Introduction to Virtue Ethics: Insights of the Ancient Greeks

By Raymond J. Devettere | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2

Happiness

The Greatest Good Is Happiness

The Greek philosophers insist that our desires aim ultimately at an overriding good, that this overriding good is the greatest good, that the greatest good is a good life, and that a good life is a life of happiness (eudaimonia). There is only one exception to this view: the Cyrenaics held that we do not desire any overriding good for our lives as a whole but only particular goods, which they identify with pleasure. All the other philosophers, however, hold that we do desire an overriding good for our lives as a whole and that the word describing this greatest good is happiness.

Because the Cyrenaics were a short-lived fringe group, we can say that all the important early Greek ethicists consider happiness the greatest good. They argue that happiness is the only good that we seek both for its own sake and never for the sake of anything else. There are other goods that we seek for their own sakes—the virtues, for example—but the philosophers claim that we seek these goods also for the sake of happiness. Happiness, however, is the one good we seek only for its own sake. Happiness is not a stepping stone to anything else; it is the ultimate final goal of human desire.

The moral philosophers did not invent the notion of happiness. Long before they appeared at the end of the fifth century B.C.E. people were thinking about and desiring eudaimonia, that is, a [good fate] (eu-daimon) in life. However, they were rather pessimistic

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Introduction to Virtue Ethics: Insights of the Ancient Greeks
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part One - Desire, Happiness, and Virtue 7
  • Chapter 1 - The Origin of Ethics 13
  • Chapter 2 - Happiness 40
  • Chapter 3 - Character Virtue 60
  • Part Two - Prudence and Character Virtue 83
  • Chapter 4 - Prudence in Socrates and Plato 87
  • Chapter 5 - Prudence in Aristotle 107
  • Chapter 6 - Prudence in Stoicism 126
  • Glossary 139
  • Selected Greek Virtue Ethicists 151
  • Bibliographical Essay 155
  • Bibliography 174
  • Index 185
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