On Plato’s Ethical Theory

This undergraduate philosophical paper was originally written as a two-page reflection paper in partial fulfillment of the requirements for PHIL 1043.


On Plato’s Ethical Theory

. . . Let us take nothing away from Plato, Idealism, Cosmology . . . wheresoever philosophical discourse transpire, occur or take its course in the affairs of man throughout the history of thought there, to a greater or lesser extent, emerges the indurate principles of politics, justice, virtue and truth—the tenor of hitherto philosophical inquiry beseeks (or challenges) objective knowledge as personified in Plato versus the Sophists, thus the archaic “What’s out there?”

If in a sense the Sophists had been somewhat modest in abstaining from assenting universally binding knowledge, by remaining rhetoricians of skepticism: Plato (427-347) the founder of the Academy constructed a prominently faithful system aimed at Truth.

Plato’s ethical theory revolves around the question, “What is the good life?” This is in accordance with the Socratic philosophy ‘Virtue is Knowledge’ that is, to know the good is to do the good. For Plato, the highest and happiest kind of living is best exemplified through the use of reason. He maintains that knowledge provides the individual with the fundamental precept upon which his passion and appetite must conform. Such harmony of the three distinct faculties of man namely reason, passion and appetite equates to the Platonic conception of justice.

The ideal system of Plato’s ethical theory is buttressed by two essential pillars: the doctrine of teleology and the theory of the Forms. The doctrine of teleology states that everything in the universe is pre-determined and has in them an inherent purpose. On the other hand, the theory of the Forms constitutes the total-aggregate of each and all the concepts and ideas as manifested in the material world. Each is the relentless corroborate of the other. Simply put, the core of Plato’s philosophical thought clearly illustrates the poignant picture of idealistic credo.

It may have been one well-crafted a portrait Plato’s narrative, a protruding schematization stabilized by the vibrant and elaborate colors of his idealistic panorama of the world —a Mona Lisa of ingenious ideas. Yet on the opposite side of the gallery, there, in a streak of dancing lights, arises another brand of creative thinkers: the Sophists. If Plato’s masterpiece echoes the idea of justice as absolute and immutable, impressing upon the individual a pre-formulated concoction from which each of them must not stray, the Sophists, on the other hand, offers the antipode, emphasizing the function of man as a barometer for his own self. Justice, according to the Sophists, is relative to the individual’s caprice. The Sophists deny the existence of justice in the absolute; their narrative may be gleaned in the words of the Sophist Protagoras (ca. 490-420) that ‘Man is the measure of all things’. 

They [Sophists] also maintain that injustice yields more advantageous returns for it brings about happiness, pleasure and even good. That injustice serves the individual’s interest and produce happiness is evident in our existing society. But contrary to the stereotypical view that only those who are in power are the ones who exploit for their own selfish gain, injustice takes place within and among people of the same kind and of the same class, almost each and every day.

The Sophists may have been right in asserting that injustice gives birth to happiness, pleasure and good. But Plato repudiates the idea with his own conception of hierarchy and harmony. The Platonic hierarchy and harmony rhymes with the proper functioning of the three faculties of man: reason, passion and appetite and among these three, it is the reason which seats higher in regulating, governing, disciplining the other two. It is clear, that for Plato, justice signifies coherence and coordination and to veer away from this orchestration is to decimate such balance.

Furthermore, the Sophists contend that pleasure is the supreme good as opposed to Plato’s concept of Good as the consummation of all things in the universal domain and the wellspring of all purpose and meaning. For the Sophists, pleasure is synonymous to good as pain is tantamount to evil. Once more, Plato disavows this concept by determining it as logically inadequate. For Plato, good and evil cannot exist both at the same time: the absence of one signifies the presence of another whereas pleasure and pain can occur simultaneously. If good is identical to pleasure as evil is identical to pain, then the statement would certainly refute itself.

Good and evil are contradictories. This means that they cannot be both true, so that if one is true the other is false. And also they cannot be both false, so that if one is false the other is true. Moreover, pleasure and pain are contraries or not exclusives, in that they can in more ways than one overlap. Additionally, good and evil are universals as pleasure and pain are particulars. From the aforementioned perspective, the author of this paper sustains that there exists no conclusive, definite and categorical point of argument for both Plato and the Sophists’ regarding the matter of good and evil as synonymous to pleasure and pain.

In the advent of the Age of Information, where the classical philosophical discourse has had slowly but progressively receded into the confines of provinces such the academe, the trajectory of thought remains firmly anchored on Plato. The canvass of the affairs of man rests upon an overt if not covert ideal system. That the life of man is to be guided by the light of reason and that rationality is indispensable in the practices of individual the Greeks however antiquated heralded the progress of man into the vortex of reflection, in which the religion of order, calculability of happiness and faith for the good were made possible, attainable, if not mere conceivable.

Let us take nothing away from Plato, Idealism, Cosmology, but instead hoist its flag—wheresoever philosophical discourse transpire, occur or take its course in the affairs of man throughout the history of civilization there, to a greater or lesser extent, menaces the indurate principles of politics, justice, virtue and truth—the tenor of hitherto philosophical inquiry beseeks (or challenges) objective knowledge as personified in Plato versus the Sophists, hence the archaic “What’s out there?” If the Sophists had been in a sense modest in abstaining from assenting universally binding knowledge by being rhetoricians of skepticism, Plato (427-347) the founder of the Academy constructed, provided a prominent and faithful system aimed at Truth.

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