Good life implies life which everyone wishes to have in their entire existence. Most people consider the good life as a contented life, not lacking in any way, despite this not always being the case. Philosophy contributes to the human struggle to attain happiness and a better existence since it is not just a crucial self-reflection of an individual’s spirit. Philosophically, a wonderful life implies a life that individuals desire to live. Socrates became one of the great philosophers to come up with the meaning of the good life. Other than Socrates, prominent philosophers came up with their own beliefs on what the good life is. Based on their arguments of what the good life implies and the various ways to attain it, some tend to agree sentimentally while others significantly differ. This essay seeks to expound on this concept of the good life based on the various old philosophers. The article also gives a personal view of the meaning of the good life.
In Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle came up with a theory of the good life, eudaimonia. He argues that the good life is a life full of happiness and involves individuals living well (Crisp, 2014). Aristotle addresses the good life as a happy life; however, a person’s good life is not just one of feeling amused. The good life involves the active life of working well in such that are crucial and specific to humans. Aristotle further argues that whenever we have happiness, we are content and do not need anything, thereby making it an intrinsic value.
Conversely, other things like money and power contribute to extrinsic treasures as they are just a means to an end. Although there are varying opinions as to the kind and situations of happiness, Aristotle posits that despite ‘pleasurable amusements’ (Crisp, 2014, p. 193) content his formal standards for good, as they are selected for their own sake are whole in themselves. Nonetheless, they cannot contribute to the good life since “it would be absurd if our end were amusement, and we labored and suffered all our lives for the sake of amusing ourselves.” (Crisp, 2014, p. 194).
Aristotle indicates that people with fortune and are wealthy are great-souled. These people tend to ask for nothing but are always ready to help others and need recognition. On the other hand, small-souled people are deficient and excessively vain “because what they do is not evil, these people are thought not to be bad either, but to be missing the mark” (Crisp, 2004, p. 71)
Aristotle considered good life as a purpose of a person in community satisfying their social roles with excellence. While pursuing excellence desired for the good life, there exist the types of social virtues that Aristotle acknowledged. These virtues are referred to as the paths of excellence. These paths of excellence involve individual intellectual and relational excellence. Based on Aristotle, personal excellence in the good life is considered a moral virtue, while intellectual excellence is taken as an intellectual virtue. For Aristotle, intellectual virtue is comparable to wisdom since it is excellence by belief. The excellence virtue is essential when it comes to thinking and deciding in life. Thinking and determining one’s life is vital in attaining the good life (Crisp, 2014).
According to Aristotle’s arguments about the good life, he sources his ideas on the common social perceptions of the good life. Such one perception is a pleasure. Most people in society believe that with happiness comes good life despite Aristotle’s belief that the good life is pleasurable. However, those seeking life pleasures for not really find the good life. The main reason is that people tend to look for fun wrongly. In their search for happiness, such people get distracted from having to live a good life.
Additionally, virtue is also a social conception of the good life. For Aristotle, virtues are considered a significant aspect of the good life. Despite being the essential element of the good life, he indicates that being a virtuous individual does not mean having a good life as one might be living with colossal suffering.
Epictetus, one of the stoic philosophers, believes that for one to have the good life as possible, an individual should not value their emotions. In his writings, Epictetus indicates that his beliefs on how one can achieve the Good Life. Happiness, which leads to the Good Life, is an aspect that everyone strives to attain in their daily lives. He says that happiness can only be sourced within and that authentic happiness does not rely on external conditions. We should always attentively exercise insignificance to external circumstances as pleasure is only intrinsic. Epictetus advises that the real significance of good is only within what we have control over. Therefore, if we keep this in mind, we will not find ourselves dishonestly feeling envious, pitifully comparing ourselves, and our achievements to others. Instead, we should stop wishing to be anyone other than our own best, as this falls within our control.
According to Epictetus, the good life is the life of inner tranquility. He argues that serenity is the only particular sign of higher energy. We should refrain from such thinking patterns such as “If I don’t work harder, I’ll never earn a decent living, no one will recognize me, I’ll be a nobody,” or “If I don’t criticize my employee, he’ll take advantage of my goodwill (Epictetus, 1995, np). One can have a lot of wealth but still live a life full of worries, suspicion, and unchecked desires. Therefore, inner peace is the only thing that can earn us happiness.
