Would Aristotle have considered Socrates virtuous?

Aristotle would have seen virtue in Socrates's devotion to truth, but he would have criticized his extreme stubbornness. For Aristotle, virtue is the golden mean between extremes, and Socrates's insistence on dying when given the opportunity to escape would have seemed foolish and unnecessary to him.

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In 322 BC, Aristotle was charged with impiety, largely because he had been Alexander the Great's tutor, and anyone who had Macedonian connections was viewed with suspicion by the Athenians. The philosopher fled from the city to his mother's family estate on the island of Euboea and is said to have remarked that he would not permit the Athenians to sin twice against philosophy. This is clearly a reference to the trial and execution of Socrates on similar charges almost eighty years earlier.

Aristotle and Socrates had precisely opposite reactions to the same situation. Both faced death, and Aristotle fled while Socrates stayed and died, even though it would have been easy for him to escape. This illuminates the difference in the two philosophers' principles. Socrates might have called Aristotle cowardly, but Aristotle would have been equally critical of Socrates's position. For Aristotle, the most virtuous course lies between two extremes. He would have thought Socrates's conduct as irrational as that of the men who broke down and wept when they were on trial, which is behavior that Socrates mentions with contempt. For Aristotle, there is nothing virtuous about stubbornness, or about dying when it would be easy and harm no one to preserve your life.

Aristotle also equates virtue with happiness and would have thought that Socrates continually made his own life and those of others unnecessarily difficult. This is not to say that Aristotle would have seen no virtue in Socrates. He would have regarded his devotion to truth as virtuous, but he would not have seen Socrates as having a pattern of virtue.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on November 3, 2020
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