The definition of virtue has been a topic discussed thoroughly since the beginning of humanity. Questions such as: “What is virtue? Or can virtue be taught” have long been discussed and debated by philosophers around the world. During the ancient Greek period, the meaning of “virtue” means differently in terms of the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle In Aristotle’s opinion, the pursuit of happiness should be one’s ultimate life purpose, and happiness is one of the results of being virtuous. Happiness, or eudemonism is part of Aristotle’s definition of virtue.
A virtuous person will always be happy and have a fulfilled life because he is able to do the right thing at the right time. Being virtuous means to accomplish tasks elegantly and behave appropriately, and this will help an individual win respect from others. After receiving compliments from others, this individual will be forever happy spiritually. According to Aristotle, there are two types of virtue: moral and intellectual. A perfect virtuous man will need to balance between moral virtue and intellectual virtue impeccably.
Moral virtue gives one a correct aim, and intellectual virtue helps one to come up with an appropriate method to approach his aim. People always behave in a way that can make them happy, and a man who has moral virtue will know what is correct and what is wrong. With a correct judgment, he therefore can demonstrate a perfect balance of emotion and attitude. With this being said, it is imperative for an individual to practice using his correct judgment, and this links towards the next essential part of Aristotle’s understanding of virtue, habit.
It is difficult for a man to pretend himself to be virtuous because virtue requires one to have a proper demeanor consistently all the time. Moral virtue only ensures a correct starting point; however, a correct approach requires intellectual virtue. It is difficult to have two types of virtue every single time; therefore, to become virtuous requires practice; a person can only be called virtuous when it becomes a habit. To be noticed, a happy person is not always virtuous, yet a virtuous person is always happy.
This is because some forms of happiness come from immoral behaviors. Real happiness comes from compliments. Aristotle also comments that virtue is coming from the demand of society and city. A person cannot be born with virtue, and virtue is something that a person will acquire after tedious practice. Different societies have different understandings of virtue. Without regulation from society, it is no longer necessary for a person to be virtuous. An individual can only be considered as virtuous if his behaviors are approved by his society.
Aristotle recommends that standards of virtuous behaviors should be a part of the law. Aristotle comments that justice is the source of virtue. Justice ensures that the idea of virtue can be fairly applied to every citizen. Plato is one of Socrates’s students, and his philosophical opinion is heavily impacted by Socrates. His moral theory is based on man achieving his highest good. One of his most famous theories of virtue is that virtue is knowledge. In Plato’s opinion, when a person is facing many options, he will always choose the one that he thinks is most beneficial to him.
If a person has the knowledge of the good, then he will certainly make a good decision. Plato believes that a certain behavior can only be considered “good” if it brings benefits to every person in society. A person will be virtuous if he understands the knowledge of the good. Plato also comments that virtue can be taught because it is a form of knowledge. Moreover, the knowledge of virtue will not change no matter what happens. It teaches people how to judge what is correct and what is wrong. The knowledge of virtue also should come from reason, not from perception.
Plato argues that an individual can only acquire some ambiguous and inaccurate knowledge of virtue if he allows perception to dominate his thinking process. The knowledge of virtue cannot be taught directly, yet one can be influenced by virtuous behaviors in his life. Plato believes that virtue is like one’s mother language. A person never needs to learn his mother language on purpose because he can learn it when he uses it. This idea also applied to knowledge of virtue. Teachers should not give students lectures on how to act virtuously; instead, they should lead students to find out what is virtue.
In Plato’s opinion, happiness can be found through the pursuit of four virtues: temperance, courage, prudence and justice. Temperance requires self-discipline and self-regulation, and one with temperance is usually humble and respected. Plato believes that, although a person can be very powerful, his power is still limited comparing to mother nature. Temperance is the foundation of virtue, and it maximizes happiness in life. Courage is one of the virtues because the brave warriors are admired and respected in ancient Greece. Plato concludes that courage is not equivalent to impulsive action.
Courage allows people to become perseverant and brave; thus, it is counted as one of the virtues. Prudence is another important virtue in Plato’s opinion. In fact, he thinks that prudence is the most important one. Plato thinks that prudence can lead people to acquire other virtues because it can help people make correct decisions and balance between each virtue. The final part of Plato’s theory of virtue is justice. Justice plays an important role in Plato’s idea of utopia. In a country that is ruled by justice, every citizen will be treated equally, and pursuit of happiness will be done successfully.
Plato is Aristotle’s teacher and mentor; however, Aristotle’s definition of virtue is not completely the same from Plato’s. There are some similarities, yet there are also some differences between the two definitions. Both Plato and Aristotle believe that virtue comes from practice. Virtue can be taught, and to be virtuous is a consistent process in one’s life. Aristotle agrees with Plato’s idea that virtue is a form of knowledge. Aristotle acknowledges that intellectual virtue, which is knowledge of virtue, can aid an individual to approach his goal in a virtuous way.
Both of the philosophers agree that the pursuit of happiness should be the ultimate life purpose, and both of their definitions of virtues are based on the pursuit of happiness. The starting point of their definition is similar. Another similarity can be found is that they all agree that the virtue only exists in society. All four virtues, according to Plato, temperance, courage, prudence and justice are all valued and respected by society. This is similar to Aristotle’s opinion that virtue is coming from demand of the society. Both philosophers agree that different societies or different countries will have different definitions of virtue.
One of the major differences between Aristotle’s definition and Plato’s is that Aristotle does not agree that virtue is solely knowledge. Unlike Plato who holds the opinion that virtue is completely coming from one’s knowledge, Aristotle comments that virtue also should be moral. With this being said, Aristotle concludes that there are two types of virtue: moral virtue and intellectual virtue. Aristotle thinks that intellectual virtue only gives people the best approach to reach their goals; however, moral virtue can ensure that their goals are actually virtuous.