When we think of ancient philosophies, we immediately think of the early Greek philosophers. Among them were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, considered as the Fathers of Philosophy. Although they have different views on some certain aspects, we all know that they are the most influential thinkers not only during their respective times but today. This paper will focus on the similarities and differences of the moral and ethical views of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
Socrates believed that self-knowledge will meet the conditions of having a good life. For Socrates, knowledge and virtue are of the same category. If a person could not learn knowledge, he cannot learn virtue. With this, he argued that virtue can be taught. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates believed that the pursue of knowledge and wisdom should always come first before any private interests. For him, seeking knowledge is in accordance to ethical and moral actions.
Socrates, considered to be the greatest philosopher of all time, assumed that reason will lead to the good life. He believed that the real happiness a person achieved was influenced mainly by doing what seems to be right. When a person’s true value and function is found, he will achieve happiness. The Socratic ethics can be categorized as teleological in nature. We humans act towards the good and these actions naturally have their purposes.
Plato, like all the early philosophers, based his beliefs on ethics on virtues and human well-being. Plato’s beliefs on happiness diverged significantly from other philosopher’s views. Due to this, his time on describing his own concept of happiness was divided. He spent lots of time criticizing the customary beliefs of the good life. Plato also considered happiness as perfect and is not easily understandable since it is supported by metaphysical assumptions that appear to be vague and is impossible to be understood. The focuses on Platonic ethics are the problems and difficulties of an individual, not happiness as a factor of good-living.
For Aristotle, ethical knowledge is considered to be a general knowledge and not a precise knowledge. He argued that ethical knowledge is not a theoretical discipline but rather practical in nature. Aristotle believed that to become good, a person should have experienced the actions of life and is in accordance to fine habits.
He did not believe that merely studying virtues will make a particular individual virtuous. One should do righteous and honorable to be good and virtuous. Aristotle believed that reputation and respect only would give a person his happiness. He argued that an individual finds happiness by fulfilling his functions as a human being. For Aristotle, a human’s function is to utilize what he has that everything else does not, his capacity to think or reason, or logos. A person using his ability to reason fulfills his nature as a rational soul and therefore finds his absolute happiness.
For me, Aristotle’s ethical philosophy is the most applicable and the most practical to adapt. Unlike Socrates’ belief that an individual will be virtuous if he studies the virtues, Aristotle believed that one should act good to be good – not by merely studying how to be good nor what is good. Plato, on the other hand, focused on what should not be done in order to make a person’s life good. Aristotle argued that understanding what is good does not make a person good. So I think, Aristotle’s concept on morality stands among the three of them, just like the saying goes “Actions speak louder than words.”