According to The Oxford American College Dictionary, the term happiness is defined as “[the state of] being satisfied” or “[the state of] having a sense of confidence in or satisfaction with a…situation” (Lindberg 609). In their treatises on politics and the governance of man, Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato address the correlation between the concept of happiness, the establishment and management of a society, and the genetic predisposition of man. This paper will compare the following concepts discussed in Aristotle’s Ethics and Plato’s “The Myth of The Metals” from The Republic: 1.
) Man’s abilities and vocation are based on/determined by biology (genetic predisposition), and those predispositions form natural divisions or “classes,” which help to organize a community/society/nation; 2. ) Man can achieve happiness if he or she fulfills/performs his/her pre-determined role – the role for which he or she is naturally suited and that others should encourage and nurture; 3. ) Man must serve his community/society/nation, which prepares him for his “natural” role, and that service will also provide man with happiness or a “sense of satisfaction.
” Plato and Aristotle describe biology as a factor in man’s choice of profession. Both philosophers note that vocation is determined by ability, and that ability is the result of genetics. This includes those who govern or rule others. In “The Myth of The Metals” chapter of The Republic, Plato states that each man (woman and child) receives a particular metal mixture at birth, and that the metal received determines a person’s skill set and station in life.
Plato says, “…in fashioning those among you who are competent to rule, mixed gold into them at their birth, whereby they are the most precious, and silver into the auxiliaries; and iron and bronze into the farmers and the other craftsmen (107). In other words, the traits or characteristics of any person determine what that person will do with his or her life. Additionally, the person who governs or leads others has unique, unusual qualities that most other people don’t have – qualities that are innate to that person.
In Ethics, Aristotle too discusses man’s biological traits as a determinant of his or her profession and classification in society. Aristotle says, “…from natural causes that some beings command and others obey; for a being who is endowed with a mind capable of reflection and forethought is by nature the superior and governor, whereas he whose excellence is merely corporeal is formed to be a slave (1252). Thus, like Plato, Aristotle believes that each man is “born” to perform certain roles, roles for which each person has a genetic predisposition or natural ability.
That ability automatically separates a person from others based on the job or way that person earns his or her living. For example, educators and physicians will associate with other professionals; while custodians and other blue collar workers will form other associations. Plato also discusses the need to nurture a person’s natural talents, regardless of family background or origin – because those talents will bring a person the highest level of satisfaction and happiness.
He states, “…you will mostly beget children like yourselves, but it is possible that a silver child should be born of gold, or a golden child born of silver, and so all the rest from one another…If their own offspring are born alloyed with bronze or iron, they will assign it the grade appropriate to its nature and thrust it out among craftsmen and farmers without pity” (107). Thus, parents, teachers, other community stakeholders and society in general must nurture the
innate abilities of others, especially youth. Aristotle too describes the necessity of accepting the natural differences that exists between people and safeguarding the skills of each person. By developing individual talents, not only does the individual benefit, but society does as well. Aristotle notes, “Why is it also necessary that, without exception, the one should govern, the other always be governed?…
it is evident then that both parties ought to be virtuous; but there is a difference between them, as there is between those who by nature command and who by nature obey, and this originates in the soul; for in this nature has planted the governing and submitting principle;…and that those who enjoy the best government will live the most happily according to their circumstances” (1260). Another commonality in the messages of Plato and Aristotle is discussion of man’s need to provide service to his fellow man. Plato speaks of the responsibility that a person has not only to himself/herself, but to family and the community-at-large.
He also notes that importance of “giving back” for the nurturing and kindness that others in society provide. Plato states, “…we reared and educated them, being formed and nurtured [within the earth]…they must now take counsel for the defense of their country as a mother and nurse, if anyone comes against it, and consider the rest of their fellow citizens as brothers…” (107). Man’s service to others is service to a community/nation, and the provision of that service is a form of happiness. Aristotle also describes how service to others, and that includes participation in the governance of others, is a source of happiness.
He states, “…It follows that happiness consists of virtuous activity, and that both with respect to the community as well as the individual an active life is the happiest;…for virtuous activity has an end, therefore is something practical; nay, those who contrive the plan which others follow are more particularly said to act” (1360). In other words, positive behavior acts provide happiness to the person that commits them and to other members of the community. Service also provides a foundation for government. In conclusion, Plato’s and Aristotle’s works address the relationship between genetics, profession and individual happiness.
Both writers express that each person has innate talents and characteristics. Those talents should be nurtured and encouraged by others. Those talents help to determine a person’s career choices and provide a natural classification system in society. Those characteristics also affect whether a person will participate in the governance of others and the type of government that is established. Ultimately, if a person utilizes his or her talents and gives back to the community, that person will locate “true” happiness – a happiness that others can share. ?
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