Eudaimonia

Aristotle is among history's greatest teachers. He was the first to classify human knowledge into distinct disciplines like math, biology, and ethics. Among his most influential works, the Nicomachean Ethics, asks the question "what is the ultimate purpose of human existence?"


Aristotle claims it is eudaimonia (in Greek), typically translated to "happiness."

But that can be misleading, especially today, where happiness is focused on transient conditions, like how it feels to enjoy a cool drink on a hot day, or to be hanging out with friends. Instead, for Aristotle, happiness is an end-game measure of how well you lived up to your full potential as a human being.


Aristotle asserts man's function is to live a certain kind of life; to develop what he calls "complete virtue." But being virtuous is not a passive condition; it requires action aligned with with virtue. You have to make choices, some of which are very difficult. Often a lesser good promises immediate pleasure and is more tempting, while a greater good is painful and requires sacrifice. An example is courage, which is not the absence of fear, but a resistance to it, or the mastery of it.


For most people, overcoming fear is a challenge they are unprepared for. One reason is the overwhelming attraction to easier choices and a weakness of will. Fortunately, physical and moral weakness is curable with opportunities that challenge you, a strong example, and constant reinforcement.


Taking some action is the first step on a long journey forward, and going forward is half the battle. Trust me; that’s not a mere platitude; it’s an article of faith in two ways:

  1. In the Bible, the book of Jeremiah associates paying attention and resisting stubbornness with forward progress: “But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.”-Jeremiah 7:24; and

  2. CS Lewis, in the Problem of Pain, explores how the intellectual and physical difficulty life brings can bend us toward a loving God if we let it. Pain leads us somewhere – to something. That something is a life of faith. But the most crucial aspect of the conundrum of a loving God who allows suffering is the existence of free will. God has blessed us with not only the capacity to choose our path, but also the opportunity to make our choice. I’ve come to realize that in my case, that opportunity presented itself in the form of a complex neurological condition.


To achieve a "eudaimonic state," it's not enough to think about virtue; you must be actively pursuing it. It is found only in being a human who's actively engaged in pursuing a virtuous life; making choices and learning which are and are not virtuous (ie becoming more virtuous) that gives one the capacity to make more virtuous choices.