Plato and Aristotle’s Belief About Happiness – Philosophy Essay
Happiness is a desirable state for man, a state which for the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, can be achieved through possessing good things. Plato states
that “a lover of good things has a desire … that they become his own. That’s what makes people happy, isn’t it – possessing good things (Five Dialogues, 50).” Acquisition of gold and silver, or honors and offices in the city may seem to lead to happiness, but Plato does not consider them good if they are not gained “by justice or moderation or piety or some other part of virtue (Five Dialogues, 68). In this regard, Plato and Aristotle are in agreement as to what form of good most directly leads to happiness, virtue. Aristotle suggests that “We always pursue honor, pleasure, wisdom, and all the virtues, both for their own sakes and for the sake of happiness, since we think we shall attain happiness by means of them. (Philosophy of Aristotle, 321) And here as with Plato we are in pursuit of that which makes us happy, we must attempt to make the good our own.
The search for the good is necessitated by the fact that we are born without it. “It is quite plain that none of the moral virtues is produced in us by nature … They come to be because we are fitted by nature to receive them; but we perfect them by training or habit (Philosophy of Aristotle, 334).” We can become morally virtuous then, and thereby happy, through the habituation of moral practices. It is in the question of how one becomes morally sound that the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato diverge. Whereas Aristotle gives us a training routine for attaining what we do not have, Plato abstracts the concept of virtue to an eternal form that can be achieved through love. “A man or anyone else who has a desire desires what is not at hand and not present, what he does not have, and what he is not, and that of which he is in need; for such are the objects of desire and love (Symposium, 43). The man who lacks virtue desires to have it, and through love can come to know virtue in its true form. But before we analyze the distinct methods that these philosophers proscribe for the attainment of virtue, it is critical that we understand how they define virtue itself.
The split in a method for achieving moral virtue is predicated on the very different definitions given it by Plato and Aristotle, definitions which are erected on the foundation laid by Socrates. Socrates believed that virtue was a concept unknown to man, yet widely regarded by men as easily defined. He methodically sought out those who claimed expertise on the subject of virtue and showed them to be deficient. And while Socrates was able to prove others incomplete in their knowledge, he also lacked a definition of virtue himself. But he claimed to be wiser “to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not know (Five Dialogues, 26).” In knowing that he did not know, Socrates enables the concept of virtue to be reevaluated. His philosophy becomes the precondition for the work of Plato and Aristotle, in that a definition of virtue would not be required if an acceptable one already existed. Plato is the first to put forth a new definition, using our understanding of geometry as a reference point.