Socrates and Aristotle are both ancient philosophers. In their work they both taught on the idea of ethics and virtues. They believed in virtues but their understanding of what is means to be virtuous were different (Lutz, 1998). This is why their teaching on virtue as well as their lives and decisions contradicted. This paper is a critical comparison between Aristotle’s account of virtue and Socrates’ account of virtue.
The similarity that exists in these teachings is that they believed in existence of virtues and taught their students on what is means to be virtuous only from their different understanding. The two philosophers believed in individuals possessing intellectual virtues. The common thread on the teachings of the two was the fact that people possessed certain virtues (Lutz, 1998). The virtues represent the most significant qualities for a person to possess. The two philosophers taught that having virtues was advantageous. Nevertheless, there are various differences on the way each understood and approached the subject.
The differences in the accounts of virtues by the two philosophers are not only revealed in their teachings but also their way of life. Both Aristotle and Socrates were charged with impiety, but their differing understanding of what is virtuous and right led them to different actions. When Socrates was convicted to death, he accepted it and allowed himself to be executed. When he was offered to pay a fine for his crime he refused. He also refused to honour the pleas of Plato and his other students to run away in a boat they had ready for that purpose. Socrates is known to be a man who lived what he preached (Sherman, 1997). He refused to break the law even in the face of death and wanted to set a good example to his students. In a way through his act, he answered some of the questions he had posed to his students on virtue and courage. His actions also lived up to the fact that he advocated for friendship and true sense of commonality. This is what led Socrates to willingly accept his death sentence when most people thought he would flee. Socrates believed that running away from the authority amounted to going against his community’s will. As a pursuit of personal happiness, Aristotle on the other hand refused to accept his charges and fled. This is because Aristotle’s thinking was based on individual happiness and pleasure (Sherman, 1989).
Unlike Socrates, when Aristotle was charged with impiety, he took the easy way out. He ran away rather than stay to face the charges. This tells us a lot about Aristotle. This is also evident in his argument that the final goal of human beings is happiness. He argued that living a virtuous life is something pleasurable. In his argument, the virtuous man takes pleasure in living a virtuous life. In his argument, it seems like devoid of virtues, a person cannot achieve happiness. It is like virtue is the linking aspect to happiness. This is in contrast with the theory of Socrates who argues that the best way of life is focusing on self-development instead of pursuing material things (Lutz, 1998).
In his teachings, Socrates never revealed answers, nor did he reveal the truth. Socrates never taught the truth but taught his students how to find the truth by themselves. He just taught his students to discover. Socrates knew that no person could answer the questions concerning courage, virtue and duty to his satisfaction. People just claimed to be virtuous and courageous without really knowing what this meant (Sherman, 1989). On the part of Aristotle, being virtuous was a thing that people could not only understand but also achieve. Aristotle disagrees with Socrates in arguing that ethics is primarily about virtues. Socrates also argues that a person can have virtues without necessarily having the kind of knowledge that typifies mathematics of nature science. Aristotle is capable of demonstrating that ethics and personal interest may be related, that ethics is well-suited to common sense, and that a virtuous person is capable of achieving rational decisions. Aristotle also made a distinction between two kinds of virtues; ethical and intellectual. Ethical virtues come about through habitual actions. He argued that people are born with the capacity to live a virtuous life. He also argues that education is essential in establishing human capability to make virtuous acts habitual. Aristotle believed that people have to act virtuously as much as they can and by doing so they make a step in becoming virtuous. He also believes that ethical virtues need to be attended with pleasure. He believed that human beings cannot be exposed to pain when they are acting virtuously. If a person is exposed to pain as a result of an action, then he cannot be considered virtuous (Sherman, 1989).
Unlike Socrates who believed in doing what is right, Aristotle believed that too much and too little are always wrong. He argued that virtuous acts are always midway states between the contrasting vices of excess and deficiency. This is unlike the idea of Socrates where there was no compromise or flexibility in being good. Aristotle’s theory of virtues allows for flexibility.
Socrates stresses that virtue was the most important possession and that life must be lived in pursuit of good (Sherman, 1997).
While both of the philosophers believed in the benefit of having virtues, it is Socrates who stresses more than Aristotle the importance of the virtues. In his Socrates’ view there is no go between; people had to be good. In Socrates’ theory the idea of happiness and pleasure brings in an aspect of compromise. Between the two philosophers, it is Socrates who forms the best example of living a virtuous life.
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