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Description

The assignment is to write a personal reflection paper on the selections from the

Readings In Classical Ethics

book we have been conducting a study of. Please see the syllabus for guidelines on paper form. The paper you write will be judged upon its content and the following outline

Introduction

{Choose 7 of the following 9}

The Ethics of Stein

The Ethics of Plato

The Ethics of Aristotle

The Ethics of Epicurus

The Ethics of Seneca

The Ethics of Augustine

The Ethics of Kant

The Ethics of Mill

The Ethics of Manning

My [meaning your] Reflections on Ethics

Conclusion

The individual sections on “The Ethics of ____” will not be expected to be comprehensive in nature and thus do not require any outside research. I would simply like you to give a brief explanation of the ethics of the philosopher in question covering some of the basic issues we covered in class. How does this philosopher define happiness? What are some of the major pitfalls to attaining happiness for this philosopher? What issues need to be worked out or balances need to be maintained in order to attain happiness as defined by this philosopher?

A good thing to do with regard to these descriptions is to search for a one sentence thesis statement that describes each ethical theory. For example: “Mill’s theory seeks to bring the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest amount of people.” Start your section on each philosopher in this way and then delve into some of the other questions. Please do not make these descriptions into one long critique. For you really do not have the credibility to critique a philosopher until you demonstrate that you, at least to some extent, understand their thought.

I suggest you write the body of the paper first and then write the “My Reflections on Ethics” section afterwards. A good way to go about this is to simply answer the classical question of ethics (“How can I live the good and happy life?”) for yourself incorporating some of the ideas from the 7 philosophers you choose to write about in the main body of the paper. Then write a conclusion and, after everything else is done, write a short introduction to the paper.

