‘‘If happiness is activity in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us.’’ – Aristotle
Joar Vitterso writes that the exercise of virtues, or what is often termed ‘eudaimonia’, involves a “striving towards completeness or excellence”. This may be referred to as flourishing or self-realisation and means seeking to use and develop the best in oneself, one’s essential powers and strengths. It also involves the capacity to make meaning of one’s experience.
Eudaimonic feelings are ones that move us towards goals, exploration and active involvement in complex problem solving. Interest, inspiration and engagement are what drive eudaimonic activity rather pleasure. Their role is to “sustain effort in challenging environments” where we can’t return to equilibrium.
The quote above brings into high relief Aristotle’s strongly teleological perspective – namely, the highest human good involves activities that are goal-directed and have purpose. Most importantly, the essential end point (telos) is to achieve the best that is within us. Excellence, in the human being, is associated with the movement or growth towards the realisation of the person’s true nature and full potential. Aristotle’s conception of the highest good towards which we all should be reaching was the task of self-realization, played out individually, each according to his or her own disposition and talent.
The task therefore, of a eudaimonic system of education and culture, is to create the conditions in which the individual can be stimulated to grow and unfold according their own unique nature. People are not like clay that we can mould and sculpt according to what we think is best for them but more like flowers that are capable of growing and flourishing optimally if we can provide them with the right conditions (enough water, sun, nutrients etc.).
Do our current systems seek to sculpt, mould and manipulate the individual or create the right conditions in which they can flower?
What are those conditions that human beings need to grow?