“The Trial and Death of Socrates” and “Politics” by Plato and Aristotle

July 20, 2021

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Plato and Aristotle, in their books The Trial and Death of Socrates and Politics, respectively, give an image of megalopsychron (the excellent man). In Plato’s view, Socrates is a good example of the man. The image that Plato portrays about Socrates is the image of a man, who is morally committed to what is socio-political and what is sacred. As per the account of Aristotle about the excellent man, he also portrays the individual, as the one who is committed to achieving the political ends for the benefit (good) of the society. This paper explores the nature of the excellent man by analyzing Plato’s three dialogues in his books: “Euthyphron,” “Apology,” and “Crito;” and then analyze the attributes of the excellent man from Aristotle’s Politics Book I. As the analysis reveals the objects of wisdom and reason are essential elements of the excellent man, but it is also evident that the powers of the excellent man are only practicable within a community or a society; such powers are only good when they benefit the community.

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Plato, in his three dialogues, portrays Socrates, as the ideal excellent man because he is ethically committed to achieving what is socio-political and what is sacred; Socrates uses wisdom and reason. In Socrates dialogue with Euthyphron, one of the subjects that they discuss is wisdom, as a characteristic of the excellent man. Socrates tells Euthyphron: “if you can make it clear that gods necessarily agree in thinking that this action of yours is right; and if you satisfy me, I will never stop singing your praises for wisdom” (Plato, 1895 p. 17). The thesis indicates that two characteristics of the excellent man are essential, and they are wisdom and reason. In this quotation, Socrates challenges Euthyphron to prove that gods agree over the human action that is right (or wrong). Prior to this quote, Socrates and Euthyphron argue about the issue of punishing the wrongdoers. It is Euthyphron’s view that the gods disagree over what is wrong or right; an argument that Socrates challenges him to prove. Similarly, their argument portrays the contentious circumstances in the justice courts, where people ‘battle’ to prove their innocence after engaging in immoral behaviors or crimes. Consequently, Socrates gives Euthyphron a difficult task, which will lead to Euthyphron’s qualification, as an excellent man. Socrates denotes this by promising that he will sing to Euthyphron praises of wisdom. The meaning of Socrates’ assignment for Euthyphron is that he should employ his reasoning to prove the disagreement among gods over what is wrong or right. In other words, an excellent man should apply his reasoning extensively to the metaphysical world (world of gods). For Euthyphron to qualify as an excellent man, therefore, he must use his natural endowment of reason to formulate a thesis (argument) that proves that indeed, the gods think differently about judging human actions as right or wrong.

Socrates’ commitment to achieving the common good for the community is apparent in “Apology.” Socrates states “that (justice) is what makes a good judge, as speaking the truth makes a good advocate” (Plato, 1895 p. 36). The quotation reveals that Socrates is a megalopsychron because he is committed to what is socio-political and what is sacred. He comments that a good judge must be just; similarly, a good advocate must only speak the truth. The outcome of these elements in the justice system is that innocent people will not be punished, while the guilty ones will not escape the punishment. However, Socrates proceeds to address the Athenians about his qualities, as a person who speaks the truth. He also casts a picture of his opponents as liars. He states that his accusers base their accusations on falsehood, as they have been using lies to accuse him. Socrates emerges as Plato’s megalopsychron because he proves his righteousness by exposing the lies of his accusers and saying the truth instead. Socrates contributes to the benefit of the community of the Athenians because he enlightens them about understanding what is right and wrong, and what is moral and immoral. Socrates represents the justice that Plato gives prominence in his philosophy (Bhandari, n.d.). According to Bhandari (n.d.), the degenerating conditions in the criminal justice system of Athens, which led to Socrate’s death, highly dissatisfied Plato. One of the immoralities that Plato saw in Athen’s judiciary was lies, an issue that Socrates, Plato’s excellent man, objects by clarifying the truth in Apology.