The Ethics of Stein
Edmund Husserl often had his doctoral students review the thought of another
thinker on the same topic as their own doctoral theme as a starting point for
study. This is the process Edith Stein engage in so I propose we follow that
same path. Yet let us first, for the sake of clarity, define the term “empathy” and
give a basic explanation of the phenomenological reduction.
When discussing the question of a given person attempting to enter into the
“feeling” of another person a controversy often arises between the use of the
word “empathy” or “sympathy.” Edith Stein seeks to put this question to rest
promptly:
All these data of foreign experience
point back to the basic nature of acts
in which foreign experience is
comprehended. We now want to
designate these acts as empathy,
regardless of all historical traditions
attached to the word.
The purpose here is to help the reader realize that the investigation being
entered into has little to do with the common usage of the words “empathy” and
“sympathy.” These are terms we use to describe acts in which foreign
experience is comprehended. However, the investigation we shall now enter into
is concerned with the act itself: With the phenomenology of empathy.
The phenomenological reduction must first be understood. If I wish to intuit a
given object, say a chair, I must first bracket off all of the things and facts I
know about said object. I now enter into a state of pure consciousness as a
subject which encounters an object by intending to it. However, this process of
intentionality takes place only from a certain perspective, within a short moment
in time. Therefore, I can only look upon the chair from a certain limited
perspective which will only give the chair a certain limited meaning to me.
Perhaps I see the chair directly from above so I am unaware of its legs. Then I
intend to it from the side and become more aware of its features. Now by
intending to it over and over again, thus seeing it from several different
perspectives, I have the possibility of gaining determinate knowledge of the
chair.
Are intending to objects, like a chair, and intending to another human person in
an attempt to have empathy analogous to one another? Edith Stein speaks of
seeing a friend who has just lost a loved one and becoming aware of that
friend’s pain. This awareness might come about as a result of a strained tone of
voice or a pale and emotionless face. Yet, by intending to my friend’s pain from
many different perspectives can I come to a determinate knowledge of it? Stein
states:
I can consider the expression of pain, more accurately, the change of
face I empathically grasp as an expression of pain, from as many sides
as I desire. Yet, in principle, I can never gain an “orientation” where the
pain itself is primordially given.
Both the chair and my friend are objects present to my senses in the here and
now yet my perception of objects and empathy are of a different nature. For I
have the possibility of gaining determinate knowledge about the chair, however,
I can never have the possibility of gaining determinate knowledge about the
pain of my friend. Perhaps through a series of many intentions from many
different perspectives I might ideally come to know how the pain effects my
friend as a physical object. Yet, I can never in any condition fully gain access to
the subject of the pain itself.
Stein further delineates this basic difference in nature between attending to an
object and seeking to have empathy for another person.
When it arises before me all at once, it faces me as an object (such as
the sadness I “read in another’s face”). But when I inquire into its
implied tendencies (try to bring another’s mood to clear giveness to
myself), the content, having pulled me into it, is no longer really an
object. I am now no longer turned to the content but to the object of it,
am at the subject of the content in the original subject’s place.
Edith Stein sees this shifting of the subject as the basic difference between
empathy and memory, expectation or fantasy. For in all these later states the
subject has continuity with the person having the memory, expectation or
fantasy. However, in empathy the subject I face is not my own. I have now
entered into the realm of intersubjectivity.
Philosophy of Empathy
Stein begins by pointing out the distinction between the physical body and the
living body. The physical body is an object we perceive, like many others, yet in
a certain specific way. She states:
Every other object is given to me in
an infinitely variable multiplicity of
appearances and of changing
positions, and there are also times
when it is not given to me. But this
one object (my physical body) is given
to me in successive appearances only
variable within very narrow limits. As
long as I have my eyes open at all, it is
continually there with steadfast
obtrusiveness, always having the same
tangible nearness as no other object has.
It is always “here” while other objects are always “there.”
It would seem that Stein is referring here only to the sensory data of the physical
body. For whenever I open my eyes or engage in self-touch my physical body
remains present through this sensory data. Yet what if I close my eyes and
stretch out my limbs inside of a decompression chamber? Even in this state,
where I have no sensory data of my physical body at all, my sense of
embodiment remains inescapably present. The fact that I know this body
belongs to me can never be known by outer perception alone because outer
perception would involve only interrupted streams of sensory data while my
sense of embodiment remains constant. This constant sense of embodiment,
given to me only outside of sensory data, is my “living body.”
The living body is not given to me as a sensation or as a group of sensations, but
rather as the focal point of all of my sensations. It thus has an entirely different
nature than that of my physical body. Stein says of this:
All these entities from which my sensations arise are amalgamated into
a unity, the unity of my living body, and they are themselves places in the
living body.
Through this Edith Stein begins to speak of the living body as having a “zero
point of orientation” which she refers to as the “I.” She presents the example of
a foreign physical object which could approach my living body, and even appear
to be closer to my “I” than one of the outer limbs of my living body (or the
sense of embodiment of said outer limb). Is this foreign physical object now
closer to my zero point of orientation than my own outer limb? Edith Stein
answers:
The distance of the parts of my living
body from me is completely
incomparable with the distance of
foreign physical bodies from me.
The living body as a whole is at the
zero point of orientation with all
physical bodies outside of it. “Body
space” [Leibraum] and “outer
space” are completely different from
each other.
The problem remaining here for Stein is that one’s own physical body can be
perceived with the senses just as foreign physical objects are. Therefore, from
the standpoint of the senses, what separates the two?
Stein has been speaking strictly of a body at rest up until this point. Yet once a
body is put into motion a further understanding of the relationship between the
living body and the physical body becomes possible.
When I move one of my limbs, besides becoming bodily aware of my own
movement, I have an outer visual or tactile perception of physical body
movements to which the limb’s changed appearances testify. As the
bodily perceived and outwardly perceived limb are interpreted as the
same, so there also arises an identical coincidence of the living and
physical body’s movement. This constant sense of fusion between the
living body and the physical body is one which cannot be broken. For
wherever my physical body goes my living body must follow in an almost
perfect and “indissoluble” union.
In terms of the phenomenological reduction Edith Stein points out that no
matter what standpoint one takes in order to gain a perspective on a given object
the physical body and the living body remain in this always and indissoluble
union:
Every step I take discloses a new bit
of the world to me or I see the old
one from a new side. In doing so I
always take my living body along.
Not only am I always “here” but also
it is; the various “distance” of its parts
from me are only variations within
this “here.”
Thus the living body and the physical body are both necessary for the
phenomenological reduction.
Stein now seeks to delve more deeply into the relationship between the living
body and the physical body through the foot “gone to sleep” example. She
describes the foot “gone to sleep” as being beyond the realm of the living body
because of its lack of sensation. Like a “foreign physical body that I cannot
shake off.” Yet when circulation returns and the foot “awakes” it once again
becomes a part of the living body. Stein points out the implications of this
toward understanding the living body.
For the living body is essentially constituted through sensations;
sensations are the real constituents of
consciousness and, as such, belong to the “I.” Thus how could there be
a living body not the body of an “I”!
Thus the concepts of the living body, the physical body and the “I” are joined
together.
Stein goes on to investigate the relationship between the living body and
feelings. She points out that this relationship is somewhat similar to the
phenomenon of fusion already discussed between the living body and the
physical body. However, one could wish to express a cheerful feeling yet be
simply too physically exhausted to do so. She refers to this as “the phenomenon
of the reciprocal action of psychic and somatic experiences.” By this she means
that the psychic depends upon the somatic in order to understand experiences.
The consciousness of the “I” is always body bound.
Feelings have another particular characteristic to them for Stein. They are never
complete in themselves but always seek, even demand, bodily expression.
Feeling in its pure essence is not something complete in itself. As it
were, it is loaded with an energy which must be unloaded.
She goes on to point out some of the many different ways a person might
express feelings with bodily expression being the most normative among them.
And although the bodily expression of feeling can be faked, expressed only in
terms of the physical body, the actual phenomenon of the expression of feeling
is a rather definite process.
I not only feel how feeling is poured into expression and “unloaded” in
it, but at the same time I have this expression given in bodily perception.
The smile in which my pleasure is experientially externalized is at the
same time given to me as a stretching of my lips.
So while it is possible to simply stretch your lips without the accompanying
feeling and sense of unloading of said feeling in expression, the actual
phenomenon of the expression of a feeling is a much more complex and definite
experience.
This leads Edith Stein into a discussion of the role of the will within the
psycho-physical individual. She sees the will not just as a mechanism of choice
isolated in itself but as always seeking to be connected to action in a similar way
as feelings always seek to be connected to expression.
The will employs a psycho-physical mechanism to fulfill itself, to realize
what is willed, just as feeling uses such a mechanism to realize its
expression.
With the main difference here being that the existence of feelings is something a
person has little control over while the will is a voluntarily controlled function.
However, this begs an important question which should not be passed over.
Edith Stein now moves on to the question of whether the will is causally
determined. If the choices we make now are really our own or just the result of a
long line of causality which we no longer have any control over.
Action is always the creation of what is not. This process can be carried
out in causal succession, but the initiation of the process, the true
intervention of the will is not experienced as a causal but as a special
effect.
Stein does believe that causality plays a certain role in carrying out the will but
only in terms of it being a conditioning factor. Such as when I will my body to
move but it is very tired. However, she maintains that “All these causal
relationships are external to the essence of the will.”
Stein now transitions to a study of the foreign individual. Yet she first sums up
what we have learned so far about the psychophysical individual.
The psycho-physical individual as a whole belongs to the order of
nature. The living body in contrast with the physical body is
characterized by having fields of sensation, being located at the zero
point of orientation of the spatial world, moving voluntarily and being
constructed of moving organs, being the field of expression of the
experiences of its “I” and the instrument of the “I’s” will.
Given all of this information the question arises. How is empathy toward the
foreign individual possible?
Edith Stein starts with the example of the inner perception of the living body
being “co-given” with the outer perception of the physical body within a given
individual. This fusion between the living body and the physical body of the
individual then allows him or her to observe the foreign individual’s living body
and physical body being given in this same way. Once this is understood one
can transpose their living body onto the foreign physical body of the other and
begin to form an “empathic representation” of it.
Thus the key to understanding empathy is contained within the individual. For
once I understand the relationship between my living body and my physical
body all I need to do to is act as if the foreign physical body is my own physical
body through putting my living body into relationship with it (either through
fantasy or representations of my own past experience). She speaks of seeing
someone’s hand pressing on a table. If I wish to understand the sensations of
