I don’t know what living a good life means - people say being honest, truthful, generous, or to possess and practice many of the most important virtues. But all these things depend upon the way we think.
Is there any standard answer for this question in philosophy?

  • 1
    See e.g. Aristotle's Ethics : Human Good. Jan 27, 2019 at 18:43
  • This is what philosophy is for. Nobody can tell you difinitively what you should do with your life.
    – Richard
    Jan 27, 2019 at 21:03
  • English-speakers have "the golden rule": "do unto others what you would have them do unto you." This, from what I can tell, will propagate nicely into a pretty full ethical framework. Jan 28, 2019 at 18:27
  • @elliot, does the golden rule apply to masochists too?
    – Ajagar
    Jan 30, 2019 at 10:49
  • @Ajagar, of course. What is a masochist? Jan 30, 2019 at 14:44

4 Answers 4


This is one of the core questions in philosophy, and as such, it has as roughly as many different answers as there are philosophers (perhaps more!). Choosing a philosophy is more or less equivalent to selecting whose answer you want to follow. A few of the answers include (the following is heavily glossed, and not guaranteed accurate):

  • Plato: seeking higher truth
  • Christianity: service to others
  • Aristotle: doing the right thing
  • Taoism: being in harmony with nature
  • Buddhism: acting with compassion
  • Existentialism: following your own compass
  • Zoroastrianism: fighting evil

Early Buddhism can offer an awesome perspective into this problem. Buddhism goes beyond conventional interpretations of "good" and "bad" (but without ignoring them). Instead, it classifies ways of life, actions and intentions according to its potential to perpetuate/increase or decrease insatisfaction. It seems, after careful consideration and checking, that it can be defined objetively which acts contribute to affect the influence of insatisfaction in our lives: intention born from the desire of acquire what one likes, from the aversion of what one dislikes and from the ignorance of the conditions which give rise to suffering/insatisfaction always perpetuate the sense of lack; and their opposite diminish our tendencies to feel that lack.

According to the buddhist teachings, suffering and insatisfaction (Dukkha, in Pali language) arise in three general conditions: losing what is loved, not getting what is desired, and being in presence of what we dislike.

Considering the above, a good life could be the one that does not entail suffering nor insatisfaction; a life beyond the need of control and the feeling of lack; a life of unconditioned peace lived in the present, without looking to the past or the future. In sum, a life free from the attachment born out of craving.

This kind of life is not just good in a ethical sense; it is ethically good as a by-product of being free from craving, aversion and ignorance.

To fulfill this path, a mental training is necessary, especially considering that voluntary deeds are born from intentions, and that intentions come from the mind. By changing our perceptions, thoughts and world-views, we change the way we experience, act and react upon the world. This path is not a path of blind faith, but a path of personal experience, and of rigurous and empirical testing. Study, reflexion, analysis, inference and first-hand experience are needed to check by oneself the claims made by the Buddha. In this way, you can see that buddhism is not only a religion, but also a school of thought, maybe similar in some aspects to stoicism.

If you wish to ask something, you are more than welcome to ask your questions in Buddhism.SE:


Kind regards!

  • Perhaps it should be added that this path of cessation, the ending of kamma (deed), leads to the Sublime States: love, compassion, equanimity - which have a quality of absolute goodness. Apr 30, 2019 at 14:43
  • @ChrisDegnen Hi! If you ask me, I would say that is the other way around: the sublime states lead and help to the end of Kamma. Kamma is the intention which motivates acts (thoughts, speech and bodily actions), and the Sublime States contribute to the purification of our intentions, uprooting the motivations born out of passion, aversion and ignorance. Kind regards! Apr 30, 2019 at 15:04

There is more to this question than meets the eye. Both ‘good’ and ‘life’ are abstract terms. You can only experience good and experience life. In an abstract form both ‘good’ and ‘life’ can be given any meaning depending on the philosopher and depending on the person. One person may think rain at this moment does his life good, while another may find this bad.

Basically good and bad are abstract forms from a more concrete form in which the meaning is palpable. Goods (things that have use to people) as in ‘to go’ have a purpose as if going somewhere while bad relates to static (not going somewhere) concrete terms like bath (in which you lie down) and bed (in which you lie down). Besides ethics ‘good’ found its way into health terminology as a metaphore too. When you are able to go, you are good, while when you ‘fell’ sick you feel bad. So it depends in which context you apply ‘good’ as a linguistic concept.

The word life has a similar relationship to walking (German laufen). Its antonym is a near anagram; fall. One of the methods before writing to easily distinguish between antonyms. Just turn the phonetic elements around. An easy mnemonic. So as long as you are alive (on your feet) and you act with purpose, that might be one way of interpreting the basic linguistic elements of ‘good life’. But mind this is philosofied from a comparative view and historical linguists would most probably disagree with this hypothesis on the fact that there is no written proof of the connections I give in this post. So applying meanings to words in philosophy is an experience. In essence you yourself decide what is a good life for you. Philosophy can not answer your question but encourages you to keep asking and searching for the answer that fits you most. Good life!

We can also look at ‘truth’ and ‘lies’ and compare them to ‘tred’ and ‘lying in bed. I remember from an etymology class that emotion contains motion which also shows the metaphore of purpose and going within the realm of names for feelings. Emotions ‘move’ you too.

  • Ahem, are beds bad? Seems weird. Or do I misunderstand your message?
    – rus9384
    Jan 29, 2019 at 8:56
  • Yes you misunderstood. The sounds in both bed and bad and bath are not just coincidentally similar, but they express a general concept of being flat, lying down or a horizontal position.
    – Ajagar
    Jan 30, 2019 at 9:18
  • Bad (not good) is essentially created by using this general meaning metaphorically applying it to a state of feeling (like feeling sick or feeling regret) or a state of ethics (injustice). In justice terms it can be compared to the use of ‘right’ and ‘straight’ referring to the opposite vertical position.
    – Ajagar
    Jan 30, 2019 at 10:40
  • Etymologically, these words are of different sources. You can't say they are linked somehow, only because they sound similar. Like you can't say that two similar persons are siblings. But again: shower is good and bath is bad, no? Maybe I like your idea, but don't try to say it's someone else idea if it is yours.
    – rus9384
    Jan 30, 2019 at 12:50
  • Hi rus9384, they are all my ideas. You are right if you look at it from a historical linguistic perspective. I look at it from a comparative linguistic perspective. You focus on meaning. I focus on essence, context, metaphorical use of words. You can’s say bad and bath were synonymous and say showerr and good relate. But you can say bad and bath express the same concept within different contexts and one of them is a metaphore or both are metaphores coming from an older source. So bath and bad do not relate in meaning but they are distant cousins by metaphoric use.
    – Ajagar
    Jan 30, 2019 at 12:57

I believe that the term "good" itself is relative and that has formed on the basis of our ancestors. To them whatever produced greater good and served humanity or for their individual selves was good for them. And maybe people observed that being happy produced greater good for the individual and other around him/her and therefore, many people say that living a good life is to live happily. But I believe there can never be a standard answer or a procedure to live a perfect good life and as this term is relative what is good for some isn't good for others. That is why we have so many varieties of people. Some people steal because they have to do it for their own good(for themselves or their family) but for who is being stolen its not good for him. My point is that you must determine yourself and aim for a goal which will make a good life for you.

  • If you have any references to others who take a similar view these would support your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome! May 10, 2019 at 12:06

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