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The issues that Socrates and Crito argue about in the dialogue “Crito” concern Socrate’s imprisonment. Crito tries to convince Socrates to save himself from jail and from the fate of death. One of the responses that Socrates gives is: “I am still what I have always been, a man who will listen to no voice but the voice of reasoning, which I find to be truest on consideration” (Plato, 1895, p. 86). Socrates proceeds by telling Crito that he cannot put his former arguments aside because of the misfortune that has faced him (Plato, 1985). This quote supports the thesis because Socrate’s character, using reason to remain firm on his philosophy emerges. Even his death does not scare him to change his mind about his arguments. According to Kraut (2001), Socrates applies his reasoning that leads to his rejection of the Athenian laws. Socrates objects the laws because they do not give any room for disobedience. Consequently, Socrates arrives at the conclusion that it is wrong for him to escape from jail because, in his reasoning, he will have to adhere to the requirements of the Athenian laws by recanting his initial arguments (Kraut, 2001). Therefore, Socrates is Plato’s excellent man, because he reasons to make a good judgment: the judgment of preserving his position of truth by suffering in prison and dying.

Aristotle, in Politics book I, looks at the megalopsychron (excellent man) from a political observation. Aristotle’s argument is that the excellent man must be committed to achieving political ends for the benefit of the society. Aristotle sees the state as the highest point of good in the community, and he asserts: “Every state is, as we see, a sort of partnership, and each partnership is formed with a view to some good,” (“Aristotle,” n.d., Book I1252a). The quote points towards the partnership that forms the state, and, as Aristotle explains, the basis of the partnership is to create some good for the community; hence, it supports the thesis statement. The partnership that Aristotle addresses concerns people who form the state. Consequently, the state cannot exist in separation of people who form it, who are the members of the community. By extension, therefore, Aristotle talks about the excellent man by referring to the socio-political commitments of the state. To demonstrate this fact, Aristotle explains the foundation of the state as the family.

Two relationships are important in the formation of the state: the relationship between a man and a woman (family), and the master-servant relationship (Online Library of Liberty, 2016). The family (union between a man and a woman), is the beginning of the community and state, according to Aristotle. On the second relationship of master-servant (slave), Aristotle concludes his argument in a manner that credits (defends) slavery. He explains that slavery is right in case the nature approves it. He proves nature’s intention for some people to be slaves, using the concept of inferiority of some races (Online Library of Liberty, 2016). To Aristotle, therefore, justice is both benevolence and the rule of the superior (Online Library of Liberty, 2016). As benevolence, justice enhances good for the community. However, as a rule of the superior, justice permits slavery to exist within the same community that strives for the common good for all (Online Library of Liberty, 2016). Therefore, according to Aristotle, justice and slavery coexist in the human community, where the ideal state pursues good for all. According to Aristotle, the consequence of the state’s failure to provide good for all is a rebellion (Online Library of Liberty, 2016).

Human nature is vital in explaining the excellent man or state according to Aristotle’s perspective. Aristotle states that by human nature, man is in a continuous pursuit of “self-sufficiency and chief good as ends,” (“Aristotle,” n.d., Book I 1253 a). This quote supports the thesis because it depicts the view that the excellent man’s commitment is the creation of benefit (chief good) for the society. Household management is an example of the excellent man’s commitment. The man is the head of the family, and he engages in the art of making money or fending for the good of his family.

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Finally, the attribute of wisdom also emerges in Aristotle’s explanation of man’s nature. He states, “Man is born possessing weapons for the use of wisdom and virtue, which it is possible to employ entirely for the opposite ends,” (“Aristotle,” n.d., Book I 1253 a). The meaning of this quote is that man is naturally aggressive, and wisdom and virtue, which are natural abilities, help the man to use weapons correctly. However, it is also possible to use the weapons to create two opposite ends (destruction). As per the thesis, this quote supports the notion that the excellent man is wise. The excellent man uses reason to decide about the correct use of weapons.

In conclusion, both Plato and Aristotle depict their perspectives about the excellent man, who is committed to the creation of common good, who uses wisdom and reason. The community is the place, where the excellent man seeks the common good, and, according to Aristotle, the family is the origin of the state. Plato depicts Socrates as the excellent man, because he educates the society about the truth. Socrates accepts facing the fate of imprisonment and death at the expense of denouncing his teachings because they are true. Although Aristotle explains the excellent man, as the one who fends for his family; he also defends slavery by arguing that nature construes certain ‘inferior’ races to be the slaves. Nevertheless, the basic portrayal of the excellent man, according to the two philosophers, is one with social and political commitments to create the common good within a community, and one who uses wisdom and reason in his pursuit for the good.