’s dusty old ideas about happiness, albeit tarnished by inconsequentialities via time, haven’t really changed much in the 2400 odd years since he wrote "the Nichomachean Ethics." There is currently a burgeoning interest in eudaimonia (or eudaemonia) and a bit of conversation about happiness, but let’s start at the beginning and return to this.
Aristotle doesn’t tell us how to be good he shows us what good would look like. Eudaimonea is his pleasure. A goal of happiness is for him achieved through a good life of obvious pleasures and earnest epistemology. This quiet contemplation leads to his success and fulfilment. Yet that same success and fulfilment comes from the activity and vitality of his life. Thus, the happiness he seeks, finds and enjoys is a product of itself. To seek it is to experience it. The journey is the purpose, not the result. It is the means and not the ends that make up Eudaimonea or, if you please, what makes one experience it.
Aristotle has for each of us a purpose. We have a goal, whether or not we know it. He will let us go through life like a sheep. If that is our wish then that is our place. But if one is made aware of the existence of the purpose, whatever it might or mightn’t be, then one claims responsibility for living up to that purpose. The price of failing is bound to be painful to the individual but the truly Eudaimonic will suffer greatest in the guilt of being counterproductive, which in this instance, by our definition, is quite counterintuitive.
Aristotles’ Utopia it seems, is a place where people are striving for perfection. Eudaimonea’s altruistic nature is just a byproduct of itself. For a subject to be eudaimonic it needs be in the best interest of the species. Not only in the biological sense; but “species”also in the philosophical sense that the subject being determined eudaimonic could be an idea, such as “Witches float.” Because Aristotle is the father of symbolic logic, the measurement of reason, and because it is utilitarian, eudaimonea includes the criterion of being logical.
Eudaimonea is objective and thus it is easier to examine yourself if you adopt a similar line of thought. To be not dispassionate, but cooly calculative in ones contemplations of the goal, of the purpose and of the meaning, of everything from within the natural desires one has. To be the objective Subjectivist. David Hume, (1739) “ We speak not strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of passion and of reason. Reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions. To serve and obey them.” This claim, like ancient eudaimonea creates the dichotomy of serving self and serving all at once, simultaneous. The only way to accomplish this in human society is to create a common goal among all people. (An idea with proven mixed results.) Thus are the limitations of eudaimonea as it was defined. (It was a swell idea in Greece around 360BC) but it’s limited and wishy washy. One mans eudaimonea is another’s ~U, or not eudaimonea.
Fast forward to 2007, there are approximately eleventy zillion dollars to be made selling happiness. Some of the books were worth reading. The Happiness Hypothesis is one by Psychologist Jonothan Haidt, whom I quote occasionally, another is “The How of Happiness.” by Dr. Sonja Lyubormirski. Other people just showed up on Oprah...
I propose, without going into great detail and with apologies to Arthur C. Clarke:
The 3 Laws of Eudaemonia:
For a consideration to be U it should be:
1.) Reasonable: Answerable to the rules of logic including consistency and simplicity.
2.) Promotive: promoting flourishment to all related physical and philosophical species.
3.) Not anti-eudaimonic. (neither anti-1 nor anti-2)
I think the first law is the most obvious and the third is the most important. Surely, no one is going to argue that the reasonable, logical and contemplative mind-set is going to prove a hindrance to U. For this and many other, extremely boring, reasons I’m certain 1 is safe and sound. That a consideration not be uneudaemonic is important for reasons beyond reason, for it is possible for considerations to be benign. That is to say, if one was contemplating something immeasurable or irrelevant, such as “Saltine Crackers or Triscuits?” in my case, there is no particular U as much as there is no particular ~U. If I were allergic to white flour, my consumption of said crackers could prove very ~U. Being U makes the continuation of any consideration easier than being not U, this rule alone makes law 3.
Now, law 2: Promotive. This is the most complicated, controversial and dangerous area of inquiry and it’s where one proposes to fill some very big shoes, indeed. This fact is not lost on me and I’m sure there will be some unverified ribbing here at the ol’ SB. But just for S&G’s, let’s go there anyway...
The relevant and necessary rules for the second law of U: Promotion...
1.) We are at the top of the brain tree. We are responsible for the effects of our decisions. We are, at least capable of, being in charge of what we know, Beings, Things and Ideas.
2.) Promotion implies a development of a purpose, as defined by group, via known relevance. We do what we need to continue doing what we need to. We don’t do that which hinders this for us or for anything else.
3.) Our happiness is secondary to the future opportunity for happiness.
Happiness is one of the common ties of humanity, however you define it. As such, one would be wise to contemplate the following caveat: Attaching the measurement of goal oriented societal input into our standard of flourishment opens everyone up to “falling for a dream.” It’s not your dream, at least, it wasn’t originally. It’s “their” dream. They had it, you fell for it. The problem lies in that you can’t expect the dream to work when the people steering the dream either want it to fail, can’t steer it correctly or don’t want to. We know this is true because, on many levels, we humans find ourselves in this predicament presently. Various stages of various failed dreams...
Another common tie of humanity is the phenomenon that "suffering develops commitment." If this is true it can and probably should lead to a “trickle up” effect. So that someday, should all seeking happiness be for naught, it should be easier to define a proper, effective goal. We will collectively ask, “How did we get here? How can we ensure it happens never again?"
Whoever answers us had better be correct.