Ethics of the classical period: Plato and Aristotle - Ethics

Ethics of the classical period: Plato and Aristotle

Plato is the nickname Socrates gave to the Athenian aristocrat Aristocles (427-347 BC). It meant "wide", referring, apparently, to the pupil's physique. The influence exerted on him by Socrates was so great that in almost all of his works written in the form of a dialogue, the wisest of the Hellenes is the main actor. The death of the teacher made a strong impression on Plato: he permanently leaves Athens, but then returns and becomes the founder of his own school, called "Academy." The school existed in Athens for over a thousand years .

Plato, like all the other followers of Socrates, tried to find a solution to the basic paradoxical judgment of his mentor: if the wisest of the Hellenes does not know what virtue is, how does one understand its meaning? As is known, the answer to this question Plato was in the existence of a supersensible world of ideas, where the prototypes of virtues and all other common concepts determine the being of the things of the earthly world. The highest place in the world of ideas is the idea of ​​the Good that pervades everything that exists. The good at the same time gives both the being and the meaning of the existence of all earthly phenomena. Plato asks the question: how does the idea of ​​the Good manifest in a person's life and what virtues lead to her comprehension?

Plato in his early works agreed with Socrates that happiness is the unity of virtue, knowledge, benefit and true pleasure. It is believed that he showed his first dialogues to the teacher. Later he rethought this axiom. The philosopher does not deny that virtue is knowledge, wisdom, but in dialogues of the late period he proves that it can not bring pleasure. Wisdom is the knowledge of higher, cosmic ideas, and our world is their reflection, a dull, in many ways ugly copy. Therefore, all our earthly pleasures are the corruption of oneself, the oblivion of truth. From Plato's point of view, the human soul before birth was in the world of higher ideas and contemplated its beauty and perfection. On earth, we are in exile, and the soul yearns for its extraterrestrial homeland. Anyone who has realized this and whose soul began to remember his past, he himself will avoid all sensual, material, perishable. In fact, philosophy, according to Plato, is the purification of the soul from the passions and desires of the flesh. It can be said that she is a dying for our lives for the return to real life (dialogue Phaedo ). Plato also shared Pythagoras teachings about the transmigration of souls. True, in his view, a person through virtuous behavior can avoid subsequent rebirths and remain forever contemplating the world of ideas.

The purpose of man's earthly life is to remember what he saw in one of the previous lives through contemplation of eternal ideas. It is achieved by observing sensual beauty. Recollecting for Plato is the best way of knowing. In this respect, he does not renounce the unity of virtue and knowledge, but only with the caveat that knowledge should not be vain about a volatile material world, but aimed at comprehending first-principles. In the Phileb dialog, Plato specifies a hierarchy of five benefits that are available through genuine knowledge.

1. The highest good is the unity of truth, measure and beauty; the first principle that sets the measure for everything that exists.

2. Beautiful, perfect and self-contained.

3. The mind itself and its activity are understanding.

4. Knowledge and art expressing people's opinions on different subjects.

5. Pure pleasures of the soul itself, accompanying knowledge.

But to climb this hierarchical ladder requires a special spirit of the soul, which the philosopher tells in the famous dialogue "Pier". This mood is born from the possession of eros - a love of the beautiful, the immortal, the imperishable, the eternal. A disinterested and brave love for truth distinguishes a philosopher from a mere mortal. Here Plato builds another famous hierarchical vertical: the love of a beautiful body - to a beautiful soul - to the beauty of the sciences and, finally, to beauty in itself. At each stage the previous object looks negligible in comparison with the new one. Discovering in love the driving force for virtue, Plato, in fact, revises the intellectualism of the teachings of Socrates. To achieve happiness, not only knowledge, but also an emotional spirit that helps the mind is required.

The moral philosophy of Plato can be called the ethics of personal perfection. She calls to break out of the dull everyday existence and achieve a better, authentic life and even immortality. But unlike the supporters of mystical, religious doctrines, Plato believes that happiness can be achieved by one's own zeal, through intellectual and emotional efforts.

In addition, Plato is rightly considered the founder of social ethics - a section of moral philosophy, engaged in the issue of a fair distribution of benefits among members of society. The philosopher believes that the idea of ​​the highest good can be realized not only in the individual life, but also by the society for which it is the embodiment of justice, where each of its members will receive the best share. Developing his idea, Plato is building a famous utopia - the project of an ideal state. It should be noted that this was prompted by the observation of the collapse of the various forms of government that existed in his native Athens, and the political decline of their statehood.

