Plato And Socrates A Question Of Thought

. Essay, Research Paper

Plato was among the most important and creative thinkers of the ancient world. He was born in Athens in 428 BC to an aristocratic and well-off family. Even as a young child Plato was familiar with political life because his father, Ariston was the last king of Athens. Ariston died when Plato was a young boy. However, the excessive Athenian political life, which was under the oligarchical rule of the Thirty Tyrants and the restored democracy, seem to have forced him to give up any ambitions of political life. In 388 BC he journeyed to Italy and Sicily, where he became the friend of Dionysius the ruler of Syracuse, and his brother-in-law Dion. The following year he returned to Athens, where he devoted his time to research and instruction in philosophy and the sciences. Most of his life thereafter was spent in teaching and guiding these activities. In 347 BC Plato died, while he’s published writings all still live. They consist of some 26 dramatic dialogues on philosophy and related themes. The philosopher Socrates was a close friend of Plato’s family as well as his teacher. Plato’s writings attest to great influence on him. This could be a good explanation to why Plato uses Socrates to voice his own opinions about his Ideal State. Book I of Plato’s Republic, beings with Socrates, Cephalus, Polemarchus and Thrasymachus discussing justice. Each give their own meaning of justice or dikaiosyne. Cephalus says justice is truth telling and debt paying. He views justice this way because he is an honest and just businessman. Polemarchus, who is Cephalus’s son, agrees with Cephalus’s definition, but continues by saying justice, is giving each his own due. By this he means, helping one’s friend. Finally, Thrasymachus, who is a sophist, defines justice as the advantage of the stronger. Justice is not to the advantage of everyone but to the advantage of the rulers. Socrates proves that justice brings unity to any group of people, because it allows them to trust and rely on one another. The discussion of justice is continued in the beginning of Book II. Glaucon enters the conversation and he divides all things into three categories: 1) Those that are pleasurable for themselves and their results, 2) Those that bring good results, but with difficulty, and 3) Those that bring no results, but are pleasurable. Glacon then asks Socrates which category justice falls within. He replies by placing it in the first category. “I myself put it among the finest goods, as something to be valued by anyone who is going to be blessed with happiness, both because of itself and what it comes from” (Republic, Book II 358a). Glaucon claims that the general view of justice lies in the second category, the mean between two extremes. Glaucon defends his argument by using the example of the “Ring of Gyes,” a magical ring that turns its wearer invisible. He continues to argue that if humans were given the opportunity to be unjust without getting caught or without suffering any punishment or loss of good reputation, they would naturally choose a life of injustice, in order to maximize their own interests. Now the issue at hand is to prove whether it is more beneficial to lead a just or unjust life. In an attempt to provide a satisfactory definition of justice, Socrates tries to make an analogy between the justice of an individual human being and of an entire society or city. He then begins to build and imaginary city. Socrates defines the basic city as the Health City opposed to a Feverish City. Socrates states that the fundamental needs of human beings in the society are food, shelter, and necessary clothing and things needed for production. However, Socrates is aware that the people of this city will want more then just the bare necessities. He continues to build this political correct city by manipulating a number of different things such as; adding a specialized class of soldiers, adding guardians, controlling any false information (censoring), creating men and women equal, and balancing their education between philosophy and physical training. Finally, Socrates just city is built. Now that Socrates has built his just city he must now give his definition of justice. First he divides the human soul into three parts: the appetitive, the spirited and the rational. This all corresponds to the city: the rational part is compared with the wise rulers of the city, the spirited part to the aggressive auxiliaries, and the appetitive part to the desires for satisfactions found both within society and the individual. Plato illustrates his tri-partite psyche by picturing them as a charioteer with two horses. The horses are called Appetite and Spirit, while the charioteer is called Reason. Reason’s function is to hold the reins and steer the horses, leading them to where they should go and in what fashion they should proceed. The horses are to pull the chariot, acting as a “drive”. These drives are controlled by reason. “Appetite” stands for food, sex, money or anything you desire, “Spirit” stands for the spirited part of self, passion, and “Reason” stands for the rational part of the soul Now Socrates must define justice within the individual. Virtue is what one does well or one’s excellence, therefore there are three virtues in the stable state: wisdom, courage, and sophrosyne. The rulers possess wisdom; they have knowledge of the forms. “It is guardianship, and it is possessed by those rulers we just now call complete guardians” (Republic Book IV 428e). Wisdom is said to be god like, knowledge in the widest sense. Courage lies within the guardians, this is because they know what to fear and what not to. (…courage is a kind of preservation” (Republic Book IV 429c). Sophrosyne, moderation or self-control falls within the producers and all citizens. “Moderation is surly a kind of order” (Republic Book IV 430e). The producers need to have moderation of appetite in order to be able to share their produce among the city as a whole. Warriors use moderation in their temper, this is done to truly protect their citizens. When these three virtues are properly distributed among the city, justice arises. Each part of Plato’s soul has a specific virtue that makes it perform well. The virtue of Appetite is sophrosyne, virtue of spirit is Courage, and the virtue of Reason is wisdom. Plato has now defined the just city and the just person. Aristotle was born in 384 BC, in ancient Stagira in Greek Macedonian. Macedonian is located in northern part of Greece and was not considered to be a true part