I was reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and I was thinking about what he had to say about what it is to live a good life. First off, Aristotle does not think we live to gain pleasure out of what we do. Rather, what he seems to be saying in his work; is that we live to have a good life, and pleasure is a byproduct of the Good life. To demonstrate this I will use the following example: a squirrel lives their ultimate life, by doing squirrel-ly things (climbing trees, eating acorns etc..) and if they do this well then they achieve a good life. It’s the same with humans, we achieve the good life if we do our humanly things well.
For Aristotle the contemplative life; the life where we think philosophically and take time to contemplate our world is the good life. The life where we think of the physical, metaphysical, ethical, political, personal, emotional aspects of life, is the highest order of live and is the best life we can live. However, it’s not just thinking about those things, it’s the arriving at that state of mind where you question breakdown all you know and you don’t and then build up your own philosophy. It’s this philosophical contemplation that I can’t quiet explain, but can only experience. He also believes in the life of activity, where we create and function within political and social systems, but it’s seen as inferior to the contemplative life.
Well, I largely agree with Aristotle, but then again, I am very bias. I am a big fan of Aristotle and I am a philosophy student, myself, so the contemplative life is, to me, the best possible life to live. I am in my second year of Philosophy, and I feel like I finally am serving my ideal function. My soul feels at home when I am doing philosophy, and that is what happiness is to me. Doing the exact thing I am meant to do. It feels like I am being graded for my day dreaming. Questions that people thought to be unnecessary, foolish, alien and just simply dumb to ask; are the questions that ignite my soul.
I had questions about causation, for as long as I can remember I would stay up in bed, struggling to sleep because I keep tracing my heritage way back to figure out where humans came from; tracing it back to God. I was trapped in a loop: where does this causation end? How come does God not have a cause? Then I realized I need to define God to understand that causal loop, to create my own philosophy about God’s existence.
I started understanding that there could exist a world without causation, that it’s not necessary except for the physical world I experience. But, it’s not necessary to other possibly existent worlds. That’s when I realized that what I immediately experience is not necessarily the truth, it’s not necessarily how things really are. I started questioning my reality, dreams, cognition and perception. I would get lost day dreaming in class about what my mind is, how and why am I thinking? How and why I have dreams? Long before reading Descartes, I would contemplate whether my dreams and reality are the same. I mean, some of my dreams were so vivid.
This went on till my first day of university, my first class was PHL101, I walked in to the class not sure what I’ll study, I had an idea about philosophy, but I never really understood what a philosopher does. This class changed everything. I started studying those questions I had on my mind, since forever. Daydreaming, was my studying. It was a magical experience, I felt like I am not fighting to be something I am not I am simply embracing and refining who I am. I changed my career path, it was hard scary and I did loose things along the way to get where I am; but I am thankful for every step of that way. If I had not experienced the failures I did I would not be where I am today, I could be studying something that would have never in a million years given me the pleasure I feel doing philosophy.
Now, I’ll come back to Aristotle’s point on the good life. From where I am standing the Good life, is the life where you do what you love. I agree we should do humanly things, that make us human, and the best way to do that is by serving your specific function. Achieving our human function at its best is to do, what in our hearts we know we’re meant to do. It’s not meant to come easy, you’re not going to wake up one day knowing what you are meant to do. You figure this out everyday as you work through the opportunities that come your way. Failure is inevitable, I failed many many times till I figured out what it is I wanted to do. Even now, I would not say I have figured it out yet. However, the fuzzy picture is little clear. I am figuring out my true function, every day. The failures will be hard and devastating; if you allow them to be. You can flip it around and look at those failures as pushing you forward. Signals, to maybe, change the way you do things, or start another path. It’s all a matter of perspective, take advantage of every experience, learn from it and move on.
Aristotle was right that pleasure is a byproduct resulting from what we do, it’s not the end result. But, I disagree a bit with him on the contemplative life being the life to live. It is for me and anyone else whose soul food is Philosophy. But, it’s not true for other people whose souls thrive on other passions. Find your function and live your good life, be proud of the journey you take and trust God that whatever ups and downs you face are meant to lead you to your good life.
Ackrill, J. L. A New Aristotle Reader. Princeton University Press, 1988. Kindle edition.