How to measure a good life?

It is said that one day in Athens, Plato encountered Diogenes washing lettuces in the market, and said to his fellow philosopher that if he would have only taught the heirs of kings, he would not need to be washing lettuces. In response, Diogenes replied that if Plato had only decided to wash lettuces, he would not need to be coddling heirs.

Both men believed that they were in possession of a good life, free from care and worry, but obviously living very different lives. Certain popular philosophers of modernity would have us believe that there is only one “objectively” correct man (and many would want us to believe that it is Plato). The fact of the matter is, though, that “happiness” is, and always has been, a purely hypothetical concept. While pleasure can be observed through the responses to stimuli of neural preceptors in the brain (and even this, is not a universal truth in defining what is pleasurable stimuli), “happiness” is forever elusive.

Diogenes defined his Happiness as a total freedom from social convention, to the extreme of living as a beggar who slept in a discarded bathtub (ostensibly not surrounded by four walls covered in pictures of shapely tits1 — but who knows what kind of graffiti he may have been surrounded by?)

Plato defined his Happiness from an ivory tower, living, by any definition, not merely a comfortable, but conventionally luxurious life. Though ostensibly not taking payment in money, he clearly took to the habit of, as Aristippus of Cyrene might consider, being in the possession of his pupils/employers.

Of course, as a Hedonist, I prefer to take my tip from Aristippus: I possess, I am not possessed. While my life may, on the surface, seem more in line with portrayals of Socrates’ later years (as portrayed by his biographers of Plato and Xenophon) — subsisting in no small part on disability benefits and gift monies, revelling in a good party but, in no practical way, hosting, etc… — the principle reigns that I’m not possessed by money as much as I possess the pleasures that money can, and cannot, buy.

Money is only of value when it can serve individual goals of pleasure and happiness, to possess more than one needs at any one time is to simply become possessed by it. A good life is not something that can be bought into, it’s something one either possesses or does not, and like any possession, it can be acquired or lost.


1: Likely a very obscure reference, especially to any readers who fancy themselves above watching pornography. If you want to get the ref, though, seek out a bizarre little opus of 1990s titty-flicks called Hootermania. Trust me, it’s *much* weirder than the title suggests, and is especially hilarious to Arthurian nerds.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

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