The good life as a meaningful life ( the teleological approach)
By Thabang Shaun Dladla
The teleological approaches to the meaning of life is one of the prevalent approaches to the meaning of life, it constitutes that the meaning of life can be found in the realization of the purpose of life. The purpose of life can be various things it can be a state of being joyful, an activity or practice or even being someone. Aristotle is one of the authors to this teleological approach to the meaning of life. According to the Aristotelian approach to the meaning of life it can be understood that the human life aims at a certain good, which will make them to live a flourishing or fulfilled life. Aristotle distinguished between three forms of life in terms of matter and form, when the matter is a plant its form it’s to be vegetative, the animal as a matter its form is sensitive, the human being as a matter the form will be intellectual or virtuous. A Virtue is an acquired human quality, virtues are required for the achievement of a thriving life which is a good life they are the ones that will allow the human being to reach the good life or flourishing life.
For further clarification of the Aristotelian approach to the meaning of life it is essential to understand MacIntyre’s summary and interpretation of the meaningful life as he was the one who wrote a systematic exposition of the meaningful life according to Aristotle as it was not presented in such a manner from Nicomachos the son of Aristotle who is said to have edited his father’s lecture notes. Secondly I will discuss Philip Hallie’s narrative about Magda Trocme who is said to have had great virtues according to Hallie; this is to understand the meaning of life from Hallie’s view in Aristotelian terms. Finally the Aristotelian approach to the meaning of life will be compared with its everyday version, which is the success story where the means to attain a meaningful life are divorced with the ends. This is done in order to see that the Aristotelian approach to the meaning of life is the best approach to the meaning of life.
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An account of the Aristotelian approach
According to MacIntyre (1981-186) there are three stages in the development of the concept Virtue, the first stage is the background account of a practice, the second stage is the account of the narrative order of a single human life, and the third is an account that constitutes a moral tradition. “A practice is an articulate and compound form of human activity which goods internal to that activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve the standards of excellence which are appropriate to” MacIntyre(1981-187).
In the background account of a practice one is required to have a set of skills or virtues best suited to that field, also one has to subject boldness, choices, preferences and discriminations to the standards which define the practice for one to have correct judgment of that practice. One has to have knowledge of past and present practitioners their achievements in that practice and the authority of a tradition they have set because the tradition of the practice is an ongoing conversation about standards of excellence between past, present and future practitioners, that can lead to one having a role model in that practice who has outdone himself or who is/was involved in that practice. Lastly under the background account of a practice one has to have the knowledge of institutions that sustain practices and needs to uphold a balance between internal goods of the practice and external goods of an institution. Internal goods are products of competition but they are goods for the benefit of humanity, unlike external goods which are for individual’s possession.
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The second stage in the development of virtue is the account of the narrative order of a single human life, it is this stage whereby one seeks for unity in character and asks questions about the purpose of life and seeks the unity between what is good for him as a person and what is good for him as a man. This stage is a mission to find an innovative relationship between internal goods of virtuous practices and best suited conditions to allow the exercise of those virtuous practices, because institutions are aiming at acquiring external goods they are also structured in a way to achieve power and status, so that is why virtuous practitioners seek that relationship to allow virtuous practices to be conducted in institutions that will maximize the internal goods and one has to note that excellence in character goes hand in hand with intelligence which will constitute practical intelligence which results from transformation of qualities into virtues of character and exercise. The third and final stage of the development of virtue is the account of what constitutes a moral tradition, which is constituted by an ongoing conversation about goods to be pursued. A tradition extends with history from generations to generations and therefore a tradition is not fixed it is a continuous process involving the goods to be pursued and goods may change from time to time, so a living tradition is the one that compensates current conditions. Factors that sustain living traditions are intellectual virtues of honesty, courage, and justice.
The Aristotelian approach in practice
What Macintyre uses to interpret the Aristotelian view about the meaning of life, Philip Hallie constructs a narrative using the life of Magda Trocme. Magda Trocme was a God loving women and a widow of a Christian priest pastor Andre Trocme. They lived in a village called Lechambon in the south of France during World War II. She was a charitable person and the love of helping those in need as She was involved in a protestant convalescent home which ran a rescue operation for the victims of the holocaust mostly children.
Philip Hallie views the life of Magda Trocme as a meaningful or virtuous because she was more concerned in extending the internal goods in order to sustain the virtuous practice of helping those in need, unlike his approach to life that for one to be successful force has to be used, the villagers were successful in what they did with no use of force. According to Hallie’s view Trocme and the villagers had great virtues as he describes them as “ having acquired silent habitudes of the great virtues” Hallie (1997-42) he labels them as like bedrock in a garden where the spade turns when you try to penetrate it. Hallie also uses words like habitual, imbedded, second nature automatic when he refers to the villagers of Lechambon and Trocme good deeds to the refugees. He also refers them to have had a great tradition of imitating Jesus as they also took the bible literally or not at all.
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Connecting Hallie’s narrative with the account of the Aristotelian approach
Macintyre defined practice as an “articulate and compound form of human activity which goods internal to that activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve the standards of excellence which are appropriate to” MacIntyre(1981-187).
This is also visible in the life of Trocme they practiced helping people in need which was the appropriate thing to do because of the standards of excellence laid down by Jesus Christ who was their role model, the institution which they practiced in was the church and the village and it was the great institution because it sustained their practice with the education of taking the bible literally or not at all. However the villagers together with Trocme were focused with the internal goods of their practice not only for the Jews but also for the Germans who were the ones who were causing harm to the Jews, she said “they are not preventing harm to the Jews but also to the Germans” Hallie(1997-42).
The Aristotelian approach to the is the best approach to the meaning of life because it makes one to live life to the fullest and make the most of every moment, it also requires one to live morally in acquiring the good life and does not do it only for the benefit of him alone but for humanity, it encourages human compatriotism which is intact with the African ethics of (Ubuntu) “I am because you are”. Unlike the success story which divorces the means and the ends, it also justifies unjust things one has to in order to get the good life which will constitute the tradition of being dishonest and unjust in order to attain the good life. Unlike the success story the Aristotelian approach requires the intellectual virtue of honesty, courage and justice in order to sustain a moral tradition. And the Aristotelian approach to the good life is a good one because it is a continuous process as the good life for man is the life spent seeking for the good life for man, therefore when one seeks a virtuous life he is already living a virtuous, unlike the success story when one does not get to the end may experience feelings of failure and self-doubt. Think of it using the success story what happens when you have reached your destination? In the Aristotelian approach the destination is when you seek the destination.
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MacIntyre, A. (1981).After Virtue. A study in moral theory. London: Duckworth.
Hallie, P. (1997).
Tales of good and evil, help and harm. New York: harper Collins