Theorists and Philosophers for Law Enforcement Ethics Training:
Plato, Socrates and Aristotle

Dr. Frank Kardasz



    You are so young, my son, and, as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your
    present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as judge of the highest matters.
    - Plato

Greek philosophy continues to influence western thought about ethics and justice. The works of Plato,
Socrates and Aristotle are sometimes used by law enforcement ethics instructors. Various interpretations
of their works from the original Greek writings are available with some differences based on the
translations into English.

Plato lived from 427 B.C to 347 B.C. One of his famous works was The Republic in which he described his
beliefs about justice and happiness. Plato believed a philosophical comportment toward life would lead
one to justice and happiness (1).

Regarding justice, and the importance of detecting and punishing the unjust, Plato said:

    What shall he profit, if his injustice be undetected and unpunished? He who is
    undetected only gets worse, whereas he who is detected and punished has the
    brutal part of his nature silenced and humanized; the gentler element in him is
    liberated, and his whole soul is perfected and ennobled by the acquirement of
    justice and temperance and wisdom, more than the body ever is by receiving
    gifts of beauty, strength and health, in proportion as the soul is more
    honorable than the body (2).

About greed, and the deterioration of ethics it causes, Plato said:

    And is not a man reproached for flattery and meanness who subordinates the
    spirited animal to the unruly monster, and, for the sake of money, of which
    he can never have enough, habituates him in the days of his youth to be
    trampled in the mire, and from being a lion to become a monkey.

References - Plato

(1) Beavers, A.F., Planeaux, C., Exploring Plato's Dialogues, The Life of Plato, A Virtual Learning
Environment on the World-Wide Web, Retrieved April 27, 2003 from

(2) Exploring Plato's Dialogues, (Jowett translation), A Virtual Learning Environment on the World Wide
Web, Republic 38 (588b-592b) Retrieved April 27, 2003 from


Socrates lived from 469 B.C. to 399 B.C. He mentored and tutored Plato who later recorded Socrates

Regarding preservation of good character, Socrates said:

    Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of - for credit is like fire;
    when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an
    arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire
    to appear (1).

About honor and pretension, Socrates said, “The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what
we pretend to be”

References - Socrates

(1) The Quotations Page, Retrieved April 27, 2003 from


    Piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.
    - Aristotle

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher whose ideas are often cited by contemporary ethics instructors.  
Aristotle lived from 384 B.C. to 322 B.C. and studied under Plato. Ethics, according to Aristotle, is the
endeavor to determine our chief end or highest good. He believed that a person’s aspirations and
desires must have some final object. Such a chief end is universally called happiness (1).

Many interesting quotes and ideas are attributed to Aristotle. Regarding human nature and motives,
Aristotle said, "All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature,
compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire (2)."

According to Aristotle, ethical behavior was partly a matter of practice. He said, "Men acquire a particular quality
by  constantly acting a particular become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing
temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions (3)  More simply put, according to Aristotle,
"We are what we repeatedly do."

Aristotle had interesting ideas about law and justice. He believed that the discourse and study of
philosophy helps create an understanding of society that guides one towards proper action. He said: "I
have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the
law (4)."

Aristotle believed in law and order. He knew that without education, training, and laws, insurrection
results. He said, "Man perfected by society is the best of all animals; he is the most terrible of all when
he lives without law, and without justice (6)." This simple statement, attributed to Aristotle, demonstrates
his respect for rules, "Law is order, and good law is good order."

For Aristotle, laws were not meant to be cast forever in stone. He recognized the fluid nature of law when
he said, "Even when laws have been written down, they ought not always to remain unaltered."

References - Aristotle

(1) The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Retrieved April 28, 2003 from http://www.utm.

(2) The Radical Academy, Philosophy Resource Center, Retrieved April 28, 2003 from http://radicalacademy.

(3) Laura Moncur's Motivational Quotations, from The Quotations Page, Retrieved April 28, 2003 from http://www.

(4)  The Quotations Page, Retrieved April 28, 2003 from

Ethics Training for Law Enforcement
    Purchase the book:
    Kardasz, F. (2008). Ethics training for law enforcement: Practices and trends.
    Saarbrücken, Germany: VDM Verlag.
    ISBN: 3639001567. ISBN-13: 9783639001563.
    Available from