Socrates Views On Virtue And HappinessThis print version free essay Socrates Views On Virtue And Happiness.
Autor: reviewessays 28 December 2010
Words: 1022 | Pages: 5
There are certain truths of the world that cannot be ignored or overlooked. Many philosophers have spent countless years discussing, debating and evaluating such truths. One such influential philosopher is Socrates. Born in Athens in 469 B.C.E, he spent most of his time at the marketplace and other public places engaging in dialogues about truths of life. Among many other things, he discussed virtue and happiness and how closely they are related. According to Socrates, virtue is absolutely necessary for perfect happiness because virtue brings a type of happiness that other things could never bring. In this paper, I will explain the aforementioned idea of Socrates on virtue and happiness and through evidence from Plato's Apology which is one of the few written records of Socrates' views.
Firstly, Socrates gives his definition of happiness before he discusses virtue and its relation with happiness. He seems to hold a unique definition of happiness states that the usual definition of happiness just makes one think that they are happy; however, the real happiness consists of something much deeper. He says, "The Olympian victor makes you think yourself happy; I make you be happy" (Apology 36e-37a). The constant questioning he practices, according to Socrates himself, is in effect helping the Athenians be happy because it is helping them move along the scale of wisdom. His further dialogue clearly explains that true happiness goes beyond worldly goods and external wealth. He says, "Wealth does not bring about excellence, but excellence makes wealth and everything else good for men" (30b). In other words, one is not able to buy perfect happiness. So, one might ask what else is needed to achieve perfect happiness if it can't be achieved by wealth and external comforts alone? The answer, according to Socrates, is virtue.
Being virtuous means doing and being good as much as one possibly can and according to Socrates, this is the most precious quality one can have. "[T]he greatest benefit [is to be] as good and as wise as possible," he says (36c). And by being good or virtuous, you make yourself literate which in turn makes you immune to any harm inflicted by those who are not virtuous. This idea of goodness and virtue goes anything beyond worldly values and ideals. "A good man cannot be harmed either in life or in death"(41d), says Socrates further explaining that no matter what, "a better man [cannot] be harmed by a worse"(30d). Having virtue gives you a certain happiness that is well beyond life or death or worldly values and goods.
So, how exactly does a person become virtuous? Socrates offers suggestions and explanation for this question as well. Socrates claims that one cannot be virtuous accidentally. Just because you commit a virtuous act does not make you virtuous. An understanding of the concept of virtue is equally important as the virtuous act itself. One needs to understand the nature of virtue which requires reflection of virtue and this reflection is only possible once you grasp your own ignorance about the nature of virtue. This understanding of one's own ignorance is human wisdom. So, since being perfectly happy requires being virtuous and being virtuous requires human wisdom, human wisdom is necessary for perfect happiness.
So as a person begins to acquire human wisdom which is merely an understanding and acknowledgment of one's own ignorance, they are on their road to acquiring perfect happiness. So what happens to people who cannot acquire human wisdom and in turn cannot be virtuous? Are they denied happiness altogether? Socrates claims no, these people can be happy but just not perfectly happy.
It seems like Socrates is saying that in order to achieve perfect happiness, two things are necessary. One of them and the most important one is being virtuous and all the requirements of human wisdom that comes with it. And the second factor is external goods and wealth. If you have neither virtue nor wealth, then finding happiness is going to be hard. But just because you fail to acquire human wisdom and become virtuous does not mean that you cannot be happy at all. If you have no virtue, but have plenty of external wealth and external goods, you can still be happy, just not perfectly happy. If you have some virtue and some external goods, you can still be happy. If you have much virtue and no external goods, you can still be happy. But in order for a person to be perfectly happy, both factors are necessary. This explains why sometimes seemingly good people are sometimes unhappy because they lack the external goods and why sometimes seemingly bad people are sometimes happy because they have an excess of external goods.
So we can draw a few conclusions from the above Socratic claims: Being virtuous guarantees you at least some happiness if nothing else and it is absolutely necessary if you are to achieve perfect happiness. But this also means that people can still be happy without being virtuous but it will never be the same happiness as perfect happiness. So, the best bet for humans is to try and be virtuous by understanding and acquiring human wisdom and recognizing one's own ignorance. This way you are in a good position on your journey towards perfect happiness. Along with this virtue, external goods and wealth is also necessary. So, the rest of the journey includes being successful and doing what you can in order to succeed as well as having some luck on your side. In conclusion, the most important thing is to be virtuous because only then can one find and attain perfect happiness. And even if luck does not favor you and you fail to acquire worldly goods, you are still guaranteed some happiness, a type of happiness that could never be achievable by worldly and material goods. And if you fail to be virtuous and still have no luck with external goods, you are guaranteed misery. So one's best bet is to be virtuous and understand the concept of being virtuous and hope for the best about the external goods. Only then can one hope for perfect happiness.