Sometimes we need to look to the past to look to the future, so Kaja has teamed up with Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, to figure out how to be that bit more perfect in 2017.
It’s January 2017, the first month of a new year, and a lot of us will be reflecting on our lives and thinking about how we can be a better person. We all know we’re pretty perfect already, but how do we go that extra mile? Well, we probably can’t do it alone. So a lot of us will be looking to google for positive quotes, filtering Pinterest for healthy-lifestyle pins, or maybe even buying a self-help book which we’ll never read, but the blurb seemed monumentally life-changing enough. All these things will be telling you how to Live Your Life The Right Way.
But is there The Right Way to live your life? What would this even look like? Would you be a kinder person, achieving your passions, keeping fit, being happy? What is our end goal here, living The Right Way? How can we find out? These are the sort of questions teleological philosophers attempt to answer; they look at the ultimate goal for humankind and how best to reach it. So why don’t we look at a couple of these ideas to try and find out how best to spend 2017?
Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics
Aristotle was a pretty cool dude with some neat ideas that he formed back in Ancient Greece. I chose him to help us out because he was my favourite philosopher in A Level philosophy and made Living The Right Way into quite an easy system to follow.
Aristotle heavily influenced virtue ethics, which is a theory that is still being used and developed by recent philosophers like Alasdair MacIntryre and Philippa Foot. Aristotle developed virtue ethics in his book, Nichomachean Ethics, which is a theory all about finding the goal to human life through your development as an awesome person.
How Do We Live Life The Right Way, According To Aristotle?
First we need to figure out our summum bonum, which means our highest good. It’s the goal of human existence and it has to be the final thing we’re reaching for. You see, a lot of the goals we pursue in every-day life are aimed at further goals. For example you want to pass your A Levels so you can go to university and you want to go to university to get your dream job and you want to do that because, etc etc. So the summum bonum has to be the ultimate and final goal, one that doesn’t lead onto anything else. It must also be something related to all human beings, to be fair to everyone. It can’t be your really specific dream of owning a mammoth sized chocolate fountain.
So, he deduced that our ultimate goal, the real biggie, is reaching Eudaimonia. Which, translated, means fulfilment and happiness, living the good life.
So far this sounds good. I mean who doesn’t want to be fulfilled? Being a happy chappy? Yes please. Living the good life? Um, bring it on.
So how do we get there, that’s the next question.
Living The Life Of Arête
We can do it by living a life of arête. Which means virtue. When I think of the word virtue, I think of Maria from ‘The Sound Of Music’ in a white dress singing to bunny rabbits, but being a virtuous person is much more cool and rewarding than that.
A virtue is basically a good, morally right trait you have, something positive you like about yourself. So being kind is a virtue. Its antonym would be a vice, something you dislike about human nature. So being cruel is a vice. And it’s true that we want to develop our virtues don’t we? Surely being kinder and more intelligent and witty would be a pretty cool thing. But how do we accomplish this?
There are two different ways that work, because Aristotle distinguished two types of virtue. One is an intellectual virtue, which means qualities of the mind like wisdom and intelligence. Then the second is the moral virtue, the qualities of our character, like courage and patience. It might be good to stop here and think about which you want to focus on in 2017.
If you want to learn something new or develop your intellectual skills then Aristotle believed this could be done best through being taught. So maybe some evening classes or watching TED Talks would be for you.
But if you want to develop the qualities of your character then this needs to be more of a soul-searching habitual development process which is a lot easier than it sounds. It means we need to live every-day life situations and decide on the right and virtuous things to do so we can start to feel fulfilled.
2017 Is Time For The Golden Mean
This can be hard. Sometimes it’s tricky to see what the right thing to do is, but again Aristotle comes to the rescue. For this he developed The Golden Mean. All it means is finding the balance in life. It’s about finding the middle point between the extremes of excess and deficiency in every situation. You can’t do too little but you can’t do too much either. Eg You have just met a new colleague at work who is wearing a ‘Game of Thrones’ shirt and you want to be their best friend. You can’t be too eager and creepy and scare them away but you don’t want to be standoffish and uninterested either, so instead you find the balance in-between, which is friendliness.
This doesn’t mean you can’t be extreme. Sometimes being extreme is definitely the right thing. You’re allowed to feel passionate, for example, when certain political changes occur, or when Netflix stops showing your favourite movie. But you need to develop something called your practical wisdom so as to be able to decide what’s appropriate for what situation.
Practical wisdom is described as ‘the moral will to do the right thing and the moral skill to know what the right thing is’ by Barry Schwarz. This can only be developed by practice, by finding the balanced middle until you become a master at making the right life choices and being virtuous. Aristotle does give twelve examples of the golden mean so you can look those up which might be helpful in giving you an idea of what to look for in different situations, but the more you try and find the balance yourself the better.
So, 2017 Then…
That’s what it’s all about. Aristotle believed that if we practice our virtues enough so they become habitual and instinctive then eventually we will enjoy doing virtuous acts and naturally want to do them until eventually we’ll have a disposition to always act virtuously and experience fulfilment. Aristotle’s theory is about you, about being balanced, and the freedom to decide what is right in the world and to feel good about yourself.
I guess that’s what I like about it. I don’t believe there is a really rigid way to live your life, I think each of us are so different that we need the freedom to find out own paths. But generally trying to improve yourself and be balanced and holistic sounds a good way to go about this. That’s why I like Aristotle’s theory. It’s also why I encourage you to yes continue seeking inspiration and finding guidance if you want to, but also make sure you are doing the things you want to do and finding your very own balance in life. Sometimes we need to look to the past to look to the future, and I think some of the ideas from ancient times can really help us out today.
Do you think there is the right way to live life? Tell us in the comments below.
Want something positive to do this New Year? Look to the Rife Guide for a wonderful array of opportunities and events.