You are here

The Philosophy of the Good Life

1929 to 1930
University of St. Andrews

In The Philosophy of the Good Life, Gore examines the concept of the good life as it is entertained by the famous moral leaders of humankind—Zarathustra, the Buddha, Confucius, Muhammad, Socrates, Plato and the Stoics, the Jewish prophets and, finally, Jesus Christ.

The author begins by examining the teachings of Zarathustra, the earliest teacher of the good life. Gore gives particular attention to Zarathustra’s teachings about God and humankind, the destiny of human beings and the meaning of the universe. He further considers the question of dualism concerning divine attributes as well as the character of the religion and the causes of its failure to become popular.

From Zarathustra, Gore turns to Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, and explores the post-Vedic development of the religion through India, including the doctrine of Karma and Buddhism’s speculative tendency. The author discusses the doctrine of Buddhism and its central motive: the annihilation of desire and thereby of (individual) life. In the end, Gore argues that Buddhism in its full form is an ideal only for monks, because of the selfishness of its ultimate motive. He does concede, however, that the ideal of love can break through the logic of the system and offer something to the layman.

Gore next considers teachers of the good life in Asia. He observes that outside of Buddhism, we do not find in India any consistent ethical system, and he argues for the grounds of this in the indiscriminate comprehensiveness of Hinduism. The author also highlights Hinduism’s incoherence and indeterminateness through an analysis of theBhagavad-Gita, and thus he argues that India must look outside itself for a stable foundation for ethics. Gore also considers the idea of “the Heaven” and the principle of Tao—the Way or the Divine Order—in China. He reviews Taoism and Lao-tzu and the Confucianism of Confucius and Mencius, and points out that human conduct must correspond to the divine order on the basis of various systems. In his survey of teachers of the good life in Asia, Gore also includes moral aphorisms from Egypt and the ethical monotheism of Muhammad.

Next, Gore considers Plato and the influence of Socrates, Heraclitus and Pythagoras. From Plato, he turns to discussions of Zeno, pointing out Stoicism’s goal of victory over fear and all disturbing emotions.

Tthe author then turns to Israel and posits that for Israel, the concept of the good life is based on the concept of God, and moral evil is solely due to the rebellion of free spirits. Having explored concepts of the good life as present in Israel, Gore then turns to the environment in which Jesus appeared. He posits that the method of the prophets proves important, as was as the work of the Forerunner. The author further considers the ideas on which the teachings of Jesus are based, which include both old and new messages, the character of God, the freedom and responsibility of humankind, the equality of all souls, the supremacy of God and the sinfulness of humankind. In all, Gore finds the new Israel a theocracy rather than a democracy; and (in respect of the world) an aristocracy. He also concludes that the church is first of all a society for living the good life of ‘brotherhood and sonship in the name of Jesus’.

Having completed a historical survey of teachers of the good life, Gore then offers a reflection on how such figures and their teaching relate to one another. He argues for the agreement of Zarathustra and the prophets of Israel, and he finds that Islam is a lower form of the same worldview. He further posits that the highest form of ethical monotheism may be found in Christianity, which may be taken as the supreme type. He also explores the agreement between the Chinese sages and the Greeks as to an eternal and divine law and authority and finds ‘Platonism’ the type of this ethical idealism. The author next links Platonism with Christianity, more specifically, with the Christian idea of God. He ponders the Christian idea of human nature and the sense of responsibility (‘I ought’) as an ultimate fact or irreducible datum. He further argues that within such an idea, responsibility involves the freedom of choice, and that the implication of freedom is freedom to sin. The idea of divine redemption and of this life as a state of probation and a stage of preparation also prove important.

Next, in the penultimate chapter of his text, Gore surveys or compares the teachers of the good life and their teaching through the idea of revelation. He highlights the unanimity of the prophets in believing themselves recipients of ‘a word of God’—Zarathustra, Muhammad, Greeks, prophets of Israel, Jesus Christ. He further points out the acceptance of their authority by a larger world. The author does acknowledge, however, that there is current rejection of the idea of revelation as involving the admission of miracles, Jewish particularism and the finality of Christ.

Finally, Gore considers the function of faith in all knowledge and the special function of faith in the moral life. In the end, the author argues for Jesus’ claim on faith and the spirit of intellectual humility.


The Philosophy of the Good Life

University of St. Andrews
  • Kelly Van Andel, University of Glasgow