Virtue is the key to a meaningful and happy life. According to ancient philosophers, Socrates and Aristotle, developing virtue is vital in order to lead a successful, fulfilling life. Though both men differ in their interpretations of a "good life," they both agree that the supreme life is one of virtuous meaning. Each of the philosophers have devised and implemented their own definitions and guidelines to acquire and practice a virtuous disposition. While it is agreed that knowledge and practice are the key to virtuosity, the philosophers disagree on fundamental rules to follow. The inherent question to be explored concerns the idea of virtue; what is it and how does one acquire it? The answer is anything but simple, but a blend of both philosophies can shed light on the two men's view on practicing a virtuous life. Socrates and Aristotle believe in distinct ends to a common mean. According to Socrates, there are common practices and contracts people enter into in order to live in a society. A good life is inherently virtuous and, according to Socrates, there are certain rules to follow in order to attain virtuosity. Socrates believed that virtue was knowledge. His mission was to encourage people to think for themselves and thus become more virtuous. One example of Socrates devotion to rules and regulations is cited in the Crito. Socrates' word choice including words such as "never" and "always," suggest stern, unbreakable rules. "It is never right to commit injustice or return injustice" (Plato 89). In Athens, Socrates believes, the laws reign supreme and according to the law, Socrates was justifiably guilty. Socrates was sentenced to death based on a conviction of a court upheld by the laws. The finality of the decision of the laws vis-à-vis the court became the final answer regarding Socrates guilt and impending death. When a comrade of Socrates came to visit him in prison with the hope of convincing him to run away, Socrates stood firm in his beliefs in the justice of the laws of the land. "Both in war and in the law courts and everywhere else you must do whatever your city and your country commands, or else persuade it that justice is on your side" (Plato 91). Socrates is firm in his belief of the inherent goodness of the law and he cannot justifiably turn his back on the rules that he had previously based his life upon. Although Aristotle is found to agree with Socrates on the concept of five fundamental virtues and the importance of leading a virtuous life to be happy, when it comes to precise rules in ethics he believes they do not exist. While rules were meant to apply to a world of "black and whites," Aristotle saw the world in shades of gray; extenuating circumstances and intent force Aristotle to review each and every situation individually before he can adequately define one as virtuous. Aristotle would argue with Socrates' reasoning in the Crito acknowledging that there are no precise rules in ethics. While the rules leave guidelines for particular circumstances, not everything is clearly defined by the law. Due to these confounding variables, Aristotle chooses not to promote definite laws but guidelines to follow when examining a particular situation on a case-by-case basis. Aristotle's belief that virtue cannot be taught in a classroom is derived from his belief that it is a practiced skill. He believed in examining all extenuating circumstances to decide if an act was part of a virtuous disposition. Both men believe in the importance of a virtuous life for happier citizens and a thriving polis, but they take different approaches in educating the masses. While Socrates begins to question everyone who believes they know anything, Aristotle rules out anyone who is not a member of the ruling class. The two men emphasize necessity for a virtuous life, but Socrates encourages people to think for themselves. He believes people who embrace their own knowledge will become more virtuous. Aristotle caters...
Bibliography: Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Plato. The Last Days of Socrates. London: Penguin Books, 2003.
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