, Research Paper
In order to contrast a philosopher s theory of whether human beings are naturally good with a philosopher who does not, we must examine in depth what each philosopher believes is a good human being. The two philosophers I will be comparing are Plato and Aristotle. Neither philosopher believes all people are born naturally good. Plato believes that some humans are born naturally good whereas Aristotle believes humans are born neutral at best. In due course, I will illustrate each philosopher s contrasting views then provide my own opinion.
When referencing to Plato s book, The Republic, I will be referring to Socrates views as Plato s.
I will begin by examining what Plato accounts for as good. Plato refers to three parts of the soul: Wisdom, Spirit and Appetite, and the three parts of the city: Guardians Soldiers and Workers. Plato uses an analogy of the city to explain the parts of the soul. The first part of the soul is wisdom, which is guided by reason. The guardians represent wisdom in the city because they are the most highly educated. Their job is to guard the city, as Plato outlines, never permitting either force or deception to make them give up the conviction that they must do what is best for the state 1 Guardians are the rulers and are the smallest, but highest class. Next are the soldiers or auxiliaries. The soldiers are concerned with courage, bravery and supporting the guardians. In the individual, they represent spirit. Finally, the last group in the city is the workers. Plato describes this group as, the mass of diverse appetites, pleasures and pains found chiefly among children, women slaves and the man so-called freemen form the lower classes. 2 This group represents appetite in the soul. They are the lowest class but the largest. The guardians govern them.
Having established the parts of the soul and how they correspond to the city. Plato states that the city is like the individual with different parts of the soul. A person is just when wisdom guides the other elements and all parts agree. This is true in the city and in the individual. In the city, the guardians rule the other classes. When each group does their own work, it contributes to justice in the city.3 When all three elements in the soul exits in their roles, it contributes to justice in the soul. Justice in the soul is what Plato believes is a good person.
Having considered Plato s view of a good person, I will now discuss Aristotle s view of good. Aristotle believes some people are born neutral at best and have the potential to become good. He believes people live one of three notable kinds of lives: enjoyment, political and contemplative4. A person who lives the life of enjoyment tends to think happiness comes from pleasure. One who lives a political life equates happiness with having honors bestowed upon them. Lastly, one who lives a contemplative life is concerned with rational activity. Those with potential to be good, live the latter of the two lives. The exceptions include women and non-Greeks because they are morally weak, and the youth because learning involves knowledge gained through experience in life not merely time in a classroom.
To Aristotle, a good person is someone who pursues happiness. Happiness is the final end. He considers it the highest good because it is self-sufficient; there is nothing more to pursue once happiness is achieved. Aristotle also says, the good man is an activity of the soul in conformity with excellence or virtue 5. Meaning, happiness involves constant striving to live virtuously through actions
Achieving happiness involves understanding of how to live a life of virtue and excellence. Aristotle acknowledged three classes of good things: (1) external goods, (2) goods of the soul, and (3) goods of the body. 6 Goods of the soul and goods of the body are referred to as internal goods. Both goods are necessary to become supremely happy. Internal goods are important in achieving happiness because they are the most stable. Aristotle points out that as long as a person has internal goods he will never be miserable. It is because he will gain pleasure from performing virtuous acts. It is possible for a person to only have internal goods and be happy. But, to be supremely happy a person must have both goods. External goods are important because they are useful as an instrument towards performing virtuous activities. For example, if a person is wealthy and is actively virtuous he has more means to practice than a man who has no money. The wealthy man will have fewer burdens while doing his virtuous activities than a poor man whom may first have to think about feeding his family. Hence, to be supremely happy one must have both goods.
Having discussed both philosophers goods, I will now consider whether each philosopher believes people are naturally good. Within Plato s explanation of the three parts of the soul, he exhibits his view of whether people have the innate potential to be good. He says, [a] temperate man is one in whom the three elements are in harmony. 7 For the soul to be in harmony wisdom must be the governing part of the soul. Plato goes on to say, simple and temperate desires governed by reason, good sense, and true opinion are to be found only in the few, those who are best born and best educated. 8 Here, he exemplifies his belief that some, but clearly not all people are born with the right part of the soul controlling the other parts. Hence, Plato believes few people possess natural potential to be good because it is innately present to few at birth. Good is then nurtured and developed through education, which is limited to higher classes.
