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Prof Jeffrey Sachs Delivers the 2019 Hubert Curien Memorial Lecture, “Eudaimonia in the 21st Century: Looking to Aristotle for New Solutions”

On Tuesday, February 19, The Cyprus Institute organized the 2019 Hubert Curien Memorial Lecture entitled “Eudaimonia in the 21st Century: Looking to Aristotle for New Solutions”. The speaker was world-renowned economist Prof Jeffrey Sachs, University Professor at Columbia University, Director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and Member of The Cyprus Institute Board of Trustees. The event was attended by former President of the Republic, Mr. Giorgos Vassiliou, the Minister of Finance, Mr. Harris Georgiades, the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, Dr. Costas Kadis, state and civic officials, ambassadors, members of the Board of Trustees of The Cyprus Institute, and distinguished personalities from the scientific and business world.

The Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment Dr Costas Kadis introduced the speaker, saying that Professor Sachs’ lecture is of interest to all modern societies, which aim to balance economic growth and advance the welfare of their citizens while simultaneously protecting the environment. The Minister mentioned various steps that Cyprus is taking in protecting the environment and praised The Cyprus Institute for its many contributions in this area.

“Aristotle shows us the way to return to a global growth that is both sustainable and moral”, said Prof. Sachs at the start of his lecture. “We are on the verge of destroying the biodiversity and our planet, while wars are still being wrecked, cultural monuments are being destroyed and poverty, addiction and misery are prevailing. We destroy everything around us while at the same time we have both the knowledge and the technology to prevent this, all at a very low cost”, he pointed out.

“So, I turned to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle to get answers to this enigma”. The answers, he said, are in the two books of Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics and Politics, which, as he stressed, are the best books ever written about ethics and politics (politics as it should be). These two, politics and morality, for Aristotle, are fully connected, and it is unfortunately not what is happening in the world at the present.

Prof. Sachs gave a historical overview of Aristotle’s principle of Eudaimonia, the term for human happiness and prosperity, which he considered to be the highest human good. Eudaimonia is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics and political philosophy, along with the virtues which are the moderations between extremes.  Aristotle distinguished four virtues: prudence/practical wisdom, justice/morality, temperance/moderation, and fortitude/courage, with wisdom being the most important.

He spoke of the influence of Aristotle's philosophy to Christianity over the centuries, where Christian and Jewish philosophers considered these virtues and society was at the center of human prosperity, up until the beginning of the 16th century when everything changed. Then, modern selfishness, individualism and the common good were separated from the individual's good. He mentioned as examples Machiavelli, Luther, Calvin, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Bernard Mandeville, Adam Smith, saying that they had a great influence and changed our way of thinking. From Aristotle’s teachings, man moved to greed, arrogance, seeking power, seeking reputation, because at the time they thought they would ultimately lead to the common benefit. All this, would have been just a footnote in history, but unfortunately they came from the most part from Britain, which was the dominant empire on the planet, and which carried these ideas to the USA, which turned into the next sovereign of our planet.

Professor Sachs discussed the work of James Odds and Kent Berridge and its impact on modern neuroscience and psychology, saying that it gives us a better and clearer understanding of how our brains work, and have confirmed that Plato and Aristotle were right in thinking that we must protect our rationality, and understand that we are social beings, and how we learn and how we develop determines the quality of our lives. Neuroscience has also shown that we are massively vulnerable to addictions, and he gave the example of the USA, saying that 40% of adult Americans are overweight, 8 million have become addicted to gambling, nearly 42,000 deaths are reported by opioids, and 5-10% of Americans have a pathological shopping addiction, whereas 60% of young people say they are addicted to their electronic devices.

Indeed, Professor Sachs noted, “since smart phones have emerged, depression has increased”.

Our world today, and especially the US that is the dominant power, is a world of prosperity, a "rich but unhappy world." The happiest countries in the world are the Scandinavian countries, with Finland (EU), Norway (non-EU), Denmark (EU), Iceland (non-EU) and Switzerland (non-EU). Scandinavian philosophy is not great wealth or reputation, but the well-being of the society with high taxes, but at the same time very good public services.

What we need, he said, is that in order for the world of excessive wealth and misery to return to Aristotle's world of eudaimonia and mutual good, is the correct development from early childhood, the education of children towards eudaimonia, justice, ecology, knowledge, science and philosophy, so that from the early days children learn the right concepts of a good life, with respect for one's fellow man, with compassion, with moderation, with respect to the environment and to remove inequalities such as poverty.

Prof Sachs also discussed the Cyprus Climate Change Initiative, announced last year by the President of the Republic Nikos Anastasiades, in which Cyprus has taken an international initiative to coordinate efforts in relation to climate change and its impacts for the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, through a regional action plan in many areas such as tourism, environment, agriculture and health.

Finally, referring to the evolution of technology and machines, he said that in a future where machines will help us produce more, we must manage to redistribute this income so that all people can have a good life.

"Then what will we do with our lives?" He wondered, to answer himself "we will go for a good coffee and philosophize by reading Aristotle."

Jeffrey D. Sachs is a world-renowned professor of economics, leader in sustainable development and senior UN advisor. He is University Professor at Columbia University, the university’s highest academic rank, where he serves as Director of the Center for Sustainable Development.  He is Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a commissioner of the UN Broadband Commission for Development, and an SDG Advocate for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. He previously advised UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Sustainable Development Goals and Millennium Development Goals, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals. He also served as the Director of the Earth Institute from 2002 to 2016.

Prof. Sachs is the co-recipient of the 2015 Blue Planet Prize, the leading global prize for environmental leadership, and many other international awards and honors. He is a bestselling author, and syndicated columnist whose monthly newspaper columns appear in more than 100 countries. He has twice been named among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential world leaders. He was called by the New York Times, “probably the most important economist in the world,” and by Time Magazine “the world’s best known economist.” A recent survey by The Economist Magazine ranked Professor Sachs among the world’s three most influential living economists of the past decade. 

The distinguished Hubert Curien Memorial Lecture Series was established by The Cyprus Institute in honor of the late Prof. Hubert Curien, one of the most influential scientists and science policy makers of the 20th century. Prof. Curien served as Founding Chair of the Institute’s International Council and as a Member of its Board of Trustees. Past speakers include Nobel Prize Laureates, internationally renowned academics, politicians and businessmen, addressing diverse issues of global significance.

Prof. Sachs 2019 Hubert Curien Memorial Lecture presentation can be downloaded here.

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