The Good Life
The good life is a condition in which a person will be the most happy. Both Plato and Aristotle see the good life as the state in which a person exhibits total virtue. Plato reasons that a person will exhibit total virtue when his desires have been extinguished, while Aristotle believes the perfect state will bring forth the virtue in men. Plato argues that the good life springs from love because through love, men can rid themselves of desires.
That is not to say that every loving relationship creates the good, only that love is actually the quest for that good. Aristotle argues that the good life is different for each individual because it comes from living one’s life according to one’s virtues, and each person has different virtues. While both Plato and Aristotle agree that good life is the exhibition of perfect virtue, they disagree on the particular definition of virtue, and it’s relevance to happiness, and therefore disagree on the means of attaining happiness.
Plato sees the good life as being attained through the perfect love and lack of desire, while Aristotle believes that the good life is achieved through a perfect state which causes its citizens to act upon their virtues. The original Platonic view of the world is that it is a two tiered place, the upper tier being the world of perfection, the lower tier being the world of reality, and love falling somewhere in between. The theory is that the plane of reality is an imperfect copy of the plane of perfection.
According to the Platonic view, humans only see glimpses of the good while existing in the plane of reality. Plato believes that love is the midpoint between reality and perfection, mortality and immortality. Love does not fall into the sphere of immortals and perfection because how could love be a god if he is not in possession of beautiful and good things? (Plato, 38). Since Love is the love of beautiful things, Love must have desires and therefore cannot be a god (Plato, 36). Yet Love is greater than mortals because love has and always will exist.
Thus Love is a great spirit, a halfway point between the realms of existence (Plato, 38). According to Diotima, love is the messenger and interpreter of the gods, and therefore is the gateway to knowledge of what is godly. This knowledge is the ultimate good and cannot be attained through logic or reason, only through an intuitive understanding which love brings. To Plato, the good life is one in which a person is exhibits perfect virtue and is therefore closer to the higher realm of existence. Virtue is comes from the absence of desires, so rue happiness means being satisfied to the point one does not have desires. This satisfaction, and therefore happiness, occur when a person arrives at the mystical understanding of the world. According to Plato, through Diotima and Socrates’ dialogue, love is the medium in which humans will attain the knowledge of the good, and come upon this understanding. It is human nature to seek out happiness, and ownership of good things makes one happy. Diotima says that for humans love is desire to have the good forever. (Plato, 43).
Reproduction, an effect of love, is as close as humans come to attaining physical immortality, and shows their desire to live on vicariously through their children. Therefore the basic human desires are for the good and immortality, and love is a means of achieving them (Plato, 44). Diotima believes that if a person is slowly taught the ways of love through experience, they can achieve the good life. He must progress from loving a person’s physical beauty, to loving the beauty of his or her mind, to loving beauty in general.
After progressing through these stages he will have an oblique understanding of the concept of formless beauty. From there he can understand Beauty, and therefore understand the divine, achieving the good. Having that awesome understanding he will project true virtue, and therefore has a chance of becoming loved by the gods, and immortal. (Plato, 50). Since this person has come about the mystical understanding of the world and achieved immortality, he has quenched his worldly desires.
He has therefore reached the good life according to its definition, and achieved ultimate happiness. To show that happiness lies in virtue, Aristotle first splits forms of the good into three parts, external goods, goods of the body, and goods of the soul. (Aristotle, 160). He goes on to say that goods of the soul (virtues) are the most important because with them, a person can gain material wealth and pleasure. Aristotle defines happiness and therefore the good life as the realization and perfect exercise of excellence. And this is not conditional, but absolute (Aristotle, 184).
Meaning that ultimate happiness occurs when a person’s actions are all virtuous and have goals which are virtuous. It also implies that in order to live the good life, there must be no action which is unnecessary, but for the sake of virtue. This implies that the good life must be a group goal, because unless all people are perfectly virtuous, action must be taken to maintain virtue for those who are not virtuous. But, there are three things that make men good and excellent; these are nature, habit and reason. (Aristotle, 185).
Therefore the path to happiness is through formation of habit and reason which create virtuous action, in addition to possessing a nature that agrees with them. Some people are therefore not able to lead the good life because the core of a person’s nature cannot change. They way to change habit and reason is through education, and training beginning at birth. One must have been trained to be virtuous from a very young age in order to live the good life, therefore a person does not have control over whether he lives the good life, it the job of the state to create the good life for its citizens.
Both Plato and Aristotle see happiness as being virtuous, but disagree on the nature of virtue, causing their ideas to follow vastly different paths, but converge at key points. Plato sees happiness as being close to godliness. And by living virtuously one can obtain this godliness. To Aristotle happiness is the result of being virtuous, because by being virtuous one obtains pleasure and external wealth. Both Plato and Aristotle agree that education is the means to attain virtue, but they disagree on how a person should be educated because of their differing views on the cause of virtue.
According to Aristotle, virtue comes from the agreement of the nature, habits and reason in a human’s conscience. Therefore, Aristotle states that education should begin from birth and it should involve changing the child’s habits and forming his reason so that their nature, habits and reason will align. Plato believes that virtue stems from an understanding of true Beauty, which exists only in the higher plane of the world. Thus Plato believes the education should begin when the child is ready to love another.
Plato’s ideal education involves bringing a person along by having him experience different forms of love between people, so that he may begin to love physical beauty and then beauty of the mind. Through this he sees the beauty in all things and eventually, with guidance understands all forms of beauty, ultimately understanding formless beauty. Both Plato and Aristotle agree on the importance of interpersonal relationships in the quest for the good life. Both agree that interpersonal relationships account for the education of individuals, but Aristotle goes further because he sees attaining the good life as societal.
He recognizes that if one is forced to take action because of others misdeeds, he cannot lead the good life, and therefore each person must be equal to the next so that nobody has to act on account of another. Human happiness is the foremost concern for both Plato and Aristotle in their works of literature. Since happiness is almost a universal emotion their conclusions on the cause of happiness is similar. But, Plato and Aristotle are completely different individuals, so the causes of their happiness are completely different.