The Good Life
An Ancient Greek Perspective
Section A. The Presocratic Philosophy On The Good Life
Critical Essays Dealing With the Ancient Greek Philosophy on "The Good Life"
College Year in Athens' Spring 2003 philosophy class, which is being instructed by Dr. Michael Bakaoukas, has been primarily dealing with the examination of ancient Greek thought on the subject of "The Good Life". The class has dealt with the origins of Greek philosophy in the late 6th and early 5th centuries B.C., but has primarily focused on Socrates' moral philosophy and its effects on both Plato and Aristotle, the two main ancient Greek protagonists in the examination of "The Good Life." The purpose of this project will be to examine both the positive views and criticisms of Dr. Bakaoukas' class in dealing with the problem of how to live a good life as was interpreted by Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and the Epicureans. In conclusion, the project explains the reasons why modern society may (or may not) accept the ancient Greek idea of a virtuous good life (MacIntyre, Mortimer Adler). This project was carried out under the supervision of the Director of Studies Dr. Kimon Giokarinis.
Michael Bakaoukas, M.Sc., Ph.D.
The Univ. of Piraeus, Greece
International Center for Hellenic and Mediterranean Studies
College Year in Athens, Greece
Project: "The Good Life. An Ancient Greek Perspective"
Complete Life. "One Swallow Does Not Make the Summer; And So Too a Short Time Does Not Make a Man Happy"
Linguistics confirms that the grammatical alterations of the Greek verbs "ZO" (to live) and "BIOO" (to lead a way of life) have originated from one common root as regards their form and their content. It is the indo-European root "gui-". The common root of the verbs is indicated by their common b form of the past tense "EBION", which particularly means "I lived my life in a specific way, I had a lifestyle." The present ZO generally means "I am alive, I exist". The second past tense "EBION" is an ancient form, as it is usually the case with the second past tense. From it came into existence the later present tense "BIOO" (For the etymology and meaning of the words see J.B. Hofmann, "Etymologisches Worterbuch Des Griechischen," translated in Greek by Anthony Papanikolaou, Athens, 1989 / Big Dictionary of Greek Language, by Henry G. Liddell and Robert Scott, 1945).
But why do the verbs "ZO" (=I am alive, I exist) and "EBION" (=I lived my life in a specific way) have different content, although they have a common etymological root? The difference between the two forms, the present tense "ZO" and the second past tense "EBION" is a tense but, at the same time, also a genuine semantic alteration of the common root "gui-". In a way the root of the second past tense "EBION" expresses a meaning slightly different from the meaning of the present tense "ZO". The past tense "EBION"and the derivative noun "BIOS" were constructed in order to indicate a new notion about life, a notion more concrete and specific: i.e., the constant purposive and therefore complete, unchangeable way of life, to live a life, as Aristotle says, in a concrete mental way (kata tina noun 1180a17 Nicomachean Ethics) "BIOS is a moral action" (bios praxis estin 1254a7 Eudemian Ethics; 1333a31 Politics).
According to Stephanus, "BIOS" does not mean just life (zoe) but a specific kind of life (bios kai to eidos tes zoes; Stephanus, Allia attulit Sallier. Ad Thomam M. Significationes vocabuli exponit Etymol. M. , p. 198, 13). That is to say, "BIOS" is a lifetime (bios o chronos tes zoes; Stephanus ibid.). It is a rational life and therefore cannot be attributed to animals (Stephanus, De discrimine inter bion et zoen sic praesipit Ammonius, p. 30, et similiter Eranius Philo p. 164 et Thomas M. p. 153) (bios zoes diapherei men epi ton logikon tassetai zoon, toutestin anthropon monon).
This different practical estimation about life was expressed by the second past tense "EBION" and the derivative noun "BIOS". The linguistic selection of the second past tense was the physical one, because whatever has happened in past time has already happened, it can't be changed and therefore has only one form; whereas whatever happens now in present time could be changed and take various forms, until man makes up his mind to select a lifestyle. In other words, a human being who lives now, could possibly retain or change his lifestyle. But whoever lived in past time ("EBION POTE"), it is certain that he chose and followed a specific lifestyle which cannot ever be changed and therefore is observable. Aristotle mentions three rather biologically determined kinds of life: the life of contemplation, the life of politics, and the life of enjoyment (Nicomachean Ethics Book I, v). These observable lifestyles are the only way by which a man can live a social life. They are in force for everybody, because they are the physiological result of the functions of the human psyche. According to Plato, there are more than three types of life, which are chosen by men once and for all (Republic 618a1-3, 617e1-3).
Bibliography (Section A)
J. Barnes, The Presocratic Philosophers, Routledge, 1993
P. Curd, A Presocratic Reader, Hacket, 1996
K. Freeman, Companion to the Presocratic Philosophers, Blackwell, 1953
A. Long (ed), Early Greek Philosophy, Cambridge, 1999
G. Vlastos on the Presocratics, Studies in Gr. Philosophy, Princeton, 1996
A.P.D. Mourelatos, The Presocratics, Princeton, 1993