Ethical and philosophical discussions are never simple and always ambiguous because it is hard to create one specific statement and apply it to all human thoughts and actions. The names Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates are usually related to a better understanding of the relationships between virtue, human good, and souls. Although these philosophers worked in the same epoch to demonstrate their passion for wisdom, and Plato was Socrates’s student, all three shared different values and attitudes toward virtue, human good, and happiness. Socrates recognized the importance of asking questions, Plato wanted to underline the necessity of reason, and Aristotle understood virtue through good actions (behaviors), moderation, and happiness. Virtue ethics helps focus on a person’s development and growth as a dignified member of society with several positive qualities and beliefs. Aristotle’s understanding of virtue and human good in his Nicomachean Ethics will be explained as an activity of the soul and happiness, which partially satisfies Socrates’s and Plato’s vision of virtue as knowledge and wisdom.
Understanding of Virtue
The concept of virtue is complex and simple at the same time. On the one hand, a virtuous person is responsible for making moral good and achieving excellence in the chosen behavior. On the other hand, it is wrong to consider virtue as something action-based but person-based, which diminishes the worth of action and emphasizes the interpretation value. Thus, the explanation that “the human good proves to be an activity of the soul in accord with virtue” gains a proper sense (Aristotle 9). This definition means that humans are rational agents who have certain goals and reasons to achieve them in a virtuous way. As soon as a person understands what virtue could mean (justice or courage), it is possible to create good and appropriate plans for life.
Later in Nicomachean Ethics, improved and detailed examples of virtue emerge to demonstrate the depth of the philosopher’s thought. Aristotle pays close attention to the consequences of human behaviors and considers the goal of virtue as “the best good, something divine and blessed” (12). He believes that “being pleased is a condition of the soul”, and a person should find pleasure in what is done (Aristotle 11). However, it is necessary to understand that pleasant life is not a pursuit of happiness and pleasure but a combination of multiple internal and external factors.
Understanding of Human Good
People cannot stop looking for the good in their life, and want to believe that their awareness of virtue will assist in achieving their goals and benefits. According to Aristotle, there are many ends, and not all of them are complete; so, the best good is “something complete” using the following virtues (7). As a result, an understanding of virtue accounts for the human good as a qualification of behaviors according to which a person thinks and acts. It is not enough to do what is best for human beings but try to understand what is best from the ethical inquiry. Virtue is necessary to determine the human good because it is the possibility to learn and use this knowledge for achieving the best outcomes.
Relying on the definitions and examples given in Nicomachean Ethics, one should conclude that human good results in happiness. Happiness is complete and self-sufficient because it consists of rational choices and actions. People must identify themselves through their functions as human beings and members of society who act rationally and follow virtue (Aristotle 12). Thus, happiness, also known as eudaimonia, is the ultimate good and the end that individuals want for their own sake. Virtue, human good, and happiness are closely related to showing people the way how to behave in different situations.
Understanding of Happiness
Even though happiness can be properly explained through the prism of virtues and the human good, people may need something else to achieve more positive results. Aristotle states that human happiness “evidently also needs external goods to be added,” because people cannot “do fine actions” if they “lack the resources” (11). In other words, human growth and self-development should not be predetermined by well-known virtues and qualities. There are many other sources of knowledge, and Aristotle mentions the possibility of using “friends, wealth, and political power” as additional instruments for achieving happiness (11). People need to know that they have options in order not to reduce their freedom and independence. They achieve prosperity in different ways, depending on their understanding of virtues (habituation) and available resources (learning).
Happiness may be achieved through attention to common goods and learning. Aristotle divides human actions and identifies happiness with “good fortune” and with “virtue” (11). Thus, certain natural resources are useful for achieving happiness and some permanent conditions that do not depend on humans but become necessary for virtuous activities. Happiness is a condition achieved during a lifetime and leads to the perfection and enrichment of human nature and various experiences.
Aristotle’s and Socrates’ Stories
In his Ethics, Aristotle offers several strong statements and examples of how happiness affects human life and underlines the importance of virtues and goods, which may be used to satisfy Socrates’ position. Meno by Plato is a powerful dialogue that reveals the opinion of Socrates about virtue and the observations of Meno. The participants of this conversation aim at finding out of it are possible for a person to acquire virtue by teaching or training and create a single definition (Plato 1). Virtue in Socrates’ readings is usually identified with the knowledge to be “more honored than true belief” and to differ “from true belief in being bound” (Plato 26). Knowledge is an achievement, and each person is free to use different resources and methods and demonstrate different results.
In Meno, virtue is never the same for all people, and it is normal to have several virtues. As well as Aristotle, Meno offers Socrates to consider “justice or moderation or piety” or bravery or wisdom as virtues in his intention to find one virtue. Each individual is unique, and virtue may also be specific for each situation. Therefore, Aristotle’s understanding of happiness is a complete process that is taken by people independently and following their functions and virtue.
The definition of virtue is necessary for understanding what makes people happy and satisfied with this life. Aristotle uses the already offered ideas of Socrates and Plato to strengthen his understanding of the human good and virtue and defines happiness as the ultimate good of action. Compared to the Socratic method of knowing the answers to all questions supported by Plato, who emphasizes reason, Aristotle’s position to support moderation and action introduces more logic. The chosen philosophers agree that living a virtuous life is one of the strongest options for them to be happy and good.
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Terence Irwin, 2nd ed., Hackett Publishing Company, 1999.
Plato. Meno. Translated by Cathal Woods. Creative Commons, 2011-2012. Web.