Aristotle and the Cynics on Happiness and Misfortune


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




The dissertation offers a new interpretation of Aristotle's account of happiness in his ethical and political works, tracing its trajectory from what is posited as its fundamental aporia in the tenth chapter of the Nicomachean Ethics’s first book through his discussion of the political and theoretical ways of life. It is argued that Aristotle's account is problematic for two basic reasons: his attempt to do justice to what Martha Nussbaum has called “the fragility of the good” is at odds with his criterion that happiness be durable and continuous, and his attempt to harmonize his ethical and political thought within his more encompassing natural philosophy is fraught with tensions. The project goes on to show that there are resources in Aristotle's own corpus to respond to these problems. In order to draw out these resources the ancient Cynics are discussed, initially for contrast but ultimately to show an unlikely harmony.