Ancient philosophers believed that ethics were a means to perfecting human existence. The code that existed for the theorists of the ancients reflects the time that they lived. There is a comforting simplicity that was drawn in ancient ethics and in ideal world these ethics make sense, to me. For instance, Socrates compares human values to the tools of a carpenter, a carpenter must not only possess such tools, but he must know how to use his tools, in order to be successful (Euthyd. 280b-d) I love the idea of values being tools. Tools exist to build, our values also help us to build the existences we wish for ourselves and those around us. This fundamental idea is simple but profound and powerful when analyzing values.
Aristotle had some interesting views on what makes a person virtuous. Although criticized for being self-serving, I tend to agree with Aristotle’s outlook. He says, that the ultimate and complete end in a human’s life is happiness and all other activity is a means to achieve happiness. Happiness is not chosen for the sake of anything else (1097a 25-1097b5). Aristotle’s view on happiness is certainly true, happiness is an isolated emotion that most people spend their lives trying to achieve. My issue with this statement is, if we spend our lives trying to achieve an end which is happiness, we are unable to enjoy the many happy moments that exist along the way.
Aristippus delves deeper into the idea of happiness not being an end goal, but rather immediate particular pleasures (DL II 90). There is truth in both philosophers’ outlooks on happiness. It makes sense, to me, that a life full of small particular pleasures, is a happy life well lived. A happy life, well lived, will certainly lead to a happy fulfilled end. Aristippus also teaches that bodily pleasures are much better than mental pleasures. This statement is difficult for me to buy into. I believe that pleasures are in the eye of the beholder and a feeling cannot be a fact for all.
I like the ideas of Plato and Aristotle because, for the most part, they leave room for interpretation and modification. The issue with other ancient theories, is the same problem that is present in modern ethical ideas. Ethics are a code which is necessary for a functional society, but a singular identical code is not. It is the extremists like Diogenese that smother individuality and place judgment on others who do not live the way they live. Diogenes goes as far as to say, love is for the idle and love of money is for the condemned (DL VI 50-51). What Diogenese, and others like him, fail to see, is that love and love for money do not cause evils in the world, it is the people who use these powerful emotions to fuel bad behavior. Removing temptations will not remove the problems, as the problems exist in the core and temptations will always be present in one form or another. I have no issue with living without temptation or luxury but I do feel it is a personal choices and whatever is decided should not be judged, if no harm is being done.
Ethical theories are a lot like most big ideas, they evolve as society changes. Ancient philosophers valued knowledge and courage, two necessities for being virtuous and progressive during that time. Ancient ethics existed in…