Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, and Augustine
The context of application and judgement of ethical principles differs from culture to culture, place to place and context to context and therefore, philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, and Augustine have fascinating and insightful ideas about ethics that are worth considering based on specific contexts (Lockwood, 2005). This paper compares and contrasts different ethical perspectives discoverable in Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, and Augustine that identifies perspectives which could establish social ethics.
Virtues and Ethical Perspectives
Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, and Augustine’s ethical perspectives share significant similarities. According to these philosophers, ethics is based on virtuous living. Virtues are components of life, which lead to happiness and greater good than harm to humanity. Accordingly, practices that result in greater good to humanity, entities, and the environment are ethically upright and vice versa (Fasching & Lantigua, 2011). The highest good, according to these philosophers is the purpose of an ethical life and any individual who thinks to live right should create an environment for himself/herself, and others, that is satisfying in that it makes life better and leads to happiness and freedom. Love is emphasized as a virtue that prominently features in the ethics postulated by the four philosophers (Laungani, 2002). There is a trend that alludes to the four agreeing that love is foundational in establishing a virtuous society that is full of positivity. It is seen as an ingredient for good ethics, which are the desire of every man, entity, and the environment.
The philosophers also point out that morals are essential aspects that can be used to evaluate ethics. Morality, as insinuated by the four philosophers entails the distinction between right and wrong. Essentially, ethics results from choices and decisions that human beings make (Solomon, 2009). Wrong decisions that have adverse effects negates the idea of positive ethics. Right decisions which improve the condition of life promote ethical relationships and living within societies and communities, and among entities, individuals and groups (Lockwood, 2005). According to the four, living right is a consequence of the choice of undertakings with due consideration of the outcomes of the choices that one makes.
Similarities and Differences of Philosophers’ Views
Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, and Augustine ethics display an ethical life that is selfless and devoid of greed that in most cases results in unquenchable bodily appetites and the desire to serve self-interests without due consideration of the effects that such choices have on others and the environment (Fasching & Lantigua, 2011). The independence to be incorruptible by the external or internal forces that make suggestions and influence thoughts and actions can create environments and atmospheres that promote goodness and demean evil. Every entity and the environment would always call for moral living and absolute good so that there is zero harm to anything in the surrounding. Essentially, living a selfless life and extending the same to others would amount to a greater good and higher benefits to humanity and the environment (Laungani, 2002). Hence, the philosophers seem to agree on the issue of selflessness and highest good for humanity and disregard greed and serving self-interests. This forms the concepts of ethics as far as they are concerned.
Although there are inherent similarities in ethical perspectives by the four philosophers, there are also considerable differences which though not very prominent, are worth noting. While Plato vehemently emphasizes the idea of virtue-based conception of ethics, Aristotle is hellbent in championing ethics based on habits and behaviors which lead to good life (Fasching & Lantigua, 2011). According to Aristotle, the supreme good should be the primary aim of human crafts, investigations, and actions. His ethics can be described as a common-sense ethics which are built on self-realization and naturalism. Essentially, self-interests do not feature in Aristotelian ethics. This differs somewhat from Platonic ethics. Virtues are necessary for personal development and out of personal growth and development, then happiness can be dispensed to others (Solomon, 2009). Therefore, there is a significant element of self-interest in Plato ethics, which inherently misses in Aristotelian ethics.
Considering Buddha, there is a greater gap in the point of view that emphasizes ethics based on enlightenment. Essentially, the focus of Buddha ethics is walking the path towards liberation. People are bound by different things which confine them in distinct ways (Keown, 2005). As such, seeking the freedom to break free from these confines so that one lives freely forms the basis of Buddhist ethics. Honoring the precepts of Buddhist ethics culminates to security, respect, and trust. This seems to differ from what Plato thinks. The purpose of ethical living is to achieve happiness through virtuous living and not necessarily to gain trust, security or respect. Similarly, it somewhat differs from Aristotelian ethics in that their foundations are different. Aristotle focuses on grand observance of morality as a way of determining right and wrong, and good and bad and not necessarily the pursuit of liberation (Solomon, 2009). Additionally, Buddhist ethics have a religious characteristic which is not prominently presented in the Aristotelian and Plato’s ethics.
A close examination of ethics according to Augustine reveals that the basic principles of ethics should be grounded on Christian beliefs and faith. According to Augustine, anything that violates consistency with good acts amounts to sin and hence, is unethical and not worth following, adopting, or emulating (Kent, 2001). The essence of ethics in as far as Augustine is concerned does not necessarily concern right living as the other three philosophers seem to emphasize although with different intensity and at different levels of emphasis. However, according to him, ethics involves right loving which involves primarily loving God and secondarily, and derivatively loving the neighbor. In other words, unlike the others, he thinks that the essence of good life does not revolve on accomplishments during life on earth but offering the right inner emotional allegiance to the only true dimension, the true God (Fasching & Lantigua, 2011). What counts is the inner state and not necessarily the outer actions because they are only significant insofar as they reveal one’s inner state.
Virtuous Life and Social Ethics
The Aristotelian and Plato perspective of ethics can monumentally establish social ethics. These perspectives seem to share much in common with regard to how ethics should be viewed and regarded. They promote significant aspects of social living which greatly exemplifies social ethics. Plato extols the importance of moral good based on virtues, something that Aristotle echoes by providing an extensive array of greater considerations in improving social life by developing morally upright habits. A virtuous life is worth pursuing because it improves relationships among individuals, entities and elements in the environment. Aristotle, similarly, observes the necessity of morality in a bid to understand the right and wrong, good and bad, in order to be in a position to make relevant choices and decisions which improve life and broaden the elements of social ethics.
Essentially, the perspectives to ethics as offered by Plato and Aristotle offer a broad spectrum of values which are the necessary building blocks of social ethics (Lockwood, 2005). They place significant responsibilities on the social entities and also illuminate the essence of accountability in championing good social relationships based on virtues and which results in happiness and good life for all elements of the society. A close scrutiny of the Plato and Aristotelian perspective of ethics reveal the existence and application of such elements as truth, honesty, loyalty, peace and love.
These are important concepts that should prevail in any social set up. The society is composed of different components which interact in a manner that there should be sharing of benefits and value addition by and to each (Solomon, 2009). Accordingly, considering the application of ethical principles that are emphasized by these perspectives will result in creating a wholesome lot of fruitful relationships which yield greater good and happiness among the elements of the society. These elements are responsible for bringing fundamental goodness to humanity and by extension, to the society at large. Therefore, they are suitable applicants that can fruitfully contribute to the establishment of social ethics.