WHAT IS THE GOOD LIFE? – 2 (Post No.8425)


WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8425

Date uploaded in London – – – 30 July 2020   

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R. Nanjappa

The other remarkable figures who lived in the same time-frame were: Pythagoras, Aeschylus,Confucius,  Heraclitus, Pindar, Anaxagoras,Xenophanes, Themistocles. The world has obviously not been short of wise men from the olden days. But the greatest of them in the Classical period was Plato.

By English: Copy of Silanion Francais CC BY-SA 2.5 Creative commons via Wikimedia Commons.

 As depicted by Plato, Socrates had made ‘Know Thyself’ his main teaching. It formed the basis of his philosophical discourse.

Sting.CC By-SA 2.5 Creativecommons.org via Wikimedia Commons.

Good Life and Virtue

In Plato’s ‘Republic’, we see Socrates concerned with the idea of the ‘good life’. For him, the good life is based on virtue. Virtue comes from wisdom. This is not just a  knowledge of things, but knowing their very basis and rationale. Such wisdom automatically results in good conduct. Virtue is valuable in itself, and not as the means to something else. It is the duty of the rulers to guard the morality of the people and for this, they themselves should be properly trained in philosophy. This is the purpose of education.

In the beginning, we find Thracymachus claiming that immorality pays. It can be argued that it does. But for Socrates, the question whether “moral people have a better and more fulfilled life than immoral people” is very significant. Superficial views won’t do.Says Socrates:

 “we must look more closely at the matter since what is at stake is far from insignificant: it is how one should live one’s life.” (Republic, I, 352d.)

Education and the Good 

It is easy enough to say we should do good. But how to know what is good? For Plato, this is the function and purpose of education. Man is governed by mind. Mind has three parts. One part seeks desire- rather by instinct. There is the desire to preserve one’s sense of ego- which makes one feel separate from others, and perceive of one’s own as distinct from those of others. Then there is the part which seeks understanding and truth. It is possible for the mind to be ruled by one of the parts, especially for the baser parts to dominate. but the ideal is balance among the parts. This is where education is important: it should help to keep the baser parts in check, and prevent them from becoming dominant. Harmony among the parts is the aim of education, and it is also the manifestation of morality.

 Plato assumes that right education would automatically lead to proper conduct- choosing the good. It is not only what is good for oneself, but what is good for everyone else. Society teaches or enforces certain kinds of behaviour in the name of morality, which we follow due to external authority; but true morality is based on true belief which is obtained by education. But it is only philosopher’s education which results in true knowledge that translates into right conduct. The purpose of true education (higher training of the philosopher) is to know goodness, and the ruler knowing goodness would ensure it for the community. Thus moral education and goodness also result in good life for all. Such in bare outline is the main theme of Plato’s dialogues in ‘Republic’ delivered through Socrates. The dialogues meander through many issues, but we should not lose the main thread which is concerned with the good life- ie how we should live our lives. 

This is the point to which Socrates returns at the end of Republic. The dialogues conclude with Socrates saying:

There you are, then, Glaucon. The story has made it safely through to the end, without perishing on the way… Anyway, my recommendation would be for us to regard the soul as immortal and as capable of surviving a great deal of suffering, just as it survives all good times. We should always keep to the upward path, and we should use every means at our disposal to act morally and with intelligence, so that we may gain our own and the gods’ approval, not only during our stay here on earth, but also when we collect the prizes our morality has earned us…..And then, both here and during the thousand- year journey of our story, all will be well with us.

Such a state is possible only when the rulers are endowed with wisdom. Socrates says:

Unless communities have philosophers as kings or the people who are currently called kings and rulers practice philosophy with enough integrity,- in other words, until political power and philosophy coincide…there can be no end to political troubles, my dear Glaucon, or even to human troubles in general.

(Republic, V 473d)

So, it becomes the responsibility of the ruler to ensure community life based on morality, leading to goodness all round. Morality is not a mere individual virtue. Socrates asks pointedly:

Wouldn’t we say that morality can be a property of whole communities as well as of individuals?     (Republic, II, 368e).

May be, we cannot define the ‘good life’. But we can’t say we don’t know it. Or, all these masters have lived in vain!.



1.The quotations from Republic here are from the translation of Robin Waterfield, published in the Oxford World’s Classics.
2. We may reflect on our own notion of Dharma and the king’s role to protect it, in the light of what Socrates says here.
3. Socrates assumes that right knowledge would result in virtuous conduct without any external force. This too is in accordance with our own notions. eg. Tirukkural says:
கற்க கசடற கற்பவை கற்றபின்
நிற்க அதற்குத் தக.
After acquiring knowledge worth acquiring, conduct yourself accordingly.TAGS- GOOD LIFE-2

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