Monday, February 22, 2010

Telos and Eudaimonia

According to Aristotle's theory of virtue, every human being has certain goals to achieve during their lifetime. This is called telos. More specifically, telos is the purpose or the end that humans are placed on earth to acheive. Yet, as Macintyre writes "Every activity, every enquiry, every practice aims at some good" ("Aristotle's Account of the Virtues" 148). This good is defined as something human beings aim for ("Aristotle's Account of the Virtues" 148). Aristotle gives the good the name eudaimonia. Aristotle defines eudaimonia as the state of being well and doing well ("Aristotle's Account of the Virtues" 148). Therefore, Macintyre points out the tension between Aristotle's telos and the good (eudaimonia) as whether they are the same or different.

Virtues, as explained by Macintyre, are neccessary to acheive eudaimonia and affect reaching telos. Virtues are qualities that are used to achieve the highest human happiness. And so, the highest good for humans is happiness. Therfore, as humans aim for some end or purpose, achieving eudaimonia is equivalent to reaching telos.

In the modern world today, the idea of eudaimonia being equivalent to telos is achieving a career goal such as becoming a doctor. If one person sets his/her goal in life to becoming a doctor, then when the goal is reached that person achieves both telos and eudaimonia. Since the person sets becoming a doctor as a goal in life, it is the same as telos. At the same time, the person reaches eudaimonia. Being a doctor can mean financially doing well and morally doing well. Since doctors tend to have high salaries, they are financially doing well. Also, they help cure people's illnesses so they are morally well. So finally, they have reached eudaimonia both financially and morally. As Macintyre would say "what constitutes the good for man is a complete human life lived at its best" ("Aristotle's Account of the Virtues" 149).

Macintyre's argument about the telos and eudaimonia is sound. Aristotle does not explain whether a telos and eudaimonia can be equivalent. Although some of his arguments do support this theory, Aristotle separately defines both telos and eudaimonia. Can this have for people to decide? Or is it a different reason?

11 comments:

James Wayne said...

After reading your response, I am struck with a couple questions. Macintyre puts a great deal of emphasis on Virtue in this eleven page chapter, and I was wondering how you think that they tie in with Telos and eudaimonia? It seems to me that these concepts, as you define them as reaching your goals and being and doing well, are tied in completely with the idea of virtue. When Aristotle mentions Telos, he is not referencing what it is you want to do, but what you’re genes designed you to do. Warren Sapp, who is a 350 pound ex football player, may have wanted to be a jockey, this may have been his life goal, but for Aristotle, if Warren Sapp became a Jockey, he would not have achieved Telos. Because Telos has to do with virtue and in turn, excellence and Warren Sapp would have been the world’s worst Jockey. In addition, he would not have achieved eudaimonia because he is not doing well at his job. Basically what I’m saying is that, for Aristotle, it is not up to the person to choose what they’re goal in life is, someone’s telos is what they are most suited to do, what they can achieve excellence at.

Sarah Elizabeth said...

I also have a question. I'm a little confused by your definitions and examples of telos and eudaimonia. At first, I thought I understood telos to be an individual person's goals in life (whether they are determined, suited, or randomly decided is beside the point), and eudaimonia was the general good, perhaps happiness, final achievement of virtue, etc. But you also throw the word happiness around. "And so, the highest good for humans is happiness. Therefore, as humans aim for some end or purpose, achieving eudaimonia is equivalent to reaching telos." Have I misunderstood? What is the relationship of happiness to telos and eudaimonia?

RSliney said...

I understand your comparison to the doctor in regards to telos and eudaimonia, but does that hold true for all doctors, or any job for that matter? At the risk of getting political, could a doctor who say, performs taboo procedures such as euthanasia (who believes it is his moral duty to do so), would he pass the test because he obtains the goal of financial security and in his eyes, moral well being? I ask because despite the fact that MacIntyre lays out a plan that seems to tie in both of these concepts, there still seems plenty of room for the subjective, especially when trying to judge someone as "being and doing well".

Perhaps a real life example would be SS doctors who experimented on prisoners in concentration camps in World War II. They lived up to fulfilling their goals and also helped mankind with their data, yet would this considered "good" or "morally well"? Surely they were fulfilling what they thought they were destined to do, and through fulfilling it they thought of the good their findings could possibly bring, but it was evil at the same time.

John Ledva said...

I'd like to keep running with the questions posed by RSliney for a moment. RSliney uses doctors who practice euthanasia and the Nazi doctors of the past. These doctors are seen as wicked and insidious, yet in some ways THEY believe they are fulfilling their duty. Instead of discussing these doctors, I would like to propose a different quandary. The doctors who volunteer and donate their time in third world countries, who serve countless people for no money, do these brave men and women achieve both telos and eudaimonia?

