Each and every person has his own idea of what “the good life” is. For some, it is simply having enough of the basic necessities of life such as food and clothing to sustain themselves for everyday life. For others, it can be the acquirement of more riches and wealth. Others see the good life as living as wise, good, or virtuous men. In spite having these different ideas of what the good life is, it remains true for all people that in order to live this, they must be able to fulfill all their needs and desires. In other words, they need to find contentment.
A person can say he lives the good life when he has everything he wants—not just in a material sense, but also in the mental, emotional and spiritual senses. When all these are satisfied, the ultimate goal of happiness (which is basically the good life itself) is reached. In Plato’s Gorgias, the good life and the concepts of desire and happiness are discussed by the characters of Socrates and Callicles. As Callicles discusses in the following passage, he reveals his idea about how the full expression of desires is the ultimate goal of the good life: Human happiness is incompatible with enslavement to anyone.
What nature approves and sanctions, on the other hand—I’m going to speak bluntly to you now-is this: the only authentic way of life is to do nothing to hinder or restrain the expansion of ones desires, until they can grow no larger, at which point one should be capable of putting courage and cleverness at their service and satisfying every passing whim. Now, I don’t think most people can do this, and that’s why they condemn those who can; they’re ashamed, and they try to disguise their failings by claiming that self indulgence is contemptible, which, as I explained earlier, is an attempt to enslave those who are better than them.
And why do they praise self discipline and justice? Because their own timidity makes them incapable of winning satisfaction for their pleasures The first part of his statement discusses how man’s goal must always be his happiness. His desires can never be suppressed, that his focus must always be on his main goal, which is to achieve everything he has set his heart upon having. When the time comes that he reaches this point—the “maximum” level—those that he desires after (though not necessarily all) will be easier to acquire. The phrase “passing whims” are like short-term goals.
When one has achieved the ultimate or long-term goal, it seems that the short-term ones become much easier to achieve. However, Callicles believes that not all people are capable of achieving their ultimate goals. The force themselves to make to with their short-term ones, but fulfilling these never seem to be enough, which is why “they condemn those who can”. People who fail to reach their goals say that putting forward one’s own pleasures and gratifications is contemptible. They pretend that they do not need to fulfill their own desires because it is rather unacceptable behavior.
It is selfish and unpleasant to place oneself as the first priority. But deep down, there is resentment about his failures. He puts on a show that he is virtuous and unselfish—another way, in truth, of gratifying oneself. This becomes a way of attempting “to enslave those who are better than them”. Because they make it seem like they are the virtuous ones, they make the successful men look like the self-seeking ones. They condemn the achievers to reputations of being self-indulgent and unworthy of respect or power because they chose to put themselves first, above all else.
Secretly wishing to in the achievers’ position, the failed men try to redeem themselves and their prides by making themselves appear virtuous. They make it seem that they did not reach their mains goals not because of deficiencies or weaknesses, but rather because they have self-discipline and believe in equality amongst all men that no one should rise above the others, that they remained equal and that they wanted to be fair to all. They force to turn their weaknesses and shortcomings into acts of nobility.
If they cannot achieve their main goals, they prefer to find satisfaction elsewhere, even if their means are not of the right way. This way of thinking becomes the explanation for why self-discipline becomes the goal of those who can’t have what they really desire. Self-discipline, firstly, as mentioned earlier, is a means of redeeming oneself. This is the failures’ way of getting satisfaction. Even though it is not as pleasurable a feeling as achieving one’s ultimate goal, they compensate for it by getting to experience parts of it.
Secondly, self-discipline is a means of controlling oneself to not desire any other things, or at least things that are difficult to attain. Their continuous disappointments spur them to set realistic goals for themselves—goals that match their capabilities. They make do with what they have as not to fail as much anymore. This is not to say that they find a different ultimate goal. They still seek to attain the good life and happiness, but they set their criteria for it in lower standards that they can reach.
They seek new desires to fulfill, as these are the things which lead to the good life. Man has always been a desiring creature, always on the lookout for a better state in life. There are few who can say truthfully that they have achieved the highest end. This is because most men fail to complete all their desires. The full expression of man’s desires is the ultimate goal of the good life. A person who believes himself to be living the good life does not need or want anything else to make it even better. In other words, he is at his “peak”, at the maximum level of happiness and pleasure.
Every single thing that man desires is for his own good. He does not desire anything that will cause him harm or discomfort. Man desires for one reason and one reason alone: to be happy. When he is truly happy, there is no more need for desiring anything. Even the simplest desire of wanting to be happy (in a general sense) is enough to show that there is something missing. Contentment does not go hand-in-hand with desire. A contented man feels that he is complete and every aspect of his life has fallen properly into place.
Every person has in himself a list of goals that he aims to achieve. As he grows older, these goals are slowly achieved, but then, more and more desires are also added to the list. Because of this, more often than not, man fails to live his ideal “good life”. Men, however, who set limits for their desires and know which ones they can achieve, try their best to achieve this, and when they do, they become contented. In a different perspective in Gorgias, the character of Socrates refutes Callicles’ statement of what the ultimate goal of man is.
According to Socrates, and Plato himself, as well, the ultimate human goal is represented by virtue (defined as “the highest good…and… the abstract sum total of all more specific instances of good”), and “is attained through a proper combination of fitness, temperance, justice, and the other arts” (Gorgias: Important Terms). Socrates sees pure goodness as the ultimate goal. Callicles, on the other hand, sees the fulfillment of all desires as the ultimate goal, because the desire of wanting to be good and wanting to be virtuous is present.
This “want” is something that is aimed to be achieved, and if this want to be good and virtuous is not achieved, there will be no contentment—therefore, the ultimate goal cannot be reached. To be living the good life, for Callicles, is to be happy. To be happy is to be able to fulfill all that one desires. When needs and wants are fulfilled, man becomes content. Those who cannot attain all their needs and wants succumb to self-discipline wherein they redeem themselves through achieving less ambitious but more realistic goals, and they control their goals to match their capabilities.
Everything man desires, he desires for his own good. It has always been man’s nature to choose what is beneficial to him, and will always be that way. These desires are all aimed towards one goal: the good life. When man has reached the point wherein he desires no more, he has reached his ultimate goal. Work Cited “Gorgias: Important Terms. ” 2009. SparkNotes. 27 April 2009. <http://www. sparknotes. com/ philosophy/gorgias/terms. html>
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