Saturday, 29 June 2013

Eudaemonia

There is a very interesting article in a Scientific American MIND magazine (May/June 2013 issue) written by Tori Rodriguez called, Taking the Bad with the Good (p. 26) where I came across the Greek term, Eudaemonia, which Wikipedia defines as:

Eudaimonia or eudaemonia (Greek: εὐδαιμονία [eu̯dai̯monía]), sometimes anglicized as eudemonia /juːdɨˈmoʊniə/, is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, "human flourishing" has been proposed as a more accurate translation. Etymologically, it consists of the words "eu" ("good") and "daimōn" ("spirit").

Eudaemonia is a concept that is embedded in the American constitution (believe or not) and, in fact, form the basis of it all. It is captured in the word "happiness"—as in "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

-The term, as it occurs in this context, is less about the human emotion than it is about a state of being. It is not an instinctual state but acquired and developed deliberately through culture and engaged learning (ie, it is a maturational process of the human psyche).

Peter Pericles Trifonas writes in his book, Umberto Eco and Football: "To yoke ethics with representational concerns is only natural for critical readers of culture." (Trifonas, Umberto Eco and Football, 2001, p. 5) I myself—as a student of linguistics, a fan of semiotics, someone interested in philosophy and classicism—have always been struck by the over-arching notion of "eudaemonia" that drives the imperative of these seemingly disparate discourses though I didn't really have the language for it. As a person who wants to reclaim his Christian roots after being lost in the spiritual wilderness, it is less religious dogma that interest me but the eudaemonic exploration that is also (the only thing as far as I'm concerned) the purpose of Christ's visitation on Earth, of His message: Love the Lord thy God...and love thy neighbour as thyself.

Though the Greek concept of eudaemonia encompasses a different but similar complex of human concerns than Christianity:

It is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics and political philosophy, along with the terms "aretē", most often translated as "virtue" or "excellence", and "phronesis", often translated as "practical or ethical wisdom" (continuing from the Wikipedia entry on "Eudaemonia")

the Christian notion of it is closest to Socrates':

Good Sir, you are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation, and honors as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth or the best possible state of your soul. (Socrates, Apology)

The Christian take on eudaemonia are the importance of such things as grace, mercy, forgiveness, humility, charity, etc. (I would also include the notion of "deliberation/rationality" in applying these principles but mainly from the perspective of the believer if only to not necessitate them upon the beneficiary in the practice of them—we do them because we believe that human beings are formed in the image of God).

Deliberation is also important here because, as I said earlier, eudaemonia is a learned, developmental process. And because, in the language of Socrates, an unexamined life is not worth living. Trifonas, in talking about the nature of raw, unprocessed signs, says:

The sign is all surface, all projection, all image: complete in itself and for itself. Thus, it has a directive force of its own that defies the reciprocity of a two-way model of communication. It sends the logic of itself and attempts to make plain its raison d'être for all to see—or perhaps to miss. It re-presents information and dissimulates reality through its power to initiate and sustain a form of symbolic violence upon those who engage in, create and apprehend the values of the sign as a model of reality. (Trifonas, p. 6-7)

In this context, the "sign" has taken on a more clinical hue yet its sinister and cruel indifference remains open for all to see and be in awe of. The sensual/sense perception is something spiritual wisdom has always been leery and suspicious of, and for good reasons: it requires only uncritical regard to become dogma affecting not only religion but even unto the "politically-correct" movement, and making fools and demons of the unwary.

I've been almost obsessively self-monitoring since I've made the decision to try and regain my spiritualism, and I tell you truthfully: my instinctual nature is dangerous and fearful/fearsome if left unchecked and unobserved. It is a dark part of me that, honestly, has made me re-interpret the imperative of self-abasement in the saints of the Christian faith: I'm a wretch and miserable sinner in constant need of God's grace. I don't say this to be sadomasochistic; it is a truth necessary for a sense of balance. And I take it in the spirit of the article that prompted me to write this entry:

In fact, anger and sadness are an important part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health. Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment..."Taking the good and bad together may detoxify the bad experiences, allowing you to make meaning out of them in a way that supports psychological well-being," the researchers have found. (Scientific American, MIND, pp. 26-27)

Jay

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