Eudaimonia and Culture: The Anthropology of Virtue

  • Francis MckayEmail author
Part of the International Handbooks of Quality-of-Life book series (IHQL)


There have been roughly two general stages in the theorization of eudaimonia. The first is found in the long history of virtue ethics in Western philosophy, the second in recent research in economics and cognitive science on the topic of subjective well-being. In the transition from philosophical virtue ethics to the quantitative study of subjective well-being, however, an important idea has been overlooked, namely, the role of culture as an essential foundation for the realization of eudaimonia. In this paper, I therefore argue for a third phase in eudaimonic well-being research, what I call a “critical eudaimonics.” This approach reintroduces culturally situated understandings of eudaimonia through thick historical and ethnographic descriptions of virtue, wisdom, and flourishing well-being to highlight the conditions in which people actually cultivate eudaimonia in everyday life. In order to argue this, I begin with a comparison of Aristotle and Alasdair MacIntyre’s theories of virtue to provide a brief intellectual history for how modern moral philosophers came to see eudaimonia as necessarily possessing a cultural history. I then turn to recent understandings of virtue in anthropology—and my own ethnographic research on compassion—to offer a definition of eudaimonia fit for the qualitative social sciences.


Eudaimonia Anthropology Culture Virtue ethics Contemplation Mindfulness 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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