January 28, 2009

Quote of the Day: Kant Smacks Down Eudaimonism With Some Greek Word Play

If this distinction [between 'pathological pleasure' and 'moral pleasure'] is not observed, if eudaimonism (the principle of happiness) is set up as the basic principle instead of eleutheronomy (the principle of the freedom of internal lawgiving), the result is the euthanasia (easy death) of all morals. (Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, tr. Mary Gregor, p. 143)

For the record, I think that, whether accidentally or intentionally, Kant radically distorts ancient eudaimonism. Eudaimonia doesn't mean 'happiness' in the English sense of that word, which comes from 'hap', meaning 'luck' (as in 'perhaps'). The etymology of Kant's German word is similar. Rather, the etymological meaning of eudaimonia is 'having a good guardian spirit.' The concept of eudaimonia is simply that of having whatever sort of life is best for human beings, whether that is a life of Stoic apatheia (impassivity), Pyrrhonian ataraxia (tranquility), or whatever. I hope to post some time soon examining the question of whether, when eudaimonia is interpreted correctly, Kant actually, despite his protestations, comes out to be a eudaimonist. (Hint: does Kant claim that eudaimonia is 'having a good will'?)

Posted by Kenny at January 28, 2009 1:34 PM
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