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In the (very few) courses on philosophy that I've taken we've always talked about "Eudaemonia" and my teachers/classmates/textbooks/internet searches always translate it as "the flourishing life". Here's my issue: if we look at the literal Greek meaning for the word it's "a pleasant/good spirit". I think that this is a much more interesting and meaningful concept than that of a flourishing life. Why, then, is it never translated literally?

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    See Aristotle's Ethics: A's Ethics —“ta êthika”—his writings about character. The words “Eudemian” and “Nicomachean” were added later, perhaps because the former was edited by his friend, Eudemus, and the latter by his son, Nicomachus. In any case, these two works cover more or less the same ground: they begin with a discussion of eudaimonia (“happiness,” “flourishing”), and turn to an examination of the nature of aretê (“virtue,” “excellence”) and the character traits that human beings need in order to live life at its best. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Feb 14 '16 at 12:44
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    I would be happy to see some in-depth analysis here, hence the bounty. – user2953 Jan 20 '17 at 16:34
  • @Keelan The term "eudaemon" originally does neither mean "the person has a good spirit" nor "that his spirit is in a good state". Originally it means that "the person is influenced by a good spirit from his forefathers", see the addition in my answer. – Jo Wehler Jan 24 '17 at 18:54
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First of all, the translations like "welfare" or some are arguably because of the common use of everyday language in the ancient Greek. You can find the like usage from Homer. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=ευδαιμονια&la=greek#lexicon

There was Democritus, who find the relation between that common use of the eudaimonia and the daimon in more philosophical and ethical sense(DK68B170,171). Its implication was more like "a pleasant spirit" as you suggest.

Plato tried also an etymological interpretation on daimon(Kratylos 397a-398c), and he related this with a rational part of the soul(Timaios 89e-90d), for example.

What these and others suggest is that since Plato there is a tradition of eudaemonism, which involves the meaning of "the flourishing life" or "happiness" in an ethical, more specific sense.

So, you can say, this was a kind of a terminological division from common usage of the word by Plato or Democritus. It suggests a different meaning from everyday language. So, it seems to me plausible to accept it is why people do not translate eudaimonia as "a pleasant spirit" in general.

  • Hi! If you're interested in winning the bounty worth 100 reputation, you could expand this answer by diving further in the Greek and giving concrete examples where the meaning of the word follows from the context. This answer is already a good start, but I was hoping for some more textual evidence. – user2953 Jan 26 '17 at 16:52
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The literal meaning of the adjective "eudaemon" means "connected to a good (= eu) daimon (= spirit). The standard translation of "eudaemonia" is "welfare, happy life". But indeed, the translation "human flourishing" is proposed as a better one, see http://www.amazon.com/Aristotles-Psychology-Robinson-Aristotle-Paperback/dp/B0157HUKKA/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455432554&sr=1-2&keywords=Aristotle

Note. I did not check the reference, the source is wikipedia.

According to "Gemoll, Wilhelm: Griechisch-deutsches Schul- und Handwörterbuch. München 1962"(German):

  • The literal translation of "eudaemon" is "having a good daemon".
  • There are three meanings of "daemon": 1) spirit of the forefathers 2) godhead affecting the human fate 3) fate (either good or bad). The first meaning is the original indo-european meaning. Obviously the other two are derived therefrom.
  • Thanks, but I was hoping for something more than a dictionary lookup. The exact meaning and cognitive domain may differ for different times, authors, backgrounds, etc. I was hoping for an analysis of different texts and contexts which can give us insight into what aspects are relevant. For example, we may translate some word as "bird" but the word bird has very different cognitive domains throughout the world. In New Zeeland they may think about a Kiwi, elsewhere a penguin, etc. So it's important to go beyond the dictionary. – user2953 Jan 25 '17 at 13:11
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"eu" means 'good'. "daimon" is not easy to translate. The word deamon comes from it. Originally it meant the soul of a dead person, so if its translated by 'spirit', it means something stable and not something impermanent.

You can translate "eudaimonia" as 'happiness' or something else, as long as you understand it as the absolute goal and last end of human activity and not as pleasure or fortuity.

  • Could you give some references? – user2953 Feb 15 '16 at 21:06
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The word εὐδαιμονία (eudaimonia) is etymologically derived from the words εὐ, meaning well, and δαἰμων, meaning god, deity or demon. This latter word derives from the verb δαήμων (daemon), knowing, and for that reason, δαἰμων is often translated as genius. In the following, I will consider both the more common meaning and the more philosophical meaning.