On one hand they are virtuous, yet they receive zero income so they are not really "doing well." Can people have different perspectives regarding eudaimonia and still reach it?

John Ledva said...

I'd like to keep running with the questions posed by RSliney for a moment. RSliney uses doctors who practice euthanasia and the Nazi doctors of the past. These doctors are seen as wicked and insidious, yet in some ways THEY believe they are fulfilling their duty. Instead of discussing these doctors, I would like to propose a different quandary. The doctors who volunteer and donate their time in third world countries, who serve countless people for no money, do these brave men and women achieve both telos and eudaimonia?

On one hand they are virtuous, yet they receive zero income so they are not really "doing well." Can people have different perspectives regarding eudaimonia and still reach it?

Amy Rosenberg said...

I also see some problems with the doctor example. I disagree that all doctors reach telos and eudaimonia. I do not believe that simply dreaming of becoming a doctor, and then completing that goal would fulfill Macintyre’s assertion that, “what constitutes the good for man is a complete human life at its best”(149). I believe that there are exceptions to every rule.

I agree with RSliney, that doctors who perform controversial procedures may not reach telos and eudaimonia. Also, doctors who are found guilty in medical malpractice cases would fail to achieve both telos and eudaimonia. As I was reading Swarna’s post, I was thinking about how Doctors Without Borders may be a case where doctors truly do reach telos and eudaimonia. However, then I saw that John raised the question of whether or not doctors who dedicate their time to help people in third world countries reach telos and eudaimonia. I believe, that in this case there would still be some exceptions. What if their efforts to help people in the third world are not successful? Will they reach telos and eudaimonia?

Amy Rosenberg said...

I also see some problems with the doctor example. I disagree that all doctors reach telos and eudaimonia. I do not believe that simply dreaming of becoming a doctor, and then completing that goal would fulfill Macintyre’s assertion that, “what constitutes the good for man is a complete human life at its best”(149). I believe that there are exceptions to every rule.

I agree with RSliney, that doctors who perform controversial procedures may not reach telos and eudaimonia. Also, doctors who are found guilty in medical malpractice cases would fail to achieve both telos and eudaimonia. As I was reading Swarna’s post, I was thinking about how Doctors Without Borders may be a case where doctors truly do reach telos and eudaimonia. However, then I saw that John raised the question of whether or not doctors who dedicate their time to help people in third world countries reach telos and eudaimonia. I believe, that in this case there would still be some exceptions. What if their efforts to help people in the third world are not successful? Will they reach telos and eudaimonia?

Timothy Patel said...

To the question posed by John Ledva regarding whether the doctors who participate in the "Doctors Without Borders" Program, I say that they must reach both telos and eudaimonia. If a doctor is worried about the financial success of their lives, then that is not a real doctor who is fulfilling their telos. A doctor who worries about making money would probably be better suited as an investment banker or some kind of businessman. Being a doctor is simply about saving lives of those who need it and that is it. The telos or goal of a doctor should simply be the idea the he or she is a successful doctor in terms of helping people. A doctor who is truly a doctor will achieve eudaimonia (happiness) in being an expert at helping people. Doctors find happiness in the interactions between themselves and their patients. Usually, it is just a simple smile and thank you that enriches the doctor's soul positively- or happiness.

Beqir said...

I'd like to take Amy's question into account as to whether or not the doctors who go to third world countries and fail to save someone's life reach telos and eudiamonia. I believe that unless the doctor fails to save every life he tries to achieve, then he still can reach his goal. There are often times when even a doctor, who is dedicated to saving everyone he possibly can, not everyone he meets his entire life, can do nothing against an illness. The whole method is to do what you do excellently. Just because the patient was not save does not mean that it was exclusively the doctor's fault. A doctor could have done everything humanly possible to save this patient and in the end, if the patient still died, the doctor, in general, would still be viewed as having done a good job. Much like on a sports team, just because your team loses doesn't mean that you individually did not play an amazing game yourself.

Beqir said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grant said...

Good post Swarna, real easy to read and understand. However James I wanted to comment on your comment. I think that the question you pose about whether virtue is able to be consistent with telos and eudemonia is a good question, but I think it absolutely can be consistent. I mean in your example the 350 pound ex football player is virtuous due simply to the fact that he was an ex football player which means he must have been pretty good at football to play. If this is true he most likely achieved eudemonia, and frankly if his telos or his goal in life was to become a jockey then it is his fault he didn’t try to achieve it, if he wanted to be a jockey why did he gain 350 pounds and play football as a child, he should have kept a low weight learned how to jockey and done that. Regardless of this argument I know what you are trying to say, and I think that there is probably a situation out there in which ones virtue telos and eudaimonia would not meet up and one will not be happy. But who said every one will be happy in life, Aristotle sure didn’t.