TheHappy Life Inancient Greece, Aristotle argued that to live well is to achieve eudaimonia, alife of virtue. Today, eudaimonia has become a central concept in value theory.To achieve eudaimonia is to achieve a happy life. However, I will argue thateudaimonia should not be assumed to be what everyone want and it might not evenbe what a moral agent should strive for. Eudaimonia is a term Aristotle used whichcan be translated to “the good life” or “the happy life”.
However, eudaimoniadoes not refer good or happy in the way we would think today but moreaccurately it means “the morally good life”. The eudaimonian life is a life ofarete, which is commonly translated to mean virtue. However, according toHursthouse, this somewhat misleading translation initially made it hard forvirtue ethics to get established as a true rival to other modern ethicaltheories. (Hursthouse 62) Thus, a virtue can be taken too far. If oneestablishes that it is a virtue to be honest, one could easily come up withexamples of when someone is too honest, which critics often remarked. However, Hursthouseargues that excellence is the more accurate translation.
We do not say thatsomething is “too excellent” which implies that we can strive to be excellentbut shouldn’t necessarily always strive to be virtuous. Excellence should be seen as acharacter trait where excellence of character not only includes acting in aspecific way but also acting for the right reasons. (Hursthouse 63) Meaningthat to achieve eudaimonia, it is not enough to simply to do the right actionsbut it is equally important to do them for the right reasons. This is what an agentwith phronesis (Wisdom) does.
In the same way as mathematical wisdom help yousolve mathematical problems, so will phronesis enable you to make good andmoral decisions about life. “The agent with phronesis has a true grasp ofeudaimonia, of “the good life” or how to live well”, Hursthouse says. Hursthouse argues that eudaimonia isan exclusively moral concept. (Hursthouse 69) Hence, it excludes many of thethings we today would associate with a happy life. However, Hursthouse arguesthat if you are truly virtuous, only what is virtuous will be beneficial foryou and what is not virtuous will not contribute to you being eudaimon. The premise for Hursthouse’sargument is that the most perfect life a human can live is a life ofeudaimonia.
However, this assumes that everyone’s main goal in life is to bemoral persons. Indeed, some might have this goal but far from everyone does.Athletes who practice all day, artists striving for perfection or someonetrying to learn an instrument do not have moral perfection as their main goal.Moral “good enough” will be perfectly okay. Thus, I do not agree that eudaimoniashould be seen as everyone’s ultimate goal. One might argue that even thougheudaimonia might not be what everyone strives for, it is still the most morallyperfected life one could live. Thus, if your goal in life were indeed to live amorally good life, it would be equivalent to eudaimonia.
Yet, also on thispoint, I object. Hursthouse’s moral exemplar does not only do the right thingsbut he/she also does them for the right reasons and with the right feeling. (Hursthouse63) You may unwillingly do the right thing but if you are not doing so gladlybut because of other reasons this would, according to Hursthouse, mean that youare not truly excellent.
However, I do not agree that the unwillingness or notbeing enthusiastic about an action takes away its moral value. At some times,it might even give the action more moral value. If, for example, you take afriend to the airport very early in the morning, the fact that you would muchrather stay in bed does not suggest you acted immorally. Indeed, Hourshouse isnot arguing that this action is unmoral, however, she is arguing that it is notideal. (Hursthouse 64) To act with excellence you would have to truly enjoytaking your friend to the airport, not because you would get something out ofit, but because being virtuous is the only thing with meaning to you. Incontrast to Hoursthouse, I think that an action that is done even though it isnot enjoyable can sometimes have a higher moral value than one that isenjoyable.
We all have certain duties and obligations in life and even if itwould be favorably if we enjoyed them, the truth is that we will not always dothat. Helping a friend is morally right, even if it is with something you donot enjoy. Your friend will know you are doing them a favor and the fact thatthis favor is not enjoyable might even make them more grateful. So, eudaimonia is clearly not auniversal goal.
Many things can be important in life and even though actingmorally is certainly one of them, it is not the only one. Moreover, even if youwant to act morally, achieving eudaimonia might not be the best option. Thus,eudaimonia focuses too much on the feelings involved in an action, which cansometimes make a morally just action seem less virtuous than it is!