This is not to say, as some later moralists argued, that we can achieve eudaimonia only by abstaining from the pursuit of, say, wealth and power. Rather, Socrates and Aristotle are optimistic that both eudaimonia, as resulting from pursuing our excellence as ethical and political beings, and (at least a moderate amount of) wealth and power can be had together. (Indeed, for Aristotle, a moderate amount of wealth and power is a necessary condition of cultivating theoretical and practical reason, and thereby of achieving eudaimonia.) But the constant danger is to let our interests in wealth and power overshadow our pursuit of excellence as ethical and political beings – and thereby, to paraphrase Jesus four centuries later, to gain the whole world but lose our souls.
It is God’s bidding, you must understand that; and I myself believe no greater blessing has ever come to you or to your city than this service of mine to God. I have gone about doing one thing and one thing only, – exhorting all of you, young and old, not to care for your bodies or for money above or beyond your souls and their welfare, telling you that virtue does not come from wealth, but wealth from virtue, even as all other goods, public or private, that man can need.
In this way, Socrates argues for the absolute priority of human excellence over all other interests if we are to achieve eudaimonia or well-being, but insists thereby that our pursuit of excellence will also lead to the other human goods that we desire and need.
While deontology and consequentialism dominated much of the ethical discussion among Western philosophers in the twentieth century, within the last four decades virtue ethics has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance. Rosalind Hursthouse nicely summarizes why: for all of their strengths, neither deontology nor consequentialism seems to address a number of topics required for a complete moral philosophy, including “moral wisdom or discernment, friendship and family relationships, a deep concept of happiness, the role of the emotions in our moral life, and the questions of what sort of person I
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