Ancient Conceptions of Happiness

Nancy Sherman
Georgetown University
Julia Annas has written a monumental work that is in the best sense of the word, a “conversation” with ancient theories of morality. Indeed what we have in the Morality of Happiness is a sustained conversation with the various ancient schools on the nature of eudaimonia and the moral dimensions of the best life for humans. This is a work that takes the Hellenists seriously, and as such, gives us both a fresh way of assessing Aristotle in terms of the refinements that were to come later, as well as insights about the Hellenist foundation of many of our modern formulations. But the trajectory into modern morality is not Annas’ primary aim. On the whole, for the duration of this book, we are immersed in the debate between the various schools themselves and in the richness of their own dialogue. To be sure, there are lessons to be learned for ourselves and our own way of doing moral theory. But these stand out primarily from the contrasts. So for example, Plato’s Protagoras aside, Annas argues that notions of maximization and algorithmic procedures for arriving at right action are not to be found in ancient theory. A “problem-solving mechanism” for hard cases is simply not the ancient preoccupation, despite the fact that conflicts abound in the ancient world no less than in the modern era.
Keywords Analytic Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy  Philosophy of Mind
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ISBN(s) 0031-8205
DOI 10.2307/2108341
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