Aristotle vs. Plato
Excellence is a function which renders excellent the thing of which it is a function is Plato’s definition of virtue. What does this definition really mean though? Plato and Aristotle both had their own unique arguments devoted to the topic at hand, and their own ways of describing what virtue really is. Defining virtue may seem to be an easy taste, but to truly understand the arguments behind the definition can prove to be very challenging.
Before discussing virtue, the sole must first be considered. There are three types of soul, according to Aristotle. The three types form a hierarchy. As the hierarchy increases, each form includes the one below. The first level is called vegetable, which is characterized by certain functions, and involves nourishment and growth. The second is animal and involves perception and locomotion along with the vegetable characteristics. The last and final level is the rational soul. This highest form is similar to the animal soul but also involves theoretical (passive) and practical (active) rationality. Humans possess this type of soul, and are able to be rational, and to instill rationality into their lives when dealing with their appetites, which are the objects and actions humans are attracted to. Aristotle believed that the ultimate goal in life is happiness, and people should live their lives in order to be happy. According to him, the soul doesn’t survive after death, so people should strive to be happy while they are alive. Since we haven’t direct knowledge of soul we try to understand to become truly virtuous.
In Aristotle’s quest to understand virtue, he works rationally trying to rationalize the irrational. He used a system of rewards known as “habituation.” This system helps to make one virtuous by giving a person self-control allowing them to train their irrational side to become rational. This process in turn creates character. People work indirectly to rid bad habits, such as smoking and to set up lives full of good habits. One of the questions that commonly arise when talking about virtue is, “What is good?” The answer to the question according to Aristotle is happiness. There are four qualities associated with happiness: 1) Pleasure 2) Wealth 3) Honor 4) Excellence. Lets consider each and determine which is most essential. Pleasure involves appetite and the objects and /or actions we desire. A person cannot be overly happy, but they can have too much pleasure leading to unhappiness, instead of true happiness. Wealth causes people to ask the question “How much is too much?” Aristotle believed a person could have too much wealth. He believes it is more important to buy leisure time than inanimate objects. Too much wealth leads a person away from happiness according to Aristotle. Honor is something some people have great amounts of, while others have very little. It is good to be honored and respected in life. Some people, such as political leaders and even actors and actresses are honored more than others. Being overly honored can also cause people to be unhappy since most honored people have people who despise and resent them. Aristotle came to the conclusion that it is far better to be honorable than honored. This brings up the final quality of happiness, EXCELLENCE. This quality is key for human’s pursuit of happiness. Aristotle believes in personal happiness and when defining virtue itself, he used the word “excellence.”
When talking about happiness and goodness, there must be an important quality present. According to Aristotle, people need to practice balance and moderation in their every day lives. Achieving this middle ground, or mean, translates into being virtuous in Aristotle’s mind. If virtue is present, so is its opposite vise. For every virtue, there are two vices. One vice is excessive while the other is deficiency. Courage works as a great example because it is virtuous. The excessive vise is recklessness and the deficient vice is cowardice. People need to strive to achieve the mean and to avoid the two vices in Aristotle’s eyes.
Friendship is another important concept in the discussion of virtue. Is friendship justice of happiness? Aristotle follows what is known as an organic view of society in order to explain justice. Society is made of many different parts and people and everyone works together to form a good society. People do what they are good at and share it with others. In a social system like this one, it can only be as strong as it weakest link. The link is classified as moral support and respect to fellow citizens. In order for a society to be just, all members must be honored and the correct political system must be in action, which suits all of the members of society equally well. This is a type of friendship, where morals are followed and respect is given. Justice comes from the production of this happiness.
Plato has a few different concepts of soul. He believes that the soul is separate from the body. The soul has a very long lifespan, along with integrity and a very unique function. If someone loses a soul, they are thought to have lost everything, since the body is essentially useless. He believes people should live their lives in such a way that, when they die, they will have good souls, even if they were not happy while they were alive. Plato sees nothing wrong with people having to make unfortunate sacrifices, the way Socrates did when he was sentenced to death. Plato places a greater emphasis on theoretical rationality, which is where Plato and Aristotle disagree. According to Plato, good is so fundamentally compelling that, when it enters a person’s mind, it is impossible to turn away from good, and a person will in fact, do good. Plato believes directly in purifying the intent. He believes people should strive to achieve goodness though direct actions and ways of living. He believes that we are good and moral, and that we live our lives for the sake of being good, in order to have a good soul, after this lifetime ends. This is one of the weakest points in Plato’s arguments.
Once again bringing up the question of “What is good?” and looking at how Plato goes about answering it. In Plato’s opinion, good is the good, itself. He believes people who are virtuous have an innate goodness, and this is not seen fully in one lifetime. The soul must take part in several lifetimes in order to see true goodness. Another important difference between the arguments of Plato and Aristotle deals with experience. To Aristotle, experience is the originating source of our sense of good; we start with experience, and eventually find goodness. Plato believes the opposite is true. He believes experience is occasional, and that we start with goodness, which eventually leads to experiences.
Plato’s idea of justice is his strong point in his arguments. He believes justice is a natural part of goodness, and is an intrinsic characteristic humans possess. When a person is good, they are naturally just. They do not have to work to achieve justice, but it comes along with their goodness. Goodness and justice seem to go hand-in-hand, unlike happiness and justice, in the eyes of Aristotle. The main point that Plato is trying to get across is that being happy does not always mean being just. In all cases, Plato’s argument is more accepted and supported throughout the world.
Plato believes people should strive to be virtuous in order to achieve true goodness. Our souls live on, long after our mortal selves do, and Plato does not believe in consequences. We should live our lives, let go, and ignore the consequences, since we have many lives left, after the ones we are currently partaking in expires. Instead, we should just do good, and follow what is good, no matter what happens to us in the process. Virtue is thought to be an innate concept, and it illuminates that which we take to be virtuous. Plato believes virtue is seen in a reflective form, not directly.
Both arguments explain virtue, or goodness. Aristotle and Plato each have their own ways of explaining and understanding what true goodness is, and each have their own supportive arguments, such as Plato’s argument of justice. Is this argument right? This question has no answer, since what is right in one person’s opinion may not be right in another person’s.