What establishes a noble, valuable, enjoyable
life? Many philosophers tried their own beliefs to this ancient and most
persistent philosophical question. Most philosophers have agreed that the best
possible life is a life where the ideas of “virtue” and “happiness” are
fulfilled. Nevertheless, expected differences in terms, many great minds
theorized that the road to a joyful, flourishing, happy life is paved with
virtues. Two great philosophers that came up with theories and concepts that
have shaped societies throughout history are Aristotle and Siddhartha Gautama,
commonly known as the Buddha. Aristotle, known for his theory of virtue ethics,
and the Buddha, known for the concept of Buddhism. These two ethical systems
differ in the emphasis on reason and the separateness of self and other in
Aristotelian ethics, and the emphasis of inseverability of sentient beings in
Buddhism. Although both are similar in their use of reason and emotion and the
assumption that there is an end to all lives, Aristotle’s theory of virtue
ethics offers a better idea and sense of how people should live.                  

Aristotle’s virtue ethics has come into
use in the final decades of the twentieth century regarding any ethical system
for which an agent’s virtuous and vicious character is used to assess the
morality of person. One claim made in virtue ethics is that the actions we
choose are all made in pursuit of something else. Aristotle states that “every
craft and every method of inquiry and likewise every action and deliberate
choice seems to seek some good,” and thus, “good is ‘that which all seek'”
(Aristotle). However, everything and every choice made has a different standard
to which its upheld, since ethics is very subjective. To correctly determine
what is good and what is not, Aristotle emphasizes the use of reason in order
to determine virtues from vices. Since good is a general idea that all things
share, one form of good is happiness. According to Aristotle, human happiness
or “human good turns out to be activity of the soul in accordance with virtue”
and reason (Aristotle). This shows that Aristotle claims a sense that each
individual has their own soul, but the morality of a person is determined by
their use of reason to determine what is a virtue and what is a vice. But it is
not just the act of having a virtuous characteristic that makes a person
virtuous, one must put the virtuous characteristic into action. Aristotle
places emphasis that a person must use reason to form habitual virtuous actions
in order to achieve what is good.

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One of Aristotle’s main
points is that in early adolescence one does not have the thought or reason to
determine virtue, but instead, perceives and forms habits from those around
them. Aristotle states that people “first receive that capacities for virtues
and later exhibit the activity,” and that people acquire virtues “by first
engaging in the activities” that exhibit virtue (Aristotle). Virtues of
character are not naturally engraved in humans at birth, humans are rather just
naturally receptive of learning what virtuous characteristics are. Once out of
adolescence, people then learn and become virtuous in character by performing
virtuous actions by consciously and deliberately choosing them.

The soul, as perceived by
Aristotle, is broken into two parts, rational and nonrational. These two parts
are broken down even more into respective virtues of thought and of character.
The rational part and virtues of thought being “theoretical wisdom,
comprehension, and practical wisdom,” while “generosity and temperance are
virtues of character” and the part of the nonrational subdivision of the soul
(Aristotle). Virtuous of thought and rational are out of anyone’s immediate
control. It is something one was born with and could not attain by achievement.
Virtues of character are controllable by people themselves, like one’s
appetite. Since virtue is concerned with making choices based on reason,
Aristotle states that “virtue both finds the mean and chooses it,” the mean
being the mean between two extremes of vices either in excess or deficiency
(Aristotle). There are also two types of choices, voluntary and involuntary.
The voluntary ones are said to be the ones praised and or blamed for the person
was given two choices and could pick one based on reason, while the involuntary
ones are said to be pitied, for they are made either out of force or ignorance.

Aristotle takes these choices
of virtues and claims of what a good and virtuous person is like not to enable
a sense of self but a sense of community. He believes that a person should
study and learn to be virtuous in order of the good of not only oneself but of
one’s city. He states that “even if the good is the same for an individual and
for a city, that of a city is evidently a greater, and at any rate, a more
complete good to acquire and preserve,” and that a great city is comprised of
great individuals (Aristotle). His focus was not only on how to make good and
righteous individuals but on how to make a good and righteous city and state.

