Essay on Ethics: What Is the Good Life?

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The Art of Attaining the Good Life
Sarah J. Thieme
PHI 208: Ethics and Moral Reasoning
Professor Galen Johnson
January 28, 2013

The Art of Attaining the Good Life
What is the good life and how does one achieve it? This is a question that has been brought to the attention of many philosophers over human history. It can be reasonably argued that the modern person, especially westerners, consider income to be an important part to living the good life. There is little question anymore that income and happiness are indeed correlated in some ways, but does one have to attain wealth in order to be happy, to live the good life? Can a person think of themselves as “living the good life” even though they may be of a more austere status? Does wealth even really matter at all? This paper will aim to argue the point that attaining the good life successfully has more to do with virtue ethics, specifically attaining eudaimonia, in spite of statistics that do show happiness, or unhappiness, and income can be linked, and why virtue ethics may have more bearing on a person’s perception of living the good life than economics do.

“Happiness is at a dead end” (O’Connor, 2009). This is how the award-winning psychotherapist Richard O’Connor begins his introduction in “Happiness: The Thinking Person’s Guide.” It’s a pretty strong declaration coming from a professionally trained western doctor, but not without reason. The comment was not made at the condemnation of happiness, but more as a signpost declaring we westerners have veered off course, quite some time ago, and arrived at a dead end in our search for happiness and attaining the good life. According to O’Connor, we first veered off course when we began thinking the road to happiness and the good life was down Prosperity Lane. That philosophy has its roots in our culture too with reason. A lot of evidence seems to indicate that income and happiness are positively associated. This is because income is related to a variety of “positive life outcomes” and when people are asked to describe the characteristics of a good life, most people identify income as a key component (Schnittker, 2008). Studies have also found that when people around the globe are asked about what is required for more happiness or life satisfaction, “the answers are strikingly uniform: money, health, and family are said to be the necessary components of a good life.” (Stevenson & Wolfers, p6). The idea that more wealth increases happiness has been a basic operating principle for centuries for westerners. O’Connor says that most westerners have unconsciously bought into the idea that “If I get rich then I’ll be happy.” However, in his professional opinion, the true reality of it, at least for Americans, seems to fit closer to “If I get rich then I’ll be depressed and anxious” (O’Connor, p1). According to O’Connor this generalization stems from the facts that depression and anxiety disorders have been skyrocketing over the past several decades in America even though increasing economic prosperity has become a priority. So does this argue the case that economic development and increasing one’s own financial prosperity is setting up oneself for a life of anxiety, depression, and other psychological and/or behavioral disorders? That would hardly be living the good life would it? This is hardly the case, but seems to be true at least in America. O’Connor is by no means unique in his observations or by arguing against what is known as the Easterlin Paradox. The Easterlin Paradox is a theory that suggests there is no link between a society’s economic development and the overall happiness of its members (Stevenson & Wolfers, 2008). Numerous studies are now showing evidence to the contrary, and many are now drawing newer conclusions on the relationship the two variables seem to have with each other. For example one of the less favorable relationships was found in Forbes. According to one study that looked at those...
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