Besides, Epictetus cautions that we should not adopt other people’s negative views. He argues that the negative opinions that people advance on us are so contagious. Such unpleasant thoughts can greatly demoralize us and breed unproductive attitudes in us. He advises that we should be cautious not to trouble ourselves with their concerns and misfortune whenever we encounter a grieving friend, parent, or colleague. We should instead remember that “What hurts this person is not the occurrence itself, for another person might not feel oppressed by this situation at all. What is hurting this person is the response they have uncritically adopted.” (Epictetus, 1995). We cannot demonstrate an act of kindness or friendship to them by joining them in their grief or negative feelings. However, we can only serve ourselves better by not associating ourselves with their overemotional reactions. He adds that if we ever find ourselves engaged with depressed people, we can show them kindness and have their attention but not allow ourselves to be carried along with their emotions.
In exploring what makes us happy, Epictetus laments that everyone seeks the good and happy life, but most confuse the means to this end. Wealth and social status are a misguided focus to attaining the good life as it makes people drift further from a good life. He argues that the worthwhile things involve those virtuous activities that contribute to a good life instead of external ways that may appear right to offer it. Further, Epictetus reminds us of the power of one’s habit. He says that every habit and faculty is preserved and increased by its corresponding actions. For instance, the habit of regularly running makes us better runners.
Similarly, this applies to soul matters. Every time you are annoyed, you raise your rage and increase a habit and add energy to the fire. To avoid any temper, stop feeding the habit. Be calm and remember the moment you were happy. “I used to be angry every day; no every other day, then every third and fourth day.” As time goes on, the habit is first weakened and eventually overridden by a wiser response (Epictetus, 1995).
Epictetus and Marcus are from the same school of thought as both of the belief that one cannot have control over external forces. Both of them write that we should never fear death. Marcus points out that a person should not be afraid to die but rather be wary of beginning life. Therefore, when one can successfully control their feelings and emotions on things they have no control over, that’s the beginning of their happiness, hence the Good Life.
Another philosopher Marcus Aurelius referred to the good life as a kind of life that is lived in harmony with nature. Holding this view in mind, Aurelius believed that we only need two virtues to have an excellent life, i.e., Justice and righteousness. Aurelius thinks that the quality of one’s thoughts determines their happiness and hence good life. While we may not control what happens around us, we have control of the various events of our lives. Therefore, we get great strength and freedom.
According to Marcus, happenings such as accidents-which we have no control over, inevitably happen. However, it is essential to note that one’s response can impact events for either good or bad. Stoics such as Marcus inspire us not to overreact or worsen things. If only we remain firm in our understanding of life, and so long as we recall that outside changes do not determine what happens in the entire life, we can decline to let things out of our grasp to have a considerable influence on our lives. A similar standard relates to social problems. A stale but effective way to overcome death fears is to think of the prominent people who lived long enough but still died and were buried with their contemporaries such as Caedicianus, Fabius, Julian, Lepidus, and all the rest (Hayes, 2013, BK 5).
Marcus indicates that our soul is the only place we can find peace and happiness. He says that we should not trouble ourselves with other people’s behaviors. Much like Epictetus, Marcus insists we avoid bothering ourselves with what we have no control over in nature. He says that disturbance only comes from within ourselves and that “The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.” (Hayes, 2003, BK4). According to Marcus, we should avoid complaining about nature since we would not be stressed about anything if we do not strain.
Marcus advises in Book 4, 24 that “If you seek tranquility, do less.” We should only do what is necessary or what the nature of a social being requires and in the required manner. He argues that this will bring double fulfillment, for instance, to do less, better. This is because most of the things people do are not required, hence the need to eliminate them. Getting rid of the non-essentials gives more time and tranquility. Marcus adds that we should always ask ourselves, “Is this necessary?” (Hayes, 2003, Bk 4,24)
To traverse through pain, Marcus insists that we should endure it and prevail over that misfortune. He says that what does not violate human nature should never bother us at all. Therefore, misfortunes should not hinder our character from being honest, prudent, or having other human qualities that allow our nature to satisfy ourselves.
St. Augustine of Hippo regards happiness as the purpose of every human life and action. He implies that the essence of every human existence is happiness. Therefore, under your very existence, you deserve to be happy. Just like Stoics, St Augustine holds that a person’s goodwill is enough for virtue and happiness. He suggests that the life of the good-willed people is worth praise and should not be shunned. However, the worthless life ought to be ignored (Schaff, 1890). Augustine insistently beliefs that happiness originate from having our souls cling to God. He says that God is to be enjoyed. According to St Augustine, true happiness comes from true human satisfaction with a properly ordered love.
Popularly, wealth and power are considered to be the most significant source of the good life. Therefore, everyone struggles to have them y themselves. However, according to St Augustine, we get blurred from distinguishing the bad from the good. This creates more questions on the rationality of shunning all evil doings done to realize a good reason. Questions also come up regarding the kind of happiness attained through such actions and whether such happiness is what one requires for the good life and that “It is as Shameful for the Virtues to Serve Human Glory as Bodily Pleasure” (Schaff, 1890).
