THE HUMAN FUNCTION IN PLATO AND ARISTOTLE
Plato and Aristotle have similar perspectives about human function. They also share some of their ideas about how human function is related to other philosophical notions such as virtue, good, justice, and the soul. According to Aristotle the chief good (and the human function, which has its end in itself) is happiness. But his definition of happiness is different from what ordinary people usually think. Happiness is neither pleasure nor wealth, nor is it even a kind of honor (Nicomachean Ethics, Chapter 5). It is rather a final state and all human activities attempt to reach this final state. Plato holds that the human function is justice and that it ensures happiness for both the individual and the society when practiced correctly. But this ideal of justice is not for individuals who have special professions or “crafts.” Justice is rather an ideal that every person should pursue for himself/herself. While their definitions seem to be more or less similar, the two philosophers differ on the relative importance of these notions. That is to say, while according to Plato justice is the most important ideal (and happiness is its derivative), Aristotle holds the opinion that happiness is the most significant good which has its end in itself. A correct definition of happiness however is not simple pleasure, according to Aristotle, but a state of moral well-being (which assumes both justice and virtue.) The two philosophers agree on the issue that in order to be happy, we must exercise our human function (and reach the ideals this function requires). They also seem to agree that the human function (justice for Plato, happiness for Aristotle) is impossible to exercise without being virtuous. All these concepts refer to each other and they sometimes even seem more or less equal. This paper will therefore argue that the two philosophers share similar views on the nature of the human function and how happiness and virtue relate to this notion. It will also be argued, however, that they disagree on the relative importance of these concepts (and that some of their philosophical definitions are different). The human function in Book I of Plato’s Republic is defined towards the end of the book, on pages 29 to 31. Plato’s definition of the human function comes after a long and complex argument on the nature of wealth, justice, craft, and virtue (and how they all refer to each other). Plato does not seem to favor the particular idea that justice is a kind of craft [techne] (Republic, 7.) “Craft” here is taken to mean something similar to “business” or “expertise” and some crafts mentioned in that part of the dialogue are: cooking, medicine, boatbuilding, horse breeding, being the captain of a ship, lyre playing, “soldiery and musicianship” etc (Republic 6-9). What all these crafts have in common is that they are individualistic and not universal. Justice will therefore differ from this definition because the exercise of justice is a universal goal. Justice therefore cannot be a kind of techne and there are two major reasons for this exclusion. The first reason is that if justice is a kind of techne, then only those who have justice as their profession would be expected to exercise justice, as opposed to all human beings (only those who have justice as their profession). It makes no difference whether an individual is a cook or a doctor or a boat-builder or a horse breeder in that regard: every professional individual is expected to be just and virtuous in his/her life. The second reason is related to the earlier discussion about the nature of wealth and how it relates to happiness and morality. If justice is a kind of techne, that would mean that the person who exercises justice could make money out of it, being a professional. “Justice” in that regard would be nothing but another kind of business to earn a living. Plato however rejects this idea very strongly: justice cannot be bought or...
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