In recent years, the social sciences have gained traction at painting an empirical picture of ethical concepts that before (albeit not forever) had been treated a-priori. I think of competing theories of fairness as in Fehr/Schmidt (2000), the nature of altruism as in Levine (1998) and in Fehr/Fischbacher (2003) or honesty as in Gächter/Schulz (2016).

I was wondering whether the traditional concept of eudaimonia should be tackled in this way, by what methods and what has been achieved so far.

I can imagine two approaches:

  1. An empirical investigation into what the highest good is -- that which is desirable for itself and not for the sake of any other good. That good which all other goods are desirable for its sake.

  2. An empirical investigation into what living a life at its best consists in.

Both approaches could, adequately modelled, yield interesting insights into what has appeared to be a rather theoretic or even chimerical concept.


Fehr, E., & Fischbacher, U. (2003). The nature of human altruism. Nature, 425(6960), 785–791.

Fehr, E. & Schmidt, K.M. (2000). Theories of Fairness and Reciprocity - Evidence and EconomicApplications.

Gächter, S. & Schulz, J. (2016). Intrinsic honesty and the prevalence of rule violations across societies. Nature. 531.

Levine, D.K. (1998). Modeling Altruism and Spitefulness in Experiment, Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 1(3), pages 593-622, July.

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    How about the World Happiness Report and related empirical research? – Philip Klöcking Aug 2 at 13:45
  • Sure, the WHR deals with happiness. But does it deal with eudaimonia? In order to have in impact on virtue ethics -- say, in a similar way moral psychology has -- , it probably would have to. I doubt that it does but it would be interesting to hear from people in the field. – Clyde Frog Aug 2 at 14:12
  • Well, according to traditional definitions eudaimonia is broadly to be understood as "the sum of all good/things that make you happy". That is why I ask: Are you interested in the ideal itself being empirically captured or does it suffice to have research tackling individual factors of happiness. – Philip Klöcking Aug 2 at 16:02
  • It would have to have an impact on virtue ethics -- something they have to take seriously. So, I am afraid individual factors of happiness won't do. The social sciences have to dig deeper. – Clyde Frog Aug 2 at 16:50
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    Bloomfield, Tracking Eudaimonia describes general empirical approach to it, and Begley, Psychological Adoption and Adaptation of Eudaimonia concrete studies. SEP surveys more under Experimental Moral Philosophy. – Conifold Aug 2 at 20:06

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