As I was driving to a friend’s house recently, I passed Dublin Pub, a local watering hole known for its live music. On reader board, one band’s name caught my eye: Spontaneous Woo.
Hmmm, I thought. What a great concept. There is nothing quite like letting out a joyous, spontaneous “WOO!” when things are going our way. We might personalize our woo, making it come out as “YESSSS!” or “Sweeeeeet” or even “Woo-HOO!” No matter what elicits this response, we know it means something good has happened.
What is good? How do we define it?
Good is a moving target, but one thing we may be able to agree upon is that it IS a target. Aristotle used Greek word telos meaning “end or completion” and used teleology to refer to study of purpose of things. He believed that everything—not just people—has a purpose, or target. Nothing is random. The whole world is made up of these interrelated purposes.
“The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to know how to live to purpose.” --Montaigne
According to Aristotle, we were born to think. We’re supposed to use our brains to contemplate and to appreciate complexity of universe. Our purpose is to think in order to live a good life.
Ah…back to good. We use this word to describe everything from a haircut to a mathematical theory. Essentially, something is good if it satisfies a certain expectation we have of it—it hits target. A “good cup of coffee” could be strong, weak, bitter, sweet, milky, black, or free, depending on what you value and what you want from your cuppa. But are there certain qualities that make a life good?
“Goodness is easier to recognize than to define.” --W.H. Auden
We know good when we see it, just like we know when something is woo-worthy. If, as Aristotle says, our purpose is to live a good life and be happy, why isn’t there some simple formula we can apply to everyone? What’s minimum woo-quotient of a good life? How do we know if we have enough to be happy? We all know plenty of people who never seem to have enough of anything.
Aristotle believed that we need to use courage, honesty and moderation in pursuing pleasure. For him, moral goodness and enjoyment in life were same thing. It’s okay to pursue anything you want, but don’t go overboard. This concept of moderation became known as golden mean.
Not surprisingly, this became a popular idea, especially among rich. It was just what they wanted to hear! We must remember that majority of Aristotle’s students were wealthy—who else had time to study philosophy all day long? Aristotle’s emphasis on moderation got lost in all excitement about pursuing whatever you like.
Hmmm. Sounds a lot like modern life, doesn’t it? What kind of life would Aristotle suggest we live in midst of all stuff of 21st century? What does moderation mean now?
First, let’s start on far end of stuff spectrum. Let’s talk about television. Instead of thinking about what is enough, let’s take a look at what is excessive. We can probably agree that having five big screen TVs with 150 channels is a bit much. What if we are fabulously wealthy? What limits our consumption when we can afford anything?
Wealthy people are not necessarily more or less moral than anyone else. However, they are tested more than rest of us because they have ability to live an excessive lifestyle. This is where we get confused between A GOOD LIFE and THE GOOD LIFE. One little word of difference but wow, what a shift in thinking.