Moral Thinkers and Philosophers from World:  Socrates, Plato and Aristotle

  • Much of Western philosophy finds its basis in the thoughts and teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle: the Big Three ancient Greek philosophers.
  • The virtue ethics of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Epicureans, and the Stoics were very individualistic and primarily concerned with helping one person become a better person though self-improvement.
  • Virtue ethics emphasizes the role of one’s character and the virtues that one’s character embodies for determining or evaluating ethical behavior. Virtue ethics is one of the three major approaches to normative ethics, often contrasted to deontology (mainly Kantianism), which emphasizes duty to rules, and consequentialism (Mainly utilitarianism), which derives rightness or wrongness from the outcome of the act itself.
  • Although virtue ethics lacks in popularity, many people still think it is indispensable. Virtue ethics requires us to understand how to be transform ourselves into better people. That means we have to understand what is moral, how to be motivated to be moral, and how to actually behave morally.


  • According to Socrates, the ideal life focuses on self-development, especially the pursuit of goodness, virtue, justice, integrity, and friendship. Materialism is the enemy of achieving the ideal life. Socrates actually never wrote anything down but his ideas were written down after he died.
  • Socrates was a leader, he had followers and the Greeks blamed him for a war. it wasn’t Socrates’ fault but the needed to blame it on someone and he was against the war. he was found guilty with a penalty of death and had to drink hemlock.


  • Plato’s beliefs and writings contributed much to organized study of ethics. Plato believed that all people in some way desired happiness. A person’s actions do not always create happiness but this is because people do not know what their actions will produce. Happiness is a result of a healthy soul but moral virtue makes up the health of the soul.
  • People do not always seek to be virtuous but this is because they do not realize that moral virtue produces happiness. However, Plato set forth that if a person knows that moral virtue leads to happiness, he or she should act according to this knowledge. Being moral or ethical, then, has its basis in knowledge or reason. If a person knows that virtue leads to happiness but acts contrary to this idea, he or she is immoral, and immoral behavior is the sign of a diseased soul.
  • Plato said that good men had to be those who were just, temperate, courageous and wise. He was speaking of moral excellence in a somewhat similar way than that of Socrates. In his work, The Republic, he presents all these characteristics. The relation he gives between State, citizens and moral excellence; he says that for a State to be good, it has to allow, help and even encourage people to be good as individuals; that good citizens were those who were good as persons and thus useful to the nation; and that moral excellence, or Virtue, is the basis of every sound society and the only way to have great men lead other great men properly.

Platonic Idealism:

  • In The Republic, his major treatise on the ideal state, Plato believed that the physical world around us is not real; it is constantly changing and thus you can never say what it really is. There is a world of ideas which is a world of unchanging and absolute truth. This is reality for Plato. Does such a world exist independent of human minds? Plato thought it did, and whenever we grasp an idea, or see something with our mind’s eye, we are using our mind to conceive of something in the ideal world.
  • In the allegory of the cave, created by Plato., the world was like a cave, and a person would only see shadows cast from the outside light, so the only reality would be thoughts.


  • Aristotle was Plato’s best student. lato influenced Aristotle, just as Socrates influenced Plato. One of his best known ideas was his conception of “The Golden Mean” — “avoid extremes,” the counsel of moderation in all things.
  • Aristotle concludes that (a) the proper object of virtue is happiness and (b) we can become wise through habit.
  • Aristotle categorized the virtues as moral and intellectual. He identified a few intellectual virtues, the most important of which were wisdom; sophia (theoretical wisdom) and phronesis (practical wisdom). The main moral virtues he identified include:
  1. Prudence
  2. Justice
  3. Fortitude (Courage)
  4. Temperance
  • Aristotle argued that each of the moral virtues was a mean (called golden mean) between two corresponding vices, one of excess and one of deficiency. For example: courage is a virtue found between the vices of cowardliness and rashness.
  • Aristotle spoke of the good citizen as being someone who does what he is intended to by the government and accomplish his social role. He said that there could be good men who were not good citizen. He then considered that being a good citizen doesn’t make you a good person.

Difference between Plato and Aristotle:

In Philosophy:

  • Plato believed that concepts had a universal form, an ideal form, which leads to his idealistic philosophy. Aristotle believed that universal forms were not necessarily attached to each object or concept, and that each instance of an object or a concept had to be analyzed on its own. This viewpoint leads to Aristotelian Empiricism. For Plato, thought experiments and reasoning would be enough to “prove” a concept or establish the qualities of an object, but Aristotle dismissed this in favor of direct observation and experience.
  • In logic, Plato was more inclined to use inductive reasoning, whereas Aristotle used deductive reasoning. The syllogism, a basic unit of logic (if A = B, and B = C, then A = C), was developed by Aristotle. (Deductive logic uses given information, premises or accepted general rules to reach a proven conclusion. On the other hand, inductive logic involves making generalizations based upon behavior observed in specific cases.)
  • Both Aristotle and Plato believed thoughts were superior to the senses. However, whereas Plato believed the senses could fool a person, Aristotle stated that the senses were needed in order to properly determine reality.
  • An example of this difference is the allegory of the cave, created by Plato. To him, the world was like a cave, and a person would only see shadows cast from the outside light, so the only reality would be thoughts. To the Aristotelian method, the obvious solution is to walk out of the cave and experience what is casting light and shadows directly, rather than relying solely on indirect or internal experiences.

In Ethics:

  • Plato was Socratic in his belief that knowledge is virtue, in and of itself. This means that to know the good is to do the good, i.e., that knowing the right thing to do will lead to one automatically doing the right thing; this implied that virtue could be taught by teaching someone right from wrong, good from evil. Aristotle stated that knowing what was right was not enough, that one had to choose to act in the proper manner—in essence, to create the habit of doing good. This definition placed Aristotelian ethics on a practical plane, rather than the theoretical one espoused by Socrates and Plato.
  • For Socrates and Plato, wisdom is the basic virtue and with it, one can unify all virtues into a whole. Aristotle believed that wisdom was virtuous, but that achieving virtue was neither automatic nor did it grant any unification (acquiring) of other virtues. To Aristotle, wisdom was a goal achieved only after effort, and unless a person chose to think and act wisely, other virtues would remain out of reach.
  • Socrates believed that happiness could be achieved without virtue, but that this happiness was base and animalistic. Plato stated that virtue was sufficient for happiness, that there was no such thing as “moral luck” to grant rewards. Aristotle believed that virtue was necessary for happiness, but insufficient by itself, needing adequate social constructs to help a virtuous person feel satisfaction and contentment.

In political theory:

  • Plato felt that the individual should subsume his or her interests to that of society in order to achieve a perfect from of government. His Republic described a utopian society where each of the three classes (philosophers, warriors, and workers) had its role, and governance was kept in the hands of those deemed best qualified for that responsibility, those of the “Philosopher Rulers.”
  • Aristotle saw the basic political unit as the city (polis), which took precedence over the family, which in turn took precedence over the individual. Aristotle said that man was a political animal by nature and thus could not avoid the challenges of politics. In his view, politics functions more as an organism than as a machine, and the role of the polis was not justice or economic stability, but to create a space where its people could live a good life and perform beautiful acts. Aristotle moved beyond political theory to become the first political scientist, observing political processes in order to formulate improvements.

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