Aristotle and the Eudaimonic Life

Aristotle and the Eudaimonic Life

Positive psychology relates to studying factors that contribute to positive human functioning.  Eudaimonic life is an example of these factors that contribute to positive human functioning. There are two philosophies that attempt to explain how happiness or well being contributes to positive human functioning. These philosophies include hedonic philosophy, which holds that happiness bears some semblance to the feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, and eudaimonist philosophy, which holds that happiness results when individuals undertake expressive behaviors in the course of their meaningful goal pursuit (Newby, 2011). The essay that follows will discuss and support Aristotle’s assertions on the concept of eudaimonist philosophy. His assertions differ markedly from the conventional accounts of happiness.

Aristotle advanced a concept of happiness, which he called Eudaimonia. Eudaimonia comes from two Greek words that are translated to mean good and spirit. The concept of Eudaimonic happiness was advanced by Aristotle. Aristotle was right in asserting that people with high levels of eudaimonia are happier and that they live purposeful and meaningful lives. Apparently scientists have been able to prove and support Aristotle’s assertions on Eudaimonic happiness. The research found out that people known to embrace Eudaimonic have favorable genes with strong immune systems (Waterman, 2008).

I support Aristotle because he categorically stated that happiness cannot be equated to effect but with living according to one’s true self. This ancient idea has gained support from contemporaries such as Maslow and Rogers. Waterman (1984) has used eudaimonic theory as the central thesis in his work on the psychology of individualism. Waterman’s work supports Aristotle’s assertion in the sense that it shows that persons who achieve self-realization are habitually happy. In discussing happiness, Aristotle relates certain goods to the humanistic state of happiness. He goes further to divide the goods into external goods and psychological goods. Goods such as money and shelter are examples of external goods that Aristotle uses in his discussion. On the other hand, he uses security, self-esteem, and virtue in discussing happiness. Of all these goods, Aristotle emphasizes on virtues. He conveniently calls these “excellences” and goes ahead to assert that true happiness is dependent on these.

Another reason as to why I support Aristotle stems from the fact that he points out that most of the goods are limited and they can only be actualized in a particular way. These goods can only be obtained in certain amounts and at a particular place. Therefore, one needs to decide on the location, timing, and frequency of a particular good. In a bid to explain the contributions made by virtue in the attainment of eudaimonic happiness, Aristotle points out that virtue relates to the cognitive or behavioral processes by which individuals seek that which they need in life. In line with this definition, Aristotle points out that a virtuous person is one who considers the goods he or she needs, their proper amount, and the correct timing for their attainment (Delle, 2013).

It is worth noting that Aristotle defines right relative to the individual in question. Accordingly, Aristotle argues that what is right for one person need not to be right to another. He argues that virtue is therefore concerned with choice.  The second principle that relates to Aristotle’s theory of happiness touches on the fact that it is impossible to judge one’s happiness until the individual comes close to the end of their natural life. This theory also suggests that happiness is not governed by the end result, but by the perceived progress towards the meeting of this great goal. In this regard, both the old and the young can determine the levels of their individual happiness based on their own perceived progress as the individual moves towards attaining psychological maturity and self actualization (Delle, 2013). Eudaimonic happiness is anchored on Aristotle’s assertion that well being or happiness is dependent on thinking in excellence or virtue. It is worth remembering that Aristotle defined virtue as a way of thinking which governs behavior and feelings. This enables an individual to aim at a good, at the right time, in the right place, and in the right amount.

Epstein developed a theoretical perspective and a bipolar instrument, which can be used to measure constructive thinking. Einstein’s invention has a global scale and six subscales, which has been used to shows that successive living is negatively correlated with psychological pathology. This measure is totally unrelated to intelligence or academic achievement. It is believed that this instrument can be used to measure Aristotle’s virtues (Epstein, & Meier, 1989). Aristotle’s virtues are determined by the golden mean. Individuals who score highest on constructive thinking have mastered the art of right and successful living and at the same time have developed skills that enable them avoid excess as they pursue to attain the golden mean. This type of right thinking helps these individuals to feel good about themselves and the people around them. In essence, constructive thinking shapes individuals’ feelings and behaviors.  The opposite, which relates to negative thinking also distorts feelings and behaviors. In conclusion, Aristotle was very right in asserting that the end goal of a rational action is achievement of a happy life.

