Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Paul Spalding-Mulcock
Features Writer
1:02 AM 16th September 2023

Word Of The Week : Eudaemonia

Eudaemonia noun

Unhappily, terms employed by Hellenistic philosophy, such as virtue or phronesis often pass through a lexicographical mangle when being Anglicised for the vernacular. Aristotelian ethics, as passed to us from his Nichomachean Ethics, offers endless opportunities to wrestle with semantic jelly, with ‘Eudaemonia’ suffering badly from a Procrustean need to chop its meaning down to fit a metaphorical bed for common usage.

Etymologically, Eudaemonia is an abstract noun derived from the Ancient Greek words, meaning good or well, and daímōn meaning dispenser, or tutelary deity. In modern English, most dictionaries define it as meaning wellbeing, or happiness. However, this convenient compression entirely eschews the philosophical good stuff - the word’s specific reference to the values underpinning it.

Aristotle : Image by Vicki Hamilton from Pixabay
Aristotle : Image by Vicki Hamilton from Pixabay
Whilst we can characterise ‘Eudaemonia’ as being a lazy synonym for Happiness, Aristotle was referring to a highly conditional definition of happiness…if you employ this word, you really do need to know what our bearded sage was banging on about!

Aristotle believed that the highest ‘good’ of a thing consists of the sublime performance of its characteristic function, with ‘virtue’ being the perfect expression of this characteristic. For humans, reason is considered the sovereign trait. So, for Aristotle, ‘Eudaimonia’ means a life governed by reason and philosophical contemplation. In the political sphere, he suggested it meant practical wisdom, moral virtue, justice and temperance.

…no wonder most Tory politicians are more familiar with Ken Dodd’s definition of ‘happiness!’