I was going to write about Aristotle this morning because I have been absorbed in the American moral philosopher Michael Sandel’s Harvard lectures on Justice which have been broadcast here in Britain on our minority channel, BBC4 and I have also just begun reading his excellent book “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009), which takes me back to those heady days of studying philosophy as an undergraduate when you could sit around in cafes all day arguing your socks off and feeling extremely clever.
I have been feeling ill now for over a month, first with a sinus infection and then, just after finishing a two week course of antibiotics, I was immediately infected by a gastic virus made worse, apparently, by the thorough anti-bacterial work of those antibiotics. I found those Harvard lectures the perfect convalescence and can see why Professor Sandel has become quite a star in the American academic world.
It has been difficult though, thinking about Aristotle and his theory of The Good Life, whilst feeling, well, crap and suffering from a constant and irrational sense of illness-provoked gloom even though everything else in my life appears to be going so well. Aristotle believed that happiness was the highest human good, something that we all strive for and, if we achieve it, then we are truly living The Good Life. What makes us truly happy of course has been argued about since well before Aristotle’s time in Ancient Greece in the Third Century BC. Happiness, eudaimonia, for Aristotle meant something like the achievement of excellence through reason – reaching our full human potential, physically and mentally.
When you spend half the day rushing to the lavatory and the rest of it feeling sick and feverish, it is quite difficult to feel much eudaimonia so, this morning, when I woke up feeling strange, I wondered what had happened.What was this weird feeling? Oh yes, I realized, it is the absence of feeling ill. Now that is real happiness I decided.
I am better, suddenly and euphorically so, when I received a phone call just as I was sitting down to write this, I decided to do as Aristotle said and to pursue The Good Life. A friend invited me to meet for coffee in the garden of one of our local hotels, the sun is shining, it is Spring, the temperature has risen to its highest temperature so far this year and I have been given my body back by that rogue infection allowing my stomach, after a frustrating abstinence, to digest my favourite stimulant, cofffee once again. So sorry, if you were expecting a thesis on Aristotelian ethics, I put those thoughts on hold, and went out for a pot of The Good Life. Call me superficial but coffee is eudaimonia.