this hand I simply act as if the foreign physical hand is my own physical hand
and, by either recalling a time my hand was pressing on a table or by engaging
in a fantasy about a possible experience, enter into relationship with it. Edith
Stein refers to this act as a “co-comprehension” between my living body and the
foreign physical hand.
Edith Stein more explicitly defines this new term while summing up the nature
of sensual empathy. Notice the key role that the relationship between the living
body and the physical body plays:
The possibility of sensual empathy is warranted by the interpretation of
our own living body as a physical body and our own physical body as a
living body because of the fusion of outer and bodily perception. It is
also warranted by the possibility of spatially altering this physical body,
and finally by the possibility of modifying its real properties in fantasy
while retaining its type.
Thus it is only through a proper understanding of the nature of our own body
and sense of embodiment that empathy for the foreign individual might become
possible.
Feminism
When Edith Stein speaks of “transposing” my living body onto the foreign
physical body of the other she is alluding to her idea that the nature of the
human person is this integral union between the living body and the physical
body. Yet just what is the living body? From her descriptions we know it is the
constant sense of embodiment given to me only outside of my sensory data.
That it is my zero point of orientation or “I.” And that it is something which
exists in an almost perfect union with my physical body yet has no physical
attributes of its own. What else can Edith Stein be speaking of here except
something that is very much like a soul? Thus we see here in Edith Stein’s
philosophy a perfect underpinning for the theological idea of Pope John Paul II
that the body is a manifestation of the soul.
While this is an interesting connection in a certain sense it is not all that
surprising. For in fact many philosophers down through the ages have written
about the nature of the body and the soul. Plato thought that the body was the
prison of the soul. Aristotle thought that the body and the soul were a
composite. One of the first philosophers to write of the body as really being of
benefit to the soul was St. Thomas Aquinas.
Aquinas saw the human body as being of great help to the human soul in
gaining knowledge. This is because he saw the soul in its pure state as having a
limited intellect and thus not being able to come to a full knowledge of the
world without the sensory data of the body. In this way for Aquinas the body
and the soul are connected to one another and, certainly in an intellectual sense,
the soul relies upon the body to become fully manifest.
Thus what is so novel about what Pope John Paul II is saying here is not the
idea that the body is a manifestation of the soul. What is so novel here is the
idea that the soul is of two complimentary types—masculine and feminine. In
his catechism of November 21, 1979 John Paul II is quite clear and explicit
about this when he says of man and woman:
They are two ways of “being a body” and at the same time a man, which
complete each other. They are two complementary dimensions of
self-consciousness and self-determination and, at the same time, two
complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body.
Aquinas held to the common thirteenth century view, based upon Aristotelian
biology, that women were inferior to men. While more could be said about his
views on women one thing is certain: The thought of Aquinas is not a good
place to go looking for the philosophical underpinnings for the views expressed
here by Pope John Paul II on the complementarity between man and woman.
However, Aquinas is not really to blame in this for Aristotelian biology was
simply the accepted thought of the thirteenth century.
Even if one searches throughout all of the other centuries and the entire history
of philosophical thought on the body and the soul one is hard pressed to find
anything similar to the idea Pope John Paul II puts forth here. This idea that
there are two complimentary types of the human soul, masculine and feminine,
is in fact something quite unique and novel. Indeed, I know of no other
philosopher who has, with any sense of depth, put forth such an idea —save
one.
After her work as Edmund Husserl’s assistant Edith Stein sought a university
academic appointment of her own. Despite her obvious talents and fine
contributions she was at this time denied that opportunity. Perhaps this was all
in God’s plan as soon after this she began to feel drawn to Christianity. Not just
Christianity in general but the Catholic faith in particular. She had chanced to
read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila while staying at a friend’s house
and became fascinated by the great Carmelite Saint. After her conversion in
1922 she wished to join the Carmelites but did not do so immediately out of
concern for her devoutly Jewish mother Auguste’s feelings.
What happened next was a great blessing for all concerned. For Edith Stein was
offered a position in the Dominican School at Speyer. Both living and working
with the sisters allowed her the opportunity to begin to reflect upon women’s
education. Being a phenomenologist her reflections were deep. And the fruit of
these reflections is the remarkable, yet still largely misunderstood, feminism of
Edith Stein.
The first unique aspect of Stein’s feminism is its sources. For she holds that it is
a theology of feminism which is at the same time a philosophy of feminism:
Rightly understood and employed, the theological and philosophical
approaches are not in competition, rather, they complete and influence
each other.
Stein further says of her method:
The philosophizing mind is challenged to make the realities of faith as
intelligible as possible.
Edith Stein holds that the revelation of the Bible creates a framework for
feminism. Yet this framework must be built upon by reason in order to
understand the full truth about woman. The Genesis story reveals that:
God created man according to his own image; in the divine image he
created him; male and female he created them.
From this Stein infers a philosophical truth:
I am convinced that the species humanity embraces the double species
man and woman, that the essence of a complete human being is
characterized by this duality; and that the entire structure of the essence
demonstrates the specific character.
Here we have a philosophical statement suggesting that human beings are not
just one but two species—man and woman. Stein is obviously not using the
term “species” in the biological sense here, for part of the definition of a
biological species is the ability to reproduce, but rather in a logical sense in
order to denote a dramatic difference between man and woman. Yet just what is
this difference?
At this point many people become confused about Stein’s thought. They see that
she is making a bold statement about the nature of man and woman yet do not
see any basis for it. Some have even gone as far as to suggest that Edith Stein is
making a statement here that, in a philosophical sense, she cannot back up. Here
it is necessary to understand Edith Stein’s feminist thought within the context of
her philosophical thought as a whole. She offers us some hints to this when she
states: “Her entire essence demonstrates the specific character” and then goes on
to note:
There is a difference not only in bodily
structure and in particular physiological
functions, but also in the entire corporal
life. The relationship of soul and body is
different in man and woman.
Given this text alone it does seem like Edith Stein is making a rather bold
statement about the nature of man and woman which she cannot, in a
philosophical sense, back up. However, if you consider her thought here in light
of a prior understanding of her work on empathy and the philosophy of
intersubjectivity, which I hope the reader of this book is now in a good position
to
do, a great deal of light can be shone upon it.
Edith Stein holds that empathy takes place when I transpose my living body
onto the foreign physical body of the other. This presupposes the idea that the
living body and the physical body are joined in an indissoluble union and that
this union shades not only the understanding I have of my own world
(subjectivity) but also the understanding I have of the world of others
(intersubjectivity). Now let us add to this calculation the factor of whether I
have either a male or female physical body. If the relationship of my living body
and my physical body shades my entire understanding of self and others will not
the factor of my physical body being either male or female then become an
extremely important one?
Absolutely yes!
So when Edith Stein states that “The relationship of soul and body is different in
man and woman” she is not making a statement which she cannot support. For
one can refer to her doctoral dissertation On The Problem Of Empathy and find
a lucid philosophical framework for such a statement. For in Stein’s philosophy
of empathy we understand ourselves through the pairing of our living body with
our physical body and we understand the other through the pairing of our living
body with the foreign physical body of the other.
In light of having come to know Edith Stein’s thought more fully we can see
that when she states: “The relationship of the soul and body is different in man
and woman” she means that a soul that is embodied in a female body will in fact
become different in nature than a soul that is embodied in a male body. Thus
this sense of embodiment as female is the key to understanding the feminist
thought of Edith Stein.i
i BIBLIOGRAPY
Taken from, The Transposition of Edith Stein: Her Contributions to Philosophy,
Feminism, and The Theology of the Body. By John C. Wilhelmsson. San Jose:
Chaos To Order Publishing, 2012. Used by permission.
The Ethics of Plato
by Plato
II
For Glaucon, who is always the most pugnacious of men, was dissatisfied at
Thrasymachus’ retirement; he wanted to have the battle out. So he said to me:
Socrates, do you wish really to persuade us, or only to seem to have persuaded
us, that to be just is always better than to be unjust?
I should wish really to persuade you, I replied, if I could.
Then you certainly have not succeeded. Let me ask you now:—How would you
arrange goods—are there not some which we welcome for their own sakes, and
independently of their consequences, as, for example, harmless pleasures and
enjoyments, which delight us at the time, although nothing follows from them?
I agree that there is such a class, I replied.
Is there not also a second class of goods, such as knowledge, sight, health,
which are desirable not only in themselves, but also for their results?
Certainly, I said.
And would you not recognize a third class, such as gymnastic, and the care of
the sick, and the physician’s art; also the various ways of money-making—these
do us good but we regard them as disagreeable; and no one would choose them
for their own sakes, but only for the sake of some reward which flows from
them?
There is, I said, a third class also. Why do you ask?
Because I want to know in which of these three classes you would place justice?
In the highest class, I replied,—among those goods which the one who wishes
to be happy desires both for their own sake and for the sake of their results…
Setting aside their rewards and results, I want to know what they are in
themselves, and how they inwardly work in the soul. If you please, then, I will
revive the argument of Thrasymachus. And first I will speak of the nature and
the origin of justice according to the common view of them. Second, I will show
that those who practice justice do so unwillingly, as a necessity, but not as a
good. And third, I will argue that there is reason in this view, for the life of the
unjust is after all far better than the life of the just…
I have never yet heard the superiority of justice to injustice maintained by any
one in a satisfactory way. I want to hear justice praised in respect of itself; then I
shall be satisfied, and you are the person from whom I think that I am most
likely to hear this; and therefore I will praise the unjust life to the utmost of my
power, and my manner of speaking will indicate the manner in which I desire to
hear you too praising justice and censuring injustice. Will you say whether you
approve of my proposal?
Indeed I do; nor can I imagine any theme about which a sensible man would
more wish to converse.
I am delighted, he said, to hear you say so, and shall begin by speaking of the
nature and origin of justice.
Glaucon
They say that to do injustice is, by nature, good; to suffer injustice, evil; but that
the evil is greater than the good. And so when men have both done and suffered
injustice and have had experience of both, not being able to avoid the one and
obtain the other, they think that they had better agree among themselves to have
neither; hence there arise laws and mutual covenants; and that which is ordained
by law is termed by them lawful and just. This they affirm to be the origin and
nature of justice;—that it is a mean or compromise, between the best of all,
which is to do injustice and not be punished, and the worst of all, which is to
suffer injustice without the power of retaliation; and justice, being at a middle
point between the two, is tolerated not as a good, but as the lesser evil, and
honored by reason of the inability of men to do injustice. For no man who is
worthy to be called a man would ever submit to such an agreement if he were
able to resist; he would be mad if he did. Such is the received account, Socrates,
of the nature and origin of justice.
Now that those who practice justice do so involuntarily and because they have
not the power to be unjust will be best illustrated if we imagine something of
this kind: having given both to the just and the unjust the power to do what they
will, let us watch and see where desire will lead them; then we shall discover
that the very act of both the just and the unjust man will be proceeding down the
