Aristotle and Plato both provide theories on how to become (morally, intellectually) virtuous. Analyze the views of each thinker on this issue and compare them to one another. Which view do you find most compelling? Why? Use textual evidence to support the claims that you make.
Speaking about the development of philosophic streams and points of view, it is reasonable to mention that the philosophers of different times have been thinking through and defining those aspects of social life, which are of crucial importance for human well-being. Plato and Aristotle, for instance, paid a lot of attention to such philosophic category as “virtue”. At first sight, “virtue” has a general definition, which is simple and clear enough. For this reason, there are not many controversial points for arguing. Virtue is also a philosophic term, meaning positive moral features of an individual, defined by his will and actions; a constant active direction of a will to the fulfillment of moral law. Despite the existence of precise definitions, the most famous philosophers of ancient times – Plato and Aristotle – had rather different points of view on this notion.
After a brief analysis of each theory, it becomes clear, that Plato and Aristotle had both common and different elements in understanding the nature of virtue. The two philosophers introduced quite interesting and argumentative points of view. In order to explain exact issues, this paper will analyze and compare two works “Nicomachean Ethics” and “Epictetus: The Handbook”.
Talking about Plato, he presented his understanding of “virtue” in such writings, as “The Protagoras” and “The Republic”. In “The Protagoras”, the philosopher claims that the primary aspect of virtue is knowledge. At the very beginning of “The Protagoras”, Plato says that an individual has an inclination to those acts, which are considered to be good for him or her. Subsequently, a person cannot do anything with an intention of “bad action”, but with a “subjectively good” purpose. As a result, an individual is not able to do something wrong consciously, but only in error. That is why there is only one difference between virtuous and unvirtuous person. It includes not a wish of a right and good behavior (everyone wishes something “subjectively good”), but clear knowledge and understanding of what is really correct. In this regard, Plato’s theory of virtue narrows down to factual knowledge of good and skills to choose those models of behavior, which lead to the right deeds.
However, in “The Republic”, there is a concept of virtue, which seems to be rather different from the one in “The Protagoras”. Yet, this first impression turns out to be deceitful after a more detailed analysis of this work. One of the first statements of “The Republic” refers to deliberations about the human soul. Plato gives three basic elements of a soul: appetite, spirit, and reason. Appetite refers to animal desires and wishes of a human’s body; spirit belongs to feelings and emotions; reason pertains to a rational way of thinking. Following this logic, Plato concluded that virtue arises as a result of a balanced ruling and coordination of these three elements of the soul. According to this conclusion, virtue is just a proportional mix of three components, which have nothing to do with “knowledge” mentioned in “The Protagoras”. Despite this apparent conflict of statements, “The Republic” provides more clues on how to become virtuous.
Trying to bind points given in both books, one may come to the next understanding of the connection between soul components and knowledge. The knowledge can be gathered only under such conditions when reason is under control, and appetite and spirit are in harmony. Subsequently, the way to become virtuous is to get knowledge of what good is. In order to get this knowledge, one should balance three components of the soul.
In his turn, Aristotle outlines his main statements in “The Nicomachean Ethics”. Starting with a general comprehension of virtue by people and extending this term to a deeper sense, the philosopher comes to his own conclusions about the understanding of virtue and “being virtues”. From his perspective, this notion refers to doing the things the object is created for. A cow should give good milk, an apple-tree – good apples. For a human, to be virtuous means to act well. The philosopher explains that the characteristic criterion of human’s action is living a life in accordance with the definite reason. Aristotle shows by this example, that the fact, which makes a person capable of acting well, is in connection with the ability to live, relying on a definite purpose. Such opportunity of human’s character is created through an individual’s fight with different kinds of temptations, as well as the power to overcome pleasures and pain. Such a person can choose the best way of behavior. Moreover, an individual gets pleasure from his or her daily virtuous actions or, at least, does not suffer from acting well. The virtuous is a person whose soul knows exactly how, where, and when to act virtuously.
