The Good Life: Plato and Paul
For the span of all philosophical theory, the quest for the “good life” or permanent and final happiness has time and again been at the forefront of human motivation and thought. In surmising on how to make our lives good, it is not uncommon to believe that existing in the customary ways, given the lifestyles humans naturally form in becoming adults, is not automatically the preeminent way to exist. If we were to dedicate deliberate and conscious thought to the problem, a superior method may appear. The “good life” can range from a system of ethics to a quality of existence in comparison to others. Many philosophers, writers, and religious figures have speculated on what “the good life” truly is. Among these figures are the philosopher Plato and St. Paul. Plato’s best individual life is one of method and technique.
The more established opinion of the good life and the life of ethical virtue is that they are two different concepts; that the life of ethical virtue at times stands in the way of contentment and therefore the good life. Plato’s intellectual approach to the good life departs from the more common dependence on experience to acquire the knowledge involved in living a good life and finding happiness. His reserve about this idea, despite its significance in his metaphysics and ethics, is principally accountable for the vagueness of his notion of happiness and what it is to lead a good life, excepting the assertion that people are best off if they do what they want and according to self-preservation.
In just what way the thinkers' knowledge offers a concrete foundation for the good life of the public and the however vacuous bulk of the citizens remains an open question; beyond the notion that they profit from good order in the state, or that they somehow benefit from something not directly good for them. What, then, is ‘the good’ that is responsible for the goodness of all other things? As stated in Republic book VI, 509b: “not only do the objects of knowledge owe their being known to the good, but their being is also due to it, although the good is not being, but superior to it in rank and power.” The correlation with the sun's preservation of all life suggests that the good is the intellectual principle that decides the nature of every object capable of goodness so that it realizes its purpose in a suitable approach.
How such a principle of goodness works in all things Plato is clearly unable to say in the Republic. That he is thinking of a core ‘binding force’ is specified, however, in book X in the clarification of the ontological difference between the forms as the products of a divine creator, their worldly reproductions, and the imitation of these reproductions by an artist. Plato explains that in each case it is the use or function that determines what it is to be good, as in 601d: “Aren't the virtue or excellence, the beauty and correctness of each manufactured item, living creature, and action...