Plato and aristotle

Ancient athens was a place where free expression and creativity through art was valued and appreciated. this included story telling and poetry writing and even a combination of the two, such as the epic poems written by the greek poet known as homer. The first acting also came out of ancient athens, with storytellers performing their tales rather than just reciting them. with all of this free creativity and expression taking place, it was only a matter of time before the people started to think of new ways to look at and explain the circumstances of daily life. they would come up with theories and then teach them to followers who found their ideas interesting and possibly even true. this became ancient philosophy.


philosophy in ancient athens was not met with open minds at first. one of the earliest philosophers, socrates, was put on trial for his teachings. he believed that man was in control of himself and through self-examination had the ability to change his ways. this went against the idea that the gods were in total control and that man’s actions were a direct result of their will and nothing else. socrates told people to “know thyself,” and believed that every person was really good inside. He was arrested for his teachings and charged with corrupting the minds of the athenian youth.


One of the students of socrates was a man named plato. he learned from his mentor and agreed with much of what he was being taught, but he also watched as socrates was taken away and punished for his teachings. Plato learned from the mistakes and consequences he saw socrates face. he began theorizing and teaching on his own, but was careful not to upset the organized traditionalists like socrates had done.


Plato did not make any blanket statements like his mentor did when he claimed that all men had the potential to be good. instead of saying that everything was just one way, plato claimed that there were three overwhelming character traits which defined humans. He called these traits wisdom, honor, and appetite.


Plato claimed that wisdom meant knowledge and that knowledge led to happiness and harmony. he believed that wisdom was the best way for one to live his life. He claimed that reality was composed only of ideas and that knowledge was the path to understanding this reality.


Plato believed that honor was a path that would lead to justice, and while it was the way of living with good intentions, it did not lead to the same rewarding outcomes as wisdom. the people who lived by honor instead of wisdom were not as curious about the world and as determined to understand it, and as a result, they would miss out on the learning and appreciating that people who lived by wisdom would enjoy.


finally, plato claimed that the worst way to live was by appetite, which meant jealousy, always wanting more, and never being satisfied. these people had no understanding of balance and harmony, for even if they found it, they would not accept that they had, and still continue looking.


Out of plato’s theories of living a life of wisdom came His belief’s about pure ideas and reality. He claimed that material things were merely objects that could be thrown away, and that they only participated in reality if they contributed to an idea. wood, for example, only participated in reality if it could be used for an idea that would turn it into something practical. so wood only became a part of reality if it was used for building something like a house.


Plato claimed that “the material world takes on a permanent shape only insofar as it participates in an idea,” (Cantor, 140). He believed that the reason why reality is composed only of ideas is because only ideas are permanent and unchanging. wood, for example, can always be used to make a house. that idea will not change, even if other materials are used to make a house in the future or if wood is used to make other things besides a house. the fact still remains that wood can be used to make a house. therefore, plato claimed that this idea was unchanging and so it was a part of reality.


Plato also had ideas about god and human life. he claimed that the internal soul and the external body are unified at birth. Then at death, he said, the soul will leave the body and fly back to god. He believed that only reason and logic could make all ideas pure, and that only when this happened could one understand god.


to have a place where he could freely teach and present his ideas to students, plato opened up a school in athens, known as the academy. Here, plato would often resort back to his old teacher, socrates, having the man be one of the character’s in plato’s writings, passing his ideas along. perhaps in this way, plato found a loophole and avoided the consequences that his mentor faced. plato wasn’t making the same claims as socrates, but instead having a character say them. in this way, he was passing on some of the ideas of his former teacher without making the claims himself.


Aristotle was one of the students at plato’s academy. He was not rich, like plato or socrates, but came from a middle class family. At one of plato’s seminars, aristotle stood up and questioned his teacher. aristotle said that he believed there were some ideas that were not real and not permanent. he believed that some ideas could be strictly fantasy.


After plato died, aristotle opened up a school of his own where he continued to challenge the theories of his mentor. Aristotle disagreed further with what plato said about ideas. plato claimed the the notion of good was the most desirable form of an idea and therefore the most ideal form of reality. aristotle chose to be a little more objective. he claimed that there was no such thing as a perfect form of reality.


Aristotle believed that happiness and not wisdom was the goal of life. he believed that happiness could only be achieved through balance and that too much pleasure would only lead to problems later on. too much chocolate, for example, would be pleasurable at first, but would then make a person sick. within time, this chocolate taken in large quantities would be unhealthy.


Aristotle would walk up and down the aisles as he lectured and would often wander off topic. he believed in not having a set agenda that was unchanging, and so if a student asked a question that led the discussion in another direction, aristotle would accept that and move the conversation into the new line of discussion.


Aristotle spoke of Science and observation, and claimed that the only way to find the best method for doing something was by trying out different ways and observing the results. He believed in collecting data and studying it to look for patterns. Unlike plato, who claimed that an object participated in realty only if it contributed to an idea, aristotle believed that all things were a part of reality and therefore could be observed using the senses.


Aristotle went on to take his objective ways of looking at the world and apply it to methods of government. he claimed that there were three forms of government... rule by one, rule by a few, or rule by all. He believed that each of these forms had problems and that there wasn’t one that was necessarily better than the others. this was very different from plato’s three characteristics of man, in which he did rank them in terms of which was the most ideal, then the middle, and then the least ideal. aristotle believed things were not so simple, and instead claimed that there was both good and bad to every possibility.


Aristotle claimed that if there was an ideal form of government, it would have to be a mixture of all three possibilities. there would need to be some kind of combination where each way was represented. an example of this might be something like the government that is practiced today in the united states, where there is a combination of rule by one (the president), rule by a few (Judges on the supreme court) and rule by many (congress).


Another way of looking at how aristotle’s ideal form of government applies to the american government today would be to claim that his third state of rule by all is a form of democracy. this is not a far reaching claim, considering that the first democratic system came from ancient athens. if this is the case, then the rule by one is still the president or leader in america, but the other forms and what they stand for would change. the rule by a few might stand for the other branches (both congress and the justices of the supreme court), and finally the rule by all is the people who have the ability to vote for these public officials.


In his later years, aristotle went on to be hired by king phillip of macedonia to tutor his son alexander. this boy who studied under aristotle would grow up to become alexander the great. king phillip along with alexander, would later conquer the greeks putting an end to the golden days of ancient athens. but the ideas of the ancient philosophers would be passed on through the hellenistic culture that alexander the great spread over everywhere his empire reached. Socrates influenced his student plato. then plato influenced his student aristotle. and finally, aristotle influenced his student alexander the great. Aristotle’s ideas of science became a big part of the interests in alexander’s empire. aristotle taught his student about observations, data collecting, and the desire to search for patterns. this became the way of the future. and those doors were only opened to aristotle because of the men who questioned religion before him and showed that it was acceptable to be curious about life and all that was out there. socrates and plato were the men who paved the way for aristotle and alexander to have open minds and a desire to explore the ways of the world.