What is Aristotle's conception of the good life, and why is the good life not the life of pleasure?

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Aristotle says the aim of living is the good life. However, this good life is not just any life of pleasure, for Aristotle distinguishes between apparent goods and real goods. Society can raise in us desires for things that are not really good for us. A six-year-old, let's say, might think the ultimate good is to eat an entire chocolate cake, but that would be only an apparent good.

The real goods in life are, first, bodily: health, energy, and physical fitness. Then they are physical: adequate food, shelter, clothing, rest, warmth. Finally, the good life is not complete without the goods of the soul, which include love, friendship, knowledge, the respect of others, and a sense of inner worth. These are the highest goods.

Aristotle doesn't so much say that a life of pleasure is not the good life as he defines pleasure in a way that isn't focused on merely gratifying our physical desires. We may think an overflow of stuff: food, designer clothes, sex, alcohol, and other "pleasures" constitutes the good life. Aristotle argues, however, that an excess of the physical pleasures leads to pain and dissatisfaction.

Therefore, we need to be educated to distinguish between false and true pleasure. This requires an education in virtue, which, first, teaches us to avoid excess and concentrate on moderation. But most importantly, we need to focus on moral virtue, which Aristotle defined as knowing how to make the right choices: the choices that are truly good for us.

A wretched excess of physical pleasure will not bring us the good life, Aristotle says, but knowing how to practice moderation and make good choices will.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 15, 2019
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