Plato likens the state to the image of a personality that unites individuals. In it, as in the human soul, three principles must be realized: reasonable, passionate (emotional) and sensual, according to which people should be divided into three classes: philosophers-sages, guardians-warriors and farmers. The former possess the virtue of wisdom, the latter the best of passions with courage, the third with moderation. Of course, they have other virtues, but these are the most developed. Possession of one of them brings activity to perfection: philosophers rule the state, its guards protect, and farmers farm. The truth is to "go about your business and not interfere with others."

The project of the ideal state of Plato was subjected to fierce criticism of his followers. It saw the beginning of all totalitarian, misanthropic ideologies, aimed at subordinating individual interest to the common good, regulating almost all aspects and manifestations of private life. In the state of Plato, the sages decide everything, determining the status of a person, his duties, occupation; censorship of any manifestation of creativity. In fact, the highest spiritual blessings, the desire for beauty, as the philosopher spoke in his ethics, are accessible only to the class of sages. Plato tried three times to implement his project in practice, offering it to the rulers of Sicily, but each time failed.

Plato aspired to the ideal of holistic knowledge. For him, truth, good and beauty (perfection) are one and the same thing. Genuine being is identical with the supreme good, and virtue is inseparable from cognition. Therefore the philosopher did not distinguish ethics into an independent discipline; in its system it is included in the general strategy of finding the truth. The significance of Plato's philosophy is that he substantiated the existence of absolute values ​​that are independent of people's opinions. So far, the line of reflection in which the existence of such values ​​is postulated is commonly called Platonism & quot ;.

Ancient ethics reaches its peak in the philosophy of Aristotle (384/383-322 BC). He not only gave her an independent status of philosophical discipline, but also was able to gather in a single system many views of his predecessors. Aristotle came from the city of Stagira, but moved to Athens, where he entered the Academy of Plato. After the death of the teacher he wanted to become the head of the school, but in the end this honor went to Plato's nephew Spevsippus. After spending some time in the wanderings, Aristotle was invited to the court of the Macedonian king Philip to teach the sciences of his son Alexander, who later became the greatest military leader, Alexander the Great. Returning to Athens, Aristotle founded his school, which received the name from its location - Lycaeos Conversations at this school were conducted mainly during walks, so it was also called the peripatetic (from the word peripat - a place for walking).

Aristotle entered the history of philosophy as a systematizer of ancient knowledge. He is considered the founder of many sciences - logic, biology, psychology, economics, political science, etc. According to his well-known classification, all sciences are divided into three groups: theoretical, practical and creative. The purpose of the first is to comprehend the principles by which the existent is organized, the second is the right activity, which allows achieving practical goals, and the third is the creation of a work of art.

The main practical science Aristotle considers policy. This name comes from the word policy (city). Several centuries Ancient Greece was a set of independent city-states, united only by a single name "Greeks". From the point of view of Aristotle, man is a polis; his life can only take place in the state's space. Outside the policy live either animals or gods. Therefore, politics is the science of how to live and manage a policy properly, that is, be a worthy citizen of his fatherland.

Ethics is part of the system of practical sciences and is part of politics. Aristotle argues this position as follows: before dealing with the affairs of his state, one must be virtuous. Therefore, ethics is not just part, but also the beginning of politics. Of course, given the sad experience of our days, it is difficult to imagine that politicians are guided by moral considerations, but for Aristotle, politics as the space of people's life in society should become the triumph of morality and reason. It is for this that she needs ethics.

As already stated in the preface, Aristotle coined the word "ethics" and dedicated three works to it - Nicomachean ethics & quot ;, "Evdemova etika" and "Big Ethics". The reasons for exactly such names of all three books are not clear. Nikomakh is the name of Aristotle's father and son. Perhaps he dedicated his work to them. There is an opinion that Nikomakh and Evdem are the names of the two disciples of the philosopher who wrote down his lectures. & "Great Ethics - the smallest in volume. It is possible that she is an abstract, but taught by Aristotle himself.

Ethics is the science of how to attain the highest good. However, Aristotle does not agree with Socrates that virtue is knowledge of the good. A person can be perfectly aware of it, but nothing will do to achieve it. Ironically, most people praise one thing - virtue, but for some reason prefer to live in vice. Therefore, the goal of ethics is not knowledge, but actions. Aristotle is convinced that one can be taught to be moral, if he is well brought up.

