Plato vs Aristotle: Compared Philosophies
Undeniably, Plato and Aristotle are the two rock stars of Greek Philosophy. Plato created idealism and Aristotle, later recuperated by Thomas Aquinas, became the official doctrine of the Catholic Church. So, what are the main similarities and differences between Plato and Aristotle?
In his early works, that is to say in the dialogues, Plato is a faithful pupil of Socrates. He seeks to define morality: the meaning of courage, wisdom, friendship, piety, virtue, and professes that virtue is knowledge and vice is ignorance. Like Socrates, Plato believes that wisdom is the supreme goal of existence. But Plato was too hungry for knowledge to be limited to the moral teaching of his teacher. His system far extends that of Socrates and encompasses a synthesis of all that was known at his time, especially the doctrines of Socrates, Heraclitus, Parmenides and the Pythagoreans.
What is the substance and originality of this system is the theory of ideas, expressed in the allegory of the cave (Republic, Book VII)? The dialectic is essential: it begins with a hypothesis about the object studied. The idea is verified by the conclusions it leads. If these conclusions are untenable, the assumption is rejected. Another idea takes its place, to suffer the same fate until one finds one that stands up to scrutiny. Each hypothesis is a degree that we rise to the idea. But the dialectic is not the whole story. There are secrets impenetrable to reason and of which the Gods which have retained possession. They may, indeed, leave something to see for some men, like poets and seers, for example. Plato did not disdain to gather the Egyptian and Pythagorean beliefs in the immortality of the soul, but he is careful not to give them certainty. What are man’s hopes or dreams that expose the myths in sublime poetry?
According to Plato, the soul is eternal. Before being united to the body, the soul has contemplated the idea and, through reminiscence, it can recognise when it is lowered into a body. By living with the material, the soul loses its purity, and in it there are three different parts: An upper part, reason, our contemplative faculty, made to govern and maintain harmony between it and the lower parts: courage, noble and generous faculty, which includes both the desires of our higher nature and will and lastly, instinct and desire which take man to sensitive objects and desires. In the Phaedrus, Plato likens the soul to a driver, who leads a team of two horses, one obedient and generous, the other stubborn and rebellious. The weakness of this representation is made insufficient by the free will. Plato with Socrates argue that the knowledge of good necessarily entails membership of the will, which is contrary to experience. Plato tried to establish the survival of the soul with a demonstration and dialectic outlined in the three myths of Gorgias, the Republic and Phaedo migrations and purifications to which the soul is subjected, before going on land to enter a new body, but the detailed descriptions vary from one myth to another.
Plato and Politics
Plato’s view of politics is modelled on his vision of the soul, for the manners of a State are necessarily modelled on those of individuals. The fundamental basis of government is justice, and it cannot last without it.
In Plato’s view, justice consists in rendering to each his own. Via Plato, Socrates rejects this definition in the first book of the Republic: justice, as he understands it, comes down to the individual, that each part of the soul should fulfil its own function, and that desire be submitted to courage and courage to reason.
It is the same in the city. It consists of three classes of citizens for the three parts of the soul:
– Philosophers of judges, representing right;
– Warriors, who represent courage and are responsible for protecting the state against external enemies and to reduce citizens to obedience;
– Finally, farmers, artisans and merchants who represent the instinct and desire.
For these three classes of citizens, justice is, as in the individual, to perform its functions so that there is harmony between the three rungs.
In addition, Plato holds that the greatest danger is in a state of division. As such, Plato does not consider, as does Xenophon for instant, major States such as the Persian Empire, he models his own on the small city which existed across Greece. Also, in order to avoid division, the city removes the two most formidable enemies of the unit: self-interest and family spirit. The first was destroyed by the joint estate, the second by the community of women and children, which are to be raised by the state. But this community of goods, women and children is not for use by the people. It is governed by the two higher orders, and is only able to submit to public good. Marriages, however, will not be left to the discretion of couples: they are all ephemeral, they will be solemnly resolved by judges.
However, Plato was under no illusions about the difficulty of applying his system. He knew that the doctrine of ideas on which it rests was inaccessible to the crowd, that therefore the constitution should be imposed and it could bring a philosopher king in the manner of Plato.
He hoped to find this man a providential moment in the person of Dionysius the Younger and in that of his friend Dion, both dictators. Its failure to the first and the second assassination took away his illusions. However, policy had always been one of his overriding concerns. He did not detach. He took the pen in his old age to draw another constitution. The result of which was his writing of “The Rules” towards the end of his life. It is based on the same principles, but it is more convenient and gives up the community property, women and children.
Plato and Morality
The moral character of Plato is both ascetic and intellectual. Plato recognises many, like Socrates, that happiness is the natural end of life, but pleasures follow the same hierarchy as the soul.
The three parts of the soul give us each a particular pleasure:
– A reason, the pleasure of knowing,
– At heart, the rewards of ambition,
– Instincts, the coarse pleasures that Plato calls the pleasure of gain (Republic, 580 d).
To find out what is the best of these three pleasures, one must consult those who experienced it. However, the artisan, who continues to gain, is completely foreign to the two other pleasures. The ambitious, in turn, does not know the joy of science. Only the philosopher, according to Plato, has experienced three kinds of pleasure and can give expert advice.
But in his view, the purest and greatest of all pleasures is that of knowing.. In this endeavour, the body is a hindrance to the soul: it is like a lead weight holding back our flight to the upper regions of the Idea. Thus, it is in the subordination of lower desires to the desire to know that virtue resides. Once in the knowledge of the good, man is naturally virtuous, whereas vice always comes of ignorance. While ignorance is reduced to a miscalculation, Plato does not consider less punishable. The wicked, he said, should afford itself the atonement. If it escapes into the world, it will not escape the other.
