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Plato’s and Aristotle’s Ideas of Ethics


Aristotle’s and Plato’s philosophies disagree on many issues. One of the most common issues of this disagreement arises when we examine their different perspectives and school of thought regarding issues in ethics. Many conflicting views can be recognized when we look at their different works related to ethical theory.

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Some of their Key Difference in Ethical Issues

One striking difference in ideology is how each of these two philosophers looks at the issue of human function also referred to us as ergon and the role it plays in ethics. Almost towards the end of the book known as ‘The Republic’, the philosopher Socrates tries to convince Thrasymachus that it is of much good to be just rather than being unjust. Socrates argues that everything has its function, and it is only that function that an individual can extract from that thing for example the function of the ears is to hear and since the function of butcher’s knife is to slice pieces of meat you can not use the pruning knife for this same function. Socrates establishes that every being has a virtue that is related to the routine of its functioning, i.e. the virtue of the butcher’s knife will be its ability to slice meat and the virtue of the ears will be to hear (Richardson, pg 18).

It follows then that an object which cannot perform its function is said to fall short of its virtue. Socrates tries to ask if there was anything else that could replace the soul in its function, for example, do functions such as judgment, sustaining life, taking care of things, and so on. Socrates with his talk with Thrasymachus goes on to tell him that a virtuous soul will do all its functions as stated above in an admirable way while anon virtues soul would do the vise versa. This then makes Socrates conclude that justice is a virtue of the soul, that injustice is a vice of the soul, and that a just soul in just individual results in happiness (Julia, pg 26).

A clear contradiction arises between Plato and Aristotle as far as ethics is concerned when Socrates sums up that justice is a virtue related to the soul. Plato refutes this argument from Aristotle; he says that it is quite unclear if such an argument was soundly correct. Plato also differs with Aristotle on the issue of what human function entails, according to Plato human function is described as performing all the activities that articulate reason this is very different from the definition given by Aristotle; he said that the human function is judging, living, deliberation and the caring of things. These two definitions are not just different in meaning but also show that both Aristotle and Plato had different thinking rationality as far as this issue is concerned. Plato thinks in the rationality of a person’s role and places in the society while Aristotle on the other hand takes this from an individualistic approach and says that the expression of the reason for an individual’s way of life does not have any connections to a relationship which a person has with other individuals in the society (Richardson, pg 31).

Aristotle, unlike Plato, does not lay more emphasis on perfecting society. He just was focused on improving on the existing world, he kind of claimed that no society wanted to undergo drastic reforms to become a utopian society while on the other hand He just suggested the improvement of the existing world rather than create a blueprint of a utopian society. He says that society must find its means of attaining the best possible system that can work for it. Aristotle believed that the best means are always at society’s disposal all that should be done he notes, is to try to improve the existing systems in the society. Plato on the other hand believes that there is a possibility of having a utopian society; he even produced a blueprint of how a perfect society should look like. Plato’s emphasis was on trying to solve the affliction which faces human personality and society.

How Modern Ideas of Ethics Relate To Aristotle or Plato

Plato and Aristotle both exhibited diversity in their thinking and goals. Plato believed that those who believed that injustice is advantageous were wrong and he tried to set up a model of his utopian city as a model to show how the city’s virtue could be got from each playing his or her respective roles well. Philosopher Aristotle, on the contrary, tried to set up means by which the ultimate good could be achieved. Modern ideas of ethics borrow a lot from these two different dimensions exhibited by Plato and Aristotle.

The field of Ethics exists because man tries to improve his or her life and so, the nature of man’s wellbeing is a core concern, this then leads to the essence of virtues in society. Both Aristotle and Plato had elaborate works on the importance of virtues as an important aspect to man kind’s wellbeing in the society which the modern ethics derive their knowledge backup from (Julia, pg 32).

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Both Aristotle and Plato and concurred that justice could only occur in an objective sense, which means that an enjoyable life should exist for all individuals no matter their social status in the society and as per their rationality justice could also mean equality justice is our leadership and governance. Aristotle in his work ideas have been borrowed on how institutions can be driven by ethics in the modern world, he said in one of his works that an institution is not the society nor the state but a larger unit of the society and the state and therefore there was a need to have regulations and laws to control the running of institutions.

Aristotle also gives an insight into why the government in the modern world emphasizes leadership or governance through democratic means. It is Aristotle who first derived the theory of democracy and his theory stated that democracy is a form of governance where the people should have more say rather than the people in leadership positions (Richardson, pg14).


Plato and Aristotle were both two individuals who defiantly had brilliant ideas on how to make the world a good place to live. Plato was a philosopher of political inclination and he pursued to know and understand the truth in the field of politics and morals. Aristotle on the other hand was much concerned about the wellbeing of the local citizen and so he actively involved himself in suggesting means of coming up with good governing institutions (Richardson, pg 4).

Works Cited

Julia Anna. Morality: achieving happiness, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Richardson, Gabriel. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, McGraw Hill publishers, 2000.

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