In Plato and Aristotle’s respective philosophical world-views, a key role of relationship and importance is given to rationality and the good. For Plato, the Good as something that is to be sought after, something that we reflect upon its meaning as a philosophical question, lends itself to reason, because rationality allows us to make the logical conclusions and distinctions, which aid the philosopher on her quest to identify the Good. For Aristotle, the relation takes a similar form, but with a crucial form. For Aristotle, the human being is differentiated from animals, because he is the rational animal. Therefore, if the human being rejects reason, he is also rejecting his own uniqueness and therefore cannot seek what is Good, because he is rejecting that which is most fundamental.
A similar line of reasoning is also present in Aristotle’s thought that individual virtue is necessary but not sufficient for achieving eudaimonia. If we act in accordance with good virtue, this is necessary to reach the Good. But we are not acting in accordance with what differentiates the human being from other animals, and that is the faculty of reason. Therefore, reason is also necessary to the pursuit of eudomania, since without reason we are acting in an inhumane way and then counter to our true nature.
Courage and moderation become cardinal virtues for Aristotle, because there is a sense in which they reflect our reason in action. Acting courageously is not merely about risking one’s life, but understanding the rational chain of events that can be caused or prevented by our intervention. In much the same way, moderation is a virtue because it is a reflection of our rational faculty and using reasoning to think through events and understand their causes and effects.
In contrast, someone who just follows his or her conscience is not acting human: he or she is not rationally working through his or her life, and has essentially rejected his or her own fundamental humanity.
Key to the concept of Aristotle’s idea of ethics is that of friendship. We tend to think of rationality as something only an individual does, coldly calculating or reflecting on events, such as Mr. Spock from Star Trek. But for Aristotle, reason is something that is a common human characteristic and when we think rationally we are essentially not acting as individuals, but as part of the human species. We are establishing our link and our relationship to others as fellow humans by partaking in that what is common to us all. This is a friendship, our shared reason and our shared thoughts that make us human. This is a compelling account, which looks at reason as that which binds us together, what makes us human and not merely as an instrument that does not speak to our shared humanity and thus of our potential friendship and shared bonds.
The problem of the Good, however, must also confront the problem of Evil. For systems which state that there is the existence of God who is all powerful and all good, the problem of Evil is especially difficult, since it means that God for some reason does not stop evil from existing. Saint Augustine’s solution to this was to put the responsibility for Evil on the human being and therefore God does not want to interfere in the free actions of the human being, since this would limit his creation of the human.
The two statements “God wills the good because it is good” or the “good is whatever God wills”, still leaves us to wonder what the good life is, precisely because the human being is not God. This means we have to reflect upon the possible sources of good in our lives. What is evident for God is not evident for the human being, and this answer forces us to think about the meaning of the good.
Saint Augustine accordingly preferred the ideas of Plato over those of Aristotle, because for Plato, the search for Good is something like a path to God and the absolute, whereas for Aristotle, it is more the case that it is part of what makes us human. In other words, Plato inspires us to reach to a higher power, which corresponds to Augustine’s monotheistic stance, while Aristotle’s definition is almost too materialistic and scientific (in the modern sense of the word) in its approach.
Nevertheless, Socrates would not accept Augustine’s position, because it relies too much on the religious element that is accepted. Socrates was intently criticizing in his approach, and therefore he would seek logical disconnects in St. Augustine’s thoughts. Socrates, for example, was charged with denying the gods, and this in one sense makes his thinking incompatible with any form of thought which is based on phenomena such as divine revelation, like in theology. Socrates would take a critical stance to revelation and not merely accept its truth.
The human being will be free from sin in the City of God, insofar as the goodness has been reached, and this is following the path which God has intended for His creation. The City of Man is one in which God has been rejected as ruler. Accordingly, it is impossible for this world to be a world without sin, because the world without sin is the world of God. Sin, therefore, has a structure in Augustine which is directly related to the extent to which we live following the path of God.