The Good Life- Aristotle on the Good Life - Success in Living
Section C. The Aristotelian Philosophy on The Good Life.
A Guest Submission
by Mark J. Zavodnyik*
The Final Good For Man in Aristotle's Ethical Theory
"The happy life for a man is a life of the conscious following of a rule."
Want a Happy Life? Follow the Right Rule
In his work in Ethics and Politics, Aristotle looks at how a person can achieve something that could be considered a "happy life." He says, "The happy life for a man is a life of the conscious following of a rule" (A.E. Taylor, Aristotle, Dover, New York, 1955, 88). A person must possess two virtues if they are able to follow this rule. First, they must use good judgment to know what the right rule is. Also they must have the resolve to follow and obey the rule even if they do not necessarily understand it. Aristotle goes on to say that the morally weak are aware of the correct rule but do not possess the fortitude to follow it. The wicked, on the other hand, deliberately choose the wrong rule (Taylor, 92.).
What Do You Need? Goodness
To be able to know or choose the right rule, two types of goodness are required: goodness of character (moral goodness) and goodness of intellect. Goodness of character is an objective thing; it can be trained into a person's being. Aristotle says that when we train in things like endurance, self-mastery, and fair dealing, it becomes pleasing to us to practice these things on a continual basis. Through repetition of morally correct acts, we acquire the right kind of character.
How do You Distinguish? Use Moderation
The next question that one might ask is, what distinguishes right from wrong acts? Aristotle cites an analogy that Taylor says is at the core of Greek morality. This analogy, which comes from Plato's idea of justice, says that we need to have balance in our soul to have happiness or goodness. In other words, all things should be performed in moderation. We need to train ourselves not to do too much or too little of anything. This can be applied to all aspects of life. Whether it is work, sex, alcohol, or sleep, moderation creates balance, and balance in our soul leads to goodness.
What Good is Wisdom? Helps With Focus and Balance
The other type of goodness that leads to finding the right rule in life is goodness of intellect. This allows a man to see the right rule that then leads to the achievement of a balanced being. There are two types of wisdoms that work towards goodness of intellect: theoretical wisdom and practical wisdom. Theoretical wisdom is the objective truths found in the sciences. The function of theoretical wisdom is to see the complex truths within small principles. Later, Aristotle points to the importance of the sciences. Practical wisdom is the ability to control human life for the happiness of community. This wisdom is required for politicians to be able to know what is best for people (Taylor, 94.). Aristotle says that politics, the responsibility to know what actions are good for man, is the highest of all goods achievable by action. The best life is that of cooperation in the state, to follow the rules to find balance and goodness for the state.
What Should be Your Goal in Life? Leisure
However here Taylor says that Aristotle throws a curveball. Aristotle says that the highest goal in life is leisure. He seems unable to find a connection between politics, leisure, and science. Just as we have wars to create peace, we have politics to create time for leisure. It gives us the opportunity to live a life of contemplation that includes the pursuit of literature, music, the arts, and science. Science is what Aristotle calls the fundamental structure of the universe. While this confuses Taylor, it is really not a curveball at all. If science, the searching for the fundamental structure of the universe, can be pursued when we have leisure time, and leisure time is only available when politicians use practical wisdom well, then the importance of politics and leisure in their pursuit of science, is very much understandable.
* Mark J. Zavodnyik, University of Notre Dame, American Studies, a student in College Year in Athens' Spring 2003 philosophy class.
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]