Plato’s Understanding of Morality and VirtueJune 27, 2021
The supreme aim of Plato’s philosophical endeavors was the moral elevation and happiness of individual human individuals and society as a whole.
Plato saw happiness as the ultimate goal for both human individuals, society and the city. His moral understanding was also directed towards the goal of achieving happiness. Therefore, Plato’s moral understanding can be described as a “happiness morality”.
According to Plato, the ultimate goal of people and societies is happiness. Plato’s understanding of morality is also directed towards this goal.
According to Plato, the only thing that could bring happiness was goodness. Because according to Plato, “Good” was the highest idea, and the idea of “Good” represented the perfection of both man and society, since it expressed the completeness of the nature of things. Therefore, a person who looks good and tries to be as good as possible is also a person who has gone a long way towards completing his own nature and has become self-sufficient. Therefore, everyone who wanted to be happy had to want the good and regard the good as the purpose of his life (Philebos, 60c, 61a; State, 505e). If what makes people happy is goodness, what makes people good? According to Plato, what makes a person good is virtue (arete), truth (aletheia) and justice (dikaiosyne). In the Meno, it is said that virtue is what makes a person good (Menon, 87d), in Gorgias, calling something good is due to the presence of virtue in it (Gorgias, 506c), while in the Republic it is said that justice is goodness and happiness, and injustice is evil and unhappiness (Devlet, 353d). -354a, 358a).
Then the problem is based on determining what “virtue” is, which will come and make a person good and happy. In the previous unit, it was stated that this problem was addressed in Plato’s Socratic dialogues, but a precise definition could not be attributed to virtue. Yet in many parts of the dialogues, Sophists try to define virtue and righteousness in various ways. For example; One of the sophists, Callicles, the thing that brings goodness and happiness to a person is that he has the power to do whatever he wants (Gorgias, 470a), Menon, that virtue is nothing but the ability to dominate people (Menon, 73d), and Trashymachus says that it is right for the strong to do whatever he wants (Devlet, 338c) defends. This attitude, which associates virtue, righteousness and justice with power, is supported by the assumption that happiness and goodness can only be achieved with pleasure (hedone) (Philebos, 11b). Thus, according to the Sophists, a happy life is a life in which the strong exert their power as they wish and attain the highest possible pleasures, and goodness depends above all on the attainment of such things as health, wealth, and position (Menon, 78c).
In response to these claims of the sophists, Plato asked, “What is virtue?” made an attempt to give an answer to the question, in the Gorgias dialogue, for the first time. Dialogue, with this feature, points to a break in the course of Plato’s thought life. In this dialogue, Plato defines virtue for the first time as the “order of the soul”. The virtue not only of the soul but of everything that can be said to have a virtue in itself comes from the order (Gorgias, 506d-507a). The word “eudaimonia”, which is the Greek equivalent of happiness, also evokes the idea that it is a kind of soul order. The word expresses one’s having a good and harmonious daimon (eu-daimon). The eudaimonia state of the soul is that everything in the human being is in harmony with the daimon, the daimon is well-arranged (Versenyi, 1988: 112). In this thought, happiness does not come from outside. The person who arranges his soul draws his own well-being and happiness with his own hands.
According to Plato, virtue is the order of the soul. What is meant by the expression of the order of the soul is that the parts of the soul are in accordance with their nature.
Based on these evaluations, it is possible to conclude that virtue also means the nature of the soul. For virtue will make the soul good. In other words, it will bring it as close as possible to the idea of the Good. It was stated that Ideas meant the original nature of things, and the idea of the Good expressed the completeness and perfection of the natures of things. In this case, for a soul to be virtuous is nothing but the fulfillment of its nature. Since virtue can only be achieved through order, order cannot be anything other than the fact that something is in accordance with its nature, that it has realized its nature. Based on these assumptions, Plato always tried to explain virtue and the main types of virtue, truth and justice, with the nature of people or societies. Virtue, righteousness or justice, whether it is a spirit or a city, is the fact that any structure is in the most suitable condition for itself and does the job in accordance with its nature (State, 443a-e). A person who does the work that suits him, who fulfills his own function, who can achieve his own goal or good is called “virtuous”. That is, virtue is defined in accordance with the nature and purpose of things. For example; A person who wants to define human virtue must search for the purpose of human existence, his nature, what is good for man. So what is meant by the order of the soul is the origin of all the elements of the soul.