same road, following their own interest, which all deem to be their good, and
are only diverted into the path of justice by compulsion.
The liberty which we are supposing may be most completely given to them in
the form of such a power as is said to have been possessed by Gyges the
ancestor of Croesus the Lydian. According to the tradition, Gyges was a
shepherd in the service of the king of Lydia; there was a great storm, and an
earthquake made an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his
flock. Amazed at the sight, he descended into the opening, where, among other
marvels, he beheld a hollow bronze horse, having a doorway, at which he
stooping and looking in saw a large dead body, as appeared to him, more than
human, and having nothing on but a gold ring; this he took from the finger of
the dead body. Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, that they
might send their monthly report about the flocks to the king; into their assembly
he came having the ring on his finger, and as he was sitting among them he
chanced to turn the head of the ring inside of his hand, when instantly he
became invisible to the rest of the company and they began to speak of him as if
he were no longer present. He was astonished at this, and again touching the
ring he turned the head outwards and reappeared; he made several trials of the
ring, and always with the same results that when he turned the head inwards he
became invisible, and when he turned it outwards he reappeared. Then he
plotted to be chosen one of the messengers who was to be sent to the king;
where as soon as he arrived he seduced the queen, and with her help conspired
against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom.
Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just man put on one
of them and the unjust man the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an
iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off
what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the
market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release
from prison whom he wished, and in all respects be like a god among men.
Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would
both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great
proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any
good to him individually, but only by compulsion, for wherever anyone thinks
that he can be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that
injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues
as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any
one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or
touching what was another’s, he would be thought by onlookers to be a most
wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep
up appearances with one another for a fear that they too might suffer injustice.
Now, if we are to form a real judgment of the life of the just and unjust man, we
must isolate them; there is no other way; and how is the isolation to be effected?
I answer: Let the unjust man be entirely unjust, and the just man entirely just;
nothing is to be taken away from either of them, and both are to be perfectly
furnished for the work of their respective lives. First, let the unjust man be like
any other masters of his craft; like the skillful pilot or physician, who knows
intuitively his own powers and keeps within their limits, and who, if he fails at
any point, is able to recover himself. So let the unjust man make his unjust
attempts perfectly, and remain hidden if he means to be great in his injustice: for
the highest reach of injustice is: to be deemed just when you are not. Therefore I
say that in the perfectly unjust man we must assume the most perfect injustice;
there is to be nothing taken away, so we must allow him, while doing the most
unjust acts, to have acquired the greatest reputation for justice. If he takes a
false step he must be able to recover; he must be one who can speak with effect,
if any of his deeds come to light, and who can force his way where force is
required by his courage and strength, and be rich in money and friends.
And at his side let us place the just man in his nobleness and simplicity,
wishing, as Aeschylus says, to be and not to seem good. There must be no
seeming, for if he seems to be just he will be honored and rewarded, and then
we shall not know whether he is just for the sake of justice itself or for the sake
of honors and rewards; therefore, let him be clothed in justice only, and have no
other covering; and he must be imagined in a state of life the opposite of the
former. Let him be the best of men, yet let him be thought the worst; then he
will be put to the test; and we shall see whether he will be affected by the fear of
infamy and its consequences. And let him continue this way to the hour of
death; being just and seeming to be unjust. When both have reached the
uttermost extreme, the one of justice and the other of injustice, let judgment be
given which of them is the most happy.
Socrates
Heavens! My dear Glaucon, I said, how energetically you polish them up for the
decision, first one and then the other, as if they were two statues.
Glaucon
I do my best, he said. And now that we know what they are like and there is no
difficulty in tracing out the sort of life which awaits each of them. This I will
proceed to describe; but as you may think the description a little too coarse, I
ask you to suppose, Socrates, that the words which follow are not mine.— Let
me put them into the mouths of the eulogists of injustice: They will tell you that
the just man who is thought unjust will be scourged, racked, bound—will have
his eyes burnt out; and, at last, after suffering every kind of evil, will be
crucified: Then he will understand that he ought to seem only, and not be, just…
The unjust is pursuing a reality; he does not live with a view to
appearances—he wants to be really unjust and not to seem only… In the first
place, he is thought just, and therefore bears rule over the city; he can marry
whom he wills, and give in marriage to whom he wills; he can trade where he
likes, and always to his own advantage, because he has no misgivings about
injustice and at every contest, whether in public or private, he gets the better of
his antagonists, and gains at their expense, and is rich, and out of his gains he
can benefit his friends, and harm his enemies; moreover, he can offer sacrifices,
and dedicate gifts to the gods abundantly and magnificently, and can honor the
gods or any man whom he wants to honor in a far better style than the just, and
therefore he is likely to be dearer than they are to the gods. And thus, Socrates,
gods and men are said to unite in making the life of the unjust man better than
the life of the just man.
Socrates
I was going to say something to Glaucon, when Adeimantus, his brother, asked:
Socrates, you do not suppose that there is nothing more to be urged?
Why, what else is there? I answered.
The strongest point of all has not even been mentioned, he replied. Well, then,
according to the proverb, ‘Let brother help brother’—if he fails in any part do
you assist him; although I must confess that Glaucon has already said quite
enough to lay me in the dust, and take from me the power of helping justice.
Adeimantus
Nonsense, he replied. But let me add something more: There is another side to
Glaucon’s argument about the praise and censure of justice and injustice, which
is equally required in order to bring out what I believe to be his meaning.
Parents and tutors are always telling their sons and their wards that they are to
be just; but why? Not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of reputation; in
the hope of obtaining for him who is reputed just some of those offices,
marriages, and the like which Glaucon has numbered among the advantages
accruing to the unjust from the reputation of justice. More, however, is made of
appearances by this class of persons than by the others; for they throw in the
good opinion of the gods, and will tell you of a shower of benefits which the
heavens, as they say, rain upon the pious; and this accords with the testimony of
the noble Hesiod and Homer, the first of whom says, that the gods make oaks of
the just…
The cause of all this, Socrates, was indicated by us at the beginning of the
argument, when my brother and I told you how astonished we were to find that
of all the professing eulogists of justice—beginning with the ancient heroes of
whom memorial has been preserved to us, and ending with the men of our own
time—no one has ever blamed injustice or praised justice except with a view to
the glories, honors, and benefits which flow from them. No one has ever
adequately described, either in verse or prose, the true essential nature of either
of them abiding in the soul, and invisible to any human or divine eye; or shown
that of all the things of a man’s soul which he has within him, justice is the
greatest good, and injustice the greatest evil…
But I speak in this vehement manner, as I must frankly confess to you, because I
want to hear from you the opposite side; and I would ask you to show not only
the superiority which justice has over injustice, but what effect they have on the
possessor of each of them which makes the one to be good and the other evil.
And please, as Glaucon requested of you, exclude the appeal to reputations; for
unless you take away from each of them his true reputation and add on the false,
we shall say that you do not praise justice, but the appearance of it; we shall
think that you are only exhorting us to keep injustice dark, and that you really
agree with Thrasymachus in thinking that justice is another’s good and the
interest of the stronger, and that injustice is a man’s own profit and interest,
though injurious to the weaker. Now as you have admitted that justice is one of
that highest class of goods which are desired indeed for their results, but in a far
greater degree for their own sakes—like sight or hearing or knowledge or
health, or any other real and natural and not merely conventional good—I would
ask you in your praise of justice to regard one point only: I mean the essential
good and evil which justice and injustice work in the possessors of them.
Let others praise justice and censure injustice, magnifying the rewards and
honors of the one and abusing the other; that is a manner of arguing which,
coming from them, I am ready to tolerate, but from you who have spent your
whole life in the consideration of this question, unless I hear the contrary from
your own lips, I expect something better. And therefore, I say, not only prove to
us that justice is better than injustice, but show us how each of them effects the
inner man, how it makes one man good and another man evil on the inside,
whether seen or unseen by gods and men.
IV
Socrates
The meaning is, I believe, that in the human soul there is a better and also a
worse principle; and when the better has the worse under control, then a man is
said to be the master of himself; and this is a term of praise: but when, owing to
bad education or associations, the better principle, which is also the smaller, is
overwhelmed by the larger…
Then we may fairly assume that they are two, and that they differ from one
another; the one with which man reasons, which we may call the rational
principle of the soul, and the other, with which he hungers and thirsts and feels
the fluttering of all other desires, may be termed the irrational or the appetitive,
the ally of various pleasures and satisfactions?
Yes, he said, we may fairly assume them to be different.
Then let us finally determine that there are two principles existing in the soul.
But what of passion, or spirit? Is it a third, or akin to one of the preceding?
I should be inclined to say—akin to desire.
Well, I said, there is a story I remember to have heard which might best
illustrate this. The story is, that Leontius, the son of Aglaion, coming up one day
from the Piraeus, under the north wall on the outside, observed some dead
bodies lying on the ground at the place of execution. He felt a desire to see
them, and also a dread and abhorrence of them; for a time he struggled and
covered his eyes, but at length the desire got the better of him; and forcing them
open, he ran up to the dead bodies, saying, look, you wretches, and take your fill
of the fair sight.
I have heard the story myself, he said.
The moral of the tale is, that anger at times goes to war with desire, as though
they were two distinct things.
Yes; that is the meaning, he said.
And are there not many other cases in which we observe that when a man’s
desires violently prevail over his reason, he reviles himself, and is angry at the
violence within him, and that in this struggle, which is like the struggle of the
factions within a state, his spirit is on the side of his reason;—but for the
passionate or spirited element to take part with the appetitive with reason not
choosing to opposed, is a sort of thing which I believe you never have observed
occurring in yourself, nor, as I should imagine, in any one else?
Certainly not.
Suppose that a man thinks he has done a wrong to another, the nobler he is the
less able he is to feel indignant at any suffering, such as hunger, or cold, or any
other pain which the injured person may inflict upon him—these he deems to be
just, and, as I say, his anger refuses to be excited by them.
True, he said.
But when he thinks he is being made to suffer wrongly, he becomes angry, for
he believes himself to be on the side of justice; and because he suffers hunger or
cold or other pain he is all the more determined to persevere and conquer. His
noble spirit will not be quelled until he either slays or is slain; or until he hears
the voice of the shepherd, that is, reason, bidding his anger subside like a
shepherd bids his dog bark no more.
Yes, he said. The illustration is perfect.
I perceive, I said, that you quite understand me; there is, however, a further
point which I wish you to consider.
What point?
