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What Is The Good Life?

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What is the "Good Life"? There are many different interpretations of what the "good life" truly is. Individualists believe that the "good life" is pleasing oneself; while utilitarians believe that the "good life" is acting for the good of the rest of society and others. Philosophers also have their own interpretations. One philosopher that has his own interpretation is Plato in the Symposium. Plato portrays to the philosopher's "good life" when he uses the phrase "my greatest pleasure." The choice of the word "my" tells the reader that philosophical conversation may not necessarily be everyone's greatest pleasure but just his own.

"Ð'...After all, my greatest pleasure comes from philosophical conversation, even if I'm only a listener, whether or not I think it will be to my advantage. All other talk, especially the talk of rich businessmen like you, bores me to tears, and I'm sorry for you and your friends because you think your affairs are important when really they're totally trivial" (Symposium 173C-D, pg 2). The casual observer may believe that these lines, spoken by Apollodorus, are corny, offering just some humor to begin The Symposium. However, a student of World of Ideas or a well-learned reader will read between the lines and quickly realize that, in between the words of the passage lies a large amount of ideas that are essential to the work as a whole. The two primary ideas which stem from the preceding passage are the philosopher's view of the good life and the very different lives and thoughts that philosophers lead.

Again, there are many different interpretations of what the "good life" truly is. In the choice between the words "my" and "the", Plato could have used the word "the," but he chose not to, because he realized not all people believe that their "good life" is the same as the philosopher's "good life". The diversity of opinions is evident throughout the symposium, as each philosopher has a very different speech that is based on his or her own experiences and profession. Next in the passage comes the term "philosophical conversation." This is not simply "conversation," as if it was two friends discussing the latest gossip or last nights television show, but it is a more intellectual type of conversation. This conversation is much like the Symposium held in Plato's work. Though most of the speeches given in Symposium were in lecture form, that is, not taking into account what others said, Socrates' speech was much like this philosophical conversation.

In his questioning Agathon and giving a speech that was a mixture of the previous speakers' best ideas; he created a more conversational atmosphere. Plato is suggesting throughout The Symposium, by having Socrates combine the ideas and refute previous ones, and by having Alcibiades enter abruptly (on page 61), that it is conversation which will lead to more pleasure than simply a one-sided speech. One must not only support one's own ideas; one must be open-minded, listen to others, and make judgments based upon rational thoughts. In one sentence, "Ð'...even if I'm only a listener, whether or not I think it will be to my advantage," extends this very idea. Plato is doing two things here is he is showing the value of listening to others and showing the value of sharing one's own ideas. An individual may become extremely wise by listening to the thoughts of others, but only when that individual shares his or her own thoughts can the rest of the people around really benefit. Plato may have been an extremely brilliant philosopher, but it is only because he shared those ideas, by writing books and educating others, that future society has benefited from it. The entire gathering of the philosophers was meant not only as a means to convey different opinions on love, but it also brought forth the idea that philosophy must be shared between people if it is to maximize its value.

The sharing of ideas is of such high value because of the essential worth of the philosophical idea. In another passage, Plato compares the value of a philosopher's idea to the value of other ideas, especially that of a businessman. His choice to use "rich" to describe businessmen amplifies the difference between the material, physical gains and the spiritual, intellectual gains. Throughout The Symposium, the philosophers generally agree on the fact that the spiritual gains of love are far more important than the physical gain of the act of sex. Another sharp contrast lies in the sentence, where "the talk of rich businessmen" is very different



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