The Good Life
|Aristotle on the Good Life - Success in Living|
Every young man asks the same question, "How can I make my life successful?" First one must define success, which Aristotle said is the best thing a man can do with his life. He also said that in order to obtain this success one must have a goal, or objective for their life. Success does not directly equal wealth, power, or having virtue without exercising that virtue. According to Nicomachean Ethics, there are three reasons for living. One, enjoying refined pleasures, which is best defined as a life of pleasant amusement, however Aristotle says that no one in their right mind would chose that life. Immature fun, such as that which children enjoy, living in order to sleep, eat, have sex, or work an unfulfilling and unrewarding job are all paths of this type of life. The second reason to live is to earn a good name for yourself in your eyes and in the eyes of the community, such as a career in public service. Finally, to appreciate and understand the universe in which we find ourselves, such as a philosopher. Everyone will chose one of these three ways of life, however one must have personal and financial independence to do so.
"Happiness" equals "success" and "success" equals "blessing." Success (eudaimonia in Greek) is translated as happiness in English, and happy (makarios) is translated as blessed, or enjoying a share of the divine, living like a god. Animals cannot enjoy success, because they have no share of the divine, and the gods enjoy a different type of ideal existence.
In order to attain success you must use your skills and knowledge to pursue certain objectives for the sake of higher objective. For example, a human can either: accomplish one objective, such as running a mile, or accomplish one objective for a higher purpose, such as being in shape. The single highest objective in life is to live well and fare well, i.e. being successful. An objective in the highest degree is only worth pursuing for itself and never anything else; success is worth pursuing in its own right.
The idea of good is an area in which Aristotle did not agree with Plato. Plato said that good is the best thing in the world, but his idea was abstract. Aristotle felt that knowing what is good would help in discerning what goods to attempt to achieve. The goods that were relevant to Aristotle are politics, economics and wisdom, all three of which account for the "master skill." One does not find, nor could they find any profound metaphysical doctrine of "Goodness," if he is to achieve clarity about the best way for him to live his life.
The best ways to live is up to one's own nature, or in a rational way, by being a creature directed by rational soul. Living a well-lived life is the best possible "good" for a man, this is what it is to succeed as a human being, and living well means living virtuously. "Living well means living one's life under the guidance of the virtues of the soul. Since success is a perfect and self-sufficient objective, it must include the whole of life and all the most important virtues. Success in life, the best possible good for man, is therefore living one's whole life in a rational way, under the guidance of the best virtues of the rational soul" (The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle, by Jonathan Barnes, pg. 202). Discipline and education foster virtuous activities which lead you to success.
When one does achieve success Aristotle says that we should praise men for the qualities, which help them achieve, but we should congratulate them for that achievement. In order to be successful one must have some good fortune, because it is hard to be happy if you are ugly, poor, fat, or if your offspring are a disappointment. However, this does not mean that good fortune gives one success or the opposite, just that good fortune is helpful. At the same time, too much good fortune can be harmful. The best amount of good fortune is one that "will most produce the contemplation of god (and make us) take notice of the irrational part of the soul as little as possible." This type of person is what Aristotle calls a "gentleman" or "noble and good," a gentleman makes proper use of the things that come to him, and who deserves to enjoy those things. Only a gentleman can be magnanimous (highest term of moral praise), confident in his own virtues and confident in deserving what he deserves.
Aristotle's final definition of success is entirely excellent activity, together with moderate good fortune, throughout an entire life.
Bibliography (Section C)