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Conception of the Good
One of the most critical and central aspects to human activity has presumably been the search for a good life and happiness. In attempts to understand and explain the quest for a good life and happiness, various philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Augustine have tried to explain the conception of good. Most of these philosophers have carried out their work in Athens, which is a great city that marked the pinnacle of the careers of these philosophers. Socrates was one of the philosophers from Athens who considered philosophy or the love of wisdom as a sacred path that should not be taken lightly. Plato was Socrates famous student who reconstructed some of Socrates' writings or discussions and describe him as the best of all men. On the contrary, Augustine was a philosopher from North Africa who received Christian education and went through a progression of philosophical views before conversion to Christianity. In their conception of good, Socrates/Plato and Augustine had certain similarities and differences that are evident in their writings.
Socrates, Plato and Augustine's Works:
While very little is known about Socrates, he is the best known or widely recognized in the field of philosophy. Since he considered philosophy as the love of wisdom and of supreme importance, Socrates neglected nearly every affair that is common in the lives of many people in the ancient and modern world. As the love of wisdom was a sacred path according to Socrates, he believed in the rebirth of an eternal soul that contained all knowledge. Notably, Socrates did not write down any of his ideas but instead engaged his students in never-ending conversations.
As the most famous and arguably the brightest student of Socrates, Plato largely wrote about his mentor in his works through the dialogue writing style in which Socrates was one of the major characters. As a result, he became the first major philosopher with re-ordered written works that covered various issues like morality, metaphysics, and love. Generally, Plato offers explanations about how individuals obtain knowledge and explains the existence of different material things.
Most of Augustine's work can be attributed to his move from Africa to become a rhetoric teacher in Milan where he was mainly influenced by Bishop Ambrose and Platonism. During this period, he became attracted to Plato's doctrine of the forms and concept that evil is the lack of goodness and privation instead of being part of reality. As he experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity, Augustine abandoned rhetoric for philosophy. In this case, Platonism provided the basis and philosophical resources that Augustine required to make Christianity sensible. As a result, much of the contributions of Augustine to philosophy can be regarded as an adaptation of Platonism to Christianity (Payne par, 4).
Socrates/Plato's Conception of Good:
Plato's conception of good, which he describes as form of the good, is the interesting and highest part of his work that stands out from the rest of his other forms. Actually, Plato suggested that there is a hierarchy of the forms, with the highest or biggest one being the form of good. As the form at the top of the hierarchy, it the basis with which everything else including the other minor forms exist and work. Therefore, Plato argued that the form of the good is the source of everything and offers total morality for every individual.
Notably, Plato describes the form of the good in one of his dialogues i.e. The Republic in which he speaks through the character of Socrates. While he argues that the form or idea of the good is not knowledge itself, it's the ultimate object of knowledge. From the good, all things that are just obtain their value and usefulness as people are compelled to seek the good though with philosophical reasoning.
In the Republic, Plato's designs through Socrates, is the philosopher's development of a society in order to identify the meaning of justice. During this Plato compares the elements of the society to three souls i.e. The peasants, the tilling of solid and produce of goods, and warriors who reflect the courage and spirit of the society. Moreover, the philosopher kings rules the society just like reason guides people's lives. In his explanation of the concept of good Plato states that "if you ask what is the good of education in general, the answer is easy; that education makes good men act nobly" (Boeree par, 34). Generally, Plato claims that truth, equality, justice, and beauty among others are ultimately derived from the Form of the Good.
Augustine's Conception of Good:
Augustine's approach towards explaining the conception of good is practical since his insights are logically credible and emotionally satisfying. One of the most important aspects in Augustine's concept of goodness and ultimately evil is the concept of being. Augustine argues that since God, the creator of everything, was perfectly good, anything that had being was good. However, he states that goodness was an element that came in different degrees and God as the foundation of being.
This philosopher uses this argument as the foundation of examining evil and its origin in which he suggests that evil has no positive nature even though the loss of good is regarded as evil. Therefore, the dwindling of the property or element of goodness is generally referred to as evil, which always injures. The injury occurs as a result of deprivation of good, without which there would be no injury as all things were created or made with goodness. Evil is a moral hole, which is a nothingness that emerges when goodness is removed. As previously mentioned, the basis of this argument is the consideration that good has a substantial nature whereas evil does not. In conclusion of Augustine's conception of good, evil is an act of choosing the lesser good.
Similarities between these Conceptions of Good:
As evident in this analysis, there are some similarities between Plato's and Augustine's conception of good. The similarities basically originate from the fact that much of Augustine's work was influenced by Platonism after his move from Africa to Milan. Actually, Augustine's philosophy was mainly sourced from Plato and the Bible and also included the use of neoPlatonism ideas. Therefore, much of Augustine's concept of good can be mainly understood through his explanation of the concept of God while Plato's is understood through his concept of the Form of the Good.
The first major similarity between Plato's and Augustine's conception of good is about the two being absolute and eternal. According to Plato, the Form of the Good existed in every eternity since there was no time or period it did not exist. Since there is only one form, there is no difference between them as it through acting with other forms that one form creates the other variations. In the same manner, Augustine states that the Christian God is absolute and eternal since he always existed even before the universe. Therefore, the similarity between the arguments by these two philosophers is that God and the Form of the Good are absolute and eternal perfections.
Secondly, the other similarity related to duty in which Plato believed that philosophers had the responsibility to seek knowledge and that absolute knowledge only came with the highest form in the pyramid i.e. The form of the Good. Therefore, this philosopher states that individuals required to strive to learn the form of the Good and act upon it based on the knowledge of right actions. Towards the end of the Republic Six, Socrates affirms that the philosophers in training to be rulers should attain the highest knowledge of all i.e. The knowledge of the Good. In his confession and critco, Plato states that:
"The idea of the good is the universal author of all things right and beautiful, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intelligible." ("Plato," par 42)
On his part, Augustine states the Christian God has a similar element and people need to do their duty in performing what is right and good as knowledge comes from God.
The third similarity is related to the highest reality in which Plato argues that the form of the good is the highest in the pyramid and that all the other forms and particular find their existence and functioning through interactions with this form. Actually, through knowing the form of the good, a person will in turn receive knowledge of all the other forms. Similarly, Augustine states that God is the highest reality with regards to the concept of good. Augustine asserts that God exists as creator and He is good, which implies that everything He created is also good. As a result, a person can only turn away from the good i.e. greater good to lesser good since all things are good based on Augustine's hierarchy.
Differences between these Conceptions of Good:
While there are various similarities between the conceptions of good, there are…[continue]
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