A Ku Indeed!

Finding a Home for Eudaimonia

Posted in Life by Chris on June 27, 2008

With respect to its status as a good, where does Aristotle’s eudaimonia belong? I have a question.

What about the primacy of eudaimonia? I suppose there are at least a few options. (A) It could be a good whose status as a good is independent of the desires or concerns of the virtuous. So one might say “virtue X is a good because it stands in just the right relation (whatever that is) to the promotion/expression of the supreme good, eudaimonia.” Or, (B): eudaimonia could be a good because it is what virtuous agents aim for, such that it’s status as a good is derivative of the good of virtue itself. So I suppose in (A) eudaimonia’s role as a good is prior to the good of virtue, whereas in (B) it is virtue that stands in that role of primary good.


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  1. Alexus McLeod said, on June 28, 2008 at 8:27 am

    Hi Chris–
    good questions, both in this and your last post. I take this question as related to those in your last post as well. I actually thought a little bit about the Watson stuff you mentioned yesterday (while taking an unauthorized break from dissertation writing–it’s your fault for writing thought provoking posts!), but couldn’t think of any helpful comments on the issue, other than that I share your intuitions about “good for” used in an evaluative sense.

    This question on Aristotle brings out something important, I think. I’m not sure Aristotle himself had an answer to the above questions, which are both relevant. Certainly, as Julia Annas points out, he didn’t intend his ethics (as given in the NE) to be a complete theory–she argues (pretty well) in “The Morality of Happiness” that Aristotle’s ethics in the NE was meant to be (or at least is) compatible with a number of different conceptions of the good and how eudaimonia is linked to the good. Both (A) and (B) seem COMPATIBLE with the NE, but if Annas is right, then neither was specifically endorsed by Aristotle. Part of the reason for this separation may have been due to Aristotle’s desire to get away from what he saw as the intractable problems of Plato (like the Forms, the Good, etc.). Annas sold me on the “Aristotle is not operating with a conception of the good in general” interpretation, and so now I tend to think that Aristotle was involved in a project to give a theory of human flourishing without getting into the good, similar to Rawls’ project to give an account of justice that doesn’t presume any view of the good. Like Rawls, however (and I know it’s controversial :)), I think Aristotle fails to do this, for just the reasons you suggest in your last post–that in order for Aristotle’s claims to have normative force, it seems that eudaimonia has to be related to the good in something like way (A) or (B)–though I suspect if forced to this Aristotle would go with (A), as he seems to give no reason in NE to think that the virtues are evaluatively basic.

  2. Chris said, on June 28, 2008 at 9:38 pm


    I’m glad that blogs (especially subject-oriented ones) didn’t exist when I was in Manchester Hall slaving away on my Locke dissertation, because I’m sure I would have taken many-a-break myself!

    I haven’t read Annas, and you’ve given me reason to put her on my list (which is fairly long already, as I suppose every philosopher’s tends to be).

    I tend to suspect that (A) is the right interpretation, but I’m simply not familiar enough with the text of the NE to say. I may be wrong here, but my intuition is that eudaimonia’s status as final end was intended to follow from an evaluative way of understanding the human good independently of the desires of virtuous agents. By that reading, eudaimonia is what human agents *should* strive for in order to be good, and the virtues then come into existence as those elements that either help you (instrumental) get there or that are constituent aspects of being there (so to speak).

    So perhaps its the teleology that makes me think in terms of (A). However, on second thought I’m not sold that this must be right – could a teleological final end state be what is “good for” in the non-evaluative sense, and become good only when virtuous agents desire that end? I suppose something X being a final end doesn’t necessitate that X is an intrinsic good, it could still be a derivative good. I suppose so, but I’m just not sure. My intuitions are a mess on this question at some level.

  3. Chris said, on June 28, 2008 at 9:46 pm


    Oh — by the way, Zagzebski argues (on pg. 111 in DMT) that final ends cannot serve as intrinsic goods. I’m not sure I get her argument here just yet, but that’s her claim anyway.

    By the way — were you a masters student at OU? One of my students was just accepted here into their Ph.D program.

  4. Alexus McLeod said, on June 29, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Yep-I did a masters there. I was there from ’03 to ’05. Good place to do philosophy in general. Now one can also do Chinese philosophy there (Amy Olberding is their specialist), but while I was there, they were in the middle of searching for someone for the position. I got there the fall after Manyul left, and finished the year Amy got there. Although I’m originally from the city (DC), and thought Norman, OK was going to be like the middle of nowhere, it’s actually really nice down there–I like it a whole lot better than northeast Connecticut.

