06 February 2006

Happiness for the Sake of Something Else

Do you think that the following could have been written by someone who thought that it's a conceptual truth that eudaimonia is the end point of our efforts and striving?

o(moi/wj de\ ou)de\ to\ ou(= e(/neka ei)j a)/peiron oi(=o/n te i)e/nai, ba/disin me\n u(giei/aj e(/neka, tau/thn d' eu)daimoni/aj, th\n d' eu)daimoni/an [10] a)/llou, kai\ ou(/twj a)ei\ a)/llo a)/llou e(/neken ei)=nai:

Similarly the final causes cannot go on ad infinitum,-walking being for the sake of health, this for the sake of happiness, happiness for the sake of something else, and so one thing always for the sake of another.

The passage, which for me falls under the category, 'interesting things I just noticed', is from Aristotle, Metaphysics II.2.994a9-11. It's part of a series of arguments that there must be first principles and causes with respect to each type of cause, material, formal, final, and efficient. These lines of course involve the final cause.

One of John Ackrill's arguments for an inclusivist interpretation of eudaimonia, in his classic paper, was that it was something of a conceptual truth that eudaimonia was that for the sake of which we did every thing else; thus, he argued, eudaimonia had to include everything which someone might reasonably count as an ultimate goal. And thus, too, it couldn't be identified with anything which conceivably could be engaged in for the sake of something else. Thus, in particular, Aristotle could not have identified eudaimonia with any single activity, because no single activity has that sort of status--no single activity is the sort of thing that could not reasonably be engaged in with a view to something else.

Yet here we find Aristotle supposing, as if coherent and conceivable, that eudaimonia is subordinated to something else. His objection to that subordination has to do, not with its absurdity, but with the regress which he thinks would result (as he says later, "if there is no first there is no cause at all").

If Aristotle had held the view that Ackrill imputes to him, he would not, I think, have written these lines. On the other hand, these lines would quite naturally have been written by someone who identified eudaimonia with theoria.