Aristotle's Politics

Happiness: the Individual, the City, and the Ideal

In both Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Politics, happiness is a state of stability and harmony that is present both within the individual and in his relations with other people. Furthermore, both philosophers emphasize that man can reach the highest kind of happiness only under the direction of his reason. However, they disagree about the existence of a definitive ideal of happiness to which all men can aspire. Since Plato has faith in his theory of Forms, he can imagine a unified moral and political system in which every element has a perfect model. Aristotle, however, focuses on the more practical issues of how to make actual men and city-states more virtuous and thus happier.

According to Plato, happiness is possible only for the man who has cultivated virtue in his life. Among the four virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice, the first three correspond to the parts of soul, which are the philosophic, the spirited, and the appetitive. The task of the virtuous man is to ensure that the philosophic part of the soul rules its other, lesser parts. The rational mind must control the desires for honor and praise, as well as for physical pleasure. In this light, the remaining quality of...

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