Living a Good Life

This is the notes from a lecture of one of the Habitat affiliated groups organised by one of the Habitat Association directors, ray raucher.

This Group has an interest in writing and conversing about philosophy, this article is the notes from lecture given by Phillip Stroud a retired lawyer at at a meeting of the group on the 14th of May 2021, held in East Gosford. 

Notes by Philip Stroud

What do we mean by the term “Good Life”?

A life of happiness?

A life of value?

The discussion requires consideration of the following philosophical branches:

“Metaphysics”    the nature of reality, what is the world about? 

“Ethics”                what should we do? What sort of person should I  

       be? How should I behave towards others?

Firstly, for discussion, why should we live a Good Life? 

In preparing this paper the following two works were considered:

200 Words to help you talk about Philosophy Anja Steinbauer,   published Laurence King, and

How to live a Good Life-A guide to choosing your personal Philosophy

Ed: Massimo Pigliucci (Stoic), published Vintage Books 2020.

Pigliucci argues that we have a philosophy of life even if we are not aware of it. That is each of us has a view about the world and each of us behaves towards others in accordance with an ethical framework we have adopted. The question is does our philosophy of life stand up to scrutiny? Is it a “good”philosophy of life?

The book deals with an array of philosophical views, including religious and non-religious, and some which cannot be categorised as either.

Each chapter is written by someone who has adopted, or is an expert in, a particular philosophical way of life. The following are included, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Aristotelianism, Epicureanism, Stoicism, Existentialism, Effective Altruism, Pragmatism and Secular Humanism. The book does not deal with Marxism, Feminism, or liberalism.

Our “first” philosophy of life is developed as children. In western societies it is usually a form of Christianity such as Anglicanism or Catholicism. Many drift away as a result of questioning God’s existence but adopt Christianity’s ethical framework.

I will now go into more detail on three of the philosophies of life discussed in the book, namely, Buddhism, Aristotelianism and Effective Altruism.

  1. Buddhism[1]

The key Buddhist idea is to live compassionately, to try to relieve suffering of all sentient beings. The ethical imperative is to “always love, to substitute compassion and love whenever there is suffering, violence, cruelty and hate.”

  1. Everything is impermanent.
  2. Humans exist for a time only. Consciousness connects us to our past and present experience.
  3. Strive on with awareness.
  4. There is no God or higher power.
  5. The world is a fragile place and full of suffering (“dukkha”).
  6. One major cause of suffering is “the grasping ego”.
  7. Ego is acquisition and prone to anger and rage when it doesn’t get what it wants ( but doesn’t in fact really need)
  8. Need to be attentive to catch opportunities to improve the world or oneself.
  9. Ethical behaviour.
  10. Mindfulness or meditation.

Three strands:     Impermanence, no self

                               Ethics of compassion and loving kindness

                               Meditation and mindfulness

Does Buddhism lead to a happy life?  Not necessarily but can lead to serenity and equanimity and a reduction of suffering.

  • Aristotelianism[2]

Aristotle means “best purpose”. To live a good life means to flourish          and strive for all around well-being. To live to your full potential in all aspects of your life, but virtue is necessary.

The main criticism is that you may encounter bad luck and so not be able to “flourish”.  In contrast “stoicism” accepts the vicissitudes of life. You can increase chances of good luck by making the most of personal attributes.

We have the capacity to “reason” and can ask ourselves “what should I do”.  This leads to a life of contemplation and the pursuit of knowledge and so there needs to be a balance between “moral virtue” and “flourishing”. 

A modern adaptation focuses on “well-being”, mental health and the psychological practice of “cognitive behaviour therapy”.  

Morality is relative and not absolute and needs to be ascertained from experience (i.e. situational ethics)

3     Effective Altruism[3]

This requires us to dedicate some of our resources towards making the world a better place and to ensure those resources are used as effectively as possible.

We should determine where the problems are in the world today where my effort can make the biggest difference and how to achieve this.

 What are the practical steps to adopt this philosophy?[4]

  1. Outcome, results oriented cf. Bentham’s Utilitarianism
  2. To do as much good as possible, evaluate charities we give to
  3. All people are of equal value, including people not yet born. Peter Singer in his book “The most you can do”poses the question as “what is best?” and not “Is this good?”
  4. Undertake research to ascertain the issues and the best way to tackle them:  e.g., climate change, pain and suffering in the world, and causes of poverty 
  5. Adopt careers to address the problems. For example, become a doctor and work formedicines’ sans frontiersto reduce suffering from disease and illness or a lawyer to reduce injustice etc.

Conclusion

On page 1 I posed the question Why should we live a Good Life?

Life is short and as humans we do have a view or understanding of the world we live in, and we do endeavour to live life according to a set of ethical principles.  We can unconsciously or uncritically live our lives without really questioning or modifying our metaphysical and ethical approaches to life, or as I would recommend, we examine them in order to develop a more meaningful and fulfilling philosophy of life. It may be on reflection this evolves over the course of our short time on this planet.

It would be satisfying at the end of life to be able to look back and declare “I have lived a Good Life.” I imagine this would also, although not necessarily, amount to a happy life and a life of value.


[1]References:

[1]Owen Flanagan, a self-described “hybrid” Buddhist

[2]Daniel Kaufman     A Jew converted to Aristotelianism

[3]Kelsey Piper

[4]Doing Good Better, Will MacAskill an oxford university philosophy professor

  Charity Evaluator, GiveWell

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by davhol24 on August 8, 2021 at 8:15 am

    A great paper here, tons of thought for aspects of living a good life. Congrats Philip.

    Reply

  2. Posted by davhol24 on August 8, 2021 at 8:37 am

    The Philosophy of Life and the Individual School (POLIS) is a tribute to the Central Coast and the individuals participating in the group. Philip’s paper reflects positively on the group’s work.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: