Aristotle’s text, Nicomachean Ethics, and Plato’s book, Apology, raise very critical issues about the meaning of happiness. Both philosophers agree that happiness is the reason people work very hard. The two scholars also agree about what happiness means.
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Nevertheless, Aristotle goes into more details of his explanation compared to Plato. Aristotle gives many dimensions from which human beings can understand happiness whereas Plato only gives two dimensions. In Aristotle’s view of this topic, happiness depends on the purpose one has in life.1
According to him, politicians consider honor as happiness, rich people think wealth is the source of their happiness while other people consider happiness to be self-sufficiency.2 On the other hand, Plato only believes that happiness is living a virtuous life. He urges people to oppose unfairness and corruption using all their means.3
These two texts raise several questions about life. For example, Aristotle’s work raises questions such as, “What is the purpose of human life?”, “What is happiness?” and “Why do people do the things they do?” On the other hand, Plato’s text raises questions such as, “Why do human beings judge others?” and “Should human beings hide the truth because they fear dying?”
According to Aristotle, the purpose of life for some human beings is related to the soul while the purpose of life for other people is related to external activities. He argues that if one’s purpose is related to the soul, then that person will strive to be virtuous. Such a person will put all his or her efforts in pleasant activities.4 He or she will do everything satisfactorily. Satisfaction to such people means satisfying their families, friends and themselves.
However, Aristotle warns such people against concentrating on pleasing other people at the expense of their interests. On the other hand, if an individual’s purpose in life is related to external matters, such a person will strive to have all the good things in the world. This group of people uses their comrades, wealth and political influence as instruments for amassing wealth.5 They also look for physical beauty because they cannot be happy when they are ugly.
According to Aristotle, different people view happiness differently. He argues that there are three dimensions to the understanding of happiness. These dimensions are the contemplative dimension, the enjoyment dimension and the political dimension.6 Therefore, every person will strive to achieve happiness depending on the dimension of happiness that satisfies him or her.
However, he insists that in all these dimensions, people strive for the ultimate end, “that which makes them do everything they do”.7 He implies that people should ask themselves why they do whatever they do. The answer to this question is the main source of their happiness.
On the other hand, Plato’s text challenges people who judge others before analyzing their lifestyles. He asserts that such people consider others as evil without knowing they are worse than the people they accuse. In his text, the people of Athens accuse Socrates of being an atheist.8 They consider themselves more knowledgeable than Socrates and other Athenians.
Socrates challenges them in court, and advises them to ask themselves whether they are knowledgeable in what they do or not. He criticizes Meletus for accusing him of atheism when Meletus himself is not godly.9Therefore, the answer to this question would be: we mostly judge other people because we fear that they know more than what we know.
Plato also challenges people who hide the truth for the fear of death. He argues that death is inevitable, and people should not fear it. In his work, Socrates declares his readiness to die while defending justice and truth. He confesses that his main goal in life is to fight injustice and all forms of corruption.
He accuses his enemies of finding guilt in him only because he does not approve of their corruption and struggle for wealth. He gives the example of his decision to remain poor when his colleagues were looting citizens of their wealth as evidence for his innocence. Therefore, the answer to his question is: human beings should not hide the truth for the fear of death because they will still die one day.
The main theme in Aristotle’s arguments in response to the questions he raises in his text is people value different things in life, and satisfying those things gives them happiness. On the other hand, the reason for Plato’s answers is to show that it is worthless living in a corrupt world. Therefore, life can only be good when there is no corruption and everyone gets a fair treatment.
These questions relate to the main discussion, “what is happiness?” and “how should I live my life”, since they attempt to explain what happiness is. The answers to Aristotle’s questions reveal that happiness depends on each person’s function in life whereas Plato’s questions help advance the argument that happiness is about fairness and justice.10
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I think these questions are appropriate to ask when searching for happiness since they help people understand that happiness depends on justice and how they want life to be. Understanding these questions will help people avoid struggling to be like others. It will also help them live their lives the way they want them to be without striving to please others at the expense of their interests.
The discussions the two scholars give in their texts appropriately answer the questions the texts raise. Aristotle’s responses do not have specific answers to the questions. However, they are satisfactory since they make everybody strive for happiness in a different way. I would give the same answers to these questions if somebody asked me to respond to them.
The two texts agree in their definition of happiness and why people live. They do not ask exactly the same questions, but they both agree that a good life should be just and free from corruption. However, Aristotle goes into more details. He acknowledges that some people have no value for justice. According to him, such people get happiness through acquiring as much wealth as they can. Plato only talks about knowledge and justice.
He accuses his opponents of wrongly accusing him of corrupting their children. He points back at them as the most corrupt and ignorant individuals in the whole country. He tells them that he is not afraid of dying and lets them know that he is ready to die while saying the truth.
On the other hand, Aristotle goes further to give other dimensions of happiness. These dimensions include the political dimension, the contemplative dimension and the enjoyment dimension. Therefore, Aristotle’s definition of happiness is more comprehensive compared to the one Plato gives. He builds on Plato’s definition of happiness and the purpose of life.
- Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford (Oxfordshire): Oxford University Press, 1980: 319-327. Print.
- Plato. Apology. [PDF file] n.p.: 17-36. Print.
- Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford (Oxfordshire): Oxford University Press, 1980: 319-327.
- Aristotle, Oxford University Press, p. 320. Aristotle believes that people experience happiness differently.
- Plato. Apology. [PDF file] n.p.: 17-36. Plato considers virtue the most important thing in life.
- Aristotle, Oxford University Press, p. 322.
- Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford (Oxfordshire): Oxford University Press, 1980: p.323. Print
- Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford (Oxfordshire): Oxford University Press, 1980: p. 324. Print.
- Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford (Oxfordshire): Oxford University Press, 1980: p. 325. Print.
- Plato. Apology. [PDF file] n.p.: p. 30. Print.
- Plato. Apology. [PDF file] n.p: p. 35. Print.
- Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford (Oxfordshire): Oxford University Press, 1980: p. 326.