Plato and aesthetics
The aesthetics of Plato depend on his theory of Ideas, as well as morality and politics that he has learned. Ideas are immutable and eternal, as are our arts which remain immutable and fixed forever. Plato leaves room for no innovation in this field. Ideally, once reached, it will stick to it or copy it all the time. In addition, it leaves the artist no freedom to serve other goals than morality and politics. (Republic, 401 b). Thus, he banished all the musical modes that could affect the severity of warriors, refused the tragedy that could soften their heart and condemns the buffoonery like laughter, which he finds contrary to the dignity that they should keep. Even though Plato admired Homer, and knew his tales by heart, he does not find favour in his eyes: the madman has indeed had the audacity to depict the gods as immoral as men! But it is the painters and sculptors of which he is the least fond of. Indeed, in the eyes of the philosopher, the artist is and must remain a mere imitator.
But what is exactly is an imitation?
To reproduce the image of a physical object that is itself only a copy of an idea. This is why Plato considers the artist, not only as an impersonator but more as an imitator in the second degree. For example, if the craftsman making furniture inspired by the idea (or form) of this piece, which God is sole author, the artist who painted just for his copy of the working artisan.
The supra-sensible in Plato’s work
It is in the Timaeus that one must look for the explanation that Plato gave of the world in general and of humans in particular. There is a great God who made the world in its image. He did not create anything, as the God of Jews or Christians, for in Plato’s view there has always coexisted two substances: the incorporeal and indivisible soul and the other material and divisible.
This is the recurring theme of the Greeks: the demiurge was first created the material world. The principle of one and that the multiple was born a kind of intermediate substance: the soul of the world. For Plato, the world was born on time, a measure of the stars dance. To inhabit the world, the Demiurge was first created the gods (stars or mythological gods) and charged to give life to animals, so as not to be responsible for their imperfections. The gods have a well-shaped body of beings, including that of the man they were with a soul. According to his behaviour (good or bad), the soul of man will return after the physical death of the star’s envelope in which it originates or travels from body to body until it is purified.
Aristotle vs Plato : A critical pupil
Plato owed much to his predecessors. He took on the definition of being given by the Eleatics: one, unchanging, free from multiplicity, change (the world of ideas). At the same time, he recognised with the multiplicity of things Democritus and Heraclitus with the reality of becoming (the sensible world). Finally, he acknowledged the sophists’ claim that all science is impossible if it is in the sensible world that we seek in the subject. To establish a science, Plato had to choose a different starting point: what if the object was assigned to the intelligible world of science rather than the physical world? Is science still impossible? No, says Plato, and who thinks he can, without sacrificing any of his three postulates constitute a true science. Aristotle’s argument against the ideas of Plato is everywhere in his work, but especially in Metaphysics, I, 9, XIII and XIV. In this book, Aristotle explains the origin of the Platonic theory. It on two key principles:
– Plato agreed with Heraclitus that the sensible world is a perpetual change
– He agreed with Socrates that the general, as a stable, can alone be the object of science.
Aristotle admits that as Plato: “There is no science to universal” meaning that for him as for Plato, there can be no science other than the supra-sensible.
But Plato designed the supra-sensible world as existing alongside, outside the perceptible world. In addition, he considers the species or ideas as real substances (ousia). Finally, not content with the world of ideas separate from the world of sense, he goes further still and separates the ideas of each other.
This is what Aristotle does not admit. What he criticises the Platonism can be reduced to three main criticisms:
1) The theory of ideas is not justified, and what is to be achieved by them may well be achieved without them. Indeed, the content is exactly the same as that of things. For example, in the idea of man as such, what is there more than in the real man? Aristotle sees the ideas as a mere duplicate of sensible things.
2) Taken by itself, this theory is untenable and contains elements that destroy it. Thus, “it seems impossible that the substance was separated from what is substance, then how could ideas, which are substances of things, would they separate things? “(I Méta., 9, 991 b 1).
In short: by definition, the substance cannot be separated from the thing it is in substance. It is as if my being finally had nothing to do with my body.
3) Suppose, however, that the substance can exist apart. So there would be ideas for everything, not only of natural things (the idea of cat) but also all products of human art (the idea of a table) and maybe even ideas for negations, that is to say, non-being, which is absurd.
Similarly, we can infer from Plato’s theory that there are ideas of things past since we also rehash memories, and ideas of the relationships we also believe.
In addition, one wonders if there are fewer ideas than things, or as many ideas. In fact, there are several ideas for everything, for each subject can be defined by several predicates.
To summarise, Aristotle’s philosophy is a theory of ideas that would simplify everything and complicate everything … For him, it does not explain the physical world.
It does not bring final cause. Aristotle criticises Plato’s conception of the Good, the Agaton, which sometimes is a cause, sometimes not. Causality is not essential to the Agaton, as it comes by addition. For Aristotle, the Platonic idea is simply a formal cause, not an efficient or final cause. This is not a physical or metaphysical, but only because of all logic. The idea does not serve to explain the production of things which it cannot generate. It cannot even explain the knowledge we have.
– The general cannot be a substance. The assimilation of a substance is to make it infertile and unintelligible.
– The general cannot be an efficient cause or final cause.
– Plato was wrong to grant the sophists that this world can be known scientifically, it is absolutely inexplicable. Once this concession is made, there remained no doubt that, outside of the world of senses, there lies another world: the world of ideas.
For Aristotle, this assumption was not necessary.
Instead of replacing the material world to another world, simply determine the point of view one must consider the world to find it intelligible.
Aristotle, therefore, seeks not another world than the sensible world, but only a different perspective than the purely logical.