Conventional account of happiness

According to Kant, hedonic happiness is determined by the little pleasures of life. This happiness is presented as a good that is in constant tension with an individual’s self-worth. This self-worth results from the fact that human beings are rational beings. Accordingly, happiness entails agreeableness, and it can be measured in terms of its cost, duration, fecundity, and magnitude (Haybron, 2001). Moreover, happiness is said to be promoted by the feeling of contentment that is hoped to persist into the foreseeable future. Thirdly, according to the hedonia philosophy, happiness can be co-related with desire-satisfaction. This means that individuals become happier when their desires have been met or satisfied. This means that hedonic happiness can be achieved at the point where an individual’s life proceeds according to his or her will and wish fulfillment (Boniwell, 2006).

The three accounts of hedonic happiness are dissimilar. It is possible to be pleased without having attained the contentment state or to be contented without necessarily being pleased. Additionally, it is possible to get what one wishes for or wills and still remain displeased and not contented. It is impossible for one to be truly happy even if he or she has attained pleasure in a discontented state. From this perspective, contentment, pleasure and the satisfaction of one’s desire must all be fulfilled in order for a person to achieve hedonic happiness (Boniwell, 2006).

Kant proposes that the end aim of all desire is happiness. It is alleged that every desire seeks ways by which they can be satisfied. Desire satisfaction causes pleasure and might lead to a state of contentment in the individual. Kant’s proposition is faulted on the premise that it argues that the sum of different desires leads to true happiness. Evidently, some desires might be conflicting and they may cancel each other if taken as a sum to reach the maximum satisfaction. Having said that, it is therefore possible to fulfill different desires at different stages and reap the satisfaction that emanates from such fulfillment (Boniwell, 2006).

In order to strike a balance between the different desires, Kant looks at happiness as a sum of satisfaction. The sums in this instance are taken to be positive. That is to say, Kant advises that individuals must forego certain desires, especially those that conflict with the sum of the satisfactions.  This calls for a deliberate consideration of the various desires in subsets that can be fulfilled without affecting the attainment of maximum satisfaction.  Kant’s explanation of happiness was refuted on the grounds that it was too inclusive (Haybron, 2001).

In conclusion, Aristotle’s assertion on the final goal of human endeavors is both accurate and right. Aristotle ably explained how rational actions contribute to Eudaimonic happiness. His account of happiness differs from the contemporary accounts of happiness. Aristotle asserts that Eudaimonic happiness depends on one’s inner peace and not on material gain. His assertion is supported by scientists such as Epstein who comes up with a device to measure Eudaimonic happiness. All these facts supports Aristotle’s thoughts on Eudaimonic happiness as the end goal of all rational action.

 

References

Boniwell, I. (2006). Positive psychology in a nutshell: A balanced introduction to the science of optimal functioning. London: PWBC.

Delle, F. A. (2013). The exploration of happiness: Present and future perspectives. Dordrecht: Springer.

Epstein, S. & Meier, P. (1989). Constructive thinking: a broad coping variable with specific components.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychlogy, 57, 332-350.

Haybron, D. M. (2001). Happiness and Pleasure. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research62(3), 501-528. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2653534\nhttp://www.jstor.org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/stable/pdfplus/2653534.pdf?acceptTC=true

Newby, M. (2011). Eudaimonia: Happiness is not enough. Kibworth Beauchamp: Matador.

Waterman, A. S. (1984). The psychology of individualism. New York: Praeger.

Waterman, A. S. (2008) Reconsidering happiness: A eudaimonist’s perspective. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 3, 234-252.

 

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