Happiness and Virtue: Julia Annas
“Virtue and Eudaimonism”
Annas begins by taking stock of contemporary virtue ethics. She notices that there has been a resurgence in thinking about morality from the perspective of virtue (areté), however, at the same time, it seems as though we have not likewise taken guidance from the ancients in terms of thinking about happiness (Eudaimonia).
She thinks that to focus on the one without the other is to miss the point. After all, it is tough to
make sense of the idea of virtue – understood as proper functioning – without understanding the
purpose at which virtue aims: the happy or eudaimon life
So, the structure of her paper will be as follows:
She will first explore the idea of ‘virtue’ from the perspectives of both modern and ancient theories. Next, she will explore the concept of ‘happiness’ from each of the perspectives. Finally, she will try to synthesize, and in her words, ‘transform’ each concept into a more robust notion of each.
Virtue – Modern and Ancient:
Annas notices that our concept of virtue is utterly a mess; even contrary sometimes. She notes that people just have no clear sense of what a virtue might be and how we ought to incorporate it into our lives.
She writes (p. 247):
It is as though we realize that virtue is a powerful normative notion, and would like to
make more use of it, but have somehow lost our grip on what it is.
She believes that this is the result of the following reason:
Virtues have increasingly just be seen as merely dispositions to do the right thing.
-This really just gives virtues a formal character in any ethical theory, however, it
does not allow them to have content specific to what they are.
Examples: Utilitarian virtues, deontic virtues, etc.
But there is more to virtue than merely being disposed to do the right thing. This
seems to make virtues appear rather uninteresting and trivial.
However, Annas thinks that if we were to look to the ancient thinkers we could find more clarity and precision and content in the notion of a virtue:
According to ancient Greek philosophy, virtue is a disposition, to be sure, however, It is
something which goes deep in the person, and is a matter of their character, not a particular style
of acting or living.
According to Annas, the disposition involves two things, which develop alongside one
another and are each integral in action. 1. One is the ability to reason reflectively in the morally right way.
What this amounts to will differ (as we will see) among different theories:
Aristotle puts a lot of emphasis on mirroring the behavior of exemplars,
whereas the Stoics advise adherence to a strict set of general rules
2. Second is the developed habit of feeling and reacting in the right way (in the way that follows from reflective reasoning).
Again, this will vary: for example, Aristotle and the Stoics again have
disagreements over the appropriate emotional reactions to life.
So, the virtuous person seems to have developed a set of intellectual or reasoning skills (intellectual virtues), a set of moral skills (moral virtues), and an understanding of how and when best to deploy those skills (practical wisdom).
Happiness – Modern and Ancient:
But, the ancient thinkers do not just discuss virtue, but they situate it within an entire theory of happiness or Eudaimonis (i.e. The Good Life) Virtue is seen as a means to happiness. Have as man of your desores satisfied as possible. (Stoics) Or, as a part of happiness (Aristotle)
Or, as the whole of happiness (Plato)
But this seems really odd to modern ears: maybe what the ancient thinkers meant by the term ‘Eudaimonia’ just isn’t what we mean by the term ‘happiness.’
That is, maybe when Plato and Aristotle mentioned the idea of eudaimonia they meant to refer to
something more similar to what we mean when we talk about the good life?
After all, it seems to make perfect sense to us...
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