According to the philosopher, the highest good is what everyone aspires to. It is represented in the form of the ultimate reasonable goal of our life, which itself can not be a means. Only one concept is suitable here: Happiness. First, because everyone thinks so, secondly, because one can not seek happiness for the sake of something; it is the last and self-sufficient goal. But what is happiness? Aristotle points to three main ways of his understanding, depending on the way of life of man. The first is life for the sake of pleasure, which leads those who aspire to animal life. The second is the glory and honor, chosen at the life of a statesman. The third is contemplation, which is accessible only to wise men. It remains only to find out which way of life is most worthy for a person.

According to Aristotle, happiness is the realization of the destination of man in the world. So, every profession has its own purpose; the general's goal is victory, the tailor's goal is good clothes, etc. And the person himself, outside his professional status, has an appointment? According to the philosopher, it is to bring your life to perfection. The only way to do this is virtue. Therefore, happiness is a life consonant with virtue. Here Aristotle adheres to the common for the ancient ethics of the doctrine of the unity of virtue and happiness, but pays much more attention to the search for the essence of virtue itself. It can be said that this most important concept in Aristotle's teaching is first revealed in the form of a system of theoretical propositions that allow integrating the most important meanings attached to it in the ancient Greek philosophical tradition.

For all the ancient ethics, it was obvious that any person in his life seeks two things: to enjoy and avoid suffering. If this is possible to the fullest and throughout life, then such a person can be called happy. Given that happiness, as Aristotle understands it, is a life of virtue, the virtue itself is the ability to do the best in everything that relates to pleasure and suffering. Developing this thought, author of the "Nicomachean Ethics argues that a virtuous person will remain happy always, even in the most difficult circumstances of life, because in any case will do the best. Therefore, virtue - this is the best actions and pleasure received from them, although they themselves are not done for its sake.

Developing his views on the nature of virtues, Aristotle points to two of them: ethical and dianoetic. The first have a relationship to our feelings (passions) and relate to everyday actions. The latter direct the activity of the mind and determine the overall strategy of human life. Aristotle gives the name to two kinds of virtue proceeding from the idea of ​​their origin. Ethical - is derived from the meaning of the word etos - "habit". Virtues of this kind are not congenital and can not be obtained as a result of training. They are acquired through the repetition of right actions, eventually becoming a habit, a moral foundation. The name dianoetic is derived from the word dianoya (), because mental virtues can be acquired by a person as a result of learning.

Highlighting ethical virtues in a special area of ​​moral life, Aristotle opens for practical philosophy all the wealth of the world of human passions. Morality is presented to them not only as a reasoning about the good, pleasure and happiness, but primarily as a fluid, ever-changing sphere of actions, where people are often guided by emotional impulses, rather than by rational calculation. Ethical virtues are foundations that allow a person to do the right things. What does it mean correct & quot ;? Answering this question, Aristotle refers to the category of measure, which, as we recall, plays a huge role in ancient ethics. The correct act is one that is not done under the influence of too strong an emotion or, conversely, the weakest: the passion must be subordinated to the laws of the measure. Therefore to be virtuous means to have the middle between the excess of passion and its under - strong. The doctrine of the middle as the essence of moral virtue is one of the most original features of the Aristotelian ethic.

Does every passion have a middle? No. Shameful things, such as cowardice, malevolence, debauchery, can not contain measures, however, just as virtue itself can not be a middle within itself. The thought of Aristotle about the middle in the passions will become clearer if we consider the examples cited by him. Thus, he sees ten ethical virtues-foundations, the most common, according to the majority, although their number may be large.

Table 1


The middle, the possession of which is virtue

Excess of passion





Courage (bravado)


Pleasure and suffering



Insensitivity to pleasures (Although there is no exact name)

Disposal of the benefits of life


Waste (extravagance)


Thrust to possess things


Tasteless splendor


Honor and dishonor

Majesty (nobility)



Attitude to Praise and Honor


Excess ambition



Equality (tranquility)



The truth (the pursuit of truth)




Communicating in a pleasant company




Relationship with other people



Malignancy and absurdity

Aristotle emphasizes that the middle can not be mathematically accurate. In everything that concerns our actions, one can hope only for probabilistic knowledge, true for most (but not for all!) Life situations. In each of these examples, the middle is closer to one or the other extreme. So, courage is still more close to excess, bravado than to cowardice, and prudence, on the contrary, is closer to lack (insensitivity) than to debauchery. But most importantly, what Aristotle wants to say: virtue is not the opposite of vice; opposites are the two kinds of vice, and virtue rises above them as a pinnacle over sinful earth.

