Success vs Happiness 3 Greek Philosophers and Alexander the Great Research Paper

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Philosophers and Great Leaders

Ancient Greek philosophers will always have a distinct place in human history by giving shape to Western philosophical thought (Fieser 2014). That philosophical thought moved away from myth to a method based on reason and evidence. Although these philosophers' ways of exploring the world were diverse, they nonetheless set the pace for a single search for the underlying principles of everything. The most influential among them were Socrates, Plato and Aristotle who focused more on the individual than the physical world (Fieser). Their philosophies are hereunder compared and contrasted with that of Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia.

The Philosophy of Socrates

Socrates was and still is better known for his unusual teaching methods than for his military career (Vlastos 1991, Waterfield 2009). He taught neither in a formal school nor required payment for his teaching services. He always debated against illogical reasoning and biases. Socrates opposed ascetism or achieving high spirituality or moral level through self-denial. He advocated a thorough enjoyment of life, instead. He also believed and taught that truth, beauty, and justice are objective phenomena and that man is born with an inherent understanding of these. Socrates thus taught his students to properly use what they already possessed. He also emphasized the importance of living a moral life, which brings happiness. He said that morality can be passed on through education (Vlastos, Waterfield).

The Philosophy of Plato

This underlies his more than 20 dialogues, philosophical letters and the rest of his writings, which were recovered only after the 14th and 15th centuries (Senyshyn 2008). In his Theory of Forms, Plato taught that the reality of physical and material things rests on a metaphysical reality of ideas, which in turn exists in an eternal world of Forms. His concept of an Absolute source of Good approximates the One-God deity of Christianity. For this, he was revived and recognized as the early precursor of the Christian doctrine when the Roman Empire was Christianized from 100-400 CE (Senyshyn).

The Philosophy of Aristotle

Aristotle founded his own school, which he called Lyceum, in Athens in the year 355 BCE (Crisp 2002). Alexander was already then king of Macedonia and became one of his students. Aristotle's works represented attempts to fuse pre-Socratic naturalism with Plato's metaphysical concept. But he eventually countered Plato's metaphysical interpretation of the world (Crisp).

Socrates taught that living a moral life brings happiness and Plato, on the other hand, introduced the concept of a Form, which is the Absolute source of good. Morality is the choice and practice of good and the rejection of evil. This ties the philosophies of the first two Greek philosophers. Aristotle's philosophy focuses on the chief end of everything or the highest good (Crisp 2002). That chief end, that highest good, must not be the means to any other but the really final one. All human pursuits or acts are mere means to further ends in a series. That very goal or end of all human pursuits is what is called happiness (Crisp).

For happiness to make sense, especially to those who are unfamiliar with ethics, it must be based on human nature and capable of being personally experienced (Crisp 2002). In comparison with Plato's notion of happiness as an abstraction that exists on its own, Aristotle views it as something human, practical and abounding in the very work and life of human beings. However, it cannot be shared with non-rational forms of life like vegetation and animals. Aristotle interprets true happiness as something that only rational beings are capable of experiencing. It can be experienced through a "perfect realization" and the activities of true souls and the self. And in this condition, happiness can be continuously experienced in a lifetime (Crisp).

Aristotle further cites the constitution of the human soul as vegetative and appetitive (Crisp 2002). The vegetative faculty is present in animals and necessary for physical survival and growth. The appetitive faculty is responsible for emotions and desires. This faculty is both irrational and rational: irrational in that animals possess it too and rational because feelings and desires can be controlled by reason. That human capability to control unruly desires or emotions can become actions and these actions can form into a habit called a moral virtue. Aristotle calls that purely rational part of the human soul as the calculative faculty. It is that part, which contemplates, creates scientific principles, and "reasons logically." Their mastery is called intellectual virtue (Crisp).

Hand-in-hand, Aristotle teaches the doctrine of the mean (Crisp 2002). A moral virtue is the mean between extremes of too much and too little. Fear and rashness are examples of extremes and are both vices. The calculation of the mean is neither mathematical nor strict. The rational mind determines that mean according to the merits of the situation. Prudence, a virtue in itself, is required to establish the mean between extremes (Crisp).

The Philosophy of Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great is considered the greatest king of the world in history (Asirvatham 2014). He was not only the king of Macedonia and head of the Corinthian League and the conqueror of Persia. He was also the creator of the largest Western empire in his time. For all his fearless and peerless feats, achievements and conquests, he was elevated by the peoples of his time to the level of a god or a deity. Long after he died, Octavian Caesar paid tribute to his mummified remains, crowned it with a golden diadem and embellished it with flowers. He became the norm for victory. Napoleon himself described him as the ultimate commander of armies and set him up as his model. Generals used his courage and capabilities as the standard of military achievement (Asirvatham).

Alexander reached this peak of accomplishment and honor because he made Achilles his model and inspiration (Asirvatham 2014). He was said to have even perfected Achilles' god-ship and thereby achieved the level of a demigod. He thrived on Homeric military ideas, keeping a copy of the Iliad always with him. His imitation of Achilles led him to think and feel that nothing was impossible to him. But even the mightiest and most powerful ruler must confront his mortality. The "Greek Alexander Romance," published in the third century, presents a ruler who exhibits a new and unusual self-awareness and wisdom in meeting the Brahmans. The Brahmans warned him that there was nothing he could take from them because they bring only wisdom. Alexander turned humble and acknowledged his mortality, his subjection to the Sovereign will, and the impermanence of the physical world. At first, he told them that he would give anything they would ask. When they asked for immortality, Alexander said he had no such power, as he too was mortal. They seized the moment to ask why he waged so many wars, where he would take everything he had seized and that he had to leave what he had won behind for others. Then Alexander conceded that Providence had ordained that all men shall be slaves and servants to the divine will. He admitted to wanting to stop waging war yet something within him would not allow him to stop. He also declared that men may take things from others, but they must leave them behind because "no possession is permanent (Stoneman 1991 as qtd in Asirvatham)."

Argument and Counter-Argument

Happiness, not fleeting success or possession, is the only true and valid pursuit through a life of moral virtue. Socrates taught that living a moral life alone brings happiness. Plato concurs to One Absolute source of all good and happiness. And Aristotle speaks of happiness as possible only through the practice of moral virtue. Virtue results from the control of unruly desires and feelings out of a prudent determination of the mean between extremes. And Alexander acquiesced to the existence of Providence to whose will all men are slaves and subjects. He also accepted that even the most glorious human achievements are temporary and the mightiest and wealthiest men are mortal.

Counter-arguments -- Socrates once objected to asceticism or the belief in self-denial. He argued that individuals must enjoy life in an unbridled way. Plato also suggested that happiness is only a metaphysical concept.

Rebuttals -- Aristotle himself rebuts the counter-argument of Socrates against self-denial. Aristotle teaches that a prudent person chooses the mean between two extremes. In the process, he controls or denies unruly desires or feelings through reason. Therefore, self-denial quite often brings happiness rather than prevents it. And in reply to Plato's metaphysical concept of happiness, Aristotle argues that it should be within human nature itself and accessible to human experience to make sense and become practical. And that is through the habitual practice of virtue. Happiness, not fleeting success or possession, is the only true and valid pursuit through a life of moral virtue.


The three Greek philosophers are basically agreed that the good life is a moral life, or a life lived in the pursuit of righteousness. They…

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