The most important form of discipline in society is self-discipline. Self-discipline means that every individual is not only healthy and happy, but that they ensure those around them are healthy and happy as well. However, due to human nature, self-discipline cannot work effectively all the time. Where self-discipline fails we need a support system of authoritative discipline to step in and fill its place. Both Socrates and Aristotle believe in self-discipline first and foremost, however Socrates, as quoted by Plato, supports my argument further by adding: “… he [who desires to be happy] had better order his life so as not to need punishment; but if either he or any of his friends … are in need of punishment, then justice must be done and he must suffer punishment, if he would be happy.” Socrates states that one must practice self-discipline so as not to need punishment, but that if punishment (authoritative discipline) is required then submitting oneself to it is the only way we can get back on the path to happiness and the good life.
Society is like an organism. An organism is not one solid mass; it is the culmination of millions upon millions of cells. These cells are grouped into tissues, which are grouped into organs, which are, in turn, grouped into systems. Similarly, society is the culmination of many individuals, grouped into small collectives (families, friendship groups, small clubs and groups). These small collectives are grouped into small communities (towns, churches, education institutions), which are then grouped into large communities (countries, religions). These large communities form together to create societies. Just like an organism, society requires order to function. Discipline provides this order. Self-discipline should be the only discipline required; if every cell has self-discipline to work exactly as it’s meant to work, and every individual has the self- discipline to be a respectful, caring and healthy member of society then self-discipline would be all we’d need. But human nature – greed, envy, hatred – gets in the way of this, and so we require the support network of authoritative discipline to fall back on, to step in and provide order when we can’t create it ourselves.
Both Socrates and Aristotle agree that temperance is highly important to living the good life. Socrates’ view of temperance is that it is a form of self-discipline we should all practice in our day-to-day lives if we want to be happy. Socrates, as quoted by Plato, says; “In his [the temperate man’s] relation to other men he will do what is just; and in his relation to the gods he will do what is holy…” Socrates gives us the blueprints of a temperate person. A temperate person (according to Socrates) is proper, just, holy, patient and courageous. These are the characteristics of a good soul, and one in possession of a good soul is happy.
Therefore discipline plays a vital role in the good life, as it allows us to be temperate, and from there happy. Socrates’ views in discipline are logical and clear. His portrayal of self-discipline as the main from of discipline, with authoritative discipline a quiet and just safety net is in accordance with my own views. Socrates makes his points clear, and his overall argument is cohesive and consistent with the rest of his ideas; throughout his philosophies he praises temperance. It is a theory entirely applicable to today’s society, as the self-disciplinary aspect has a lot of freedom, while the authoritative discipline provides order and security.
Aristotle’s version of temperance differs from Socrates’, though the root concept is the same. For Socrates, temperance IS self-discipline, whereas Aristotle sees it as an end, achieved through the means of self-discipline. Aristotle applies self-discipline to his concept of virtue and what he calls the ‘Doctrine of the Mean’. Virtue, according to Aristotle, is the state of being in which we find it the easiest to be good, and therefore happy.
Happiness is the ultimate end, the good life. Everything else we do is just a means to achieving it. Happiness is an action, we have t be actively happy: “For the state of mind may exist without producing any good result, as in a man who is asleep … , but the activity cannot; for one who has the activity will of necessity be acting, and acting well.” So the first condition we need (according to Aristotle) in order to have happiness is virtue, which requires self0discipline. The second condition is provided by Aristotle’s ‘Doctrine of the Mean’ – the concept that there are three states: excess, deficiency, and the mean, and that the temperate person will reside in the mean as often as possible.
This, too, requires self-discipline, as it’s far easier to sit in deficiency or excess than it is to find the mean. These two conditions combine to create temperance, and with temperance we can achieve the ultimate end of happiness. Happiness is hard work, but worth the effort as it is ‘… most surely god-given of all human things, in as much as it is the best”. Aristotle’s ‘Doctrine of the Mean’ fits in very well with the self-discipline focus of my theory, however his exclusion of authoritative discipline shows at best an enormous trust in human nature, and at worst a narcissistic incapability to see past the individual to conceive of broader society. His arguments are consistent and logical, and his views on discipline are in keeping with his other philosophies. His ‘Doctrine of the Mean’ is definitely applicable to the modern world; issues such as obesity rates and over-consumption could be lowered by self-discipline and moderation. Overall, Aristotle’s philosophies support the individual-focused aspects of my own.
The modern concept of discipline is different to that of Socrates and Aristotle’s time. Whereas to these two philosophers discipline meant order and control, today it is largely synonymous with punishment. One of the biggest debates around discipline in today’s society is around the punishment of one’s children. There has been much speculation around the pros and cons of negative and physical punishment for children. Put these debates in Aristotle and Socrates’ time and they would barely have caused a flutter. It would have been the norm for a parent to beat their child if they misbehaved, and children were expected to be quiet, obedient and humble.
In the modern world, however, this sort of punishment is becoming less and less socially acceptable, and parents are trying harder to make their children understand exactly why they’re being punished, rather than trying to discipline them with fear alone. “Recent research tells us that high stress brought about by frequent negative discipline can harm the brain development of babies and toddlers. This harm can cause learning and behavior problems for the child.” There is ever-increasing commentary around ‘obesity epidemics’ in developed countries, but when the concept of discipline is so tightly entwined with punishment there is no wonder people are so adverse to self-discipline.
Self-discipline is the most important from of discipline. We are all responsible for our own happiness and our own good life, and self-discipline provides order in which we can achieve these. However, sometimes even the best systems fail, and when human nature gets in the way of self-discipline we need some form of fair authoritative discipline to step in and fill in the gaps. In the organism that is society we need order. This order is supplied by discipline, and it starts with each individual cell.