Oxen, Horses, and Priam Are Not Happy

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1100a

“We would not rightly say that an ox or a horse or any other animal is happy. For it is not possible for any of these to have a common share of ennobling work. This is the reason a child is not happy—they are not yet capable of ennobling actions because of their age. When children are called this, they are being blessed because of their hope for future nobility. There is a need yet, as we said, for complete excellence and a full lifetime.

There are certainly many changes and fortunes of every sort throughout life. It is possible for someone who is extremely fortunate to meet great troubles in old age, just as the story is told about Priam in the heroic epics. No one considers someone who faces these kinds of misfortunes and then dies terribly happy.

But if we then believe that no human being should be considered happy while they live, according to that Solonic saying, “look to the end”—if indeed it must mean this—is it really the case that a person is happy when they’re dead? Well, that would be really strange, right, for us to say others size that this is a kind of obvious happiness? Unless we mean that that dead person is happy, not in the way that Solon wants, but that someone can only say that someone is happy safely when he is out of the way of evils and misfortune.

Even this interpretation has some controversy. For then evil and good seem to be possible for the dead, even as it is for the living even when they do not perceive it, as in the case of honors, and dishonors or the noble or ignoble deeds of children and all of their descendants.

These things are a problem too. For it is possible that someone has lived a rather blessed life up to old age and died in the same way, he could still experience many troubles because of his descendants—some of whom are good and received a life worthy of this, and others who were opposite. It is clear that it is possible for them to be different in every way from their forebears. It would be strange if the dead man would change along with them and become wretched when he was blessed before. But it would also be strange if the affairs of descendants had no impact on their ancestors at all.”

ἰκότως οὖν οὔτε βοῦν οὔτε ἵππον οὔτε ἄλλο τῶν ζῴων οὐδὲν εὔδαιμον λέγομεν· οὐδὲν γὰρ αὐτῶν οἷόν τε κοινωνῆσαι νωνῆσαι τοιαύτης ἐνεργείας. διὰ ταύτην δὲ τὴν αἰτίαν οὐδὲ παῖς εὐδαίμων ἐστίν· οὔπω γὰρ πρακτικὸς τῶν τοιούτων διὰ τὴν ἡλικίαν· οἱ δὲ λεγόμενοι διὰ τὴν ἐλπίδα μακαρίζονται. δεῖ γάρ, ὥσπερ εἴπομεν, καὶ ἀρετῆς τελείας καὶ βίου τελείου. πολλαὶ γὰρ μεταβολαὶ γίνονται καὶ παντοῖαι τύχαι κατὰ τὸν βίον, καὶ ἐνδέχεται τὸν μάλιστ᾿ εὐθενοῦντα μεγάλαις συμφοραῖς περιπεσεῖν ἐπὶ γήρως, καθάπερ ἐν τοῖς ἡρωϊκοῖς περὶ Πριάμου μυθεύεται· τὸν δὲ τοιαύταις χρησάμενον τύχαις καὶ τελευτήσαντα ἀθλίως οὐδεὶς εὐδαιμονίζει.

Πότερον οὖν οὐδ᾿ ἄλλον οὐδένα ἀνθρώπων εὐδαιμονιστέον ἕως ἂν ζῇ, κατὰ Σόλωνα δὲ χρεὼν “τέλος ὁρᾶν”; εἰ δὲ δὴ καὶ θετέον οὕτως, ἆρά γε καὶ ἔστιν εὐδαίμων τότε ἐπειδὰν ἀποθάνῃ; ἢ τοῦτό γε παντελῶς ἄτοπον, ἄλλως τε καὶ τοῖς λέγουσιν ἡμῖν ἐνέργειάν τινα τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν; εἰ δὲ μὴ λέγομεν τὸν τεθνεῶτα εὐδαίμονα, μηδὲ Σόλων τοῦτο βούλεται, ἀλλ᾿ ὅτι τηνικαῦτα ἄν τις ἀσφαλῶς μακαρίσειεν ἄνθρωπον ὡς ἐκτὸς ἤδη τῶν κακῶν ὄντα καὶ τῶν δυστυχημάτων, ἔχει μὲν καὶ τοῦτ᾿ ἀμφισβήτησίν τινα· δοκεῖ γὰρ εἶναί τι τῷ τεθνεῶτι καὶ κακὸν καὶ ἀγαθόν, εἴπερ καὶ τῷ ζῶντι <μὲν> μὴ αἰσθανομένῳ δέ, οἷον τιμαὶ καὶ ἀτιμίαι καὶ τέκνων καὶ ὅλως ἀπογόνων εὐπραξίαι τε καὶ δυστυχίαι. ἀπορίαν δὲ καὶ ταῦτα παρέχει· τῷ γὰρ μακαρίως βεβιωκότι μέχρι γήρως καὶ τελευτήσαντι κατὰ λόγον ἐνδέχεται πολλὰς μεταβολὰς συμβαίνειν περὶ τοὺς ἐκγόνους, καὶ τοὺς μὲν αὐτῶν ἀγαθοὺς εἶναι καὶ τυχεῖν βίου τοῦ κατ᾿ ἀξίαν, τοὺς δ᾿ ἐξ ἐναντίας· δῆλον δ᾿ ὅτι καὶ τοῖς ἀποστήμασι πρὸς τοὺς γονεῖς παντοδαπῶς ἔχειν αὐτοὺς ἐνδέχεται. ἄτοπον δὴ γίνοιτ᾿ ἂν εἰ συμμεταβάλλοι καὶ ὁ τεθνεὼς καὶ γίνοιτο ὁτὲ μὲν εὐδαίμων πάλιν δ᾿ ἄθλιος· ἄτοπον δὲ καὶ τὸ μηδὲν μηδ᾿ ἐπί τινα χρόνον συνικνεῖσθαι τὰ τῶν ἐκγόνων τοῖς γονεῦσιν.

Don’t we look happy? From Bestiary.ca

Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s