Jan. 25, 2018

Human Flourishing

Eudaimonia is a Greek term that essentially means human flourishingIt consists of the words "eu" ("good") and "daimōn" ("spirit") so the Greek word eudaimonia literally means the state of having a good indwelling spirit. According to Aristole, eudaimonia is constituted, not by wealth or power, but by rational activity in accordance with virtue over a complete life, what might be described today as self-actualization. Self-actualization is a term that has been used in various psychological approaches, most notably, in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It can be defined as the achievement of one's full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world. The Stoics believed to some extent that eudaimonia was the highest good and, for them, virtue and well-being consist of living according to Nature. Personally, I believe flourishing is a meaning-making journey within the community of life and fully flourishing is related to everyone around me because all life is connected.  

In Living Well Now and in the Future: Why Sustainability Matters, Curren and Metzger (2017) claim that human flourishing involves fulfilling one's human potential in ways that are admirable, sustainable, and personally satisfying. Happiness and human flourishing are regulated by the satisfaction of basic psychological needs to feel competent, self-determining, and by the ability to maintain positive relationships in our day-to-day interactions. By relationships, I include relationships, not only with other people, but also the environment in which we live.

A critical first step in preserving opportunities for human flourishing requires preserving the integrity of the natural systems on which we rely because we cannot persist in destabilizing natural systems without suffering severe and irreversible consequences. Humans cannot flourish in a degraded environment. All human opportunity depends upon protecting natural systems. Of course, we need financial security to meet our basic needs, but the focus on external satisfaction and accumulation of material goods has impacted natural resources and the general quality of our environment in negative ways. The explosive economic growth of recent decades is unsustainable. Eudaimonia, human flourishing, is much more compatible with sustainability than pursuing wealth without limit.

Curren states, “… escape from poverty is important to happiness but the pursuit of wealth, status, and image as life goals is less conducive to happiness than the pursuit of life goals that directly fulfill our basic forms of potential and satisfy our related psychological needs. Societies that have promoted the accumulation of wealth without limit have not raised their general level of happiness or virtue by doing so. It should be evident to any observer of life in the U.S. that as wealth and inequality have grown, most Americans have become more painfully focused on occupational insecurity and on status competition that has simply become more expensive and less sustainable. Parenting, teaching and leading all require us to believe in the prospects for living well on this planet — and to have confidence in our capacity to equip others to live well without destroying those prospects for others.”

Ethical activity should be in accordance with contemplative virtue, an attribute of self-reflection. Pursuit of self-actualization, growth and relationship is not compatible with pursuit of material comfort and satisfaction. External pleasures are fleeting, unsustainable and do not contribute to human flourishing in the long term. What is eudaimonia is the same question as “What are the best activities of which man is capable?” This is the main question, in my opinion, of ethics. One cannot have an ethical discussion about economy or ecology without addressing the concept of eudaimonia.