From the Greek ε[symbol omitted]δαιμονία, meaning prosperity or happiness, the ethical theory holding that man's last end, or ultimate good, consists in a state or condition of general well-being or welfare. Throughout the ages this position has been understood in various ways. One may distinguish the ancient version, best represented by Aristotle's treatment in the Nicomachean Ethics; the modification made of the Aristotelian position by St. Thomas Aquinas and other medieval schoolmen; and the modern and contemporary positions that make some claim to this identification.
Basically, all eudaemonisms have in common that they are teleological explanations deriving rules and norms for human moral action from some consideration of the end, or destiny, of man. In ordinary usage, the Greek term is often rendered as happiness or its equivalent. Disagreement over the meaning of happiness provides the basis for varieties of eudaemonism. All of the types agree, however, that the notion of a natural end for man guides his ethical theory and behavior and explains the nature of his beatitude. Early forms of eudaemonism stressed the total satisfaction found in the individual life of the morally good person. Medieval theories adapted the ancient interpretations to Christian revelation about man's sanctification and salvation. Modern and contemporary views tend to emphasize the psychological affective aspects of a naturalistic and temporal achievement of a fully human life.
Early Views. The most apt example of the original formulation of eudaemonism is that of Aristotle. Two concepts of ultimate good for man are developed in Aristotle's ethical treatise. The classic idea of personal welfare or happiness as virtuous living can be understood in an ideal sense. "If happiness is activity in accordance with virtue it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us. Whether it be reason or something else that is this element which is thought to be our natural ruler and guide and to take thought of things noble and divine, whether it be itself also divine or only the most divine element in us, the activity of this in accordance with its proper virtue will be perfect happiness. That this activity is contemplative we have already said" (Eth. Nic. 1177a 12–18). Here Aristotle founds well-being, or happiness, on well-doing. Thus happiness consists not in merely passive enjoyment but in an action of a kind proper to man, surpassing anything possible to animals. This highest activity appropriate to the nature of man is the best exercise of the supreme power, or faculty, of the human person. Because, for Aristotle, the speculative reason is the noblest power, happiness is an act of knowledge (θεωρία), a constant practice of the intellectual virtues of science, understanding, and wisdom.
Several characteristics mark the activity of contemplation as that best suited to be the ultimate goal of man's striving. Not only is it the full act of the highest power, but it also deals with the most noble reality as object of thought. Contemplative thought is the most continuous occupation possible and offers man the purest and most refined pleasure. It is the most self-sufficient of the virtues, not requiring more than a moderate possession of material goods or necessitating any social relationships for its essential fulfillment. Of all man's actions the most leisurely and unwearied, contemplation is loved for its own sake and not as a means to some further end. A final property of contemplation, which establishes it as the natural beatitude of man, is its likeness to the life of the gods. Its very similarity to the blessed activity of divine beings makes contemplation itself somehow divine.
By reason of this sublimity, however, the life of contemplation is achieved only by those few men who are capable of attaining to philosophical wisdom and who are free from care about the lesser necessaries of life. Therefore, Aristotle proposes a second kind of happiness to be reached by the majority of men: those who live according to the moral virtues are happy men (ibid. 1178a 8–1178b2). The active life is one of harmony and pleasure, which most befits the human estate, that is, the composite nature of man in the midst of his social and political context. Less exalted and less perfect than σοφία is φρόνησις (practical wisdom), but it constitutes the felicity possible to most men.
Medieval Development. Aristotle's eudaemonism was too limited and exclusive to satisfy the Christian view of a common end for all mankind. What was wanting in his theory was supplied by the theologians of the Middle Ages. In the light of divine revelation thomas aquinas and other schoolmen transformed the Greek position into one of heavenly destiny. Christian eudaemonism placed happiness for man in God as revealed in Scripture and criticized the Greek philosophers for allowing that perfect beatitude could be achieved in this life, for describing it as fully dependent on human effort and achievement, and for their failure to account for the resurrection of the body as part of man's ultimate situation.
Aquinas accommodated all of the positive and some of the negative features of Aristotelian eudaemonism in his treatment of beatitude (ST 1a2ae, 1–5). He agreed that happiness, subjectively considered, could not be merely power, virtue, or state of being; rather it was the activity, or the operation, of the intellect grasping immediately the most intelligible and spiritual object. This reality was identified as the true and living God of revelation, infinite, immutable, and perfectly satisfying all the demands of a good worthy to be happiness objectively considered. No earthly good—neither riches, honors, power, bodily pleasures nor goods of the soul—could so qualify. For Aquinas, the vision of the Divine Essence is supernatural in the sense that it requires the presence of the light of glory (lumen gloriae ) to assist the natural power of the mind, that it is possible only after physical death, and that it is ultimately gratuitous in the merits of Christ. Joy or delight is the consequence of the possession of God in contemplative knowledge. Both bodily fulfillment in spiritualized integrity and social relationships among the blessed are additions to the essential happiness of the beatific vision.
Modern Trends. With the separation of philosophy from theology accomplished in the modern period, eudaemonistic theory appeared again in naturalistic forms. None of these use the power-activity-object analysis. Instead, they propose an ultimate state or condition that the moral person ought to attain. This may be described as the harmony of the whole life with its human activities and the consequent or concomitant affective states (G. santayana). Self-realization or self-perfection theories also relate to happiness of the individual. Hedonisms, simple or qualified, identify happiness with pleasure. Some move from the individual to the social perspective, either emphasizing the total evolutionary process (H. spencer) or becoming utilitarianisms with happiness as the welfare of the majority (J. bentham, J. S. mill). Contemporary divisions include psychological value theories and interest and affective state theories. All maintain some teleological element but manifest great diversity in the interpretation of welfare or happiness. (see hedonism; utilitarianism.)
See Also: man, natural end of; good, the supreme; value, philosophy of.
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[m. g. hungerman]