You remember that passion or spirit appeared at first sight to be a kind of desire,
but now we should say quite the contrary; for in the conflict of the soul spirit is
arrayed on the side of the rational principle.
Most assuredly.
But a further question arises: Is passion different from reason also, or only a
kind of reason; in the latter case, instead of three principles in the soul, there
will only be only two, the rational and the appetitive; or rather, as the state was
composed of three classes, traders, auxiliaries, counsellors, so may there not be
in the individual soul a third element which is the spirited, and when not
corrupted by bad education is the natural ally of reason?
Yes, he said, there must be a third.
Yes, I replied, if the spirited, which has already been shown to be different from
desire, turns out also to be different from reason.
But that is easily proved, he said, we may observe even in young children that
they are full of spirit almost as soon as they are born, whereas some of them
never seem to attain to the use of reason, and most of them late enough.
Excellent, I said, and you may see the spirited equally in brute animals, which is
a further proof of the truth of what you are saying. And we may once more
appeal to the words of Homer, which have been already quoted by us; ‘He
smote his breast, and thus rebuked his soul.’ For in this verse Homer has clearly
supposed the power of reason about the better and worse to be different from the
unreasoning anger which is rebuked by it.
Very true, he said…
We must then recollect that the individual in whom the several qualities of his
nature are balanced will be just, and will do his own work?
Yes, he said, we must remember that too.
And ought not the rational principle, which is wise, and has the care of the
whole soul rule, and the passionate or spirited principle be its subject and ally?
Certainly.
And, as we were saying, the united influence of music and gymnastic will bring
them into accord, nurturing and sustaining reason with noble words and lessons,
and moderating and soothing and civilizing the wildness of the spirited by
harmony and rhythm?
Quite true, he said.
And these two, thus nurtured and educated, and having learned truly to know
their own functions, will rule over the appetitive, which in each of us is the
largest part of the soul and by nature most insatiable for gain; over this they will
keep guard, lest, waxing great and strong with the fullness of bodily pleasures,
as they are termed, the appetitive soul, no longer confined to its own sphere,
will attempt to enslave and rule over those who are not its subjects, and overturn
the whole life of man?
Very true, he said.
Both together will they not be the best defenders of the whole soul and the
whole body against attacks from without; the one counselling, and the other
fighting under its leadership, and courageously executing its commands and
counsels?
True.
And he is to be deemed courageous whose spirit retains in pleasure and in pain
the commands of reason about what he ought or ought not to fear?
Right, he replied.
And him we call wise who has in him that little part which rules, and which
proclaims these commands; that part too being supposed to have a knowledge of
what is in the interest of each of the three parts and of the whole?
Assuredly.
And would you not say that he is temperate who has these same elements in
friendly harmony, in whom the one ruling principle of reason, and the two
subject ones of the spirited and the appetitive are equally agreed that reason
ought to rule, and do not rebel?
Certainly, he said, that is the true account of temperance…
But in reality justice is such as we were describing, being concerned however,
not with the outward man, but with the inward, which is the true self and
concern of man: for the just man does not permit the several elements within
him to interfere with one another, or any of them to do the work of the
others,—he sets in order his own inner life, and he is his own master and his
own law, and at peace with himself; and when he has bound together the three
principles within him, that may be compared to the higher, lower, and middle
notes of the scale, and the intermediate intervals—when he has bound all these
together, and is no longer a man of many natures, but has become one entirely
temperate and perfectly balanced nature, then he proceeds to act, if he has to act,
whether in the matter of property, or in the treatment of the body, or in some
affair of politics or private business; always thinking and calling that which
preserves and co-operates with this harmonious condition, just and good action,
and the knowledge that presides over it, wisdom, and that which at any time
impairs this condition, he will call unjust action, and the opinion that presides
over it ignorance.
You have said the exact truth, Socrates…
Then virtue is the health and beauty and well-being of the soul, and vice the
disease and weakness and deformity of the soul?
True.
And do not good practices lead to virtue, and evil practices to vice?
Assuredly.
Still our old question of the comparative advantage of justice and injustice has
not yet been answered: Which is the more profitable, to be just and act justly
and practice virtue, whether seen or unseen by gods and men, or to be unjust
and act unjustly, even if unpunished and unreformed?
In my judgment, Socrates, the question has now become ridiculous. We know
that, when the bodily constitution is gone, life is no longer endurable, though
pampered with all kinds of meats and drinks, and having all wealth and all
power; and shall we be told that when the very balance of the vital principle is
undermined and corrupted, life is still worth living to a man, if only he be
allowed to do whatever he likes with the single exception that he is not to
acquire justice and virtue, or to escape from injustice and vice; assuming them
both to be such as we have described?
Yes, I said, the question is, as you say, ridiculous.
Still, as we are near the spot at which we may see the truth in the clearest
manner with our own eyes, let us not faint by the way…
IX
Well, I said, and now having arrived at this stage of the argument, we may
revert to the words which brought us here: Was not someone saying that
injustice was a gain to the perfectly unjust man who was reputed to be just?
Yes, that was said.
Now then, having determined the power and quality of justice and injustice, let
us have a little conversation with him.
What shall we say to him?
Let us make an image of the soul, that he may have his own words presented
before his eyes.
Of what sort?
An ideal image of the soul, like the composite creations of ancient mythology,
such as the Chimera or Scylla or Cerberus, and there are many others in which
two or more different natures are said to grow into one.
There are said to have been such unions.
Then now model the form of a large, many-headed beast, having a ring of heads
of all manner, some tame and some wild, which he is able to generate and make
appear at will.
You suppose marvelous powers in the artist; but, as language is more pliable
than wax or any similar substance, let there be such an image as you propose.
Suppose now that you make a second image as of a lion, and a third of a man,
the second smaller than the first, and the third smaller than the second.
That, he said, is an easier task; and I have made them as you say.
Next fashion the outside of them into a single image, as of a man, so that he
who is not able to look within, and sees only the outer image, may believe it to
be a single human creature. I have done so, he said.
And now, to him who maintains that it is profitable for a human being to be
unjust, and unprofitable to be just, let us reply that, if he is right, it is profitable
for this creature to feed the many-headed beast and strengthen the lion and the
lion-like qualities, but to starve and weaken the man of reason, who is then
liable to be dragged about at the mercy of either of the other two; and he is not
to attempt to balance or harmonize them with one another—he ought rather to
suffer them to fight and bite and devour one another.
Certainly, he said; that is what the approver of injustice says.
To him the supporter of justice makes answer that he should ever speak and act
as to give the man within him in some way or other the most complete mastery
over the entire human being.
He should watch over the many-headed beast like a good caretaker, fostering
and cultivating the gentle qualities, and preventing the wild ones from growing;
he should make the lion his ally, and in common care of them all should be
balancing the several parts with one another and with himself.
Yes, he said, that is quite what he who maintain justice would say.
And so from every point of view, whether of pleasure, honor, or advantage, the
approver of justice is right and speaks the truth, while the disapprover of justice
is wrong and ignorant.
Yes Socrates, from every point of view.i
i
This translation of Plato’s Republic originally by Benjamin Jowett in 1894 with
revisions by the editor.
The Ethics of Aristotle
Every art, every teachable science, and in like manner every action and moral
choice, aims, it is thought, at some good. For this reason a common, and by no
means bad, description of the final good is, “that which all things aim at.”
Now there plainly is a difference in the ends proposed: for in some cases they
are acts of working, and in others certain works or tangible results beyond and
beside the acts of working: and where there are certain ends beyond and beside
the actions, the works are in their nature better than the acts of working. Again,
since actions and arts and sciences are many, the ends likewise come to be
many. For example, the end of the healing art is health; the end of the
ship-building art is a vessel; the end of the military art is victory; and the
end of domestic management is wealth.
And whichever of such actions, arts, or sciences range under them (as under that
of horsemanship the art of making bridles, and all that are connected with the
manufacture of horse-tack in general), in all such cases the ends of the higher
arts are always more choice-worthy than those under them, because it is with a
view to the former that the latter are pursued.
Since then of all things that may be done there is some one end which we desire
for its own sake, and with a view to which we desire everything else; and since
we do not choose in all instances with a further end in view (for this would go
on to infinity, and so the desire would never be satisfied and fruitless), this
plainly must be the final good—the best thing of all.
Surely then, even with reference to actual life and conduct, the knowledge of it
must have great weight; and like archers, with a target to shot at, we shall be
more likely to hit upon what is right: and if so, we ought to try to describe, in
outline at least, what it is and of which of the sciences it is the end.
Now one would naturally suppose it to be the end of that which is most
commanding and most inclusive: and to this description, plainly answers: for
this determines which of the sciences should be in communities, and which kind
of individuals should learn them, and what degree of proficiency is to be
required. Again; we see also ranging under this the most highly esteemed
sciences, such as the military arts, and that of domestic management, and
rhetoric. Since this uses all of the other practical sciences, and moreover lays
down rules as to what men are to do, and from what to abstain, the end of this
must include the ends of the rest, and so must be the good of man. And grant
that this is the same to the individual and to the community, yet surely that of
the latter is plainly greater and more perfect to discover and preserve: for to do
this even for a single individual is a matter for contentment; but to do it for a
whole nation, and for communities in general, is more noble and godlike…
And now, resuming the statement with which we started, since all knowledge
and moral choice grasps at a good of some kind, what good is that which we say
it aims at? Or, in other words, what is the highest of all goods achievable by
action?
So far as name goes, there is a pretty general agreement that it is happiness,
as both the multitude and the refined few call it, and “living well” and
“doing well” they conceive to be the same as “being happy;” but about the
nature of this happiness, men dispute, and the multitude do not in their
account of it agree with the wise. For some say it is one of those things which
is palpable and apparent, like pleasure or wealth or honor; in fact, some think
one thing, some another; and often the same man gives a different account of it;
for when ill, he calls it health; when poor, wealth: and, conscious of their own
ignorance, men admire those who talk grandly and above their comprehension.
Some again hold it to be something by itself, other than and besides these many
good things, which is the underlying cause of their being good.
Now to consider all opinions would perhaps be rather a fruitless task; so it shall
suffice to consider those which are most generally professed, or are thought to
have some reason in them…
Now of the final good men seem to form their notions from the different modes
of life, as we might naturally expect: the vulgar masses conceive it to be
pleasure, and hence they are content with the life of sensual enjoyment. For
there are three types of life which stand out prominently in view: the life of
pleasure, the life of politics, and the life of contemplation.
Now the vulgar masses are plainly quite slavish, choosing a life like that of
brute animals: yet they obtain some consideration, because many of the great
share the tastes of Sardanapalus. The refined and active again conceive it to be
honor: for this may be said to be the end of the life of politics: yet this is plainly
too superficial for the object of our search, because it is thought to rest with
those who give honor rather than with those who receive it, for the final good
we feel instinctively must be something that is intrinsic to us, and thus not easily
