The theory of good life has been developed by Aristotle. This theory greatly emphasizes doing well and living well. In this theory, Aristotle refers to a good life as being a happy life. This, according to Aristotle, does not mean feeling amused or just feeling happy. To him, good life actually means that there is good functioning in ways that are unique and essential to all human beings. According to Aristotle’s theory of good life, there are various popular conceptions of what good life entails. They include the following; (McKeon, 1941)
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- Wealth- according to Aristotle, the good life is just, but an end in itself, and wealth is just but a means through which ends are reached.
- Virtue- Aristotle says or rather concurs that virtue is one of the essential components of the good life. He, however, says that one cannot identify good life through virtue because he asserts that being virtuous means suffering greatly or just leading a very inactive life.
- Honor- to Aristotle, honor has got much to do with the external than the internal. This means how other people view you. He says that happiness is an internal and good life for the person who manages to lead. It is intrinsic in nature.
- Pleasure- Aristotle concurs that good life is actually very pleasurable. Aristotle also clarifies that a life of seeking pleasure is not a good one. This is because; he says that the people that seek pleasure are known to seek it in the wrong places. This normally distracts them from leading the desired good life.
In the theory of good life, there is the notion of the existence of a hierarchy of needs. In this, he says that there are some ends that are pursued by people just for the mere sake of other ends. To him, there are still others that are pursued the sake of their own (Ackrill, 1981).
In this case, final ends are those ends that are pursued their own sake. For instance, studying, if pursued its own sake, then it is a final end. When it is carried out to pass exams, then it is not a final end in itself. A final end, in this case, is that which is pursued not for the sake of another end but just for its own sake. Therefore good life or happiness, according to Aristotle, is a final end. This simply means that good life or happiness cannot be improved in any way through the addition of something else. Aristotle asserts that good life is complete in itself.
Aristotle says that good life, since it is a final end, is explained in terms of human functions (Henry, 1974).
This simply means that something is actually evaluated as good things of its own kind if there is well functioning in relation to its kind. In literal terms, an example can be given to a pen. A good pen can be described as that writes well without spilling ink etc. One can describe a good dress as one that fits very well to the person or the wearer. A good mango tree is that which produces very many juicy mangoes. Therefore according to Aristotle, good life simply means that the life of the individual is functioning well a person. To him, the essential nature of each human being is functioning well as humans. This is just but unique to human beings, and it cannot be related to other beings like animals, birds, etc., because they are just not human in nature. This actually differentiates human beings from other creatures created by God.
This scholar just engages or rather relates the soul to the ancient Greek tri-partite. In this case, the soul is not just thought of as a non-material substance but as a map that shows the entire capabilities of man. He says that the soul has got three components, namely, a calculative component, appetitive component, and vegetative component. All these capacities correspond to a kind of virtue.
In this case, growth and nourishment is one aspect that is rejected and considered as one of the functions of humans. This function, according to Aristotle, is shared by both animals and plants. There is an aspect that Aristotle rejects to be the function of human beings because all the higher animals function in this manner. This is called getting one’s appetites satisfied (Kenny, 1979).
The capacity of rational thought is the one that is unique to human beings. Therefore Aristotle says that good life in the human perspective consists of a life that has exercising of one’s rational capacity, which is quite active in nature. He says that pleasant life is that which is life in accordance with virtue. Aristotle, however, says that happiness needs more than just virtues, but rather he requires a degree of some good fortune.
There are two kinds of virtues, intellectual and moral virtue. Intellectual virtue is defined as a kind of understanding or wisdom that is normally required in teaching various issues in society. Moral virtue, on the other hand, is an issue whereby the appetitive soul component is quite obedient to the rational.
Aristotle says that moral virtues are not acquired by nature but by through habit. He says that it is not easy to find something that occurs by nature to form a habit that can go contrary to nature itself. When people act virtuously, they acquire moral virtues. They can just be destroyed by either defect or excess. This is in line with health analogy or exercise (Lear, 1998).
It is very pleasurable for a virtuous person to act virtuously. To Aristotle, it is possible for a person to act virtuously through the person who lacks virtue. He says that there are people who act virtuously but are also pained by the same, and therefore they are not virtuous. When such a person acts justly on a repeated basis, he or she can actually become just (Lear, 1998).
Aristotle asserts that a happy man is that that does well and also lives well. He also agrees with those who identify happiness with virtue. He says that men also need external goods that help them to actually perform noble acts and perform virtuous acts. Various goods are important in order for a person to lead a happy life. They include the following; prosperity, good birth, and fine children.
According to Aristotle’s theory of good life, happiness comes about through training or learning how to enjoy life in general. The theory says that happiness is an activity and not a state. This activity is chosen, and it is self-sufficient in nature. Happiness never lies just because of mere amusement. To Aristotle, their type of goodness leads a person to find that good of intellect is the right rule in life. Two types of wisdom play a role in creating the good of intellect. They include practical wisdom and theoretical wisdom. Theoretical wisdom helps people to view complex truths in very minute principles. To Aristotle, leisure is just but the highest goal in life. He says that a happy life is that of conscious following of a specific rule. He asserts that knowing the actions that are good for human beings is one of the goods that are easily achievable by action. To him, the best life is that where rules are followed to find some balance and also where there is cooperation such that goodness and balance for the state are achieved. Aristotle asserts that human senses have the power to know what is good and what is good. The supreme good is just happiness, of which it is an end in itself (Ackrill, 1981).
Aristotle greatly links good life to happiness, and he says it is an end in itself because one can’t better use it by the addition of something else. He defines happiness according to virtue. Aristotle says that virtues are not inborn and it is just a consequence of experience and training. According to this theory, good is the ultimate object at which all things aim. In this case, the ultimate good of each and every action is just overall happiness. Life has got three modes which include contemplation, citizenship, and enjoyment. To Aristotle, there are also three kinds of goods. They include goods of the mind which includes peace. There are external goods and goods of the body. Happiness is good living, and it is also good to conduct both in action and principle as forms of activity which are aims and ends in themselves. According to Aristotle’s theory of good life, happiness is not just pleasure. It is normally acquired by effort and by study.
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- Ackrill, L. (1981): Aristotle the Philosopher; New York; Macmillan Press
- Henry, V. (1974): Aristotle; a Contemporary Appreciation; New York; Prentice Press
- Kenny, A. (1979): Aristotle’s Theory of good life; New York; Prentice Press
- Lear, J. (1998): Aristotle: The Desire to Understand; New York; Melbourne Press
- McKeon, R. (1941): Basic Works of Aristotle; Random House