Blogger Penelope Trunk describes herself as having Asperger’s Syndrome. Her obsessive Aspergian interest seems to be in the nature of her own life – which makes her a dedicated follower of Socrates’s maxim that the unexamined life is not worth living. So while her blog is supposedly about career advice, it often winds up being highly philosophical. Recently, she’s said a fair bit about one of the most enduring philosophical questions: happiness.
Aristotle tells us everyone agrees the purpose of life is eudaimonia. It was once the standard to translate this term as “happiness.” This translation has started to fall out of favour, to be replaced by “flourishing” – and rightly so. For it’s pretty clear that whatever eudaimonia is – and I think Aristotle deliberately makes it hard to pin down – it is not what we usually understand by “happiness.”
Consider: near the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle tells us that everyone agrees that eudaimonia is the ultimate purpose of human life; we just don’t agree what constitutes it. But if this eudaimonia were happiness, how would we explain someone like Trunk, who has spent a great deal of time thinking about happiness – only to reject it? “I don’t want to be happy,” she says. “I want idle time to let my mind wander because the unhappy result is so interesting.” Continue reading