taken away.
And besides, men seem to pursue honor, that they may believe themselves to be
good: for instance, they seek to be honored by the wise, and by those among
whom they are known, and for virtue: clearly then, in the opinion at least of
these men, virtue is higher than honor. In truth, one would be much more
inclined to think this to be the end of the life of politics; yet this itself is plainly
not sufficiently final: for it is conceived possible, that a man possessed of virtue
might sleep or be inactive all through his life, or, as a third case, suffer the
greatest evils and misfortunes: and the man who should live thus no one would
call happy, except for mere disputation’s sake…
A third line of life is that of contemplation, of which we shall make our
examination later.
As for the life of money-making, it is one of constraint, and wealth
manifestly is not the good we are seeking, because it is for use, that is, for
the sake of something else: and hence one would rather conceive the
aforementioned ends to be the right ones, for men rest content with them for
their own sakes. Yet, clearly, they are not the objects of our search either, though
many words have been wasted on them. So much then for these…
And now let us return to the good of which we are searching. What can it be?
For manifestly it is different in different actions and arts. For it is different in the
healing arts and in the military arts, and similarly in the rest. What then is the
final good in each? Is it not “that for the sake of which the other things are
done?” and this in the healing arts is health, and in the military arts victory, and
in that of house-building, a house, and in any other thing something else; in
short, in every action and moral choice there is an end. So that if there is some
one end of all of these things which are and may be done, this must be the good
we are looking for.
Thus our discussion after some traversing about has come to the same point
which we reached before. And this we must now try even more to clear up.
Now since the ends are plainly many, and of these we choose some with a view
to others it is clear that all are not final: but the final good is manifestly
something final; and so, if there is some one and only end that is final, this must
be the object of our search: but if several, then it will be the most final of them.
Now that which we seek for itself we call more final than that which is sought
with a view to something else. And that which is never an object of choice with
a view to something else is thought greater than that which is only valued with a
view to something else: and so by the term “absolutely final,” we denote that
which is an object of choice always in itself, and never with a view to
something else.
And of this nature happiness is most thought to be, for this we choose
always for its own sake, and never with a view to anything further: whereas
honor, pleasure, intellect, in fact every excellence we choose for its own
sakes we also choose with a view to happiness, conceiving that by using them
as instruments we shall become happy: but no man chooses happiness with a
view to them, nor in fact with a view to any other thing whatsoever.
The same result is seen to follow also from the notion of self-sufficiency, a
quality thought to belong to the final good. Now by sufficient for self, we
mean not for a single individual living a solitary life, but for his parents
also and children and wife, and, in general, friends and countrymen; for
man is by nature adapted to a social existence. But of these, of course, some
limit must be fixed: for if one extends it to parents and descendants and friends’
friends, there is no end to it. This point must be left for future investigation: for
the present we define that to be self-sufficient which taken alone makes life
choice-worthy, and to be in want of nothing; now of such kind we think
happiness to be: and further, to be most choice-worthy of all things; not being
compared with any other thing, for if we were to make such a comparison we
would only find that happiness is always the greatest good.
So then happiness is manifestly something final and self-sufficient, being
the end of all things which are and may be done.
But, it may be, to call happiness the final good is a mere truism, and what is
wanted is some clearer account of its real nature. Now this object may be easily
attained, when we have discovered what the work of man is; for as in the case of
the flute-player, sculpture, or artisan of any kind, or, more generally, all who
have any work or course of action, their final good and excellence is thought to
reside in their work, so it would seem to be with man, if there is any work
belonging to him.
Are we then to suppose, that while the carpenter and cobbler have certain works
and courses of action, man as man alone has none, but is left by nature without a
work? Or would not one rather hold, that as eye, hand, and foot, and generally
each of his members, has some special work; so too the whole man, as distinct
from all of these, has some work of his own?
What then can this be? Not merely the life of nourishment and growth,
because that plainly is shared with plants and vegetables, and we want
what is peculiar to man. We must separate off then the life of mere
nourishment and growth, and next will come the life of sensation: but this
again is commonly shared by horses, oxen, and every other animal. There
remains then a rational life of an active nature: and of this nature there are
two parts called rational, the one being obedient to reason, the other as having
and exerting it. Again, as this life is also spoken of in two ways, we must focus
on that which is in the way of actual working, because this is thought to be most
properly entitled to the name. If then the work of man is a working of the soul in
accordance with reason, or at least not independently of reason, and we say that
the work of any given subject, and of that subject good of its kind, are the same
in kind (as, for instance, of a harp-player and a good harp-player, and so on in
every case, adding to the work eminence in the way of excellence; I mean, the
work of a harp-player is to play the harp, and of a good harp-player to play it
well); if, I say, this is so, and we assume that the work of man is to be life of a
certain kind, that is to say a working of the soul, and actions with reason, and of
a good man to do these things well and nobly, and in fact everything is finished
off well in the way of the excellence which peculiarly belongs to it: if all this is
so, then the good of man is “a working of the soul in the way of excellence,”
or, if excellence admits of degrees, in the way of the best and most perfect
excellence.
And we must add, in a complete life; for as it is not one fine day that makes
a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and
happy…
We must now inquire concerning happiness, not only from our own conclusion
and the data on which our reasoning proceeds, but also likewise from what is
commonly said about it: because with the truth there is always a harmony,
and with falsehood a disharmony.
Now there is a common division of goods into three classes; one being called
external, the other two respectively those of the soul and body, and those
belonging to the soul we call most properly and especially good. Well, in our
definition we assume that the actions and workings of the soul constitute
happiness, and these of course belong to the soul.
And so our account is a good one, at least according to this opinion, which is of
ancient date, and accepted by those who profess philosophy.
Rightly too are certain actions and workings said to be ends, for the goods of the
soul should be internal rather than external. Agreeing also with our definition is
the common notion that the happy man lives well and does well, for it has been
stated by us to be pretty much a kind of living well and doing well.
But further, the points required in happiness are found in combination in our
account of it.
For some think it is virtue, others practical wisdom, others a kind of natural
philosophy; others that it is these or some combination of these with pleasure, or
at least not independent of it; while others take it to be external prosperity.
Of these opinions, some rest on the authority of the majority, some on antiquity,
and others on that of a few men of note: and it is not likely that these classes
should all be wrong , but be right on at least some if not most.
Now with those who assert it to be virtue (excellence), or some kind of
virtue, our account agrees: for working in the way of excellence surely
belongs to excellence.
And there is an important difference between conceiving of the final good as a
possession or as an activity, in other words, as a mere state or as a working. For
the state or habit may possibly exist in a subject without effecting any good, as,
for instance, in him who is asleep, or in any other way inactive; but the working
cannot be so, for it will of necessity act, and act well. And as at the Olympic
Games it is not the finest and strongest men who are crowned, but they who
enter the race, for out of these the champions are selected; so too in life, of the
honorable and the good, it is only they who act that rightly win the prizes.
Their life too is in itself pleasant: for the feeling of pleasure is a mental
sensation, and each feels pleasure at what he is said to be fond of: a horse, for
instance, to him who is fond of horses, and a sight to him who is fond of sights:
and so in like manner just acts to him who is fond of justice, and more generally
the things in accordance with virtue to him who is fond of virtue. Now in the
case of the vulgar masses the things which they individually esteem pleasant
clash, because they are not so by nature, but to the lovers of nobleness those
things are pleasant which are so by nature: and the actions in accordance with
virtue are of this kind, so that they are pleasant both to the man who performs
them and also by nature in themselves.
So then their life has no need of pleasure as a kind of addition, but involves
pleasure in itself. For, besides what I have just mentioned, a man is not a good
man at all who feels no pleasure in noble actions, just as no one would call that
man just who does not feel pleasure in just acts, or liberal who does not feel
pleasure in liberal acts, and similarly in the case of the other virtues which
might be enumerated: and if this is so, then the actions in accordance with virtue
must be in themselves pleasurable. Then again they are certainly good and
noble, and each of these in the highest degree; if we are to take as right the
judgment of the good man, for he judges as we have said.
Happiness is then most excellent, most noble, and most pleasant, and these
attributes are not separated as in the well-known Delian inscription: “Most
noble is that which is most just, but best is health; and naturally most pleasant is
the obtaining one’s desires.” For all these co-exist in the best acts of working:
and we say happiness is the one that is the best of them all.
Still it is quite plain that it does require the addition of external goods, as we
have said: because without such things it is impossible, or at least in all events
not easy, to do noble acts: for friends, money, and political influence are in a
manner instruments whereby many things are done. Some things seem to
depend upon divine blessing; like good birth, for instance, or fine offspring, or
even personal beauty: for he is not at all capable of happiness who is cursed in
these. As we have said already, the addition of prosperity of this kind does seem
necessary to complete the idea of happiness; thus some rank good fortune, and
others virtue, with happiness.
The question is thus raised, whether it is a thing that can be learned, or acquired
by habit or discipline of some other kind, or whether it comes in the way of
divine grace, or even in the way of chance…
Having determined these points, let us examine with respect to happiness,
whether it belongs to the class of things praiseworthy or things precious.
Now it is plain that everything which is a subject of praise is praised for being
of a certain kind and bearing a certain relation to something else: for instance,
the just, and the valiant, and generally the good man, and virtue itself, we praise
because of the actions and the results: and the strong man, and the quick runner,
and so forth, we praise for being of a certain nature and bearing a certain
relation to something good and excellent (and this is illustrated by attempts to
praise the gods; for they are presented in a ludicrous aspect by being referred to
by human standards, and this results from the fact, that all praise does, as we
have said, imply reference to a standard). Now if it is to such objects that praise
belongs, it is evident that what is applicable to the best objects is not praise, but
something higher and better: which is a plain matter of fact, for not only do we
call the gods blessed and happy, but of the men who most nearly resemble the
gods we also pronounce them blessed. And in like manner in respect of goods;
no man thinks of praising happiness as he does the principle of justice, but calls
it blessed, as being something more godlike and more excellent…
Moreover, since happiness is a kind of working of the soul in the way of perfect
excellence, we must inquire concerning virtue: for through doing so we shall
probably have a clearer view concerning happiness…
II
Virtue then is of two kinds, intellectual and moral: now intellectual virtue
comes originally, and is increased subsequently, by teaching (for the most
part that is), and therefore needs experience and time; while moral virtue
comes through habit.
From this fact it is plain that not one of the moral virtues comes to be in us
merely by nature: because if such things existed by nature, none could be
changed by habit: a stone, for instance, by nature gravitating downwards, could
never by habit be brought to ascend, not even if one were to try and accustom it