  5. Manyul Im said, on June 29, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    (Re: Norman, OK – I liked it well enough, but couldn’t really convince my wife. Also, I wasn’t all that keen on my kids growing up in there. So, we moved. I hear Amy is fitting in nicely there; the Philosophy department is really underrated for no good reason.

    I almost feel like I should apologize to Alexus; but it’s more like: it would have been great working with you (Alexus) had things worked out! At least we have the blogs.)

  6. Manyul Im said, on June 29, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    It does occur to me that this string is still on topic– “finding a home” for one’s own eudaimonia, as it applies to Norman. 🙂

  7. Chris said, on June 29, 2008 at 3:41 pm


    I didn’t know you taught there before. Personally, I’m with your wife — the Midwest does very little for me as a place to live (outside of cost factors). In addition, I’m not thrilled about raising my children here. I do love my school (though the teaching load is a bit heavy), and I have a great bunch of colleagues. Still, if I could airlift the school and my house and move it to the northeast, I would. I guess it’s tough for a New Yorker to be anywhere else and still achieve eudaimonia.

  8. Alexus McLeod said, on June 29, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    Manyul and Chris–

    now that you mention it, family considerations also might be a factor if I were to consider that region too. I had no child when I was there (my wife and I were newly married and were basically still living like college students), and it’s really far from both our families–mine in DC, hers in India (which I guess everywhere in the US is pretty far from).

    no need to apologize–I had a great 2 years down there, and got a quality philosophical training (I also think it’s very underrated, and not sure why). I didn’t get a chance to work with Amy while I was there, because she’d just got there the year I left, but I did work with Dan Coyle, who’s doing some good stuff on the Guiguzi. Also, it was a benefit to have a Chinese language department (however fledgling) at the university (although they appear to have grown in the last few years). UConn has nothing on the Chinese front (it would have been nice to sit in on a few Chinese literature or history courses or something).
    Also, I recently noticed that my first Chinese teacher when I was an undergrad at U. of Maryland recently joined the Chinese faculty at OU–what a coincidence!

  9. Chris said, on June 30, 2008 at 7:33 am


    Your comment about the lack of things going on with respect to Chinese studies at UConn made me remember that (far as I can recall), the philosophy program at UConn was ranked (around the time I left in 2002) pretty highly as a specialty school for Chinese philosophy. I’m not sure if that is still true, but I remember thinking it was pretty odd, given the fact that only Joel had any expertise in that area. The rest of the faculty (well, the ones that were there when I was there, and there’s been some turnover) didn’t know anything about the subject (far as I know). As a matter of fact, while I was there Joel never taught a single course in the area at all. Even his ethics courses were standardly Western-oriented.

  10. Alexus McLeod said, on June 30, 2008 at 9:19 am

    It’s still ranked in Chinese Philosophy as a specialty school. Joel does teach a seminar in Asian philosophy now–and there are also plenty of people in the CT area working in Chinese philosophy.

    It’s true there aren’t many people in philosophy at UConn who have a lot of knowledge about Chinese philosophy, but it seems that this tends to be the case at most departments in which one can get a PhD specializing in Chinese philosophy (with the exception of Hawaii and Hong Kong).

    UConn, however, lacks either Chinese language or East Asian Studies departments. At both Maryland and OU, there were faculty (in various departments) focusing on Chinese language (though no philosophers at UMD focus on Chinese phil), literature, and history. I always found this kind of thing useful for studying early China, because you get lots of opportunity to “cross-pollenate”–learn important issues in what the sinologists, historians, linguists, etc. studying early China are doing that are relevant to philosophy. I first got interested in Han dynasty philosophy (and first saw that it was actually philosophically and not just historically important) through this process. In fact, I don’t know of any philosophers (other than myself) working on Han stuff (although I’m sure there must be a few)–all the ones I know of are historians or sinologists. One of my early posts at “Unpolished Jade” was on the need for more philosophers to study Han philosophy.

    Of course, at the same time, UConn is in a region rich in schools that DO have East Asian Studies and/or Chinese departments (Harvard, Yale, Wesleyan, UMass, Brown, etc. etc.) which is untrue of either OU or Maryland.

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