Up to this point we have been thinking of the idea of the good life as the life it would be most desirable for a human being to lead. But it is time now to consider an important distinction that may be made between two senses of the expression 'the good life'. In one sense 'the good life' means the most desirable or happiest life. In another it means the worthiest or most virtuous human life.
This is a distinction that plays no significant part in Greek philosophical thinking. It came to real prominence first in eighteenth-century Europe. Although it is only then that we can see the distinction self-consciously drawn, it is arguable that its origin is to be found much earlier with the emergence of Christianity. For one of the innovations of the Christian religion is the idea that the poor and the meek can be blessed, and, conversely (in the words of St Mark's Gospel), that even gaining possession of the whole world is not really profitable if we lose our souls in the process. As we shall see in a later chapter, these Christian ideas if they are to be discussed properly have to be examined within the larger context of religious conceptions of the good life. But there can be little doubt that they have had a large part to play in the formation of common moral ideas and in particular the widespread acceptance of the distinction that provides the focal point of this chapter.