Aristotle, unlike Plato, believes a person learns to be good by attaining virtues through teaching and habit. Aristotle discusses two types of virtues, moral and intellectual. His opinion that virtues can be learned, is exhibited in this quote, Intellectual virtue or excellence owes its origin and development chiefly to teaching Moral virtue, on the other hand, is formed by habit 9. Moreover, moral virtues are concerned with emotions and actions10. Attaining moral virtues involves making choices between halfway points between two extreme actions. For example courage is the mean between fear and confidence. Aristotle s illustrations of virtues support his notion that neither intellectual nor moral virtues are innately present at birth. He states, none of the moral virtues is implanted in us by nature, for nothing which exists by nature can be changed by habit. 11 Aristotle uses a stone as an example. He explains the downward movement can never become habituated to move upwards12. Meaning, if something is set by nature, teaching should not be able to influence it. Like the sense of sight, which comes naturally. Moral virtues can be gained through experience. In the case of intellectual virtues, some people can be intellectually virtuous by educating themselves. Therefore, some people can attain intellectual virtue by learning.
Plato and Aristotle also differ in that Aristotle acknowledges the importance of external goods. Aristotle argues, to be supremely happy a person must possess both internal and external goods. Plato believes for a person to be just, it does not involve anything external. The only way for a person to be just is to ensure his inner self is governed by the right parts13. Wisdom would govern spirit and appetite.
The philosophers contrasting views of external goods holds the same truth in their view of pleasure. Aristotle believes that pleasure is something that can be experienced when performing virtuous activities. He states, [it s] partly for the sake of happiness. 14 Meaning, when a person is virtuous and takes pleasure in it is not bad because it is for the pursuit of happiness. Aristotle also believes people can care too little for pleasure to their own detriment. However, pleasure should not be chosen for the sake of itself. Plato argues, pleasure and pain is found in the lowest class in the city. Analogously, pleasure belongs to the lowest part of the soul, the appetite. And, if a person where to be guided by appetite, they would not be considered just. Only a person who is governed by reason can be good. However, they do both agree that happiness is not the same thing as pleasure.
Another contrasting view the philosophers hold pertaining to external goods is on friendship and relationships with other people. Aristotle argues friendship involves virtue. It provides and opportunity for a good person to practice virtuous acts. However, the relationship must be of value otherwise it is worse than having no relationship at all. Nonetheless, the relationship is important in attaining happiness. Plato argues as long as the soul is in the right state, things like friendship would not matter. This does not mean a good person would not have friends. It would mean if a person did not have a friend or if a relative died the state of the persons soul will not be affected if the soul is in the right state.
Similarly, both Plato and Aristotle are psychological egoists. They believe all human actions have an underlying interest to gain something for oneself. Both claim that women and children are not fully human. Therefore, they cannot be good. Aristotle extends this to non-Greek men as well for the reasons mentioned earlier in this essay. Plato however makes exceptions. He thinks it is possible for a person to be born into the wrong class. In those cases he believes those people should be taken from their environment and raised in the appropriate group.
In my opinion, I agree to partly with Aristotle who says that people are born neutral and that nobody is born naturally good. I also believe Aristotle in that being good can be learned. However, my view does not exclusive of any race, gender, age or class. In my view, all people are born neutral and choose what influences them towards good or bad regardless of their environment. It is possible for anyone to choose a life that strives towards good or bad. And, since I do not believe good or bad is inherently present at birth, people can choose to act in ways that endeavor towards good or bad at any point in their lives.
In Plato s view, he made exception in rare cases that people can be born into the wrong class. In which case they should be removed and put into the proper environment to cultivate their nature. Though I do agree that people actions can deviate from the environment they are born, unlike Plato I believe a person s good or bad nature is not innately present at birth. A person born into a good or bad environment can choose to be influenced contrary to their upbringing. For example, a businessman who is raised to be good and goes to a reputable school, but end up stealing from his company because he allows himself to be influenced by greed. A person born in a good environment who is taught to be a good person can deviate and end up being bad. On the other hand, a person can also be born into a bad environment and choose act oppositely because of how they allow the experience to influence them.
In light of the points stated in this essay, both Plato and Aristotle provide a structured view of whether a person is born naturally good. Plato believes every person has three parts of the soul and whether they are naturally good is dependent upon whether the reasoning part governs the other two. Aristotle believes people are born neutral at best and a person who lives a life towards happiness is a good because happiness is the final end. I do not completely agree with either. I do however agree more with Aristotle, that people are born neutral and learn to be good through teaching and habit. Moreover, I believe people have more influence over whether they strive to be good or bad.