Photo: Georgia O’ Keefe, The Paradise Lost and Find
Introduction by Ion Soteropoulos
Apeiron Centre presents the mind-invigorating lecture "The Way to Eudaimonia: Protreptic Ethics at the Origins of Western Philosophy" delivered by Aikaterini Lefka to the Ph.D. students' seminar on "Happiness" of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos of Lima, Perou on the 27th of June, 2020.
Through her lecture, we learn that according to Aristotle, the search of eudaimonia (happiness) as the ultimate objective of human life on the individual and public level, is not merely the search of a good life but the search of the best life, which implies the notion of the maximization of the material and mental qualities of life. Moreover, we do not only search the best life, the life that gives us by the maximization of its qualities complete satisfaction but also we search in the overall, a stable and balanced life, which is the product of being equidistant from the extremes, for example from the excess and the defect, which are opposite versions of disequilibrium and inequality.
The psychological and social emotions that arise from the best life and the overall stable and balanced life defines the ideal state of eudaimonia on the individual and collective level. Because best life and balanced life are common objectives in different cultures and civilizations, for example in Indian and Chinese civilizations, Aikaterii Lefka postulates the eventuality of the existence of “universal ethics” transcending our cultural differences.
Comparing the idea of eudaimonia with our actually unbalanced and highly unstable society, we pose the question of how can our current accelerating society catch up with the ideal state of happiness.
When contemporary scholars study the first Greek (and European) thinkers, their most current attitude is to concentrate on their ontological and epistemological theories, paying little or no attention at all to their ethical or political positions.
It is true that ethical and political ideas cover a minor part of the fragments we possess. Moreover, they often take up a peculiar form, which has been characterized as “non- philosophical”, because it isn’t deductive, empirical or clearly founded on rational arguments: they resemble rather some common sense advice offered by the elderly members of a community.
But are these precepts indeed to be taken so lightly?
In my lecture, I intend to make an analysis that hasn’t been undertaken up to now, to my knowledge, of this particular form of ethical and political ideas destined to help people to achieve concretely a life as good as possible (eudaimonia), in order to prove that: a) these concepts are founded on a philosophical method equivalent to the one resulting in the cosmological theories of the archaic period; b) their form, inspired by the oracles, is chosen deliberately in order to astound, to help memorization in a largely oral cultural environment, and to encourage the personal activity of rational interpretation, which may lead to multiple results, underlining the liberty of thought. These precepts become therefore an expression par excellence of protreptic ethics.
I shall finally cite some representative examples of the ethical and political maxims attributed to the “Seven Sages” (of which Thales), to Pythagoras and to Democritus, to illustrate this particular link between theory and practice at the origins of Western philosophy.
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