Eudaimonia as good fortune

Given that the Greeks held that the gods had some degree of control over the lives and destinies of men, the word in general denotes good fortune, happiness or blessedness. In contrast to this meaning, the word δυσδαιμονία (dysdaimonia) means misery, especially as the result of displeasure from heaven. A closely related synonym to εὐδαιμονία is εὐτυχία (eutychia) which often bears the same meaning of good fortune or happiness, but unlike εὐδαιμονία, it seldom has any reference to the good pleasure of the gods. These words are seen in contrast in the following:

By nature none of mortal race are blessed [εὐδαίμων]
When wealth flows in, one man may be more happy [εὐτυχεστερος]
Than others of his race, but none are blessed [εὐδαίμων]. (Euripides, Medea)

Although the adjective εὐδαίμων also came to take on the simpler meaning of happy, making it often synonymous with εὐτυχής, it traditionally carried with it the idea of favor from heaven such as in the following examples:

Happy [εὐδαίμων] and blessed is he who knows all these things and works without offending the immortals, distinguishing bird signs and avoiding transgressions. (Hesiod, Works and Days, 828)

But he who has been earnest in the love of knowledge and of true wisdom, and has exercised his intellect more than any other part of him, must have thoughts immortal and divine, if he attain truth, and in so far as human nature is capable of sharing in immortality, he must altogether be immortal; and since he is ever cherishing the divine power, and has the divinity within him in perfect order, he will be perfectly happy [εὐδαίμονα]. (Plato, Timaeus, 90b-90c)

Because if this fuller sense of εὐδαιμονία, it should often be understood in distinction to the happiness that consists in nothing more the immediate gratification of the senses:

The words εὐδαίμων, εὐδαιμονία, do not refer simply to a state of present pleasure or enjoyment; for, in that sense, the poets and others were right in asserting, and the philosopher could not deny, that wicked men are often happy. [...] It refers not simply to a man's present state of feeling or enjoyment, but to the whole of his being and his relation to the whole. (Taylor Lewis, Plato Contra Atheos, p. 239)

Eudaimonia as activity

In the more philosophical sense, εὐδαιμονία can be understood in terms of activity, and this latter idea is due largely to Aristotle and to some extent to the ideas of Plato. In his teaching about the forms, Plato introduced his theory of participation in the good as well as in the other forms. Aristotle, however, objected to Plato's teaching on this, arguing that he failed to clarify any practical meaning that such participation might have:

To say that the Forms are patterns, and that other things participate in them, is to use empty phrases and poetical metaphors; for what is it that fashions things on the model of the Ideas. (Aristotle, Metaphysics A 991)

However, his objection to Plato's idea of participation should not be taken to preclude the idea of the more practical pursuit of εὐδαιμονία as an end to be sought. In fact, it can be argued that the common notion of εὐδαιμονία must also include this same idea of active pursuit. However, Aristotle considers it from a more philosophical perspective, elevating it above the common level of something to be sought to that of being something to be sought for its own sake, i.e. as a final end. These ideas are most clearly expounded in the Nicomachean Ethics:

But that perfect happiness [εὐδαιμονία] is a contemplative activity will appear from the following consideration as well. We assume the gods to be above all other beings blessed and happy; but what sort of actions must we assign to them? [...] Now if you take away from a living being action, and still more production, what is left but contemplation? Therefore the activity of God, which surpasses all others in blessedness, must be contemplative; and of human activities, therefore, that which is most akin to this must be most of the nature of happiness [εὐδαιμονία]. (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Χ.8)

It is to be observed that Aristotle's idea of happiness is not so much a blessing to be received as it is an approximation to the perfect activity of the divine:

[Aristotle] defines it to be a contemplative energy—θεωρητικὴ ἐνέργεια—such as we have supposed to form the chief element in the bliss of the heavenly world. It is this which, in his view, constitutes the happiness of the Deity, and of that human state which is nearest to the divine. (Taylor Lewis, Plato Contra Atheos, p. 241)

This idea of "contemplative energy" (θεωρητικὴ ἐνέργεια) is further elaborated as "theoretical activity" in the following:

Perfected eudaimonia is a theoretical activity (θεωρητικὴ ἐνέργεια) that exclusively belongs to gods. A life that is distinguished by merely divine activity is precisely a blessed life (βίος μακάριος). Such a way of life, entirely distinguished by blessedness (μακαριότητα) belongs only to gods. To the extent human beings live a life as much as possible alike to gods’ life they partake of their life by viewing it through contemplation. Hence, human’s life becomes blessed too, by being a simulacrum of divine activity. (Panagiotis G. Pavlos, "Does Aristotelian Eudaimonia entail perfect Participation in the Good?")

References

  • This looks very good. The only possible improvement I see would be adding some references (but of course if you did this analysis yourself that would be difficult). Thanks a lot! – user2953 Jan 27 '17 at 14:10
  • I would support that in Aristotle's ethics, it became an aspect or even synonym of virtuous praxis rather than the telos of a certain action. A common misunderstanding in western philosophy, btw, i.e. that all activity must have a telos. – Philip Klöcking Jan 27 '17 at 14:23
  • @PhilipKlöcking. Early on in the ethics, Aristotle argued for it being a telos: "Now happiness above all else appears to be absolutely final [τέλειον] in this sense, since we always choose it for its own sake and never as a means to something else;" (Nicomachean Ethics, Book I) – user3017 Jan 27 '17 at 14:57
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    @Keelan. References added. – user3017 Jan 27 '17 at 14:59
  • @PédeLeão: "the human good turns out to be activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are several virtues, in accordance with the best and most complete. Again, this must be over a complete life. For one swallow does not make a summer, nor one day. Neither does one day or a short time make someone blessed and happy. So let this serve as an outline of the good, ..." (Book I, Chapter 7, 1098a; Translation by Roger Crisp for the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, 2000) I didn't find your quote, could you be more specific about the place? – Philip Klöcking Jan 27 '17 at 16:04

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