Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[ INSTA Ethics ] : Contribution of Western Moral thinkers- Socrates, Plato and Zeno of Cyprus

 

 

Socrates

  • He was born in Ancient Greece around 470 BCE whose way of life, character, and thought exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy
  • Although Socrates himself wrote nothing, he is depicted in conversation in compositions by a small circle of his admirers—Plato and Xenophon first among them.
  • In the view of Socrates ethics and politics are closely connected. Without politics, ethics carries no value, and without ethics politics becomes harmful. “The highest of all virtues is the political art which includes statecraft and makes men good politicians and public officials.”
  • Among the views for which Socrates is most famous is that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” The ability to think, in Socrates’s view, is our unique human capacity.
  • But what does an examined life, the fully human life, entail? For Socrates, it entailed questioning, especially the moral and religious views of his tradition. In Socrates’ view, this examination is to be done as a form of moral or spiritual development — it is done with the intention of moral improvement both to oneself and ultimately to one’s community.
  • Socrates maintained that he did not teach anyone. What he did was facilitate their self-reflection through public dialogues.
  • His method was to engage in exploration and to get those involved to reflect on their views, on the culturally accepted views they had largely adopted. It typically started with a definition of a concept, which would then be analyzed, and broken into discrete parts; then based on the analysis, the ideas were synthesized.
  • Socrates is someone deeply curious, and conscientious about self-examination, which he engaged in as a practice of self-improvement.
  • Socrates is considered wise because he cares for the soul, because of his questioning whether his priorities in life were rightly ordered and whether his own life was just and good

Plato

  • Plato was a Greek philosopher born in Athens during the Classical period in Ancient Greece.
  • He founded the Platonist school of thought and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning on the European continent.
  • He believed that a philosopher can distinguish between the deceptive qualities of material existence and the real reality that is nonmaterial.
  • He believed philosophy is a way of life, the two foundations of which are sound intelligence and sound morality. Its sole purpose is to attain the Good.
  • Plato’s musings reflect the incompatibility of extraordinarily intelligent men making extraordinarily bad decisions.  His observation, for example, that “we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedyof life is when men are afraid of the light,” is astonishingly prescient when considered in a contemporary context in which well-educated and presumably smart leaders fall prey to common psychological phenomena that unfailingly lead to disaster
  • The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were heavily influenced by the writings of Plato, and Thomas Jefferson would pay his respects to the ancient philosopher when noting that “every government degenerate when trusted to the rulers of the people alone.  The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories.  And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”  Jefferson understood, as did Plato many years earlier, that democratic government could not succeed absent an informed citizenry.  

Stoicism

  • Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic religion founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC.
  • Stoicism is “The endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and complaint. “
  • At the heart of the Stoic way of living is the ongoing process of developing self-control, exercising clear judgment, and overcoming destructive emotions
  • Stoicism enabled the individual to better order his own life and to avoid the excesses of human naturethat promote disquietude and anxiety.
  • The following 5 principles provide a roadmap to following the Stoic philosophy: Manage your expectations and judgments, be realistic about what you have the power to change, understand the meaning of equanimity— and practice it, and call out your emotions for exactly what they are and Live in harmony with nature — particularly human nature.
  • The stoic moral theory was known and used in the formulation of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic theories of humanity and nature, of the state and society, and law and sanctions.