How was Morality Conceived in the Ancient Western Philosophy Wo

  • The conception of morality during ancient times was not equal to the contemporary views. Usually, philosophers and famous thinkers of the western world try to evaluate that theory and accept it as a universal law for the whole society. Thus, morality was not a personal phenomenon. It was influenced by politics, ethical laws, and style of life limited by appropriate for that time virtues. The essence of morality from the perspective of ancient Western philosophy is associated with the good human nature or ways to develop it. Morality was related to a good and happy life, which can be attained with the help of virtuous life and character. Furthermore, the issue of morality in the ancient western philosophy had a direct relation to the notion of happiness. Different philosophers such as Aristotle, Cicero and Plato proposed their conceptions of morality, but the key ideas were quite different. The careful analysis of various moral conceptions presented by philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, shows ancient philosophical approach to the issue by developing a greater understanding of how to attain the main aspect, which challenges people’s capacity to make a rational decision as you can see in reviews


    Cicero was a well-known citizen of Rome involved in different social and political affairs; he was a perfect orator, lawyer, politician, and philosopher. His political career was caused by his thorough knowledge of sociology and social relations that were the background to his philosophic conceptions. However, the biggest contribution of Cicero to the western philosophy is represented by his unique approach to the ideas of morality and ethical norms. Cicero concedes that morally wrong style of life and behavior cannot be advantageous. It cannot be so even if a person is sure that immoral action will bring some perspectives and advantage. Thus, Cicero concludes that whatever is good is moral, while being happy means to live morally, which is related to the virtuous style of life. His attitude toward the concept of ethical norms and virtues is quite similar to the ideas of Aristotle and his moral theory. Cicero states that the ability of a human to be perfectly ethical and morally good means to have appropriate knowledge. Hereby, only a person with proficient intellectual possibilities can determine what is advantageous and moral and what is not. Thus, conventional immoral actions can be moral if the consequences of these actions are advantageous. According to Cicero, any advantageous action is moral. Moreover, all people can identify the advantages and disadvantages because it is possible to find the personal interest in the situation. However, the problem is that the individual moral status is dependent on the advantages of a big group of people and not of one person. Due to the fact that all people on the Earth have identical needs and interests, they can help each other and the politics because personal happiness is dependent on it. This conception is quite strange and not appropriate for the contemporary society, as people regard their happiness only as a personal independent concept, which is not related to morality. Nevertheless, the conceptions of Cicero were ordinary for the ancient western philosophy. Therefore, it is evident that the moral approach of Cicero resembles the conception of Aristotle.


    Aristotle was a famous Greek philosopher and teacher. His name is associated with Alexander the Great and Nicomachean Ethics, as the most famous book about ethical life of a human in the frames of legal norms. Similar to Cicero, Aristotle is sure that happiness is the only ethical predisposition of the person, as it is the highest good and ultimate goal. The philosopher considers that all actions and events have their ends, while happiness is the end in its full essence. In fact, it is the highest good in the universe. Aristotle defines a concept of supreme good as a consequence of a rational soul that must be in accordance with virtues. The virtues mean excellence or a degree of good actions. A person can be considered as virtuous when they act in compliance with a rational soul, which distinguishes all people from the environment, animals and other creatures. The problem of Aristotle is that he does not regard the essence of morality as a single unit. He considers morality only in the frame of the state and politics. Aristotle presents the virtue as an inclination to act in a right manner being in the golden middle between the extremities. In opposition to Cicero, who is sure that morality is associated with knowledge, Aristotle considers that ethical norms are possible to attain through habits and practice. Virtue is an absolute philosophical concept, which can define a balance between the aspects of pain and pleasure. A virtuous person is a morally right person, who has all the virtues and leads a right ethical life for the advantage of society and the state. Aristotle thinks that “Morality and law have their basis in human convention and the state too is an artificial creation constructed by human beings to protect themselves from one another” . However, the conceptions of Plato rejected this conventionalism.


    A famous Greek philosopher was a teacher of Aristotle, but a student of well-known teacher did not support and accept his ideas and theory of morality. Like all other ancient philosophers, Plato supports the eudaemonistic ideas of ethics and morality. In opposition to Aristotle, Plato is sure that human well-being is the highest goal of the virtues and morality. Moreover, it is absolutely dependent on individual choice, as the concept of happiness is individual. It is hard to define a single attitude of Plato to the conception of morality, as the early works are associated with Socratic expressions and dialogues. However, only after some time, Plato expresses his personal ideas and philosophy. The thinker is sure that morality is a dependable phenomenon which is rather individual than common for all people, as it is related to the idea of happiness and desire for self-completion. On the contrary, the latest expressions of the famous philosophers concern the ideas of harmony and balance in the universe. It is necessary to conclude that the notion of morality is dependent on the personal comprehension of the world. The life of Plato changes as well as his attitude toward ethical norms and morality. Similar to other philosophers, Plato does not differentiate ethics and the state, justice and legal norms. He was the first who established liberal conceptions in the world. Apparently, his ideas of morality are rather debatable because they are not appropriate for the contemporary understanding of morality. Kenneth James Dover concludes that ancient philosophy can be regarded only within the time it was created due to religious concepts, beliefs, relations in the family, position of the woman and even attitude toward one’s enemies. Thus, the conceptions of Aristotle, Plato and Cicero are interrelated, although they have some differences in their nature.

    Morality of the ancient western world is associated only with ancient Rome and Greece, as they were the center of the western civilization. Their ideas concerning morality and ethical norms are appropriate for that time and the state order. Thus, these ideas are quite extraordinary for the contemporary people due to complications while trying to find a balance between devoted service to the authority and the state and the rough disobedience. Talking about disobedience, the name of Plato is rather appropriate for this conception of morality. He differentiates human happiness and the wellbeing of the whole society. He is sure that people must act in order to achieve personal happiness. However, Aristotle and Cicero express more utilitarian ideas and state that a person can be happy with the help of moral, virtuous behavior. Taking into consideration all the conceptions of the ancient philosophers, it is possible to conclude that there is no right one, and it is impossible to define a single right idea because the issue of morality is debatable and dependable. In fact, contemporary philosophers cannot understand ancient theories, as they were formed in the frames of social and state affairs of that time. However, it is possible to conclude that the conception of Cicero is the most appropriate for the modern society. The reason is that he thinks that moral humans must be happy because it is a great advantage. Apparently, it is possible only in an absolute and utopian society where every member tries to make something good for the others.

    Thus, Cicero, Aristotle and Plato are the most famous philosophers who tried to develop a unique conception of morality in the ancient western philosophy. They regarded ethics in the frame of social affairs and under the control of the authorities and state. Cicero considered that morality is a superior good concept, which must be advantageous to all people. Aristotle regarded a human only as a part of a society, who must perform its laws and be virtuous. Virtues are a way to happiness through habits and rules because virtues are moral. In opposition to Aristotle, Plato had quite an opposite idea concerning morality. Plato also considered that morality is associated with happiness, but the aspect of happiness is an individual thing. Therefore, it is necessary to conclude that the ancient conceptions of morality were evaluated on the basis of rational decisions, which were dependent on the human.