Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Rabbas, Oyvind, Eyjolfur K. Entilsson, Ilallvard Fossheim, and Miira Tuominen, Eds. the Quest for the Good Life: Ancient Philosophers on Happiness

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Rabbas, Oyvind, Eyjolfur K. Entilsson, Ilallvard Fossheim, and Miira Tuominen, Eds. the Quest for the Good Life: Ancient Philosophers on Happiness

Article excerpt

RABBAS, Oyvind, Eyjolfur K. Entilsson, Ilallvard Fossheim, and Miira Tuominen, eds. The Quest for the Good Life: Ancient Philosophers on Happiness. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. ix + 307 pp. Cloth, $74.00--The Quest for the Good Life contains fourteen essays, preceded by the editors' introduction, and it proceeds chronologically in its investigations of ancient eudaimonism, from Homer to Augustine. The introduction begins with its own introduction to eudaimonist ethics, and explains the ways in which this text focuses on happiness specifically, rather than ancient virtue ethics more generally. The editors appeal to nonspecialists, and even to nonphilosophers, in their explicit endeavor to situate the scholarship that follows within the context of modern happiness studies, in order to show that the ancient eudaimonist framework, which includes a great deal of variety according to this volume, is still highly pertinent to ethics today. Additionally, though many footnotes contain Greek text, the main body of each essay uses transliteration, which is helpful for nonancient scholars. As the introduction explains, the book contains one essay on happiness before Socrates, two on Plato, four on Aristotle, one on Epicurus, one on Stoicism, one on skepticism, one on Plotinus, one that spans Her odotus, Aristotle, Hellenistic, and Neoplatonic thinkers, one on Aspasius and Porphyry, and finally one on Augustine.

The first, "On Happiness and Godlikeness before Socrates," by Svavar Hrafn Svavarsson, does not get into happiness before Socrates until the third section, six pages in. The author then makes a number of intriguing points about Homeric and Hesiodic happiness, including their emphasis on honor, justice, the easy life, and dependence on the gods. Svavarsson then investigates eudaimonism's origins in Pindar, Xenophanes, and Heraclitus.

In "Plato's Defence of Justice," Julia Annas addresses two modern objections to the Republic on happiness. The first objection, by H. A. Prichard, is that, Plato should not have appealed to individual happiness as a reason for being just, but rather, to duty or obligation. The objection that Plato gave "the wrong kind of answer," has been revived by Lesley Brown and Nicholas White, who represent the second objection to which Annas responds. They indicate that Socrates ignores a different, available answer to Glaucon's challenge. If successful, this objection would undermine the "widespread approach to ancient ethics which holds that eudaimonism is the default ancient approach to ethics." Annas argues for Socrates, addressing the question of egoism in Republic 2 in the course of her argument.

Panos Dimas, in "Wanting to Do What is Just in the Gorgias," argues that Socrates is unsuccessful in the Gorgias. Dimas focuses on Gorgias and Polus for about ten pages, and then argues that Callicles' view is not actually hedonism and also that Socrates is unable to defeat it.

In "Eudaimonia, Human Nature, and Normativity," Oyvind Rabbas addresses two modern objections to Aristotle's ethics: that it is linked to a metaphysically dubious biology and that it is guilty of the naturalistic fallacy. Rabbas argues for a nonreductionist interpretation of Aristotle's ethics as both naturalistic and rationalistic, and that can account for normativity. By squarely focusing on these modern objections, and also by explaining eudaimonism for nonexperts, Rabbas makes a genuine effort to appeal not only to specialists, but to those who are not scholars of the ancient period. I found his coverage of the ergon argument, deliberation and choice, Aristotle's eudaimonism in general, as well as his arguments against the aforementioned objections, to be both impressive and compelling.

Hallvard Fossheim's "Aristotle on Happiness and Old Age" comes next, and it explains (1) Aristotle's take on the relationship between experience and old age, (2) ethical problems of aging addressed in terms of epithumia and thumos, (3) what Fossheim calls the "sowing and harvesting" view, and (4) Aristotle's possible understanding of the relationship between happiness and extreme old age. …

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