III. -- Ethics and Esthetics.
28. General Ethics. -- Plato does not use the word Ethics, but Politics. As a matter of fact, however, he deals not merely with social but also with domestic and individual morality, and with the principles of general Ethics. As a whole, his ethics, like his anthropology, is dependent on his dialectic.
The end of man consists in the soul's contemplation of pure Ideas in a state of complete separation from the body. The wise man longs for deliverance, and in this life tries to free himself from the fetters of bodily existence by the earnest pursuit of science (Theaetetus and Phaedo). Occasionally (as in the Philebus) sense-life is represented as capable of acquiring some degree of moral value, though this as a rule is denied it: the knowledge of the phenomenal world, in which the Idea is dimly shadowed forth, and -- even more so -- a moderate and well-regulated degree of pleasure, may become supplementary elements of happiness.
For those two practically irreconcilable notions of the supreme good, Plato has two corresponding views on the nature of virtue. It is the disposition of a soul that acts in conformity with its end. Strictly speaking, that soul alone is virtuous which lives on the contemplation of the Idea (according to the first conception of man's end). In this sense, virtue is necessarily the outcome or prolongation of science, and is its own reward (Socrates). But again, later on, a plurality of virtues is admitted, corresponding to the various activities whose harmonious working together gives rise to happiness (according to the second conception of happiness); but science always holds the place of honour above all other virtues.
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