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Sandel on Aristotle's thoughts on the good life

Updated Tuesday 18th January 2011

Sandel asks if there are many different kinds of the good life

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Michael Sandel

I think there are a plurality of conceptions of the good life, that are plausible and persuasive and even inspiring, so I don’t think there is one single way of living a good life.  But I do agree with Aristotle that it’s not possible to figure out the meaning of justice, or to define our rights, without taking up the question what is the good life?  What kind of life is worth aspiring to? 

It’s true that Aristotle bases morality and justice on a certain conception of human nature, about what it means to lead a full human life, and I think there is something very powerful in this idea.  If we just satisfy our preferences, whatever they happen to be, as the utilitarians suggest, we may not be developing our full human capacities.  Aristotle says we can only live a good life, a fully developed human life, if we live in society, in a political community where we deliberate about the common good with fellow citizens.  I think there is something powerful and inspiring in that idea, and it’s an idea that says we really have to be educated into the good life, it’s not something that just comes from our desires.

(1’21”)

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