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The Term Eudaimonia: Flourishing or Happiness?
I have a number of very roughly-formulated things to say about eudaimonia in this essay. I hope that focusing later on other specific aspects of NE will help me to pull all this together better. I think the problems my sources discuss are the products of contrived readings; all of those sources recognized this fact, and cleared up the confusions accordingly. At the level at which I have so far studied, the Nicomachean Ethics seems unproblematic, though demanding in the sense that Aristotle seems to find so many of his connections too obvious to explain. I mention this by way of partial explanation of the naive way that I fill out the connections that Aristotle leaves for us to make on our own.
A good place to start is with Ackrills brief characterization of eudaimonia: eudaimonia “is doing well, not the result of doing well” (Ackrill, p. 13). Even though Irwin translates eudaimonia as happiness, I will use Coopers translation flourishing instead. The reason for my choice comes mainly from Book X, where Aristotle tells us that eudaimonia is a process and not a state (1176b5). It is easier to keep this in mind if the word flourishing is used, since happiness names a state, rather than a process, in English.
Furthermore, there is popular prejudice, especially among philosophers, against the idea that being happy is consistent with being virtuous. Hence, the use of the word happiness psychologically weights the case against the credibility of Aristotles doctrine, since he does think that eudaimonia is virtuous action (1176b5). His doctrine is at least rendered more worthy of consideration by such critics if they are first appeased by the more neutral term.
Ackrill has different reasons for thinking that happiness is not the proper translation. eudaimonia is the final end. While many things may be final ends, only eudaimonia is the most final end–the “one final good that all men seek” is happiness.(Ackrill, p. 12).
This is where he sees the difference; what is true of happiness is not true of eudaimonia. Happiness may be renounced in favor of some other goal, but eudaimonia