Nevertheless, there is another ethical virtue, the consideration of which Aristotle devotes an entire chapter. We are talking about justice. As we remember, Plata considered it the highest virtue, indicating to the person the destiny of his life and paying everyone according to merit. For his great follower, justice is also realized not in interpersonal relations, but in the space of social ties.

Aristotle regards justice as the most complete and perfect virtue. Complete, since it as an expression of the law of the state includes everything that all the ten above-mentioned virtues require. Perfect, because it is aimed not only at taking care of yourself, but first of all about other people. To be fair means to be able to properly judge the disputing people, and this, as you know, is perhaps the most difficult task. Therefore, he who succeeds in it, truly has moral perfection. Thus, Aristotle makes an important distinction between justice as a general reasonable law regulating the life of the state and a moral virtue concerning the distribution of benefits between individuals.

But what should a virtuous person be guided by, faced with the need to be a judge in property disputes? Aristotle sees two models of justice: distributing and equalizing. The first must come from the obvious principle that the most deserved before the fatherland people should receive the greatest number of benefits. True, in this case, their share must fall and the greatest hardship. Here the middle acts in the form of a proportion between merits and benefits.

The second kind is equalizing justice, which should reign in commercial transactions. This means that it is very important to know exactly how it is fair to exchange certain things for others? To simplify the exchange, a coin is introduced, a fair price is established by a virtuous man. Here the middle is to get more and give less when dealing. And if justice is viewed as a person's civil virtue regardless of the types of distribution of goods, it will also show the middle between two extremes: do unfairly and endure injustice.

After examining the nature of ethical virtues, Aristotle proceeds to the dianoetic. If the former are the middle, how do we know what it is? When we begin to approach one of the extremes, the indicator here is pleasure. Having felt it, we must once again ask, how well do we behave? To ensure that we are on the path leading to virtue, there are dianoetic (mental) virtues, called, first, to indicate to us the measure of passion, and secondly, to the correct goal of human life.

The meaning of mental virtue lies in the fact that it through knowledge must bring our life to perfection and grant us happiness. Aristotle, using the method from the opposite, puts forward many concepts worthy of being considered a virtue. But in the end, it can be reliably asserted that there are only two such ones - judiciousness and wisdom, each leading to his understanding of the highest good.

As we have already noted, in the understanding of Aristotle, virtue always allows a person to act in any situation in the best possible way. But for this it is required not only to curb their passions, but also to know about all the circumstances. This knowledge gives a person reasonableness - a mental virtue that allows you to draw the right conclusions based on life experience. The Reasonable man is able to make the right decisions about the goals of his own existence and to be well versed in all the vicissitudes of public life. This virtue opens the way to knowledge of both private and common good and shows how to combine them. Therefore, only politician can have full discretion. Discretion is state thinking, whose goal is the welfare of the state. In essence, this is the highest good available to a person in society, but still it is not the last. He has one drawback: true happiness can not be a means to achieve another goal, and the activity of politics implies a constant craving for the glory for which it is carried out.

Truly the highest, the last good to man brings only wisdom. Discernment provides knowledge relating to extremely volatile, volatile human practices. But wisdom is knowledge of a completely different kind: the eternal, unchanging foundation of the world order, the principles of harmony, truth, good and beauty. It can be said that discernment knows human affairs, and wisdom is divine. Hence, discernment knows about the benefits to man and society, and wisdom has knowledge of things that are useless for the world of vanity, but the most beautiful of all accessible to the mind of man. Hence the highest happiness will be the contemplation of cosmic principles, existing only for its own sake.

Nevertheless, Aristotle is not inclined to consider two kinds of happiness in a strict hierarchy. He repeatedly stresses that the state way of life, giving glory and honor, is beautiful and is on top of virtue. Among human affairs, it is not worthy of it. The main purpose of judiciousness, realized in the policy, is to let wisdom blossom. But still ... there is another way, requiring a rejection of political fuss for the sake of the divine life. One of the final thoughts of the "Nicomachean Ethics it sounds like this: "No, you do not need [follow] admonitions" a man understands the human, "and" mortal is mortal "; on the contrary, as far as possible, we must rise to immortality and do everything for the sake of life that corresponds to the highest in itself ...

It is difficult to list all the merits of Aristotle before practical philosophy. In his teaching, ethics as a science of virtue takes on a complete form. In addition, he not only built it in the form of a system, giving very strict meaning to the most important categories, but also summed up the notions of ancient ethics about right living. Aristotle substantiated the ideal, which in one way or another adhered to all the ancient trends of philosophy: a person becomes virtuous, and at the same time happy, if his mind controls passions, guided by the notions of the measure.

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