by throwing it up ten thousand times; nor in fact could anything whose nature is
in one way be brought by habit to be in another. The virtues then come to be in
us neither by nature, nor in spite of nature, but we are furnished by nature with a
capacity for receiving them and are perfected in them through habit.
Again, in whatever cases we get things by nature, we get the faculties first and
perform the acts afterwards; an illustration of this is the case of our bodily
senses, for it was not from having often seen or heard that we got these senses,
but just the reverse: we had them and so exercised them, but did not have them
because we had exercised them. But the virtues we get by first performing
single acts of work, which, again, is the case of other things, as in the arts;
for what we have to make we learn how to make by making: men come to
be builders, for instance, by building; harp-players, by playing the harp:
exactly so, by doing just acts we become just; by doing the actions of
self-mastery we come to be perfected in self-mastery; and by doing brave
actions brave…
Again, every virtue is either produced or destroyed from and by the very same
circumstances: art too in like manner; I mean it is by playing the harp that both
the good and the bad harp-players are formed: and similarly builders and all the
rest; by building well men will become good builders; by building badly bad
ones: in fact, if this had not been so, there would have been no need of
instructors, but all men would have been at once good or bad in their arts
without them.
So too then is it with the virtues: for by acting in the various relations in which
we are thrown with our fellow men, we come to be, some just, some unjust: and
by acting in dangerous positions and being habituated to feel fear or confidence,
we come to be, some brave, others cowards.
Similarly is it also with respect to the occasions of lust and anger: for some men
come to be perfected in self-mastery and mild, while others have no
self-control; the one class by behaving in one way, the other by behaving in
another. Or, in one word, habits are produced from like actions: and so what we
have to do is to give a certain character to these particular actions, because the
habits formed correspond to the differences of these.
So then, whether we are trained this way or that way straight from
childhood, makes not a small but an important difference, or rather I
would say it makes all the difference…
Since then the object of the present treatise is not mere speculation, as it is of
some others (for we are inquiring not merely that we may know what virtue is
but that we may become virtuous, or else our inquiry is useless), we must
consider as to how we are to do the particular actions, because, as we have just
said, the quality of the habits which shall be formed depends on this…
First then this must be noted, that it is the nature of such things to be
spoiled by defect and excess; as we see in the case of health and strength,
for excessive training impairs the strength as well as deficient training:
meat and drink, in like manner, in too great or too small quantities, impair
the health: while in due proportion they cause, increase, and preserve it.
Thus it is the same with the habits of perfected self-mastery and courage and the
rest of the virtues: for the man who flies from and fears all things, and never
stands up against anything, comes to be a coward; and he who fears nothing, but
goes at everything, comes to be rash. In like manner too, he that tastes of every
pleasure and abstains from none comes to lose all self-control; while he who
avoids all comes as it were to lose his faculties of perception: that is to say, the
habits of perfected self-mastery and courage are spoiled by the excess and
defect, but by the mean states are preserved.
Furthermore, not only do the origination and growth of the habits come from
and by the same circumstances, but also the acts of working after the habits are
formed will be exercised in the same way: for so it is also with those things
which are more apparent, strength for instance: for this comes by taking plenty
of food and doing plenty of work, and the man who has attained strength is best
able to do these: and so it is with the virtues, for not only do we by abstaining
from pleasures come to be perfected in self-mastery, but when we have come to
be so we can best abstain from pleasures: similarly too with courage: for it is by
accustoming ourselves to despise objects of fear and stand up against them that
we come to be brave…
So then it seems every one possessed of skill avoids excess and defect and
seeks for and chooses the mean, not the absolute mean, but the mean in
relation to himself.
Now if all skill accomplishes well its work by keeping an eye on the mean, and
bringing the works to this point it is common enough to say such works as are in
a good state, that “one cannot add to or take anything from them,” under the
notion of excess or defect. And good artisans, as we say, work with their eye on
this, and excellence, like nature, is more exact and better than any art in the
world, so it must have an ability to aim at the mean.
It is moral excellence, i.e. virtue, of course which I mean, because this is
concerned with feelings and actions, and in these there can be excess and
defect and the mean: it is possible, for instance, to feel the emotions of fear,
confidence, lust, anger, compassion, and pleasure and pain generally, too
much or too little, and in either case wrongly; but to feel them at the right
time, in the right way, towards the right person, for the right reason, as we
should do is the mean, or in other words the best state, and this is the
property of virtue.
In like manner too with respect to actions, there may be excess and defect and
the mean. Now virtue is concerned with feelings and actions, in which the
excess is wrong and the defect is blamed but the mean is praised and goes right;
and both these circumstances belong to virtue.
Virtue then is in a sense a mean state, since it certainly has an aptitude for
aiming at the mean.
Again, one may go wrong in many ways, but right only in one; and so the
former is easy, the latter difficult; it is easy to miss the mark and hard to hit it:
and for this reason both the excess and the defect belong to vice, and the mean
state to virtue; for, as the poet says, “Men may be bad in many ways, But good
in one alone.” Virtue then is a state exercised by a deliberate choice, being in
relation to the mean, determined by reason, as the man of practical wisdom
would determine it.
It is a middle state between too faulty ones, in the way of excess on one side
and of defect on the other: because the faulty states on one side fall short of,
and those on the other exceed, what is right, both in the case of the feelings
and the actions; but virtue finds, and when found adopts, the mean.
And so, viewing it with respect to its essence and definition, virtue is a mean
state; but with reference to the final good and to excellence it is the highest state
possible.
But it must not be supposed that every action or every feeling is capable of
subsisting in this mean state, because some states immediately convey the
notion of badness, like malevolence, shamelessness, and envy; and in the case
of actions, adultery, theft, and murder; for all these and the like are in
themselves bad.
In these then you never can go right, but must always be wrong: nor in such
does the right or wrong depend on the selection of a proper person, time, or
manner (take adultery for instance), but simply doing any one of these things is
being wrong.
You might as well require that there should be determined a mean state, an
excess and a defect in respect of acting unjustly, being cowardly, or giving up all
control of the passions: for at this rate there will be of excess and defect a mean
state; of excess, excess; and of defect, defect.
But just as of perfected self-mastery and courage there is no excess and defect,
because the mean is in one point of view the highest possible state, so in neither
of these faulty states can you have a mean state, excess, or defect, but however
they are done they are wrong: you cannot, in short, have of excess, defect, or
mean state in these; for there is no virtue in unjust acts.
It is not enough, however, to state this in general terms, we must also apply it to
particular instances, because in treatises on moral conduct general statements
have an air of vagueness, but those that go into detail are of greater reality: for
the actions after all must be in detail, and the general statements, to be worth
anything, must hold good here.
1. In respect of fears and confidence or boldness: The mean state is
courage, the defect is to be a coward, and the excess is to be rash.
2. In respect of pleasures and pains (but not all, and perhaps fewer pains
than pleasures): The mean state here is perfected self-mastery, the
excess total absence of self-control. As for defect in respect of
pleasure, we will call this insensibility.
3. In respect of giving and taking wealth: The mean state is liberality, the
excess extravagance, and the defect stinginess: here each of the
extremes involves really an excess and defect contrary to each other. I
mean, the extravagant gives out too much and takes in too little, while
the stingy man takes in too much and gives out too little…
Now that moral virtue is a mean state, and how it is so, and that it lies between
two faulty states, one in the way of excess and another in the way of defect, and
that is so because it has an tendency to aim at the mean both in feelings and in
actions, all this has now been set forth fully and sufficiently.
And so it is hard to be good: for surely hard it is in each instance to find the
mean, just as to find the mean point or centre of a circle is not what any man can
do, but only one who knows how: just so to be angry, to give money, and handle
expenses, is what any man can do, and easy: but to do these to the right person,
in the right proportion, at the right time, with the right object, and in the right
manner, this is not as before what any man can do, nor is it easy; and for this
cause goodness is rare, praiseworthy, and noble.
IX
Now if happiness is a working in the way of excellence of course that
excellence must be the highest, that is to say, the excellence of the best
principle. Whether then this best principle is the intellect or some other thing
that is thought naturally to rule and to lead and to conceive of noble and divine
things, whether being in its own nature divine or the most divine of all our
internal principles, the working of this in accordance with its own proper
excellence must be perfect happiness.
That it is the contemplative life has been already stated: and this would
seem to be consistent with what we said before and with truth: for, in the
first place, this working is of the highest kind, since the intellect is the
highest of our internal principles and the subjects with which it converses
are the highest of all which fall within the range of our knowledge.
Next, it is also most continuous: for we are better able to contemplate than
to do anything else whatsoever continuously.
Again, we think pleasure must be in some way an ingredient in happiness,
and of all workings in accordance with excellence that in the way of
philosophy is confessed to be the most pleasant: at least the pursuit of
philosophy is thought to contain pleasures admirable for purity and
permanence; and it is reasonable to suppose that its employment is more
pleasant to those who have mastered it, than to those who are yet seeking it.
And the self-sufficiency which people speak of will attach chiefly to the
contemplative life: of course the actual necessaries of life are alike needed
by the philosopher, the just man, and all the other characters; but,
supposing all sufficiently supplied with these, the just man needs people
towards whom to practice his justice; and in like manner the man of
perfected self-mastery, and the brave man, and so of the rest; whereas the
philosopher can contemplate and speculate even when quite alone, and the
more entirely he deserves the name the more able is he to do so: and
although it may be that he can do better by having co-workers, he is still
certainly most self-sufficient.
Also, happiness is thought to stand in perfect rest; for we toil that we may be at
rest, and war that we may be at peace. Now all the practical virtues require
either politics or war for their working, and the actions regarding these are
thought to exclude rest; those of war entirely, because no one chooses war, nor
prepares for war, for war’s sake: he would indeed be thought a bloodthirsty
villain who should make enemies of his friends to secure the existence of
fighting and bloodshed. The working also of the statesman excludes the idea of
rest, and, besides the actual work of government, seeks for power and dignities
or at least happiness for the man himself and his fellow citizens: a happiness
distinct from the national happiness which we evidently seek as being different
and distinct.
If then of all of the actions in accordance with the various virtues those of
politics and war are preeminent in honor and greatness, and these are restless,
and aim at some further end and are not choice worthy for their own sakes, but
the working of the intellect, being apt for contemplation, is thought to excel in
earnestness, and to aim at no end beyond itself and to have pleasure of its own
which helps to increase the working, and if the attributes of self-sufficiency, and
capacity of rest, and tirelessness (as far as is compatible with human nature),
and all other attributes of the highest happiness, plainly belong to this working,
this must be perfect happiness, if attained in a complete duration of life (a
condition added because none of the points of happiness can be incomplete).
Such a life will be higher than mere human nature, because a man will live
like this not in so far as he is man but in so far as there is in him a divine
