Plato and Aristotle discussions of moral and ju
Morality and justice are two of the most discussed themes in philosophical discussions. Classical philosophers like Aristotle and Plato discuss about these two themes in detail in their respective books. This essay will compare and contrast Aristotle and Plato discussions of morality and justice and determine which philosophy best addresses the consequences of human vulnerability. In general, morality is the principles concerning the distinction between right or wrong or good and bad behavior. Justice is the quality of being fair and reasonable.
In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle stated the basic questions of moral philosophy, for example, what are the good, virtue, and happiness? Aristotle believes that man is by nature a social and political animal (zoon politikon). Human are sociable because they are always living with other people, or in other words, in a community or polis. He also believes that human is by nature a moral or ethical being, and human rationality is what differs human from other species of animals (Boucher, 2003). In his view, for all human beings a natural life is a life of justice.
At the beginning of Ethics it is written “the good has been aptly described as that at which everything aims’ (Ethics, 1984). If this statement is true, then a life of justice means the ‘good’ for human. Aristotle introduced us to the Greek word ‘eudaimonia’ which often misleadingly translated as ‘happiness’ in English. However, in Greek, it does not simply defined as happiness, it is more about self-perfection, therefore it is not just about our emotional state, but also as a measure of objective success. In contrast, virtue is a state of being and not an activity. It is the disposition to act in such a way as to lead a happy life.
Thus, virtues are habits issuing in acts corresponding to those by which the habit was established. Aristotle stated that virtues are those states of character that lie at the mean between excess and deficiency, which are vices; he called this as the Doctrine of the Mean. For example, courage lies at the mean between rashness and cowardice. However, Aristotle does not have a definite formula of this ‘golden mean’, it does not mean that the virtue lies exactly in between of the two extremes, and since every one differs to each other. There are two kinds of virtues. Intellectual
virtue helps us to know what is just and admirable, which we learn by instructions. Moral virtue helps us to do just and admirable deeds, which we learn by habit and constant practice. Practical wisdom or phronesis in Greek, means a general sense of knowing the proper behaviour in all situations, which guides us in the correct manner of action. This particular intellectual virtue is closely tied to the rational deliberation and choice necessary to the moral virtue. In his view, men are born with the potential to be morally virtuous, but it is only by behaving in the right way that we train.
Aristotle’s notion of virtue as something learned through constant practice rather than through reasoning makes a great deal of practical sense. He claims that reasoning is unlikely to teach us to appreciate virtue if we have not been raised with the right habits (Bonevac, 1996). “Excellence [of character], then, is a state concerned with choice, lying in a mean relative to us, this being determined by reason and in the way in which the man of practical wisdom would determine it. Now it is a mean between two vices, that which depends on excess and that which depends on defect.
” (Aristotle, 1984) Aristotle focuses his moral theory on virtuous action and argues that virtue is necessary, but not sufficient for happiness. Virtue is needed to lead a happy life, but ultimately, virtue alone will not be enough to achieve eudaimonia. Some other external factors such as wealth, health, family, and good relationships with others are also considered. Aristotle argues that a virtuous person will desire to do the virtuous action, will have the emotion that accompanies doing the virtuous action, and will actually get the pleasure from doing the action.
In general, justice is associated with lawful behaviors. Justice, for Aristotle, consists of restoring or maintaining proper balance. Aristotle distinguishes several different spheres of justice. Distributive justice deals with the distribution of wealth among the members of a community. It employs the geometric proportion of what an individual receives is directly proportional to his or her merit, so a good person will receive more than a bad person. This justice is virtuous mean between the vices of giving more than a person deserves and giving less.
Rectificatory justice has to do with regulating the social or ethical relationships between the citizens of a particular polis. Rectification may be called for in cases of injustice involving voluntary transactions like trade or involuntary transactions like theft or assault. Justice is restored in a court case, where the judge ensures that gains and losses of both parties are equaled out, thus restoring a mean. In his view, murder, theft, and adultery that are intrinsically wrong fall in rectificatory justice. However, Aristotle did not give us a reason why it is wrong.
Aristotle also associated justice with equality as he stated in Ethics: “Citizens should treat one another as equals and they should all be treated ‘as equals’ by the laws of the polis. ” (Aristotle, 1984) In comparison with Plato, Aristotle has an emphasis on relationships, for example, family, kith, and kin. He claims that it establishes habits and affection, and builds harmony in the political community. Aristotle, unlike Plato, is not concerned with creating the perfect blueprint of society, rather he is more likely to improve the already existed society and apply day-to-day practice to reach eudaimonia.
Plato, teacher of Aristotle, believes in more abstract ideas. The Republic is the story of what sort of society such a philosopher would produce if he were to acquire political power and become a philosopher-king. Leading to that story is an attempt to establish that justice pays – that we cannot achieve happiness except in a just city. His four main arguments are Justice as the Advantage of the Stronger, the Principle of Specialization, the Tripartite Soul, and the Sun, Line, and Cave.
In the Republic, Plato discussed what justice is, first in the community, and then in the soul. He argues that a just state requires three classes of citizens; artisans and laborers to produce the material needs of society; soldiers to defend the state; and rulers to organize its social life. He also believes that one man is better to stick with one job and men are by nature divided up into men best suited for each of these functions. This is also called as the principle of specialization, which restricts each class to the one social role in which it is naturally best fitted.
However, this ignores the fact that most people have different capacities, which do not exclude one another, let alone the fact that in existing societies most abilities of most people are often unrealized. But Plato’s beliefs on this point were powerfully reinforced by his doctrine of the tripartite soul. (MacIntrye, 1976). According to Plato, soul is divided into three parts; appetitive, the rational, and spirit. The appetitive ones take happiness to consist in the long-term satisfaction of their appetites; the rational ones take it to consist in satisfaction of desires for truth and the overall good (Boucher, 2003).
The spirit is concerned neither with rational standards of behavior nor with bodily desires, but with standards of honorable behavior, and with anger and indignation. In comparison, both philosophers agree that justice is the basis of an ideal state, thus the end of the state is ethical. For Plato, the state and the individual are one and justice is a balance between the tripartite natures of soul. These two philosophers also agree that democracy is the worst form of government. To keep in mind, both also considered slaves as properties of their masters and justified the fact that some people are by nature slaves.
Seeing their circumstances, this belief hails from their aristocratic family background. Likewise, as regards the social classifications of citizens, for Plato it is the guardians, auxiliaries, and artisans; and for Aristotle, it is the rich, middle-class, and the poor. Both Plato and Aristotle argue that virtuous character requires a distinctive combination of cognitive and affective elements. Human vulnerability can be physical and personal. Physical vulnerability is an acute distress experiences such as hunger, thirst, fatigue and so on.
Emotional distress in anger, fear, grief and their behaviors are also tied in with physical frustrations. Personal vulnerability is a medium of fulfillment of personal needs rooted in capacities for love, understanding and choice, where these capacities have a potential reach for beyond the confines of physical survival needs. Although Plato used to be a mentor of Aristotle, it is obvious their views in morality and justice differ with each other at some points. However, both philosophers aim to improve existing society. We could not say that one of them is best in addressing the consequences of human vulnerability.
However, Plato is more focused on the entire society compared with Aristotle that is more concerned with the citizens itself. Thus, Aristotle’s discussion with the consequences of human vulnerability is better than Plato’s as Aristotle stated about the vices and virtues of human beings and how to achieve virtuous virtues. Aristotle’s argument about the need of family and relationships among man is also another reason. However I think that a combination between both of the philosopher will create a just state, which means combination between knowledge and day-to-day application towards eudaimonia.