Eudaimonism

Here is a summary of a paper by Dr. David Horner (my ethics professor this semester) titled The Pursuit of Happiness: Why Christian Ethics Should be Eudaimonistic.  I would have considered myself a Divine Command Ethics advocate the previous summer, but I’m thinking this view might be correct…

Eudaimonism is the view that we ought to seek happiness as the aim of our life.  This makes eudaimonism a teleological or goal-directed view of ethics since our actions are aimed at a goal, namely our happiness.  It asks the questions “what is the best life to pursue?” or “What kind of life is worth living?” rather than “What ought I do?”. The happiness here is not understood in the modern sense of feeling pleasure, but a happiness understood as the objective good for human life, what makes us most flourish as human beings. This flourishing is grounded in the objective function of human beings, so it is not subjective or arbitrary, and living a virtuous life is central to living a flourishing life.  This view is not consequentialist because consequentialism attempts to make the good a result of our moral actons, but in eudaimonism our moral actions are constitutive of the good.

The reason Christians ought to accept eudaimonism is that it places ethics into every branch of life instead of distinguishing a moral and non-moral realm and it gives us positive motivations for being good and striving for an ethical life rather than just a restrictive list of rules to follow.  Another reason is that it emphasizes the importance of all kinds of goodness, such as moral goodness, aesthetic goodness, and other values.  All of these things are worthy of pursuit and in some way contribute to the happy life.  Third, because it asks what is good for human beings, it has bearing on all the areas of human life where we ask ethical questions. Fourth, it gives us common ground with non-Christians to discuss ethical issues and work towards ethical ends since the non-Christian likely believes that we should work towards what is good for us as well.  Fifth, it gives us resources for a moral argument for Christian theism.  Sixth, it gives us the best parts of utilitarianism and ethical egoism (teleology and proper self-interest) while leaving out the worst parts (their theories of value and what they ground value in).  Finally, it gives a satisfying answer to why we should be moral.  We should be moral in order to be happy, and being moral (caring about others, being good, etc.) is constitutive of living a happy life.  Eudaimonism does not lead to selfishness because helping others is constitutive of our happiness and it does not lead to self-denial as an end in itself because the aim is our happiness.

This view of ethics has been taught by ancient philosophers and Christian thinkers throughout history, like Aristotle, Jonathan Edwards, and Augustine.  The Bible seems to teach this view because the law that God gives emphasizes the character of God’s people, to make them more like the God whose image they bear.  God created us to function in a certain way, and biblical ethics emphasizes living that way for our good, for shalom, which represents harmony as opposed to disfunction.  You see this all over the Torah, the Psalms, and the teachings of Jesus.

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One Response to Eudaimonism

  1. Pingback: Posts on Morality, God, and Ethical Theories | Into the Harvest

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