The usual definitions of eudaimonia as "happiness" or "flourishing" or the like, don't seem to fit the actual translation of the word. The word means "a good spirit," where "spirit" has semi-mystical connotations (e.g. the daimon of Socrates). I think the idea is like the difference between physical health and physical fitness. But here, then, we're talking mental (emotional and intellectual) health and fitness. The eudaimon_ person is the mentally/emotionally fit person.

This matches to what Plato says about the "city of the soul," if you think about it. (Side-note: and I think that the Form of the City is part of Plato's mysterious definition of the Form of the Good (that even he himself might not have recognized).) Anyway, though, it's taken from Plato's ante rem realm down into us. So, according to Aristotle, the Form of the Good is inside of us.

Here's another reason to think of eudaimonia along these lines. Early Christianity depended on Greek culture to flourish(!). Like, the New Testament was originally written in Greek, and so on. So what is an internal, spiritual, ultimate form of good in Christianity? The Holy Spirit. Granted, for that they use *pneuma* in the text, but I don't think it's difficult to map the concept of Aristotelian mental/intellectual health and fitness, to the Christian concept of the same via the indwelling of the Spirit and the apportioning of Its gifts, and so on. So, without arguing for Christianity itself, I am arguing that Christianity was interwoven into Greek philosophy almost from the church's get-go and part of why Jewish Christians and prospective Greek converts might have arrived at this basic affinity, was a mutual comparison of their eudaimonia-like concepts.

I'm sure there are definitions of eudaimonia I'm missing, so do I sound like I'm on to something or is my idea "anachronistic"? (Consider, though, the position of Thomas Szasz that modern psychiatry amounts to an ethical theory.)

  • SEP explicitly criticizes all available translations of eudaimonia, and notes the differences in its interpretation by Plato and Aristotle. According them, "for Aristotle, virtue is necessary but not sufficient — what is also needed are external goods which are a matter of luck", which would seem to run counter to your interpretation. Ironically, yours is closer to Plato's. – Conifold Sep 4 '19 at 0:42
  • I forgot the external-goods proviso, argh... One of the inspirations for my analysis was the SEP article "Religion and Morality," where John Hare says of Aristotle: "In the Eudemian Ethics he tells us that the goal of our lives is service and contemplation of the god. He thinks that we become like what we contemplate, and so we become most like the god by contemplating the god... As in Plato, the well-being of the city takes precedence over the individual, and this, too, is justified theologically. It is nobler and more divine to achieve an end for a city than for an individual..." – Kristian Berry Sep 4 '19 at 11:09
  • Is this the etymological fallacy? – TRiG Sep 6 '19 at 10:47
  • Nietzsche argues somewhere that the ancient Greek terms had very literal meanings that have been distorted over time with the accretion of more and more symbolic value, and of course Heidegger would have something to say about this. There may be something to an etymological investigation. Aristotle is also known to have preserved the ancient tradition of esotericism, having remarked that a philosopher both publishes and does not publish his ideas when he publishes a book. Could be worth looking into. – transitionsynthesis Oct 5 '19 at 20:16
  • I feel you are on the right track. Have you read the Nag Hammadi Library? You might like to check out the 'Dialogue of the Saviour'. It is not difficult to relate its message to the ideas of the pre-Socratics. But both Christianity and philosophy changed over the years, and by the third century any 'mystical' idea had been purged.The 'Dialogue of the Saviour' is probably end of the first century,and I would say it is more informative than the New Testament. I like your point about eudaimonia and feel it is a vitally important one. . . . . . – user20253 Oct 7 '19 at 9:15

Eudaimonia, happiness, and well-being

The standard definition of eudaimonia used to be that it denotes happiness. In recent decades a more satisfactory rendering has been found in notions such as those of well-being and human flourishing. These are far better than the older, 'happiness'. 'Happiness' suggests a merely pleasant and enjoyable state or condition to be. Eudaimonia is more metaphysical than this. To be eudaimon is a matter of being in the objectively correct state of living and acting well. This sense is common to both Plato and Aristotle.

In their more detailed analyses of the preconditions and components of eudaimonia, Plato and Aristotle diverge. Since there is not enough space to deal with their divergences, I fix on Aristotle on whom most current scholarship on eudaimonia - that particular concept in their ethical theories - focuses.

Abandoning etymology

I don't think that term has 'has semi-mystical connotations (e.g. the daimon of Socrates)'. Etymologically it may have such associations but these make no significant appearance in Plato and Aristotle's ethical theories.

