The word “Eudaimonia” is translated from the original ancient Greek as well-being, flourishing, or welfare. It was a concept that Aristotle – one of the greatest thinkers and a Greek philosopher, who has made significant contributions to every aspect of mankind; coined in his Nicomachean Ethics – which focused mainly on the “science of happiness.”
However, before Aristotle, his mentor Plato along with Socrates (Plato’s mentor) have put forth their opinion on the concept. Socrates believed that virtue is a form of knowledge that encompassed both good and evil; virtues such as courage, justice, wisdom, spirituality was nothing but knowledge.
He believed that this knowledge was essential for an individual to achieve the “ultimate good”, or eudaimonia. Aristotle’s mentor, Plato believed that virtue was sufficient enough for the ultimate good. Aristotle has written three books that dealt with ethics, first one being Eudemian Ethics – that was mostly influenced and inspired by Plato’s thinking, followed by Nicomachean Ethics – which has been noted as one of most important Aristotelian work on ethics and was later summarized in the Great Ethics, his third book.
(1556 Edition First Page of Nicomachean Ethics)
It was in the Nicomachean Ethics where Aristotle expressed his thoughts on virtue, purpose and happiness. He believed that although virtue was required to achieve eudaimonia, it was not enough. In layperson’s words, he meant that there’s a difference between the act of virtuous and intending to be virtuous.
In today’s world, if we were to think of a flourishing individual, the fact that whether the human is virtuous or not fails to grab our attention. Instead, someone who’s successful, wealthy, and healthy and also has an access to good things in life is considered flourishing. However, Aristotle argued this notion by saying that the ability to practice the virtues is independent of other things such as good fortune or success. Dedicating your life to develop the excellences of being a human by practicing virtues such as courage, wisdom, kindness etc. is the eudaimonic life.
Coming to the purpose, he believes that everything has its purpose, and it determines whether the thing is good or bad. For example, a knife’s purpose is to cut, thereby a knife that cuts well is good and the knife which fails to do so is bad. So, does mankind have a purpose? Yes, Aristotle says that the purpose of mankind is eudaimonia – happiness.
To achieve eudaimonia is to achieve a state of permanent and serene happiness instead of a temporary exaltation of senses. In this way, we could also determine if our actions are good or bad depending upon the ultimate goal; for example, to lead a healthy life is a good action because it gives good health, and in the long run, happiness.
But what if you were to do something that made you happy, but hurt others? Well, he says that the world has its way of placing everyone in the right place. If a robber is happy after performing a robbery, eventually there’ll come a verdict that’ll bring him nothing but misfortune and unhappiness.
Even though Eudaimonia has multiple constituents such as belonging, social harmony, justice, courage etc., it is a unified way of life. It’s an ethical concept that refers to the “best” kind of life; something Aristotle always believed is the ultimate aim of human life – eudaimonia. Practicing Aristotle’s philosophy will require us to understand the difference between the things we need and the things we want, incorporating virtues in our lives to help us chase the ultimate purpose of happiness, of eudaimonia.