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what Does it Mean to be a Good Person?

981 words (4 pages) Essay in Philosophy

05/06/17 Philosophy Reference this

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Everyday across the world we are being told to be a good person, but what does that really mean? Is a good person in America the same as a good person in communist North Korea? I say yes; a good person is unlike the good citizen whose virtue is relevant to the regime in which they live; the good person is a good person no matter the regime while the good citizen is only representative of that which the state deems best. The good man can be good anywhere because he follows virtue, and finds happiness in that virtue. To illustrate this point I will first define the good man then the bad regime, and finally how a good man fits into the bad regime.

The Good Man

Socrates, while under trial, explained his definition of a good person in refutation of the charge that he was ashamed of pursuing a dangerous occupation that had the possibility of death. He responded “You are wrong, sir, if you think that a man who is any good at all should take into account the risk of life or death; he should look to this only in his actions, whether what he does is right or wrong, whether he is acting like a good or a bad man” [1] Here we have a very cut and dry explanation of the good man, he who does not concern himself with petty personal wants but only whether his actions are good and just.

Aristotle sets out a clear boundary between what he considers a good man and a good citizen. For Aristotle the good man is the man that acts and lives virtuously and derives happiness from that virtue. And the good citizen acts to the best virtue of the state and each of these things are quite separate, “The good citizen need not of necessity possess the virtue which makes a good man” [2] The separation is clearly evident, the fact that what makes a good citizen does not qualify someone to be a good person. So being a good person does not mean you have to by association be a good citizen they are two distinctly different states, it is only in the best of regimes that the good person is also the good citizen. The nature of political rule is that rule of those “similar in stock and free” [3] As Aristotle argues if the virtue of a citizen is the capacity to rule and be ruled in turn, then the virtue of the good man is also to have this capacity in the best of regimes.

The good in any animal or plant is the same as it is for humans: that to be and act in harmony with the virtue of that species. In a way this is a human participating in that which is most human, to act in harmony with rationality and virtue. The good in acting with the virtue of a human is the perfection of that which can only be described rationally such things as love and justice. To act unto these things is to act with virtue but there also stands limits to everything. To act with too great or too little emphasis in any act is to disrupt balance and pulls the good man from his path of virtue, too much love is obsession, too little disdain either extreme is undesirable to the good man. The good man lives by the Golden Mean that which is not too in excess in either direction.

To bring together the definition of a good man, Socrates says he is a man who always considers his actions and acts in a good and just manner. Aristotle says a good man acts unto virtue and derives his happiness and pleasure from that virtue. So we have a man who is prudent, virtuous, and just. This man must now fit into a corrupt regime, a regime that does not follow all those things which make him a good man.

The Bad Regime

There were six different categories in which all regimes were placed as defined by both Socrates and Aristotle, those of tyranny, monarchy, oligarchy, aristocracy, democracy and polity. Of these regimes tyranny, oligarchy and democracy were all negative and corrupt regimes because the governing body whether it be a single person, small group or the many respectively only were ruling in their own interests and not to the benefit of all. In the good regimes it is those same forms of governing bodies yet they govern in the interest of the state as a whole.

Of the bad regimes Aristotle had declared that tyranny was the most undesirable state as the citizens were reduced to nothing more than slaves. In a tyrannical government the governed are not looked after but only used to further the goals of the leader. The next two are defined in a similar manner “men ruling by reason of their wealth, whether they be few or many,” [4] for an oligarchy and defining a democracy as “where the poor rule.” [5] To Aristotle an oligarchy was a twisted degradation of the good regime aristocracy, in the oligarchy it is not that few men govern it is that it is the wealthy class that rules creating a state in which all power resides in the upper class.


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