Buddhism also stems from the
concept and idea of happiness, more specifically sukkha. Buddhists ultimate
goal is to work towards the ultimate happiness in which they call nirvana, and to
achieve nirvana, one must overcome the natural suffering of humanity, dukkha.
Dukkha is interpreted to mean “that life according to Buddhism is nothing but
pain and suffering,” and humans need to overcome this suffering in order to
reach happiness (Rahula). This kind of suffering “includes deeper ideas such as
‘imperfection’, ‘impermanence’, ’emptiness’, and ‘insubstantiality'” (Rahula).
Another aspect of suffering the Buddha emphasized was the act of attachment. He
claimed that freedom and liberation come from a life of no attachment to people
and objects. Attachment can be caused by either attraction or enjoyment of
sense-pleasures, and once a person becomes attached there is always an evil
consequence that follows. This occurs “when the situation changes, when you
cannot see that person, when you are deprived of this enjoyment, you become
sad, you may become unreasonable and unbalanced, you may even behave
foolishly,” therefore making destructive choices that lead one away from the
ultimate happiness of nirvana (Rahula). This essentially means that we live in
a world driven by pleasures, and if one follows the path described by Buddha,
one must go against this tendency. In order to overcome dukkha, Buddha states
one must follow the Eightfold path.  

The Eightfold path is the act
of training one’s spirit to reach an everlasting, eternal state of mind that
leads to the ultimate happiness of nirvana. Happiness is achieved through one’s
state of mind rather than external events. By training one’s mind, possibly
through meditation, one can reach this state of mind. The Eightfold path
consists of eight categories: “right understanding, right thought, right
speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right
concentration” (Rahula). Buddha explains how although these eight categories
are separated, they should be developed somewhat simultaneously rather than in
numerical order. The eight divisions “aim at promoting and perfecting the three
essentials of Buddhist training and discipline: Ethical Conduct, Mental
Discipline, and Wisdom,” and are each linked and help cultivate others
according to the capacity of each individual (Rahula). Thus, the mind is
trained and disciplined and developed through this path, and one may see that
the path is a way of life to be practiced, followed, and developed by each
individual. Buddhism is a self-discipline of the mind and body rather than a
belief or worship that leads to the realization ultimate happiness through
perfecting the minds of each individual and reaching peace.

Buddhism is unique in its
accordance of denying the existence of a soul or sense of self in one’s body. Buddha
states that “the idea of self is an imagery, false belief which has no
corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine’,
selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism,
and other defilements, impurities and problems” (Rahula). Buddha explains how a
false view of a sense of individual self is the source of all evil and
corruption in the world, for if one only cares about their own self instead of living
life with compassion and wisdom they will never reach nirvana. In the Buddhist
doctrine of Anatta, meaning No-Soul,
the difference between conventional truth and ultimate truth is explained. It
is explained as conventional truth being when using the daily expressions used
in life “as ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘being’, ‘individual’, etc., we do not lie because
there is no self… but we speak a truth conforming to the convention of the
world” (Rahula). This meaning that most people use these daily expressions for
society has overcome the ultimate truth and ultimate reality of there being “no
‘I’ or ‘being” in the actual sense (Rahula). Most religions today believe in
the idea of an individual and the permanence they possess in this world. While
many believe that in death the soul is separated from the individual and
entered into either Heaven or Hell, Buddha in teachings directly contradicts
this in his believe that there is no soul connected to the individual.

When comparing the two theories between Aristotle
and Buddha, one can note that they are fundamentally similar, but the slight
differences in each account for the slight betterment of Aristotelian ethics. Both
of these philosophies believe in a sense of an end to all lives, but differ in
their ideas on what the presumption of a human soul. Aristotle belief that one
has a soul, and that that soul is dependent on ones body and ones mind in order
to form an identity is greater than the argument of Buddha and his idea of
denial of the soul. The concept of rationality and irrationality betters the
concept of not being able to rationalize at all with no sense of self or
personal identity. To live a life without pleasure or without attachment is no
life to live. Aristotle allows pleasure and allows a sense of happiness and doesn’t
give in to unvirtuous acts, while Buddha claims that pleasure leads to
unvirtuous acts. Even though Aristotle and Buddha are similar in their use of mean
between two extremes and the Eight Fold Path, Aristotle’s overall philosophy
allows one to live and achieve a great and pleasurable life. This is the better
theory, for people should live their lives not just for the betterment of
themselves but for the betterment of society. Buddhism is a very strict way of
life and way of being that allows a person to reach the same type of happiness
and fulfillment that virtue ethics reaches as well, but virtue ethics allows
friendship and flexibility, a central component in living a complete life in
today’s society. 

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