Guy Schuh

Eudaimonism in Ancient Philosophy

 

Let us call “Eudaimonism” the view that either one’s own eudaimonia (“blessedness” or “flourishing”) is the ultimate end of human action (“Psychological Eudaimonism”) or that each person should do what is most conducive to their own eudaimonia (“Normative Eudaimonism”). So understood, many scholars believe that Ancient Greek ethical thought is fundamentally Eudaimonistic. This makes for an intersting contrast with contemporary ethical thought which is not fundamentally Eudaimonistic in the way that Ancient Greek ethical thought was. Given this contrast, we cannot help but wonder why this difference exists and which approach—an Ancient Eudaimonistic approach or a modern non-Eudaimonistic approach—is correct. In my view, the currently dominant way to address this question fails. It tends to explain the difference between Ancient and contemporary ethical thought in terms of cultural difference and then go on to justify the contemporary rejection of Eudaimonistic ethics in terms of cultural relativism. We can, and should, do better than this. This research project aims to help us better come to grips with the Ancient ethical tradition and its differences form contemporary ethical thought by looking to the reasons why Ancient philosophers adopted Eudaimonism and how they themselves defended it.

 

"Was Eudaimonsim Ancient Greek Common Sense?" (forthcoming in Apeiron) penultimate draft

 

I argue that Eudaimonism was not Ancient Greek common sense. After dividing Eudaimonism into Psychological and Normative varieties, I present evidence from Greek literature that the Ancient Greeks did not commonsensically accept Eudaimonism. I then review, and critique, evidence that has been offered for the opposite claim that Eudaimonism was Ancient Greek common sense. This claim is commonly called on to explain why Ancient Greek philosophers embraced Eudaimonism; the idea is that they did so because it was the ethical common sense of their day. But, according to the case I make in this paper, this common explanation cannot stand. Those looking to explain the Eudaimonistic character of Ancient Greek ethical thought must turn to other explanations.

 

"Friendship and Aristotle's Defense of Psychological Eudaimonism" (forthcoming in The Review of Metaphysicspenultimate draft

 

Aristotle holds that the ultimate goal of our action is our own happiness (“psychological eudaimonism”). Though this position is controversial, it’s widely thought that he never attempts to defend it. I argue, to the contrary, that he does. I begin by pointing out that in Nicomachean Ethics 9.8 Aristotle raises an endoxic challenge to psychological eudaimonism—namely, that virtuous people act selflessly, especially in relation to their friends—and that he responds to this challenge by declaring that the (observable) “facts” disagree with these popular “speeches.” I then argue that some of the facts that he has in mind can be found in his surrounding  discussion of friendship. Specifically, I point to two observations in the Nicomachean account of friendship that suggest that friendship isn’t a source of selfless motivation for virtuous people—that friendship dissolves with distance and that friends do not wish their friends to become gods—and one observation that suggests that virtuous friends do not benefit each other selflessly tout court—that friendship requires an equal return of benefit in order to preserve itself.

 

"Reading the Nicomachean Ethics as an Investigation" (forthcoming in Logical Analysis and the History of Philosophypenultimate draft

 

Aristotle tells us that the Nicomachean Ethics is an “inquiry” and an “investigation” (μέθοδος and a ζήτησις). This paper focuses on an under-appreciated way that the work is investigative: its employment of an exploratory investigative strategy—that is, its frequent positing of, and later revision or even rejection of, merely preliminary positions. Though this may seem like a small point, this aspect of the work’s methodology has important consequences for how we should read it—specifically, we should be open to the possibility that some contradictions in the text are the result of his employment of this investigative strategy. In the paper, I describe this investigative strategy, discuss what motivates Aristotle to employ it in the work, and go through four contradictions that are plausibly identified as examples of its use—specifically, his claims that courageous people do and do not fear death, that virtuous actions are and are not intrinsically pleasant, that friendship is and is not mutually recognized goodwill, and that virtuous people do and do not choose noble actions for their own sake.

 

"Did Aristotle Accept Psychological Egoism?" (in preparation) current draft

 

 I argue in response to recent challenges from Richard Kraut and Terence Irwin that Aristotle posits each person's own eudaimonia as the ultimate end of their action. Although this is the dominant interpretation, once we recognize that there were popular views that rejected this position, we must be open to the possibility that Ancient philosophers rejected it as well. Hence the need for a reassessment, especially in light of these challenges. In the paper, I review evidence offered for the dominant interpretation, offer new evidence of my own, and then respond to Kraut and Irwin’s challenges. Kraut’s challenge takes its bearing from Aristotle’s statement that friends wish good things for each other “for each other’s own sake.” It then argues, on this basis, that friends do not benefit each other for their own sake. And if friends do not benefit each other for their own sake, then they do not (necessarily) aim at their own eudaimonia when they act. I respond to this challenge by pointing out that acting for the sake of one’s eudaimonia does not in principle rule out acting for the sake of others' as well, insofar as their eudaimonia may be an intrinsic component of one’s own. The second challenge takes its bearing from Aristotle’s claim that virtuous action is kalon (“noble" or "honorable") and “for the sake of the kalon.” Kalon actions were popularly understood to be actions of selfless beneficence. This challenge then argues that Aristotle employs the popular understanding of kalon actions and that, as a result, he does not believe that the actions of virtuous people necessarily aim at their own eudaimonia. In response, I argue that he claims kalon actions are personal goods that are pursued by the virtuous as such. 

 

Other Papers

 

"The Meaning of Kalon in Aristotle's Ethics" (currently being drafted) conference version

 

Kalon is an essential  term in Aristotle's ethical writing, but its precise meaning in an ethical context is still unclear. I attempt to remedy this. I argue that he uses the term in two different, but related, senses in this context. "Deserving of a good reputation" or "admirable," which is a non-moral sense of the term, and "noble" or "honorable," which is a moral one. I then argue that Aristotle understands "noble" or "honorable" actions as "motivationally admirable actions"--that is, actions that are admirable at least in part because of their motivations. I next explore what motivations he finds to be motivationally admirable. I show that he reports that selfless or self-disregarding motivations were popularly thought to be motivationally admirable. I conclude by discussing (a) whether accepting this popular view would cause an inconsistency in Aristotle's ethical thought and (b) whether he is implicitly committed to it by virtue of his granting of the habitual ethical views of his gentlemanly audience. 

 

"Achieving Knowledge of Logical Laws in Husserl’s Logical Investigations" (in preparation) current draft

 

Husserl is a well-known critic of Psychologism. In contrast to the former, he holds that logical laws possess a universal and objective validity. He also holds that they can be known as a priori truths, and explaining how we can achieve this a priori knowledge of logical laws is a major goal of his seminal Logical Investigations. In this paper, I offer a sketch of his explanation. I focus, in particular, on the epistemic character of imagination and show how it could ground a priori knowledge of logical laws. Along the way, I point out various principles that Husserl must rely on about our various perceptual and cognitive faculties and their connection to each other and the world—as well as what principles he must introduce about the nature of possibility and impossibility. Assessing these principles turns out to be vital to assessing the viability of Husserl’s account of how we achieve a priori knowledge of logical laws.

Research