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Socrates and Aristotle are two Greek philosophers who are held in high esteem amongst other early Greek philosophers. Regarded as the father of philosophy, Socrates was a great philosopher whose student Plato, later taught Aristotle. These philosophers, though from the same country, seem to have different views of the numerous things that they spoke about. From their political beliefs to other believes about life in general there are a lot of discrepancies in their works (Bostock, 2000).
Virtue is described by some scholars as a set of behaviors or attitudes that show high moral standards. Though it is not quantifiable, it can be measured relatively. Socrates believed that virtue in a person’s life is achieved by the individual living his/her life focusing on self-development rather than material things. This is very well displayed in the way that Socrates lived his life (Bostock, 2000). What he did to earn a living is not clear, and that is a strong indication of his belief that happiness should come from one’s inner self and not material wealth. He described two forms of virtues that are in humans; philosophical and intellectual virtues. These virtues were believed to be acquired from the wide knowledge of things that happened around a place.
Aristotle has also divided virtue into two; the virtue of thinking and that of character. He goes ahead to say in his writings that the former needs teaching, experience, and time while the latter comes about out of living following the right habits. The virtue of character Aristotle believes comes by nature in all humans. Though he agrees with Socrates that virtue brings about happiness in life, he believes that happiness comes from one enjoying the virtue that he/she possesses.
The major difference in the beliefs of the two Greek philosophers under scrutiny here is that while Socrates’ accounts on virtue are manifested through his life, Aristotle’s accounts are only in his writings. Socrates presents his account in the form of questions and then lets his listeners decide for themselves. This marks a point of conflict as one cannot ask that which he knows nothing about.
Socrates accounts for virtue by saying that ideal life is spent in search of doing good and he is believed to have spent his life in the company of people whom he invited to his place. He believed that friendship and virtuous life with a sense of brotherhood was the best way for individuals to live together as a community. His belief in brotherhood is what made him accept the death sentence handed to him by the Athenian authority as he thought it a betrayal to the people had he decided to run away to escape the sentence. He dedicated his life to discussing philosophy because that is what he considered the most important thing in life. His failure to work to earn a living was an indication to his listeners that material wealth did not contribute to happiness as virtue itself is sufficient for happiness (Bostock, 2000).
Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that this virtue comes at a midpoint between two extremes. Concerning material wealth, he says that virtue is to treat money as any other useful thing that one may have. He believes that the ability to know who to spend it well brings about a virtue. Using money in the correct way he says is a virtue according to Aristotle but to Socrates, material wealth is in no a virtue (Burger, 2008).
About today’s livelihood, the teachings of these great philosophers are of high value. Aristotle’s account of virtue is more plausible in today’s society than that of Socrates. This is manifested in their teachings where Aristotle speaks of virtue as finding a balance between two extremes (Bostock, 2000) while Socrates says that virtue is the desire for one to do well in one’s life.
It is practically impossible for a person to make a living without working as accounted by Socrates. His way of life, in which he sought to teach people philosophy to help them live a virtuous life, ended up in conflict with the political class by criticizing his city, which earned him a death sentence. This if is to be deemed as the price one has to pay for being virtuous, and then very few individuals would be ready to follow Socrates’ teaching. Aristotle himself described Socrates as having turned philosophy into human questions. This effect can though be attributed to the fact that Aristotle was a student of one of Socrates’ students who is Plato. In most of his teachings, Aristotle used the latter’s teachings as a point of reference, and therefore, was more or less correct them through his understanding of philosophy (Bostock, 2000).
- Bostock, D. (2000). Aristotle’s Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Burger, R. (2008). Aristotle’s Dialogue with Socrates: On the Nicomachean Ethics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.