Virtue isn’t a feeling. Good men are not always great. Justice does not always seem just. There are various opinions and perspectives on what exactly makes a human ultimately great. Famous philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle have different approaches and views on how to discuss the nature of a human being. Specific qualities and distinctions come about in their famous works on what it exactly means to say a human being is truly great. A fair amount of questioning and reason can be seen from works done by Aristotle and Plato throughout their philosophical writings. Possessing Virtue, happiness, social responsibility, and righteousness define compelling qualities that make a human good or great.
To understand what characteristics and qualities make a human to be truly good, it first must be stated what that actually translates too. Being virtuous and just can often be categorized as being good and great. In Plato’s work, Crito, Socrates has a thorough argument with his dear friend Crito about virtue and acting justly. The main question they discuss through their argument is if it would be just if Socrates escapes the prison he was wrongfully sentenced to and put in. Crito states that Socrates would be aiding the enemy by adhering to the wrongful sentence he was given. He also says that Socrates would be wrongdoing his sons, leaving them abandoned and fatherless. Specifically, Socrates replies with the firm statement of saying, “One should never do harm in return, nor do any man harm, no matter what he may have done to you” (Plato, 50). Socrates believes that getting even with someone because they demonstrated unjust actions against you is unjust in itself. Socrates believes that humans have a certain social contract to fulfill. A point he brings up is truth versus public opinion. In his case, his prosecutors were mad at him for preaching his philosophical views in the way he felt was best. They saw it as corruption to the youth and going against what the gods want. Even though Socrates knows that he was not doing anything morally wrong, public opinion of him gets corrupted and changed by the government officials with power. Dying well and just is a more large and noteworthy concern for Socrates.
Plato’s Republic offers a deeper insight relative to what qualities Socrates believed that a good and just human should possess and demonstrate. Socrates is asking around to people such as Glaucon, Cephalus, and Thrasymachus, to try and find the best definition of justice. This dialogue tells us a lot about the ideas of human nature. In Book 2 of Plato’s Republic, Glaucon is challenging Socrates to prove that justice is desired for its own sake and consequences. Glaucon believes humans only strive to be just and good because of the negative consequences that will come from leading an unjust life. Often times people do the right thing just because they would suffer worse from doing the wrong thing, therefore they desire justice only for its end rewards not for its actual representation. Glaucon then brings a very valuable story that demonstrates an argumentative lesson for Socrates to interpret. The legend of The Ring of Gyges demonstrates Glaucon’s definition of justice by saying it is, “ In between the best and the worst. The best is to do injustice without paying the penalty; the worst is to suffer it without being able to take revenge. Justice is in the middle between these two extremes. People love it, not because it is a good thing, but because they are too weak to do injustice with impunity”. The story tells about a shepherd in Lydia. During a huge thunderstorm, there was an earthquake so powerful that it broke open the ground and created a chasm. This shepherd decided to go down in the Earth. He finds a corpse with a gold ring on it, so he takes the ring and wears it around. One day, he shifts the ring the opposite way on his finger and suddenly becomes invisible to everyone that is around him. Once he found out this phenomenon was actually real, he arranged to be a messenger that was sent to the king. When he got there, he used the power of his ring to seduce the king’s wife, kill the king with her help, and then took over his kingdom. Glaucon goes on to say that this story is, “strong evidence that no one is just willingly, but only when compelled. No one believes justice to be a good thing when it is kept private, since whenever either person thinks he can do injustice with impunity, he does it. Indeed, all men believe that injustice is far more profitable to themselves than is justice.” (Plato, 39). This point is significant in the fact that it demonstrates a certain instance where a man is doing unjust things based upon reasoning that he will not be reprimanded for his actions. Would every man do injustice if he or she could get away from any punishments?
To understand the nature of a good life for human beings and the different qualities they might possess, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics discusses just that. All humans strive for a universal ultimate good. How do they achieve that? Aristotle’s believes that each person’s path to a good life varies by what they do daily. He gives the example that the main end goal for military is victory. The same logic can be applied to a common man, stating that the end goal for his life is happiness. In Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle’s states that the highest human good is happiness. Happiness is a quality that makes a human great, as well as enhances their life in countless ways. In book one chapter seven, Aristotle describes the highest human good by saying, “Happiness above all seems to be of this character, for we always choose it on account of itself and never on account of something else. Yet honor, pleasure, intellect, and every virtue we choose on their own account- for even if nothing resulted from them, we would choose each of them- but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, because we suppose that through them, we will be happy.” (Aristotle, 11). As opposed to doing something to be happy, striving for happiness itself is a quality that makes a human great.
Being a great human being is not an easy task to meet. With fighting temptations to do the wrong things, often brings up many hard choices and decisions is each one’s daily life. Defining qualities that can be instilled into humans from a young age are what make them truly great. Happiness drives a human to be great and can magnify their life to be the best it can. It is said that happiness is the greatest good a human can obtain. Leading a virtuous life can also make a human great. Showing that you are just and compliant to your nation is a quality that most good humans possess. Righteousness is a quality that also can be used to describe the truly great man. To be righteous is to be just and morally right which a perfect defining quality of what it means for a human to be great.