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Posted on May 31st, 2012, by

Differences in Plato and Aristotle’s Theory of Knowledge

Plato’s theory of Things and Ideas (or Forms) makes an outstanding contribution to the Western Philosophical thought. Thought he wrote a lot of books on different aspects including political science, ethical theory, psychology and art, he is known all over the world mostly due to this theory of Things and Ideas. The idea that the reality that we see around us is not a true reality, but just a reflection of the higher reality makes the core of the theory of Things and Ideas. Plato created his own theory of a priori. He interpreted this notion as the ideal manifestation of forms; it was the reflection of the previous experience and life. We have some basic knowledge about ideal world in our subconscious and we will never forget it.

Things are those which can be perceived by human senses and include everything that surrounds us. These things altogether make a sensible world. This world is changeable, fleeting and never certain. The reason of this changeability is that the world of things is nothing more than a reflection of the Ideal world or the world of Forms.

The Forms are unchanging and eternal. They are not created and will exist forever. The world of Forms makes the realm of being and this being is the real world. It is not the real world; it is just the reflection of it, which can not be perceived by our basic senses. With our senses we can perceive only the realm of the becoming the way the being is realized in our perception. The becoming is changeable and imperfect. It usually disfigures the Ideal objects. Plato wanted reality to be fixed, permanent, and unchangeable. We can perceive things by our senses only because they have their ideal pairs in the realm of the Being. If we can say that something is beautiful it means that this beauty is nothing more but a reflection of the Form of Beauty which exists on the level of Forms or Ideas. The theory of Forms or Ideas insists on the dual nature of the world stating that every subject we see here, in the realm of becoming, has its Ideal equivalent in the realm of being.

Let’s concentrate on the realm of being now. According to Plato, it contains absolute and perfect Forms, such as Love, Justice, Beauty, etc. The Forms are transcendental that means that they stand beyond space and time and present an Ultimate Reality without disfiguring. The theory may seem complicated and far-fetched but it was a necessary measure for the time when all the philosophical science was called in question by the Sophists’ teaching.

This teaching denied any fundamental notions, such as Good and Evil, Beauty and Ugliness putting everything under doubt and calling these notions only the matters of individual opinion. What was good for one person could be bad for another and vice verse. The theory of Forms was created by Plato to prove an existence of universal notions which are true for everyone and don not depend on the individuals’ perception. At the same time the theory gives explanation of the differences which basic notions have in our heads. The Forms from the world of being are refracted by our reality and they are individual for each human as they are perceived through the filter of one’s senses. Ideal Forms are changed by the senses of each individual and this is the reason of different interpretations.

In his dialog called Parmenides Plato finds a lot of flaws in the theory of being but finally he stresses on the necessity of this theory: If a man refuses to admit that forms of things exist or to distinguish a definite form in every case, he will have nothing on which to fix his thought and in so doing he will completely destroy the significance of all discourse (Plato, 1989). This way the theory of Being gives people some generalized notions unchangeable, objective and transcendental. This gives people stimulus to seek for true knowledge and hope to count on the higher truth and gives a hope to get an ability to see the real world of being without distortions. The path to this knowledge is long and winding but the result possession of the true knowledge on the nature of things and events – is definitely worth it.

Plato’s student Aristotle took some ideas from his teacher but later he transformed the Plato’s theory of knowledge.

He expended the theory of knowledge presented by his teacher and added new notions, such as normative project and descriptive project. In contrast to Plato, who believed ideal realm to be the basis of all things we see on the earth, Aristotle believed that experience was prior to everything. He believed that both, thoughts and language reflected true nature of things. He believed that ultimate reality could have been achieved by the study of linguistic practice.

Aristotle criticized Plato’s doctrine of Ideas, which were self-existent did not depend on physical objects. Aristotle states that no universals exist over and above the individual objects and separate from them (Aristotle, 1984, p. 98). He believed that universal objects were real but they were only the objects of our human reason, in contrast to physical objects of sense perception. Only this existence as a part of our reason makes universals real. He states that It is apparently impossible that any of the so-called universals should exist as substance. (Aristotle, 1984). The subject of the reality became the main reason of the conflict between Plato and Aristotle. This conflict makes it sometimes difficult to find the extent to which Aristotle disagree with Plato. Like states William Turner in his History of Philosophy: according to Aristotle, the formal aspect of universality is conferred by the mind, and therefore, the universal, as such, does not exist in individual things, but in the mind alone. (Turner, 2005). Other philosophers believe that Aristotle made the universals the part of substances. Such thoughts are expressed in his Categories, while in his famous work Metaphysics he states that universals can not be treated like substance. At the same time most of the scholars agree with the opinion that under substance Aristotle understands the universal essence of species of substance because the individual essence of an individual substance really is that substance, and the universal essence of the whole species is supposed to be indivisible and therefore identical with the individual essence of any individual of the species. (Aristotle, 1984).

Despite Aristotle was Plato’s student and followed his ideas in the beginning of his researches, later he created his own theory, explaining the relation between form and substance. Despite I believe that both theories are interesting and make a perfect example of ancient philosophy, I myself feel that Aristotelian theory is more applicable for our modern life. Ideal realm, described by Plato gives people now chance to perceive true nature of reality. All we can see is only poor reflections of Ideal forms, which exist in the realm of Ideas. Aristotelian theory gives chances to perceive the true nature of reality, as he sees experience to be the way to realize true nature of everything that surrounds us. If Plato says that acorn we see here is nothing but a bad copy of some ideal acorn, which exists in the world of Ideas, Aristotle agrees that this acorn exists in reality and we create idea about it in our heads only after we see it in reality.

Aristotelian view gives us hope that we can perceive the world around us and understand true nature of things and that is the reason I like it better.

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