of Greece by the southern Greeks of Athens, Sparta, and Thebes. Aristotle’s father was a physician to the royal court, which allowed him to go up in the upper class. When he was 17, he went to Athens to study at Plato’s Academy. He stayed for about 20 years, as a student and then as a teacher. When Plato died, Aristotle moved to Assos, a city in Asia Minor, where a friend of his, Hermias was the ruler. He guided Hermias and eventually married his niece and adopted a daughter, Pythias. Hermias was later captured and executed by the Persians. Aristotle then went to Pella, Macedonia’s capital, and became the tutor to the young Alexander the Great. Aristotle eventually went back to Athens and established his own school, the Lyceum. After the death of Alexander the Great there was a great feeling of anti-Macedonian in Athens, so Aristotle and his family went to a family estate in Euboea. A year later in 324 BC Aristotle died. Aristotle is responsible for some of the world’s most important philosophical writings. He is the author of several books about the sciences, mostly metaphysics and meteorology. According To Aristotle, virtue can be divided into two categories: intellectual and moral. They are called virtue of thought and virtue of character. Intellectual virtues are acquired through learning and instructions and needs time and experience. This includes scientific knowledge, practical wisdom, philosophical wisdom, and good judgment. Virtue of character or moral virtue is developed by force of habit. This type of virtue obeys reason and the control of impulses. Moral virtues are not naturally implanted in us rather the soul receives these moral virtues and in order to develop them into guiding forces they must be trained by habit. For example, the soul achieves moral virtues by exercising, like a builder becomes who he is by building or a harpists becomes who she is by playing the harp (Nicomachean Ethics, Book II 1103b). Aristotle believed that all virtues learned, each has a specific excess and deficiency. The virtue is the midpoint of the excess and deficiency. “Virtue, then, is a state that decides, consisting in a mean…” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book II 1107a). The virtue can be thought of the middle ground, the extremities can be labeled as “vices” and the contrast is labeled as “vice of deficiency”. Take for example virtue of courage, the vice of excess would be rashness, and vice of deficiency would be cowardice. Aristotle believed that the virtue and the vices are within our control and of the two extremes we should choose the less erroneous. Aristotle continues by discussing virtuous person. A virtuous person will react moderately to both pleasure and pain. Pleasure causes humans to do actions, while pain keeps us from doing actions. Thus, virtue involves maintaining a balance between both pleasure and pain. A virtuous act must be based on rationality and only acted on after careful deliberation by the individual. Knowing the good is not enough and performing one single good act does not make one virtuous. Therefore, in order to be fully virtuous you must be fully aware of what you are doing and why you are doing this. If virtuous acts are done without any awareness of their value, you are unable to strengthen any habits. Aristotle says “…that a person comes to be just from doing just actions and temperate from doing temperate action…” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book II). According to Aristotle there are two different aspects of the soul: the irrational and the rational. The irrational element is shared with the animal, and a rational element is distinctly only in human. The primary irrational element is the vegetative or nutritive psyche, which is responsible for nutrition growth and propagation. An organism that does this perfectly may be said to have a nutritional virtue. The second tier of the soul is the animal or sensible psyche, which is responsible for our emotions and desires (such anger, fear, confidence, envy, joy, love, hate, longing, jealousy, and pity). This ability is both rational and irrational. It is irrational because even animal’s experience desires. However, it is also rational since humans have the distinct ability to have and control desires with the help of reasoning. The human ability to properly control these desires is called moral virtue. The third tier of the soul is the human or rational psyche this is the reasonable part of the soul, which is responsible for the human ability to contemplate, reason logically, and formulate scientific principles. Animals do not possess this because it is the rational part of the soul that only humans have. The mastery of these abilities is called intellectual virtue. There are many similarities between Plato’s and Aristotle’s work considering Plato was once Aristotle’s teacher. However there are also many differences. Plato claims there are three virtues in a stable state: wisdom, courage, and moderation. Aristotle says there are only two virtues: intellectual and moral. In Book II of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics he uses the idea of the mean to define virtue. Therefore the idea of moderation or mean plays a key role in both Plato’s and Aristotle’s concept of virtues. Nevertheless, there is a contradiction that lies here, Aristotle thinks virtue is the only thing one can not have too much of. There is no such thing as moderation of virtue. The relationship between Plato and Aristotle comes up again with the discussion of soul or psyche. Aristotle divides the soul into two portions: rational and irrational, and continues to divide the irrational part. Plato divides the soul into three different parts: the appetitive, the honor loving, and the rational loving. The only similarities here are that both philosophers divided the soul into different parts so that each can be examined. Plato and Aristotle were both great philosophers during their time and in the present. Both their works on Ethics have taught many students a great deal and will continue to do so throughout time.

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1999. Translated by Iwrin, Terence Plato. Republic. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1992. Translated by Grube, G.M.A. Revised by Reeve, C.D.C. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1999. Translated by Iwrin, Terence Plato. Republic. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1992. Translated by Grube, G.M.A. Revised by Reeve, C.D.C.


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