Socrates (469 BC – 399 BC) was one of the first Greek philosophers to encourage both scholars and the common citizen to turn their attention from the outside world to the condition of man. In this view, knowledge, having a bearing on human life was placed highest, all other knowledge being secondary. Self-knowledge was considered necessary for success and inherently an essential good. A self-aware person will act completely within their capabilities to their pinnacle, while an ignorant person will flounder and encounter difficulty. To Socrates, a person must become aware of every fact (and its context) relevant to his existence, if he wishes to attain self-knowledge. He posited that people will naturally do what is good if they know what is right. Evil or bad actions are the result of ignorance. If a criminal were truly aware of the mental and spiritual consequences of his actions, he would neither commit nor even consider committing those actions. Any person who knows what is truly right will automatically do it, according to Socrates. While he correlated knowledge with virtue, he similarly equated virtue with happiness. According to Socrates, the truly wise person will know what is right, do what is good, and therefore be happy.
Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) posited an ethical system that may be termed “self-realizationism.” In Aristotle’s view, when a person acts in accordance with his nature and realizes his full potential, he will do good and be content. At birth, a baby is not a person, but a potential person. In order to become a “real” person, the child’s inherent potential must be realized. Unhappiness and frustration are caused by the unrealized potential of a person, leading to failed goals and poor life. Aristotle said, “Nature does nothing in vain.” Therefore, it is imperative for persons to act in accordance with their nature and develop their latent talents, in order to be content and complete. Happiness was held to be the ultimate goal. All other things, such as civic life or wealth, are merely means to the end. According to Aristotle, self-realization, the awareness of one’s nature and the development of one’s talents, is the surest path to happiness. Aristotle asserted that man had three natures: vegetable (physical), animal (emotional) and rational (mental). Physical nature can be assuaged through exercise and care, emotional nature through indulgence of instinct and urges, and mental through human reason and developed potential. Rational development was considered the most important, as essential to philosophical self-awareness and as uniquely human. Moderation was encouraged, with the extremes seen as degraded and immoral. For example, courage is the moderate virtue between the extremes of cowardice and recklessness. A man should not simply live, but live well with conduct governed by moderate virtue. This is regarded as difficult, as virtue denotes doing the right thing, to the right person, at the right time, to the proper extent, in the correct fashion, for the right reason.
THE DALAI LAMA
In contemporary times, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, shares this perspective on ethics: “Consider the following. We, humans, are social beings. We come into the world as a result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others. Nor is it so remarkable that our greatest joy should come when we are motivated by concern for others. But that is not all. We find that not only do altruistic actions bring about happiness but they also lessen our experience of suffering. Here I am not suggesting that the individual whose actions are motivated by the wish to bring others’ happiness necessarily meets with less misfortune than the one who does not. Sickness, old age, mishaps of one sort or another are the same for us all. But the sufferings which undermine our internal peace — anxiety, doubt, disappointment — these things are definitely less. In our concern for others, we worry less about ourselves. When we worry less about ourselves an experience of our own suffering is less intense. What does this tell us? Firstly, because every action has a universal dimension, a potential impact on others’ happiness, ethics are necessary as a means to ensure that we do not harm others. Secondly, it tells us that genuine happiness consists of those spiritual qualities of love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness. For it is these which provide both for our happiness and others’ happiness.”
For information about online ethics classes at Ariana Institute, visit www.arianainstitute.com/ce-online/.
Ariana Vincent directs the Ariana Institute in Houston, Texas, which offers continuing professional development for massage therapists. Ariana is a Nationally Certified Massage Therapist and Massage Therapy Instructor who has practiced massage therapy and bodywork for thirty years. Her highest aspiration, personally and professionally, is to facilitate the integration of mind, body and spirit, and to ultimately allow a state of balance to effortlessly and peacefully become an integral part of everyday life.