These brief analyses of each thinker’s points of view reveal an interesting fact: there are both similarities and differences in Plato’s and Aristotle’s statements. Both philosophers consider virtue to be a constant aspect of a person’s characteristic. Plato believes that this feature consists of knowledge of the good. He is sure that there are only two conditions: either a person has the knowledge and is able to act virtuously under any circumstances, or he or she does not have this knowledge. Similarly to Aristotle’s point of view, an individual either has or does not have virtue. Virtue is not separated from the general state of spirit. For this reason, a person cannot be motivated only sometimes to act virtuously, but they act so permanently, as a result of definite soul conditions.
Another common point of two philosophers touches the way of being virtuous not in theory, but in everyday life. Plato states that in order to become virtuous, a person should have definite components of a soul in balance, as it has been already mentioned. But to reach this balance and harmony, one needs a necessary kind of upbringing. That means to begin controlling the intake of food and other physical pleasures from the very childhood, and also to train motivation and reasonability of actions and behavior. So, in fact, Plato talks about the necessity of constant training of being virtuous.
Aristotle is inclined to the same position. The philosopher also believed that a person does not have this characteristic from birth, but it is a result of numerous training and making a virtue a daily habit through personal experience. Aristotle also outlines that in order to become virtuous, it is not enough only to act virtuously. It is of crucial importance to get pleasure from good actions and feel the sense of “virtue” while using it as a model for behavior. Aristotle also points out that only numerous repetitions of such behavior may lead to becoming virtuous.
In the course of this research, it is necessary to show the key differences between Aristotelian and Platonic theories. The main thing is that the source of virtue for each of the thinkers is different. While Plato believes knowledge of good to be the source of virtue, Aristotle is sure that the key to this feature is in the person’s behavior. It means that Plato thinks of existing of something “good” which is abstract and separate from an individual. Meanwhile, Aristotle believes, that the key to getting virtuous is in a person’s work on self-improvement. As a result, Plato’s conception makes it impossible for a person to become virtuous. Keeping soul-balance and getting knowledge will only allow a person to become virtuous afterlife.
In contrast to this, Aristotle claims that it is possible for an individual to become virtuous. As soon as a person fulfills the reason and purpose of their existence, they automatically become virtuous. Such an attitude to the possibility of a person to become virtuous makes theories of Aristotle and Plato significantly different from one another.
Having given analysis and differences of both theories, I would like to explain my personal attitude to these works. Also, I would like to give reasons why Aristotle’s point of view is more compelling to me. According to Plato, each person behaves well but just relying on their own understanding of what it means. As for me, it is difficult to agree with this statement. I think that each person knows what is really good.
Another thing whether this individual wants to follow the rules of right behavior. In order to have this desire, a person should take it from somewhere. However, it is widely known that nothing comes from anywhere but only from definite actions. And here comes convincing statement of Aristotle, who says that the will to act correctly is not inherent to an individual from birth, but is brought up in our behavior and consciousness through examples, explaining and making good actions a daily habit.
I also support Aristotle’s idea, which says that the government can and should play not the last role in the formation of good habits among citizens. Although Plato is sure that person can reach the knowledge of what the good is, I think that governmental aid in this issue is rather effective and important. The government is known as an institution, which provides society with not only laws but also with a moral guide of what is good and what is bad. For this reason, the government is able to bring up such a society, which will be not only virtuous but also very thankful and honorable to authorities. Such a consequence would facilitate society’s growth and improvement.
In conclusion, it is necessary to say that both Plato and Aristotle tried to create such ways of understanding “a virtuous person”, which could help the society to reach this high goal. That is why it is not necessary to argue which point of view is more correct. It is important to understand the key issues of each work. Both Aristotle’s and Plato’s statements have advantages and disadvantages. Yet the best way for an individual to understand how to become virtuous is to read their works, analyze them and find out the pros and cons of each. As for me, I managed to critically analyze these theories, compare key points to my personal outlook and make conclusions.