Critical Essays Dealing With Plato's Philosophy on "The Good Life"
The Platonic Philosophy on the Good Life.
While I agree that it is absolutely necessary to examine one's life regularly in order to improve it, I do not agree with Plato's objectivist stance on what constitutes the "good". I take the stance of a cultural relativist in that I believe what is good for me is not necessarily what is good for someone else. I do not think there is a universal "good" that we all strive to reach. I think what is "good" is determined individually on the basis of cultural conditioning. Perhaps what is good for some people may coincide; however, I believe that this is due to similar cultural conditioning rather than an indication of a universal good. In theory, I prefer the idea of objectivity because it means we can hold everyone to the same standard. However, we are individuals, each of us unique, and there is no standard we can all measure up to, nor a goal of "goodness" to which we all can aspire. We must live the life we have determined to be good on an individual basis in order to be happy.
Plato's ideal of the good and just life is in many ways complex, ideal, and has been studied for thousands of years. It is also, I believe, a narrow view of the world, holding philosophy above all other things and always focusing on what we do not or will never fully know. Plato's idea of an ideal polis is much like his beliefs for an ideal life, specifically it is impractical and ignores much of human nature. Plato lives not in the physical world, but is always looking to a different one where things exist only if his own argument for their existence is good enough. Plato's idea of the good and just life is basically a life that would not be pursued by anyone today.
I concede to a certain degree with Plato's objectivity and interpretation of the good life. All men live with a craving for purpose, for some object or function to live for. Living in accordance to one's purpose determines whether or not one is happy. If one believes one's purpose is to be happy, measure by pleasure or pain, one will be happy by pursuing that which brings maximum pleasure and minimal pain. It is more a matter of conviction when one considers the objectivity or subjectivity of one's purpose.
In general, I agree with Plato's objectivist view of the good life. We all are working towards more intimate knowledge and understanding of one good. Although we may seem satisfied with only the appearance good, through the appearances of pleasure and beauty or even justice, we know that there is a greater good that we simply cannot exactly put our finger on. Plato's definition of justice seems to have been just that, a definition, and may not be the only way of defining justice from an objectivist point of view. I agree, however, with his definition as a working aid to finding and pursuing justice in our lives. By living with our body, mind and spirit/emotions in balance, we can approach happiness and the good life. We must keep our mental conflict to a minimum by letting out wisdom/rational part rule over our desires for pleasure and irrational gain and greed. Only by keeping all aspects of our soul in balance with each other can me move towards the just life, and towards happiness.
Though I am critical of Plato's syllogism, I do applaud his effort, and I concede that according to his model the good life makes complete sense. His model, however, is impractical and I am not convinced that objective labels can be placed on justice, the soul, goodness, happiness, harmony, etc, because for each person these feelings can come about in all together different ways. The end result is perhaps the same, but because the circumstances of achieving such feelings can and often are so fundamentally different, it is simply impossible to objectify any of them. Therefore, one cannot justifiably make a model of the soul and not only understand but also be able to explain fully how it works and why for all men.
I agree with Plato in that all things have a function, although maybe not for the same reasons. Plato feels that virtue is hidden in our nature; that we have potential to be virtuous. The same goes for other things. I believe that in many instances, if you have not found a function for a person or object, it is not because of that person or object. It is because you have not thought creatively enough to find its function
Plato describes justice as "each part of the soul doing its own part, which is balance". There is the rational part (the mind, which makes decisions), the spirited part (courage, desire to achieve what mind thinks it best), and the body (pleasures that are regulated by the rational mind). I agree with this definition of justice being each part of the soul doing its own part, but most importantly they should be all balanced. This balance is not displayed enough in the platonic ideal polis; we must appreciate the mind, the spirit and the body equally, none being more important than the other in order to achieve justice and happiness which will create the good life
Socrates says that the unexamined life is not worth living. Rather, both Socrates and Plato believe that seeking wisdom through examination of life tranforms one soul. By making that choice you move towards a good life. Plato believes that a good life would be a just life. A Life in which you have natural order and harmony because justice allows for natural order and natural harmonic relations.
Plato argues that justice belongs to the goods "that we welcome for their own sakes and also for their consequences". He believes that a just life is a good life. Even if the just life doesn't seem to be the happpier one at the moment, in the long run it will be.
Pre-socratic philosophers believed that 'order (cosmos)' is the foundation of nature which is material. They believed that something must be seen to be explained. Their physicalist reductionist thought broke down everything (even our soul) into physical terms. Socrates in his youth used to believe this naturalistic thought, but, as stated in the Phaedo, later believed that matter as it is, is meaningless. Man is not just matter. Thenceforth, he was 'anti-materialist', since he believed that human behavior cannot exist just in physical terms. For him human had free-will, i.e. the ability to choose the best good and the best life through examination. Attaining a 'good', 'examined' life is a work in progress. Otherwise, one lives either as a slave, for he has no time to examine life, or one leaves life to chance, leading an animalistic life. One must decide between attaining 'preset happiness' (animalistic life) and attaining 'a future good life' (humanistic life). Socrates and Plato believed that because virtue and happiness are objective, the happy, virtuous, good life is the same for all people across cultures.
What does happiness really mean to Plato? Happiness is the state in which we have everything and want nothing. All of the essentials of a 'good life' have been acquired and thus one is happy. As an objectivist like most of the philosophers of his time, Plato believes that this happiness is the same for all people and for every society.
Plato believed that the Good, Just and Happy life were natural and came from man fulfilling his natural function. Plato was an objectivist. According to him, there is an objective, ideal human life that we, in order to be happy, must approximate. Personally, I disagree with Plato. There is no ideal objective reality. That would imply some design to the Universe which I just do not see. So there is no 'natural' end or purpose to men's life. If one, like Socrates, believes in wisdom, then one must go out and seek the wisdom. Today, we are free from objectivist dogma. So each man create his own reason for living.
Bibliography (Section B)