Throughout history, people have searched for knowledge of the good, and have attempted to clarify what is meant when referring to this. Enquiries after a true concept of the good are made so that it is possible for moral frameworks to be built upon them. Interpretations of the good affect views, approaches to morality and structures within societies. For instance the belief that there is an objective source of goodness coincides with a deontological ethical structure.
Alternatively, claiming that goodness is subjective to particular situations and associating it with a natural quality tends to lead to a relative approach to morality.
An example of this is Jeremy Bentham’s act utilitarianism; by defining goodness as that which promotes the most pleasure, he is following a teleological approach to ethics, where the good is relative to the conditions of the situation. Greek philosophy has made a substantial impact on subsequent philosophical ideas and theories. Two key Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, have greatly influenced Western philosophy and worldly views about morality.
Both philosophers examined what is meant by ‘the good’, and Aristotle studied at Plato’s Academy in Athens. Through speaking the same language, both philosophers were potentially influence by similar texts and views within their culture. One philosopher in particular was Socrates; the inspiration behind countless philosophical discoveries and debates. Plato and Aristotle share Socrates’ desire for knowledge and absolute truth. In comparison to the idea that all things are relative, which was taught by Sophists at the time, Socrates’ messages were to understand the absolute.
Prior to the formation of Plato and Aristotle’s concepts of the good, Socrates persisted in asking questions, as a method to help people shape and form their own ideas and theories, and Plato spent a lot of time observing this. As Socrates’ student, Plato referred to Socrates as “the wisest, justest, and best of all men whom I have ever known” and combines the life lessons that Socrates taught with his own concepts. In this essay I will credit Plato for what he has written, as it is hard to distinguish between Plato’s concepts and his quoting of Socrates. To Plato, goodness is the highest form which highlights all other forms.
And although goodness cannot be experienced directly, Plato explained that aspects of goodness are reflected through lower forms. He regarded the forms as absolute, compared with material objects, which are contingent and therefore go in and out of existence. This hierarchy of the good, the forms and the material world is illustrated by Plato’s analogy of the cave. In this analogy, hostages have been trapped in such a manner that that they can only see a wall and the shadows that are cast upon it from objects lit by candlelight behind them. They are incapable of experiencing that which causes the shadows, so the shadows become their reality.
In this analogy, the unseen world outside of the cave represents the forms in their perfection, for example the form justice; we recognise just actions, but we cannot experience perfect justice in itself. Everything in the empirical world is an imperfect copy of its form, which means that everything we sense is but a shadow in comparison with what it reflects. The hostages who were not able to experience the cause of the shadows, which are more real and true than the mere shadows, represent the people that Plato considers to be trapped; limited to only see what is in this world.
Only those who escape the cave; the philosophy kings, can recognise the true reality. Goodness is illustrated by the sun, as the sun is the source of not only everything outside of the cave, but shadows too. The good is similarly the ultimate form, which causes all other forms to be reflected within the world. The focal point of Plato’s philosophy is beyond the sensible world, because Plato understands the good to be part of a reality beyond this world and our direct experience. Plato takes a rational approach, and his methods for acquiring knowledge rely on a priori reasoning, instead of using information from the empirical world.
According to his concept, the good is transcendent which makes the theory abstract, referring to forms that are beyond the sensible world. Instead of knowing about the imperfect world, he contemplated that you can only assume things, as real knowledge is only knowledge about the good. In one of his early dialogues, Plato used Socrates to state that goodness is the ultimate goal, “All our actions are to be done for the sakes of the good. ” Similarly, Aristotle understands that the good is also the ultimate aim of all actions, “the good has rightly been declared to be that which all good things aim. This shows that both philosophers regard the good as an ultimate end to a mean.
Aristotle agrees with Plato; that goodness is related to wisdom, and that everything should be done to bring it about. In the same way that Plato wrote “pleasure, like everything else, is to be sought for the sakes of that which is good, and not that which is good for the sakes of pleasure”, Aristotle stated that wealth, pleasure and health are examples of means that promote the good, but goodness is not defined by them. Even knowledge is a means of reaching the good, “all knowledge and every pursuit aims at some good. Plato and Aristotle had views that overlapped, yet Aristotle criticised Plato’s work, and came up with his own concept of the good. His approach was more scientific as opposed to mathematical. Aristotle believed there is a purpose for everything that he observed, and everything has a nature to fulfil its potential. Where Plato’s philosophy is a lot more rational, concentrating on the epistemological enquiry over what goodness is in itself; Aristotle’s concept of the good revolved around experiences, and was derived from empirical observations.
Instead of concentrating on the logical aspect of what goodness is, Aristotle centred his theory on what it meant to live according to the good, living according to your full potential. He saw the telos; ultimate goal for human life is to reach Eudemonia; supreme happiness and human flourishing. A similarity between Plato and Aristotle’s understanding of the good is that they include universal virtues in their concepts of living according to what is good. Aristotle valued the four cardinal virtues; temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice were described as good on a universal level, and virtues that everyone should aim to live by.
