Aristotle’s Definition of Eudaimonia
Eudaimonia is a difficult word to translate. Simplistic definitions of it vary from “happiness” to “flourishing” to “the good life”. However, such facile English renditions of the word fail to grasp a complete sense of what exactly eudaimonia implies. It is especially necessary to have a full understanding of the idea of eudaimonia when reading Aristotle, because the concept plays an important role in both his ethical theory and his political theory. In this paper, first I will describe what exactly Aristotle’s specific conception of eudaimonia was, then I will show how it fits in with his larger ethical and political theories, and finally, I will argue that while we can find fallacies in Aristotle’s position, doing so is not helpful.
Aristotle’s definition of eudaimonia is long and involved. It would make sense to treat each of its parts in turn. His discussion of this definition arises from his search for the good at which all things aim. He stipulates that this good must be both final and self-sufficient, and, after explaining what he means by these qualifications, shows how eudaimonia meets both of them. Thus, the first part of his definition is, “Happiness, then, is something final and self-sufficient, and is the end of action.” (1097b) Aristotle’s ethical theory being teleological makes this part of the definition all the more important.
However, recognizing eudaimonia as Aristotle’s chief good still does not tell us much about what it actually is. Aristotle recognizes this too, and goes on to investigate further. He then begins to search for a function of man that remains peculiar to man. After examining some alternatives, he finds, “There remains, then, an active life of the element that has a rational principle.” (1098a) This proclamation actually has two parts that are relevant to his definition of eudaimonia, first, the part
Bibliography: Aristotle. The Nichomachean Ethics. Ed. J.L. Ackrill and J.O. Urmson. Trans. David Ross. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. —. The Politics and The Constitution of Athens. Ed. Stephen Everson. Trans. Jonathan Barnes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.