For some identify happiness with virtue, some with practical wisdom, others with a kind of philosophic wisdom, others with these, or one of these, accompanied by pleasure or not without pleasure; while others include also external prosperity.” (Aristotle, I: 8) Aristotle uses this as a divining rod for dissecting the various relationships which are perpetuated amongst men. Here, Aristotles practicality is of particular relevance, with his semantic explication of terms for the relationship between virtue and happiness offering a rather thorough template for human morality. This denotes that while we do not fully accept the idea offered by Kant that that which is right for one is right for all, we do accept some balance where perceptions of right and wrong may differ but where a clear relationship between happiness and goodness permeates motives and creates something of a universal standard.
This balance is underscored by Platos consideration of the subject of governance in the Republic, where the philosopher promotes a central leadership which is meritorious on its strength of achieving this compromise. The second part of his book introduces the central aspect of his arguments epistemological motive, with the prescription for proper leadership extending from a view that is ethically, intellectually and socially instructed.
At the crux of his argument, Plato writes that “until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils.” (Plato, Book V) in subsequent explanation, he determines that a virtuous ruler will ultimately find the right to rule his people as a consequence of his worthiness to lead the greater whole toward a light of truth.
This leaves us with the compelling philosophical premise that ethically does not derive from a universal standard but, universally, must be invested with philosophical meditation if its value is to be demonstrated.
Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, translated by W.D. Ross. The Internet Classics Archive.
Online at http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html
Kant, I. 1785. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Jonathan Bennett.
Plato. (360 B.C.E.) the Republic. The Internet Classics Archives. Online at http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.html..