Monday, February 1, 2010

The Plan of Eudaimonia and Neo-Aristotelian Virtue Ethics

"Virtue is a character trait a human being needs for eudaimonia, to flourish or live well." -Hursthouse

In my readings for Bioethics, I came across a sweet term: Eudaimonia.
"Aristotle believed that the purpose of human existence is to achieve a state of eudaemonia,which is a difficult word to translate. “Happiness” is too superficial and subjective. We may feel happy if we satisfy our desires but this is no guarantee of any enduring contentment. To be eudaemon is rather to have the sort of happiness that is deep, lasting, and worth having. It is a deeply rooted joy in the dynamic process of our lives. It is hard to find a single word to sum up this concept but the closest approximation is “flourishing”.

A human person flourishes and leads a good life when she fulfils the purpose and function of human beings. Philippa Foot encapsulated this wonderfully:

Men and women need to be industrious and tenacious of purpose not only so as to be able to house, clothe and feed themselves, but also to pursue human ends having to do with love and friendship. They need the ability to form family ties, friendships and special relations with neighbours. They also need codes of conduct. And how could they have all these things without virtues such as loyalty, fairness, kindness and in certain circumstances obedience?”9

I like this concept! It seems a little more useful than, though similar to, six other terms: joy, happiness, flourishing, thriving as in FTT (, abundant life, and pleasure. One of the three claims of neo-Aristotelianism/virtue ethics is that "virtues are character traits conducive to human flourishing." I agree with Hursthouse that virtue is the only reliable bet if somebody is seeking to live a human life well. Some of the character traits that fit this paradigm are courage, benevolence, and justice. I think industry is one, too, as well as relationship-building, if that can be termed a trait. Rectitude and selflessnes are a third and fourth I would posit. Additional traits are suggested in the quotes below.


A virtue ethics approach to moral dilemmas in medicine, P. Gardiner.

The morality of reproductive actions, Rosalind McDougall

Pleasure, unlike happiness, is that which pleases us or gives us gratification. Usually it endures for only a short time. As President McKay once said, "You may get that transitory pleasure, yes, but you cannot find joy, you cannot find happiness. Happiness is found only along that well beaten track, narrow as it is, though straight, which leads to life eternal" (CR, October 1919, 180).

We are enticed daily to pursue worldly pleasures that may divert us from the path to happiness. But the path to true and lasting happiness is, repeating the Prophet Joseph Smith's words, "virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God" (Teachings, 255–56). Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Rectitude is a perpetual victory, celebrated not by cries of joy but by serenity, which is joy fixed or habitual" ("Character," Essays: Second Series [1844]).

"The odyssey to happiness seems to depend almost entirely upon the degree of righteousness to which we attain in terms of the degree of selflessness we acquire, the amount of service we render, and the inner peace which we enjoy." - James E. Faust,

"Since we don’t always desire that which is good, having all our desires granted to us would not bring us happiness." - Faust

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