Ancient Ethics - Essay Example in Philosophy

Published: 2019-10-16
Ancient Ethics - Essay Example in Philosophy
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Philosophy Philosophers
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1456 words
13 min read

The study and observation of many great works of philosophers reveal that these great minds may not necessarily answer a question posed to them but give individuals an understanding of the question. Many of these philosophers have addressed issues that answer the question Are you living a good life? These philosophers include the likes of Socrates, Aristotle and Epictetus. The three philosophers bring out factors that depict their thoughts on the issue of living a good life.

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All the three philosophers had ideas that differed none of which is believed to be the final answer to the question being addressed. Socrates takes a unique look at the issue. His address comes in the form of a question which is generally not a trivial question. Socrates says: what we are talking about is how one should live (Gordon 3). He and his student Plato thought that philosophy had the ability to answer the question. Socrates had the hope that every individual had the ability to direct his/her life and in some cases even redirect it when necessary (William 209). The direction according to Socrates had to be through a distinctively philosophical understanding. This means that it had to be rationally reflective, abstract and general, and had a concern for what could be known through the use of various types of inquiry.

The question however had no definite answer. Both Socrates and his student Plato did not give a precise response to the question that was brought forward by Socrates. Socrates described that the answer is only one that the specific individual would personally recognize and understand. According to him, there was no definite answer to the question but the answer was obtained at a personal level. A question however concerning how this could be? There was also how it was related to the subject existing. However Socrates in his talks never recognized the existence of such a subject because he often talked in a plain way with his friends.

Aristotle on the other hand had his thoughts on the issue of living a good life. He had his thoughts on happiness and living a good life. He takes a eudaimonic view at living a good life where which is generally expressed through his Nichomachian Ethics (Ryan 117). In this idea Aristotle looks at how human happiness is defined which is also centered on the meaning of living a good life a life that is a precise representation of human excellence. By addressing his thoughts on living a good life, it does not mean that his propositions are definitive.

His thoughts and ideas on living a good life where traditionally personal need not to be taken as the final resolution concerning the issue. According to Aristotle eudaimonia was the core of human good. In his opinion it is the aspect in an individual that requires a life that is according to moderation and reason aiming for excellence and the ability to realize a life that is complete. His ideas mainly addressed the concerns of living well and feeling good.

He most importantly differentiates between happiness as living which he refers to as eudaimonia and happiness as pleasure which he calls hedonia. In this case eudaimonia is not necessarily a felling but rather a description of character. In the opinion of Aristotle, eudaimonia is an adjective that is used in the description of a life that is exemplary. He therefore finds it to a way of life rather than a positive feeling, a mental state or an appraisal of satisfaction that is cognitive.

Living a good life for Aristotle meant making use of the best human capacities and individual has for the pursuit of excellences and virtues. Through the pursuit of virtues and excellences individuals are able to utilize their highest and most authentic natures or daimon. He however restrained from comparing living a good life to the pursuit of power and wealth because he viewed them as ends hat lacked inherent value. Aristotle stated that wealth is clearly not the good we are looking for, since it is useful, and for the sake of something else (Gordon 43). It is an indication that living a good life is valued intrinsically while the pursuit of wealth and power is an extrinsic value.

Epictetus is also another philosopher who addresses the issue of living a good life. His ideas were mainly based on his experiences as a slave and a stoic teacher. According to him nothing else lies in the complete power of an individual apart from the persons goals desires and judgments. He expresses that even the bodily frame of an individual and how it moves are not completely up to the person (Long 9). His main assumption is that nothing that is found outside volition or the mind has the power to interfere with an individual unless the person lets it. He explains that when living a good life, an individual monitors his/her mental self all the time to make sure that the mental self is solely responsible for any experiences encountered whether positive or negative.

His thoughts are close to those of modern philosophers where hard work is the key to living a good life. As a stoic Epictetus challenges his students concerning the issue of hard work. At some point he expresses that why are we still idle, lazy and sluggish, looking for excuses to avoid making efforts and staying awake as we work at improving our own rationality? (Gordon 85). He believed that living a good life meant self discipline and material simplicity.

All the three philosophers had their ideas on living a good life and each of them expressed these ideas in a given way. All the three ideas however were believed not to be definitive of living a good life. They were all personal opinions given by different individuals who were expressing their thoughts on living a good life. All the three philosophers believed that living a good life was a personal endeavor despite the fact that they expressed their opinions differently. They all viewed it to be an intrinsic motivation rather than an extrinsic one.

All three philosophers proposed that living a good life was more of a mental state rather than a physical entity. That is why Aristotle explained that an individual would lack the entire control of his/her body and it movements but have complete control of the judgments, desires and goals. This shows that it was not tangible and not a feeling or emotion but a given way of life. When considering living a good life all three philosophers emphasized on the issue of morality. They believed that it is not as much of material possessions but morality. The example of Epictetus brings this out vividly considering that he was a slave in the Roman Empire but was still able distinguish himself from the rest through the moral life he led.

It is however noticeable that the three ideas have their differences. One is that Aristotle and Epictetus are able to give a somewhat understandable definition of their view of living a good life. Socrates on the other hand explains that it is a personal experiencing and only the individual can understand and express it. Aristotle on the other hand views living a good life to be the search for virtues and excellences and disputes power and wealth as aspect of living a good life. He believes that living a good life is majorly an intrinsic value while wealth and power is more of an extrinsic value.

Epictetus on the other hand proposed that living a good life is being in total control of ones desires, judgments and goals. He also associates it with hard work and being in control of ones mental self. He believes that self discipline and simplicity also determines and individuals view of living a good life. He also discards the comparison of living a good life to the physical expressing that a person may lack the entire control of their body and how it moves.

In conclusion it is clear that Socrates associates living a good life with a personal experience which only the individual can express. Aristotle on the other hand vies it to be the pursuit of excellences and virtues and not wealth and power. Finally Epictetus thinks of it as the control of ones desires, goals and judgments.


Long, Anthony A. Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

Marino, Gordon D. Ethics: The Essential Writings. New York: Modern Library, 2010. Internet resource.

Ryan, Richard M., Veronika Huta, and Edward L. Deci. "Living well: A self-determination theory perspective on eudaimonia." The Exploration of Happiness. Springer Netherlands, 2013. 117-139.

Williams, B. (2011). Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. Taylor & Francis.

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