The Good Life
Aristotle on the Good Life
by Kelly Gentine, University of Notre Dame, Marketing College Year in Athens' Spring 2003 philosophy class.
Section C. The Aristotelian Philosophy on The Good Life.
The Final Good For Man in Aristotle's Ethical Theory
Aristotle claims that there is one supreme end, or final good for man. By this he implies that every activity aims to achieve some good or end, be it the activity itself or something produced by an activity. This makes sense, but in order to avoid infinite regress (an activity aims to achieve a product which aims to achieve a product, etc.) there must be a final good which is desired for itself.
In order to achieve this end, man must take appropriate means, meaning he must engage in some activity. This appropriate means can be divided into two ideas. First is the idea that a series of steps are taken to bring the end into existence. We can see this on a smaller scale through the manufacturing of a product. However, he does not imply that there is a set design to the series of steps, but rather a general outline. An artist may know what he wants to paint and has some idea of how to go about it, but there is no specific plan to obtain the desired end. Second is the idea that steps are chosen only because they lead to the end. This is evident in tasks that are tedious and carried out strictly because of their products. This explains the notion of motives, and why people take certain actions considering an end is in sight.
Aristotle also claims that the nature of an end is better than the actions taken to produce it. This appears to make sense, because when we are living wisely, and planning, we are planning and taking steps to provide ourselves with a better future. We go to college so that we can have a successful career. For some this is the case, and those people wouldn't choose to linger in college simply because the end (career) is deemed as greater.
Man should establish an object of the "good life" at which to aim, and organize life in view of this particular end. This reflects on the value of planning, and considers a man who does not plan as lacking wisdom because of the simple lack of planning, as well as the lack of an aim. Since Aristotle agrees that there exist a plurality of ends and goods, this leads us to the notion of priority and the need for planning. This sets man apart from animals because they are able to plan for a final good. By deciding between various ends based on our own nature, we determine our path in life towards a final end.
After one understands that there is a final good, inevitably one will ask what is the end for which to aim? What is the highest of all goods achievable by man? Aristotle claims that it is happiness. "The good for man turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there is more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete; but we must add 'in a complete life". This is how Aristotle describes the final good for man, or happiness. Virtue is required for the realization of happiness, and men differ in their conditions of the realization because of our unique individual natures. They must simply find the "paramount end" and plan life to achieve this final good.
Bibliography (Section C)
J. Annas, The Morality of Happiness, Oxford, 1993 (Virtue, the Good Life and happiness [CYA])
A. Adkins, Merit and Responsibility, Chicago, 1975 (Arete=virtue)[CYA]
J. Barnes, The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle, Cambridge, 1995 [CYA]
W. Hardie, Aristotle's Ethical Theory, Oxford, 1968 [CYA]
G. Hughes, "The Fulfilled Life", 21-53 - "Moral Virtues and Moral Training", 53-83 - "Pleasure and the Good Life", in Aristotle's Ethics, Routledge, 2001[CYA]
A. Price, Mental Conflict, Routledge, 1995
A. E. Taylor, Aristotle, Dover, 1995
W. Ross, Aristotle. Selections, Oxford, 1927[CYA]