Foundations of American Experience
Foundations of American Experience
The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle deal with the philosopher’s ideas on natural and legal forms of justice along with the meaning of happiness. Happiness, according to Aristotle, is the highest goal of life every man must pursue. However, he does not merely talk about happiness in terms of material gains and comforts; it is the happiness of the soul he searches for in his ethical treatise. He argues that since mankind is blessed with the power of rationale and logical reasoning, this happiness may only be achieved through philosophical reflections.
On the other hand, Plato’s Myth of the Metals in The Republic raises a crucial question pertaining to the correlation between morality and happiness. The philosophic investigation of Plato deviated from that of Aristotle in that Plato deliberately averted from critically analyzing the Sophistic doctrines of happiness. This essay is going to explain the Aristotelian and Platonic viewpoints of happiness and subsequent philosophies as embodied in The Nicomachean Ethics and The Republic respectively. In The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discussed at length the ways of attaining the well-being of the city-state as well as that of individuals.
In doing so he faced the challenge of elucidating political theories that play an important role in determining the welfare of mankind from a broader perspective. Socio-political justice is aimed at establishing well-being of the city-state which, in turn, concerns individual happiness. Aristotle argues in The Nicomachean Ethics that while contemplation of truth by an individual leads to the ideal good life and happiness for the soul, every person is inherently politicized also. This attribute necessitates friendship and social interaction, which conforms to the ideologies conceived by Plato in The Republic.
What relates The Republic to The Nicomachean Ethics is the social outlook on man’s sense of morality and justice. Plato was greatly influenced by the Sophistic principles which stressed on the relativity of truth. If it is just personal happiness which is being sought after, it has to be independent of social constraints. As soon as it is applied to socio-political contexts, factors such as self-interest and external morality come into contention. Being an ardent believer of objective truth, Plato found these principles destructive and morally chaotic.
In this regard, both Aristotle and Plato promoted the idea of happiness guided by intrinsic values and morally upright principles than by the dictation of narrow self-interest. Hence the thesis question is of paramount importance in laying the foundations of such a dynamic topic. Aristotle states it firmly in The Nicomachean Ethics that “The science of the good for man is politics” (Aristotle et al. 1). In the Myth of the Metals segment in The Republic, Plato assigns different types of metals to various ages of mankind.
Taking the idea from Hesiod’s myth, Plato is well aware of the literal impossibility of such philosophic speculations, especially in terms of their moral viability. Other concepts introduced in The Republic such as wisdom, courage and temperance echo Aristotelian philosophies of Democracy and Justice. It is clear from the reading that both these masters, through conscientious practices, concentrated on arriving at a well-defined construct of truth, happiness and ethics. Plato’s opinion of justice in the individual reflects Aristotelian viewpoints on the same.
In The Republic, Plato raises the question of individual justice as being an inseparable continuum of social justice and truth: “SOCRATES: A fine sentiment, Cephalus. But speaking of that thing itself, justice, are we to say it is simply speaking the truth and paying whatever debts one has incurred? Or is it sometimes just to do these things, sometimes unjust? ” (Morgan 77) Now this school of thinking is pondered on in The Nicomachean Ethics: “…but those who do not take are not praised for liberality but rather for justice; while those who take are hardly praised at all.
And the liberal are almost the most loved of all virtuous characters, since they are useful; and this depends on their giving. ” (Aristotle et al. 80) Moreover, Aristotle observes that “Verbally there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and faring well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise.
” (Aristotle et al. 4) This definitive attempt reinforces the idea shared by Plato who affirms in The Republic that human happiness can result only from the fulfillment of man’s real nature. What is apparent from the above arguments is that Plato neither refutes nor agrees with Sophistic analysis of justice, morality and happiness. He, rather incoherently, examines its shortcomings from a highly philosophical perspective, thus coming to no obvious contradictions.
The basic objection to Plato’s attempt involves his uncertain stance on combining social and individual parameters for happiness. While it is clear from the Sophistic doctrines that self-interest is what that ultimately prompts individuals to seek personal happiness, Plato fails to distinguish between self-interest and irrational desires. He argues that the real form of man’s self-interest is manifested in the control of irrational desires by reason. This is far from conclusive since both these themes are highly subjective and vary according to situations.
Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics alludes to Eudoxus who viewed pleasure as “good, because he saw that all [animals], both rational and nonrational, seek it, and in everything, he says, what is choiceworthy is good, and what is most choiceworthy is supreme. ” (Morgan 349) Presence of this element of choice typically sets individual wisdom apart from collective wisdom. Therefore, it is clear that Aristotle’s philosophic treatise provides the basic framework upon which Plato creates his masterpiece.
In order to reach a point of resemblance on the idea of happiness, we need to approach the matter from the thematic conceptualizations of other interrelated arguments, including Justice and Morality. The cumulative study may only be perceived as the best possible approach to merge two ideas into a unified theory. Works cited Morgan, Michael L. Classics of Moral and Political Theory. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2005. Aristotle, and William David Ross, and J. L. Ackrill, and J. O. Urmson. The Nicomachean ethics. Great Clarendon Street: Oxford University Press, 1998.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 5 October 2016
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