Feminist Eudaimonism: Eudaimonism as Non-Ideal Theory
This chapter considers whether eudaimonism is necessarily an idealizing approach to ethics. I argue, contrary to what is implied by Christine Swanton, that it is not, and I suggest that a non-ideal eudaimonistic virtue ethics can be useful for feminist and critical race theorists. For eudaimonist theorists in the Aristotelian tradition, the claim that one should aim to live virtuously assumes that there will typically be good enough background conditions so that an exercise of the virtues, in conjunction with these favorable external conditions, will suffice for someone to flourish both in the sense of living virtuously and in the sense of living well or living the good life. However, under some forms of oppression the background conditions will not be good enough, and thus an exercise of the virtues will often be insufficient to constitute a flourishing life. It may seem that eudaimonism, with its foregrounding of the concept of flourishing and its assumption of a tight connection between living virtuously and living well, may function as a form of ideology that elides the ways in which non-ideal and oppressive conditions can separate virtue from well-being and can make the state of flourishing (in its dual senses) unattainable. I point out that eudaimonism can be revised to incorporate the claim that virtue and flourishing may typically be unlinked, and I advocate retaining flourishing as an unattainable end, exercising the virtues even with a sense of their absurdity, and confronting the existential states of frustration and disappointment that may result.
KeywordsVirtue Eudaimonism Non-ideal theory Feminist ethics Flourishing
I would like to thank Bat-Ami Bar On and Selin Gürsözlü for helpful feedback on this chapter. I presented a version of the chapter at the 2007 meeting of the Association for Feminist Ethics and Social Theory (FEAST), and I thank the audience there for their comments.
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