Except these virtues, Aristotle’s concept is relative, and relies on the self-sufficient state of happiness reached by the individual. Aristotle agreed with Plato that virtues depend on rationality, but to understand the good it is essential to acquire a wholesome balance of friendships, pleasure, virtues, honour and wealth. He referred to this balance as the Golden Mean. Aristotle held that in order to do what is good; you cannot follow set absolute rules, but had to use practical wisdom and discover what is good in each individual situation.
When comparing the Aristotle’s concept of the good with Plato’s, it can be argued that Plato’s concept is strong, seeing as he incorporates Socrates’ philosophies with his own, potentially creating a stronger concept. But Aristotle’s concept carries the same strength, as he studied under Plato, so had the advantage of building and improving Plato’s concept. Although the theories were built upon each other, Aristotle and Plato used different methods and discussed different aspects of the good. Plato went into more depth with the epistemological aspects, yet Aristotle’s main concern was on what it means to be good and how to live accordingly.
Aristotle’s concept is not only derived from rational thinking, but also what is empirically observable making the theory strong. It promotes personal autonomy and through being more flexible, virtue ethics allows for emotion is incorporated into the theory too. G. E. Moore criticised ethical philosophising, insisting it is wrong to commit the ‘Naturalistic Fallacy’ by attempting to define goodness. It is important to investigate what goodness is for it may be true that goodness cannot be reduced to a natural property such as pleasure, but enquiries into what the good is are necessary for knowing how to live accordingly.
Plato’s concept of the good is explained using illustrations within his dialogues. It is written through conversations, with characters representing the reader’s views, raising their potential queries. Plato uses Socrates to answer these questions, through asking the characters questions, aiming to get them and the reader to search for the answers within themselves so that they too will understand the truth according to Plato. An example of this is Callicles, who attempted to create a concise definition of the good.
Confused by Socrates’ questions, he re-qualifies his argument, initially agreeing that “in the rightly developed man the passions ought not to be controlled, but that we should let them grow to the utmost and somehow or other satisfy them, and that this is virtue”. He later agrees that pleasure is merely for the sakes of the good, the “end of all our actions”. These devices presented in his theories are persuasive, taking someone with an opposing view, such associating pleasure with goodness, who like Callicles, would state that passions ought not be controlled but rather satisfied.
As Callicles has been convinced by the end of the passage, the reader may also learn to distinguish between goodness and pleasure, and claim that “pleasure, like everything else, is to be sought for the sakes of the good. ” Logical positivists may argue that the abstract aspects of his theory rely on transcendent truths so are not valid. The verification principle highlights how Plato’s claims about an ultimate reality cannot be empirically verified, and seeing as there is not an accurate definition of goodness, assertions about transcendent ‘forms’ carry no literal meaning or significance.
It may seems logical to state that something eternal is more real than something contingent and imperfect, but these metaphysical terms cannot be verified, so are invalid. In contrast, Aristotle’s concept of the good relies on making judgments about how things ought to be, and the judgments about how things can fulfil their natural final purpose are found through observing things within the world. Whilst Plato’s concept falls down when challenged by the logical positivists’ arguments, Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics has recently been reiterated by Alasdair Macintyre.
He believed that ethical language had lost its meaning and been taken away from its context. After critiquing modern ethics, he reformed a virtue-centred ethic, aiming to show others how to live the good life. Aristotle’s concept of the good has also influenced other ethical frames, such as St Thomas Aquinas’ Natural Moral Law; a theistic theory where goodness is associated with the fulfilment of the intended purpose. The fact that modern interpretations and structures for morality have been derived from Aristotle’s concept of the good shows that as a concept, it is useful and applicable throughout time.
Plato’s division of classes, within his ideal society living according to the good, is not democratic, yet it considers roles for everyone. He was centuries ahead of his time by promoted equality for women, allowing them to study at his Academy along with men. In comparison, Aristotle’s idea about women is that they are inferior and lack authority. This corresponds with the Greek constitutional law, but modern views about women’s roles in society have advanced, so unless a modern interpretation of Aristotle’s understanding about roles in society is taken, this aspect would be seen as a flaw to his argument.
It follows from this analysis of Plato and Aristotle’s particular concepts of the good, that they are thorough and well written. Plato especially presented his argument throughout many texts, breaking it down in a persuasive and coherent way. Yet Aristotle’s application of understanding the good presents ethical guidelines for every culture, making it the relevant and stronger concept.
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Compare and Contrast Aristotle’s Concept of the Good with Plato’s. (2017, Mar 19). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/compare-and-contrast-aristotles-concept-of-the-good-with-platos/