principle. And in the proportion that this divine principle excels his human
nature the working of its excellence shall excel that of any other excellence.
Therefore, if pure intellect, as compared to human nature, is divine, so too,
compared with man’s ordinary life, will the life in accordance with it be.
Yet must we now give ear to those who bid us as humans to mind only
human affairs, or as mortals only mortal things? Absolutely not! For as far
as we can we must divinize ourselves and do all with a view to living in
accordance with the highest principle in us, for small as it is in quantity, in
the quality of its power and preciousness it far exceeds all others.
In fact this principle would seem to constitute each man’s “self,” since it is
supreme and above all others in goodness it would be absurd then for a
man not to choose his own life but that of some other.
And here will apply an observation made before, that whatever is proper to
each is naturally best and most pleasant to him: such this is to man the life
in accordance with pure intellect, and if so, this is also the happiest.i
i
This translation of Aristotle’s Ethics originally by D. P. Chase in 1915 with revisions
by the editor.
EPICURUS BIOGRAPHY AND PHILOSOPHY
Epicurus was born in the early part of the year 344, B. C, the third year of the 109th
Olympiad, at Gargettus, in the neighborhood of Athens. His father, Neocles, was of
the Aegean tribe. Some allege that Epicurus was born in the island of Samos; but,
according to others, he was taken there when very young by his parents, who
formed a portion of a colony of Athenian citizens, sent to colonize Samos after its
subjugation by Pericles. The father and mother of Epicurus were in very humble
circumstances; his father was a schoolmaster, and his mother, Chrestrata, acted as
a kind of priestess, curing diseases, exorcising ghosts, and exercising other fabulous
powers. Epicurus has been charged with sorcery, because he wrote several songs
for his mother’s solemn rites. Until eighteen, he remained at Samos and the
neighboring isle of Teos; from where he removed to Athens, where he resided until
the death of Alexander, when, disturbances arising, he fled to Colophon. This place,
Mitylene, and Lampsacus, formed the philosopher’s residence until he was thirty-six
years of age; at which time he founded a school in the neighborhood of Athens. He
purchased a pleasant garden, where he taught his disciples until the time of his
death.
We are told by Laertius that those disciples who were regularly admitted into the
school of Epicurus, lived together, not in the manner of the Pythagoreans, who cast
their possessions into a common stock; for this, in his opinion, implied mutual
distrust rather than friendship; but upon such a footing of friendly attachment, that
each individual cheerfully supplied the necessities of his brother.
The habits of the philosopher and his followers were temperate and exceedingly
frugal, and formed a strong contrast to the luxurious, although refined, manners of
the Athenians and the common stereotypical understanding of them even today. For
at the entrance of the garden, the visitor of Epicurus found the following inscription:
The hospitable keeper of this mansion, where you will find pleasure the highest
good, will present you with barley cakes and water from the spring. These gardens
will not provoke your appetite by artificial dainties, but satisfy it with natural supplies.
Will you not, then, be well entertained?
And yet the owner of the garden, over the gate of which these words were placed,
has been called “a glutton” and “a stomach worshipper!”
From the age of thirty-six until his death, he does not seem to have left Athens,
except temporarily. When Demetrius besieged Athens, the Epicureans were driven
into great difficulties for want of food; and it is said that Epicurus and his friends
subsisted on a small quantity of beans which he possessed, and which he shared
equally with them.
The better to prosecute his studies, Epicurus lived a life of celibacy. Temperate and
continent himself, he taught his followers to be so likewise, both by example and
precept. He died in 273 B. C, in the seventy-third year of his age; and, at that time,
his warmest opponents seem to have paid the highest compliments to his personal
character; and, on reading his life, and the detailed accounts of his teachings, it
seems difficult to imagine what has induced the scandal which has been heaped
upon his memory.
We cannot quote from his own works, in his own words, because, although he wrote
much, only a summary of his writings has come to us uninjured; but his doctrines
have been so fully investigated and treated on, both by his opponents and his
disciples, that there is no difficulty or doubt as to the principles inculcated in the
school of Epicurus.
Philosophy for Epicurus is the exercise of reason in the pursuit and attainment of a
happy life; where it follows, that those studies which conduce neither to the
acquisition nor the enjoyment of happiness are to be dismissed as of no value at all.
The end of all speculation ought to be, to enable men to judge with certainty what is
to be chosen, and what to be avoided, to preserve themselves free from pain, and to
secure health of body, and tranquility of mind. True philosophy is so useful to every
man, that the young should apply to it without delay, and the old should never be
weary of the pursuit of it; for no man is either too young or too old to correct and
improve his mind, and to study the art of happiness.
Happy are they who possess by nature a free and vigorous intellect, and who are
born into a country where they can prosecute their inquiries without restraint. For it is
philosophy alone which raises a man above vain fears and base passions, and gives
him the perfect command of himself. Nothing ought to be dearer to a philosopher
than truth. He should pursue it by the most direct means devising no actions himself,
nor suffering himself to be imposed upon by others, neither poets, orators, nor
logicians, making no other use of the rules of rhetoric or grammar, than to enable
him to speak or write with accuracy and clarity, and always preferring a plain and
simple to an ornamented style. While some doubt of everything, and others profess
to know everything, a wise man will embrace only such tenets as are built upon
experience, or upon certain and indisputable axioms.
The following is a summary of his Moral Philosophy:
The end of living, or the ultimate good, which is to be sought for its own sake,
according to the universal opinion of mankind, is happiness; yet men, for the most
part, fail in the pursuit of this end, either because they do not form a right idea of the
nature of happiness, or because they do not make use of the proper means to attain
it. Since it is every man’s interest to be happy through the whole of life, it is wise to
employ philosophy in the search of happiness without delay; and there cannot be a
greater folly, than to be always beginning to live.
The happiness which belongs to man, is that state in which he enjoys as many of the
good things, and suffers as few of the evils incident to human nature as possible;
passing his days in a smooth course of permanent tranquility. A wise man, though
deprived of sight or hearing, may experience happiness in the enjoyment of the good
things which yet remain; and when suffering torture, or laboring under some painful
disease, can mitigate the anguish by patience, and can enjoy, in his afflictions, the
consciousness of his own constancy. But it is impossible that perfect happiness can
be possessed without the pleasure which attends freedom from pain, and the
enjoyment of the good things of life.
Pleasure is in its nature good, as pain is in its nature evil; the one is, therefore, to be
pursued, and the other to be avoided, for its own sake. Pleasure, or pain, is not only
good, or evil, in itself, but the measure of what is good or evil, in every object of
desire or aversion; for the ultimate reason why we pursue one thing, and avoid
another, is because we expect pleasure from the former, and pain from the latter.
If we sometimes decline a present pleasure, it is not because we are averse to
pleasure itself, but because we conceive, that in the present instance, it will be
necessarily connected with a greater pain. In like manner, if we sometimes
voluntarily submit to a present pain, it is because we judge that it is necessarily
connected with a greater pleasure.
Although all pleasure is essentially good, and all pain essentially evil, it does not then
necessarily follow, that in every single instance the one ought to be pursued, and the
other to be avoided; but reason is to be employed in distinguishing and comparing
the nature and degrees of each, that the result may be a wise choice of that which
shall appear to be, upon the whole, good.
This happy state can only be obtained by a prudent care of the body, and a steady
government of the mind. The diseases of the body are to be prevented by
temperance, or cured by medicine, or rendered tolerable by patience. Against the
diseases of the mind, philosophy provides sufficient antidotes. The instruments
which it employs for this purpose are the virtues; the root of which, when all the rest
proceeds, is prudence. This virtue comprehends the whole art of living discreetly,
justly, and honorably, and is, in fact, the same thing as wisdom. It instructs men to
free their understandings from the clouds of prejudice; to exercise temperance and
fortitude in the government of themselves: and to practice justice towards others.
Although pleasure, or happiness, which is the end of living, be superior to virtue,
which is only the means, it is every one’s interest to practice all the virtues; for in a
happy life, pleasure can never be separated from virtue.
A prudent man, in order to secure his tranquility, will consult his natural disposition in
the choice of his plan of life. If, for example, he is persuaded that he should be
happier in a state of marriage than in celibacy, he ought to marry; but if he be
convinced that matrimony would be an impediment to his happiness, he ought to
remain single. In like manner, such persons as are naturally active, enterprising, and
ambitious, or such as by the condition of their birth are placed in the way of civil
offices, should accommodate themselves to their nature and situation, by engaging
in public affairs; while such as are, from natural temper, fond of leisure and
retirement, or, from experience or observation, are convinced that a life of public
business would be inconsistent with their happiness, are unquestionably at liberty,
except where particular circumstances call them to the service of their country, to
pass their lives in obscure repose.
The only evils to be avoided are bodily pain, and distress of mind. Bodily pain should
be endured by a wise man with patience and firmness; because, if it be slight, it may
easily be borne; and if it be intense, it cannot last long. Mental distress commonly
arises not from nature but from opinion. A wise man will therefore arm himself
against this kind of suffering by reflecting that the gifts of fortune, the loss of which
he may be inclined to deplore, were never his own but dependent upon
circumstances which he could not command. Therefore, if they happen to leave him
he will endeavor to obliterate their remembrance by occupying his mind in pleasant
contemplation and engaging in agreeable avocations.
Epicurus was a materialist who held that the only reliable evidence was that of the
senses. Therefore, in a theoretical sense, one would not expect that he would be
favorably disposed to the concept of God (or the gods). However, in an ethical
sense, Epicurus rightly understood that the question of happiness could not be
resolved without dealing, to one extent or another, with the question of God. He thus
came up with one of the most interesting and unique attitudes toward the gods of
any philosopher.
In his “Letter to Menoeceus” he states:
First of all believe that god is a being immortal and blessed… believe about him
everything that can uphold his blessedness and immortality. For gods there are,
since the knowledge of them is by clear vision. But they are not such as the many
believe them to be.
However, he goes on to conclude:
Become accustom to the fact that death is nothing to us: For all good and evil consist
in sensation: but death is deprivation of sensation.
Here Epicurus displays both a keen social psychology and a great theoretical
integrity. For he knows well from the beginning that his system can have no place for
an afterlife yet he also knows that to deny the gods would create a conflict both
within the mind of the average man, and between him and his fellow men. So, almost
like giving to Caesar what is due to Caesar and to God what is due to God, Epicurus
gives the gods their due yet calmly points out that in the end “death is nothing to us.”
And his calm and reasonable attitude here seems something many current day
militant atheists and agnostics might learn a great lesson from.
In closing, it is important to note that although the instruction of Epicurus to obtain
the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain for oneself may seem
hedonist and self-serving it is in fact in line with the Christian teaching that one
should love your neighbor as you love yourself. For in both teachings is contained
the idea that the effective love of self leads to the effective love of others. In this way
the free thought of Epicurus served as a guide, and many would say even a direct
inspiration, to the later Utilitarian philosophy of Bentham and Mill (that in its own right
sought a direct connection to the Golden Rule).
STOIC HISTORY AND THEORY
Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, was born at Cittius, a small maritime town in the
Island of Cyprus. This place having been originally populated by a colony of
Phoenicians, Zeno is sometimes called a Phoenician; but at the period when he
flourished, it was chiefly i…
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