INTRODUCTION

From the late nineteenth century onwards—and within the English-speaking world—the term ‘prosperity’ started to recur with increasing frequency in the literature dealing with political change, social development and intellectual progress. Its usefulness, and widespread adoption, was a reflection of the fact that this was the word regarded by most commentators as the least inadequate rendering of eudaimonia: a term central to the philosophy of Aristotle. English translations of the Aristotelian texts were being published in great numbers during the Victorian era and the philosopher’s attention to ‘becoming’—a process which discloses identity and meaning cumulatively and progressively—spoke to the distinctively nineteenth century preoccupation with evolutionary development. Aristotle’s conception of eudaimonia is similarly rich in meaning and amounted to a fundamental transformation in human understanding both of the self and the surrounding world. The word had a pre-existent history when its usage denoted a pretty straightforward kind of ‘happiness’ or ‘contentment’ but, within the Aristotelian context, eudaimonia gained additional connotations and the English language has struggled to find an appropriate translation.

‘Flourishing’ evokes individual development and attainment of self-expression. Aristotelian eudaimonia, a term that became a concept, certainly sought to describe these features of the human condition. Nonetheless, ‘flourishing’ seems a bit banal, redolent as it is of florist shops and the self-congratulatory songs hymned at English public schools (Floreat Rugbeia!). ‘Wellbeing’ has attracted some support as a rendering of eudaimonia, vitiated though it be by the English phrase’s association with a left-of-centre concentration on explanatory, and expiatory, ‘social factors’. ‘Prosperity’ limps less than most alternatives. It remains important to establish what Aristotle meant by eudaimonia since his usage of the term explain the relevance of ‘prosperity’. This philosophical legacy from classical antiquity is almost 2,400 years old and its observation of the human condition, together with an account of the principles we should follow when investigating that capacious subject, remains definitive.

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About The Culture of Prosperity

The cultural life of a society includes traditions and innovations in the visual, musical and literary arts, patterns of thought in philosophical and religious debates, as well as scientific speculation and experimentation. Intuition, inspiration and ambition guide the novelist, painter and composer. Vision, prophecy and intellectual insight produce the great texts of the philosophers, jurists and theologians. And the varieties revealed in the natural order—just like the unities that prevail in the cosmos—impel the biologist, mathematician and physicist towards the discoveries that change our appreciation of the world and of the role that we play within it.

The values that motivate individuals, societies and nations are reflected and encapsulated in the cultural achievements that endure—whether read in books or beheld in buildings, disclosed on canvases, analysed in laboratories or heard in the debates whose conclusions transform our understanding of the private self and the public good. These are the means by which successive generations have achieved greater self-knowledge and the study of their significance, both in the past and the present, animates 'The Culture of Prosperity'.