“What is the good life and how is it achieved?” This is one of the oldest philosophical questions. One way to use the word “good” is to express moral approval. So, when it is said that someone is living well or that they have lived a good life, it may simply mean that they are a good person, someone who is courageous, honest, trustworthy, kind, selfless, generous or helpful. They possess and practice many of the most important virtues. For an individual to achieve the good life, they must acquire happiness, and this can be achieved by taking part in the proper activities that lead to happiness. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all had similar and different ideas on what the good life is and how it is achieved.
Socrates did not right down his ideas, because his method for attaining wisdom was to think out loud, to engage in philosophical dialogue with others around him. (Classical Ethics East and West) He was irritated by the Sophists and their tendency to teach logic as a means of achieving self-centered ends, and even more their promotion of the idea that all things are relative. While earlier philosophers often focused upon metaphysics, Socrates was also concerned with knowledge as well as value theories. The method of reasoning used by Socrates is called the “Socratic Method.” Socrates would begin his dialogues with someone who believed that he knew what was true. Socrates would ask a series of probing questions, refining and revisiting the various claims as he went along, requiring definitions for all key terms. The line of questions invariably revealed logical inconsistencies on the part of the other person, and then Socrates would offer his own suggestions for a resolution. (Classical Ethics East and West)
Socrates’ definition of the good life means that there is more to life than just living your life day to day in the same pattern. Socrates believes that in order to truly live a good life, you need to think about your existence and ask questions about the things around you. Socrates presupposes reason is essential for the good life. One’s true happiness is promoted by doing what is right. When your true utility is served (by tending your soul), you are achieving happiness. Happiness is evident only in terms of a long-term effect on the soul. The Socratic ethics has a teleological character consequently, a mechanistic explanation of human behavior is mistaken. Human action aims toward the good in accordance with purpose in nature. (The Ethics of Socrates) Socrates states no one chooses evil and no one chooses to act in ignorance.
Plato was a student of Socrates. Like Socrates, Plato often asked, “What do you mean?” and “How do you know?” Plato wanted to rectify the moral confusion of the times, he argued for the validity of absolute rules of morality, and he rejected the government of the rabble in favor of a government ruled by “philosopher-kings.” (Classical Ethics East and West) Plato asked questions about the ultimate nature of reality and attempted to find out why the world is the way it is which is called metaphysics. He reasoned that if something is really true, it can never become false. If it is true one day and false another day, then it is not really true.
Plato felt that the soul of man had three parts, consisting of intellect, spirit and courage, and physical desires. Each part has its own need. However, to live the good life, the needs of each of the three parts of the soul must be met without interfering with the needs of the other two parts. Plato defines good life as a state in which an individual would be happy. The happiness is a state in which a person has everything that he or she needs and nothing more. According Plato one has to show virtue in the good life. Plato was especially concerned with clearly defining the virtues, and then showing their relationship to happiness and goodness. Plato argues that an individual in society who tends to live the good life is one who is truly happy in his life. (The Pursuit of Virtue)
Aristotle was the student of Plato. Aristotle wrote about metaphysics, physics, astronomy, biology, taxonomy, psychology, politics, aesthetics, rhetoric, poetics, and logics. Unlike Plato, who had a tendency to seek the solutions to human existence in an unchanging realm beyond human existence, Aristotle did not look somewhere where eternal truths reign. Aristotle was fascinated by the world and he liked for ultimate truths in the world of human experience and was certain that human senses can know what is true and good. (Classical Ethics East and West) For Aristotle the good lies in human nature, in what people want to attain, in a person’s ultimate goal. The good is whatever is aimed at, the good is that which humans are actually seeking.
Like Plato, he postulates three kinds of souls, although slightly differently defined. There is a plant soul, the essence of which is nutrition. Then there is an animal soul, which contains the basic sensations, desire, pain and pleasure, and the ability to cause motion. Last is the human soul. The essence of the human soul is, of course, reason. Aristotle enshrines happiness as a central purpose of human life and a goal in itself. (Aristotle, Pursuit of Happiness) The Greek word that usually gets translated as “happiness” is eudaimonia. The main trouble is that happiness is often conceived of as a subjective state of mind, as when one says one is happy when they are out “having fun” with friends. For Aristotle, however, happiness is a final end or goal that encompasses the totality of one’s life. It is not something that can be gained or lost in a few hours, like pleasurable sensations. It is more like the ultimate value of your life as lived up to this moment, measuring how well you have lived up to your full potential as a human being.
In conclusion, the good life entails the internal factors in a person’s life such as virtues and happiness. The philosophers have believed that the good life is not about being wealthy but rather being happy and having the moral and intellectual virtues in life. It has been established that for an individual to achieve the good life, they must acquire happiness, and this can be achieved by taking part in the proper activities that lead to happiness. In addition to acquiring happiness in life, the good life can be achieved by one learning to make their own decisions in life and having the ability to reason.
“Aristotle.” Pursuit of Happiness, www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/aristotle/.
“The Ethics of Socrates.” Topics: Informal Fallacies, philosophy.lander.edu/ethics/socrates.html.
“The Pursuit Of Virtue: Plato’s ‘Meno.'” Classical Wisdom Weekly, 17 June 2014, classicalwisdom.com/pursuit-virtue-platos-meno/.