Analysis of eudaimonia

Anthony Price provides a dense but accurate and informative first approach to the fuller conceptualisation of eudaimonia:

'Let us state', Aristotle proposes, 'what is the highest of all goods achievable by action' ([Nicomachean Ethics] I 4, 1095aI4 ff.). 'Verbally', he suggests, 'there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is eudaimonia, and identify living well and doing well with being eudaimon, but with regard to what eudaimonia is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise. For the former think it is some plain and obvious thing, like pleasure, wealth, or honour' (Io95aI7 if., with, here as elsewhere, Aristotle's eudaimonia and eudaimon for [Sir David] Ross's 'happiness' and 'happy'). Here are two quite different questions about eudaimonia, contrasted not by any form of words, but by the fact that the many and the wise give the same answer to the one question, different answers to the other: they agree that eudaimonia is 'living well and doing well', but not whether 'it is some plain and obvious thing, like pleasure, wealth, or honour'. After J. L. Austin, we may say that they agree on a rough analysis of eudaimonia (living and doing well), but not on its specification (what fills the bill of living and doing well).

Now if Aristotle is right, the many and the wise agree not only about what, minimally and analytically, eudaimonia is, but also that it is 'the highest of all goods achievable by action' (I 4, 1095aI6 f.). He implies that there are other, lower, practical goods. But this is ambiguous. It may amount to the all-good-within thesis: all practical goods are good solely for the sake of eudaimonia. Or it may assume the some-good-without thesis-some practical goods are good not at all, or not solely, for the sake of eudaimonia - with, at most, the proviso that any practical goodness for the sake of eudaimonia outweighs any practical goodness not for its sake. (A far weaker proviso would be that the goodness of eudaimonia as a whole outweighs any independent practical goodness.) On the some-good-without thesis, eudaimonia may be paramount among practical goods, perhaps even to the extent that 'for the sake of eudaimonia' always has priority as a reason for action. On the all-good-within thesis, eudaimonia is fundamental among practical goods, in the sense that 'for the sake of eudaimonia' has, in the last resort, a monopoly as a reason for action. Note further that Aristotle could try to make out the all-good-within view in two ways: by restricting practical goods, or by extending eudaimonia to cover a multiplicity of practical goods. So the all- good-within view has itself an exclusive, and an inclusive, variant (of which the second is more likely to be plausible). On any view, I take it, Aristotle is defining, not prescribing. To adopt a specific conception of eudaimonia is to accept of certain reasons for action that they override or underpin other reasons. (A.W. Price, 'Aristotle's Ethical Holism', Mind, Vol. 89, No. 355 (Jul., 1980), pp. 338-352: 338-9.)

Eudaimonia, emotions and the intellect

At a lower level of abstraction, Aristotle distinguishes two components of eudaimonia, or two areas of its operation in our lives : the emotions and the intellect.


The emotions of a person possessing eudaimonia are intermediate between excess and defect. In action such a person exhibits neither foolhardiness (thrasos) nor cowardice (deilia) but courage (andreia) where courage is the ability to pursue one's objectives with due regard for danger and hazard and equal disregard for shrink-back, disabling fear. Courage is a 'mean' or intermediate state between excess (huperbole) and deficiency (elleipsis).

Aristotle enumerates and specifies a number of such intermediates in NE, II.7 & III.

The intellect

There is more to eudaimonia than observing the mean between emotions when we act, even when this is a mater of habit instilled by moral education. We are cognitive as well as practical beings. To have eudaimonia we also need to develop our minds to encompass intellectual excellences. Aristotle spells these out in NE.VI : art or practical skill (techne), science or systematic knowledge (episteme), prudence or practical wisdom (phronesis), wisdom or (roughly) knowledge of the first principles of reality (sophia), and intuitive reason (nous).

Summing up

If the above is right, or even approximately correct, you will see I think that eudaimonia has no connexion with the semi-mystical or the holy spirit. Its feet are firmly planted elsewhere - in Greek cultural and philosophical ideas of living and acting well.


J. L. Ackrill, Aristotle on Eudaimonia, London, 1975.

S. R. L. Clark, Aristotle's Man, Oxford, 1975.

A. Kenny, The Aristotelian Ethics, Oxford, 1978.

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  • Maybe its use by Aristotle was like that but Plato had the concept, too, so it has to generalize over their differences as such. – Kristian Berry Oct 7 '19 at 17:28
  • Point taken, text amended. – Geoffrey Thomas Oct 7 '19 at 21:57
  • 'Maybe its use - only 'maybe' ? However, I am deeply grateful to you for pointing out that I was wrong - misleading - to create the impression that the concept in Plato is not significantly different in v. important respects from that developed by Aristotle. If only all comments were so helpful. Best - GLT. – Geoffrey Thomas Oct 7 '19 at 22:08

Socrates spoke of eupraxia. Eudaimonia, a theme among others in Aristotle (I make this remark because Cicero who was exhaustively informed about Athenian philosophies payed no serious attention to the now famous Nicomachean Ethics, which, in our own time, along with the Politics is considered Aristotle's chief work), is said on an analogy with the state of health. When you are sick you need a practitioner, a physician, to restore health. Good praxis is an art, which when put into action, comes to an end. Eudaimonia is a state, like health. Namely, it is that state which is to human life what health is to the body.

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