Can Bad People Truly Be Happy?
It can be frustrating when those who are unkind to us, who wrong us, or who commit injustices toward others are successful by worldly standards. Perhaps they have plenty of friends, good jobs, power, or a lot of money.
But according to Plato in his dialogue Gorgias, those who do bad things cannot truly be happy:
“Yes, indeed, Polus, that is my doctrine; the men and women who are gentle and good are also happy, as I maintain, and the unjust and evil are miserable.”
The reason, simply put, is that Plato believes happiness follows upon one’s participation in the ideals of goodness and truth. Injustice, on the other hand, is an evil. Therefore, the one who commits an injustice fails to participate in goodness, and cannot truly be happy.
Surprisingly, Plato even claims that unjust people, no matter their status in society, are weak.
Why is that?
Well, according to Plato and the rest of classical philosophy, the proper object of our will (what it seeks after) is the good. The one who wills/chooses something that is actually good has his will aligned with truth—he is truly in command of himself. The one who commits injustices, on the other hand, chooses things that he thinks are for his benefit but in actuality harm his soul—he is therefore weak.
What is more, Plato believes that the one who commits injustices is “more miserable… if he be not punished and does not meet with retribution, and less miserable if he be punished and meets with retribution at the hands of gods and men.” Punishment halts the injustices and provides “the medicine of our vice.” The one who goes unpunished, however, is allowed to continue in evil, and sinks further in his depravity.
So, what does all of the above mean for us? As in all times, it is easy for those of us who suffer injustice to either hate or envy those who are the cause of it. But as Plato teaches us, such sentiments are misplaced, and end up doing harm to our own souls.
Ultimately – and it’s a hard teaching – those who act unjustly toward us should be the objects of our pity.