Explain Aristotle’s human function argument. Does it provide a good basis for understanding eudaimonia?
The link between the human function argument and eudaimonia has been harshly criticised due to it being based upon three questionable claims: that human beings have a function, that the good for a human being resides on the fulfilment of that function and that being a good human being leads to eudaimonia. I will nevertheless show that once the concepts of eudaimonia, virtue and human function are correctly understood, it is possible to answer many of the objections that criticise the human function argument as a good basis for the understanding of eudaimonia.
In Nicomachean Ethics, ...view middle of the document...
But even if we accept this claim, what can this function be? Aristotle argues that it must be something which is peculiar to humans, which leads him to exclude the life of nutrition and growth and the life of perception we share with animals and arrive at the conclusion that the human function must consist in the activity of the rational part of the soul in accordance with virtue. This is because the good of a human being must have something to do with being human; and that which makes human beings human and gives us the potential to live a better life is our capacity to guide ourselves by using reason. If we use reason well, we live well as human beings; using reason well is what lead to well-being or happiness. Doing anything well requires virtue or excellence, and therefore living well consists in activities caused by the rational soul in accordance with virtue or excellence. However, why should the human function be one of these three things? Some critics have also questioned whether the good performance of this human function will necessarily make someone a morally good human being. Won’t this human function turn out to be a capacity that can be used either for good or for evil?
Even if we were to acknowledge that a human being who performs the human function well is (in some sense) a good human being, we can still ask whether it is good for a human being to be a good human being. We can ask whether it will make the person happy. This criticisms might be seen as arising from a misconception of ‘’eudaimonia’’ as happiness having something to do with pleasure, or with the quality of the person’s experiences, or at least with some condition welcomed from the person’s own point of view. Maybe eudaimonia is rather referring to the happiness of the whole, not of any one part.
In this way nearly assumption linking the function argument with eudaimonia has been criticized. The idea that human beings even have a function could be seen as based on an illegitimate piece of teleological reasoning. There is something somehow fallacious in inferring that the good performance of this function, supposing that it did make you a good human being, would therefore lead to well-being or happiness in the common understanding of the term. The assumption that the good performance of the function would make you a good human being is called into question by the thought that any human capacity can be used excellently in a non-moral sense either for good or for evil. Even if these problems were resolved, Aristotle’s method of selecting the function by choosing the kind of life that is unique to human beings raises a whole new set of problems, since some critics can’t see why it should be the function that is unique.
I will now show how most criticisms can be answered through a deeper understanding of what Aristotle meant by ‘’function’’, ‘’virtue’’ and ‘’eudaimonia’’.
First of all, ‘’ergon’’ (function) refers to something wither than purpose. It can also be...