“Good Life” From an Ethical Perspective

What is a Good Life?

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The question of what constitutes a good life was pursuing humanity since the dawn of time. However, as humankind developed and formed societies, the definitions of a good life needed to be assessed, as definitions solely through materialistic possessions were not only inaccurate, but also harmful to the individual, the group, and the state.

Some of the first definitions of a good life were provided by early religions. The states used religion as a tool at their disposal to propagate and enforce those definitions. Greek, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian faiths defined the good life as a life lived according to the will of the Gods (Wainwright, 2017). It was determined by fundamental concepts of respecting other peoples’ lives, private property, family integrity, the domain of Gods over the living and the dead, and the place of kings and rulers as figureheads appointed by Gods (Wainwright, 2017).

However, religion and the state were not the only ones who sought to find the definition of a good life. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, the three pillars of a good life were happiness, virtue, and morality (Kenny, 2016). It must be noted that none of these three components alone constituted a good life. A happy life achieved through immoral actions, such as murder, robbery, and theft, does not constitute a good life. A virtuous life is often associated with suffering; therefore, it cannot be a good life as well. Morality, on the other hand, often prevents the quick and easy path towards materialistic happiness (Kenny, 2016). In many ways, this notion was repeated by Socrates, and later by Plato. Socrates, however, puts an emphasis on happiness as a state of mind rather than a reflection of objective reality (Peters, 2015). Plato, on the other hand, saw a good life as an only state in which true happiness is possible (Heinaman, 2017). All three emphasized the need for morality as a fundamental requirement for a good life, as a good life, according to the philosophers, could not be achieved at the expense of others.

Not all philosophers, however, attribute morality with a good life. Nietzsche, for example, took a stance entirely controversial for that of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and many Christian concepts of a good life. His views could be considered immoral and unethical by many standards, as he rejected “life-denying values” of compassion, personal restraint, claiming them to be the tenets of slave morality (Nietzsche, 2017). His view of a good life is associated with achieving excellence and becoming better as a person by increasing intelligence, physical capabilities, and skills.

In order to understand which views and ideas of a good life are more viable and survivable, we need to look at the history of humankind. Modern civilization is primarily based on views of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and Kant, whereas Nietzsche’s ideas were used by Nazi Germany to wage war. I think all philosophers can agree that death and destruction brought upon by a lack of conventional morality does not constitute a happy life.

References

Heinaman, R. (2017). Plato and Aristotle’s ethics. New York, NY: Routledge.

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Kenny, A. (2016). The Aristotelian ethics: A study of the relationship between the Eudemian and Nicomachean ethics of Aristotle (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.

Nietzsche, F. (2017). The will to power. London, UK: Penguin Classics.

Peters, M. A. (2015). Socrates and Confucius: The cultural foundations and ethics of learning. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 47(5), 423-427.

Wainwright, W. J. (2017). Religion and morality. New York, NY: Routledge.

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