Five Ancient Greek Views of the Good Life
in Relation to Justice

1. The good life (eudaimonia) is identical to the just life (Socrates, in Crito).
Plato and the Stoics will essentially agree with this point. The "just life" refers to the life of a person that possesses, and to conduct that expresses, virtue or good character in relation to others. One who lives justly in this sense will also live courageously, moderately, and wisely.
2. Justice is a necessary part of the good life but not sufficient for the good life (Aristotle).
Aristotle will agree that living justly is the most important part of living well, or happily. But he believes that besides being a good person and having an opportunity to exercise that goodness, other factors--not so much under an individual's control--are important to living well.

These factors include--

  • having friends, including children
  • avoiding poverty and severe or long-lasting illness
  • being allowed to live out a full life
  • having a opportunity to participate in public life in a more or less good polis
  • 3. Justice and the good life are mutually exclusive. (Thrasymachus in Plato's Republic)
    Justice is the "virtue" of victims. The good life (happiness) involves being able to do injustice and get away with it.
    4. Acting justly is a necessary instrument of the good life; we are just so that we will not suffer from injustices or injuries from others. (Glaucon's initial position in Plato's Republic)
    Injury is conceived primarily in terms of physical harm or loss of possessions.
    5. The habit of acting justly is necessary for the the good life, understood as the highest kind of (mental) pleasure, freedom from fear and distress (Epicurus, an enlightened hedonist).
    Evil is conceived primarily in terms of mental pain, e.g., fear and distress.

    J. Garrett
    September 23, 2002