I’m reading the Penguin Classics Early Socratic Dialogues and am about halfway through Mr. Saunders’ Introduction in which he describes Socrates idea of eudaimonia:
It is not primarily a feeling, a warm glow of serenity and contentment; it is rather an objective state of affairs, something like ‘achievement and success in living’… Socrates’ view of the world was fundamentally teleological. He saw it as a rationally ordered structure, in which men, like many other things, have a function. That function is to fit into the whole; that is what man is, in a some sense, for. To fit in, to fulfil one’s function, is presumably advantageous and leads to happiness. Moral knowledge is, therefore, knowledge of that function, that is to say knowledge of what will bring good and what will bring evil.
These passages put me in mind of much of what I have read of traditional Japanese society, and what is expected of its members. In Japan (or so I have heard and read), the individual is expected to sacrifice personal desires and goals for the greater good of society. One places the group before one’s self, and it is through this promotion of the whole that one is meant to find happiness. I am sure that I am butchering and stereotyping wildly here, and would welcome correction, but it seems to resonate with my still limited understanding of Socrates’ eudaimonia.
This is all predicated by my equating Saunders’ ‘fit into the whole’ with ‘fit into society’. Should he mean that excellence in living may be derived from fulfilling one’s role in the world by being virtuous, should the ‘whole’ = ‘life’ and not simply ‘society’, then my comparison to Japanese society falls apart.
This will all hopefully be clarified as I read on.
Addendum: Socrates’ key assumption is that no man does voluntarily anything except that which he judges best. An assumption vigorously contested by Dostoevsky in his Notes From the Underground and closely examined by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World! Nice to see how an ancient Greek guy in 400BC was able to provoke great works of literature nearly 2.5 thousand years later 😉