The variance in this is that while desiring this, the good people turn away their love from things we cannot own without the constant fear of losing them again. Conversely, the wicked attempts to remove everything prevent them from securely enjoying things regardless of the freedom we get. We are often compelled to do some things that are naturally evil to achieve the much-needed good. This way and in the lack of any explanation that the rules created by man rightly convicts only evil acts, for example, slave murdering his slave wishing t live without fear is taken to be good rather than a hostile act. Augustine indicates that our inner perception of Justice implies that such a perception is wrong and may lead to disorder in the society as all the wrongdoings may be linked to the fulfillment of desires, which all promise a person a good life, safety, and wellbeing.
In condemning those taking virtues to please humans, Augustine indicates that “Wherefore it is unworthy of the solidity and firmness of the virtues to represent them as serving this glory so that Prudence shall provide nothing, Justice distribute nothing, Temperance moderate nothing, except to the end that men may be pleased and vain glory served. Nor will they be able to defend themselves from the charge of such baseness, while they, by way of being despisers of glory, disregard the judgment of other men, seem to themselves wise, and please themselves” (Schaff, 1890, p. 173). He says that such virtues are only a way of praising humans since these place the end of human goodness in virtue itself.
Another philosopher, Arendt, in her work The Human Condition, illustrates the different endeavors that constitute human life. According to her, one such pursuit is labor is an activity essential for sustaining life. There should be labor to have the necessary resources to run other more extensive plans. Essentially, labor acts as a means to an end for other essential things. Aristotle viewed labor as key for human existence. According to Arendt, the ancients saw the meaning of life and expression made real when freely living in the polis and not when doing labor. The good life was the one that was satisfied (despite labor providing the initial necessary resources to pursue the good life). Therefore, the ancient perception of labor holds it essential but not a satisfactory means of chasing the good life.
Arendt agrees that contemporary communities are currently “societies of laborers and jobholders” working “for the sake of life and nothing else.” (Arendt, 1998,p. 56). Therefore, instead of pursuing other perceptions of the good life besides their labor, individuals labor basically to live. Individuals seem to misplace an overall aim of the good life and only follow the life and sustained existence. Consequently, labor based on the current formation becomes an essential and satisfactory means to pursue life.
Considering Arendt’s views about labor, we find those old ideas of labor only being essential but not enough for the good life since it only offers the means to sustain life and not the achievement of eudemonia. There must be time and resources to cultivate virtue to achieve eudemonia as labor alone does not offer such cultivation. Conversely, the current view of labor needs the displacement of the value of virtue. By viewing labor as essential and satisfactory for one’s fulfillment, there is no room for a notion of the good life and the necessary virtue for attaining it.
On The Human Condition, Arendt indicates that leaving the Aristotelian ideas on the good life implies that for a shared political life to proceed, there must be something familiar to everyone to have a purpose with one’s lives with an objective that virtue was necessary for achieving. Since labor is one aspect that everyone requires to live, it replaced the role of integrity and became a shared factor that gave life in the polis significance and purpose. According to Arendt, “all activities indeed find their common denominator in laboring.” (Arendet, 1998, p. 56). Because such a common denominator is what everyone shares, it displaces what was earlier taken as a contributory of a shared telos.
The Good Life in philosophy has been the center of argument by many since early times. The main two yet contrasting schools of thought center around one thing-happiness. Some philosophers consider owning wealth and being luxurious, while others consider it an immeasurable treasure like living a fulfilling life full of love and purpose.
For most philosophers, their argument centers on virtue as being the determinant of one’s happiness. A fulfilled life implies that one is living a good life. However, despite having a moral virtue suggesting being in a good life, several ways can also hinder having a good life. Hence, being good does not qualify one to live a good life. Most of the moral issue is concentrated on sacrificing oneself for others or the common good. Therefore, by offering oneself, one may encounter adverse effects that may hinder one’s happiness. It implies that if one takes action to limit their happiness n their life for the purse of being virtuous, they will not live a good life. Virtue, therefore, does not necessarily imply good life.
Arendt, H. (1998). The human condition (p. vii). M. Canovan (Ed.). University of Chicago Press.
Epictetus, S. L. (1995). The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness (p. 144). HarperOne.
Crisp, R. (Ed.). (2014). Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics. Cambridge University Press.
Hayes, G. (2003). Marcus Aurelius ‘Meditations’: A New Translation.
Schaff, P. (1890). NPNF1-02. St. Augustine’s City of God and Christian Doctrine. CCEL.