plato – aristotle

In ancient Greece, philosophy flourished. Philosophers had a crucial role in society and education. Athens began to evolve into a political and cultural center and thus ended up with great intellectual and economic power. Philosophers came to exercise their craft in Athens because it was a meeting point for intellectuals. There are two important philosophers who despite their different views on the issues of society played a key role in the life of the Greeks, not only in there own eras but also in our times.


Aristotle was one of those philosophers. He was born in 322 BC in Halkida. His father’s name was Nicomachus and he was a doctor. Aristotle wanted to study medicine too, but he never did because he always said with bitterness that nobody is made doctor by only reading books. Plato on the other hand was born in 428/9. His uncle was Kritias, who played an important roll in the oligarchic coup of the Thirty Tyrants of opium as a leading figure. Plato was very interested in politics when he was young, but the sad involvement of his family in the case of the Tyrants, and also the murder of his teacher Aristotle from the Democrats, made him wary of the pity the political system and he lost any ambition he had to participate in the politics of Athens (Philosophical Speech, 40)


It was claimed that Platos real name was Aristocle, but he was named “Plato” because of his conformation. He founded a school, the Academy. This famous school operated for nine centuries and closed in 529 BC by Justinian. The school took its name from Acadimos, after the patron of the hero.. So the school got the same name.The Academy courses must largely have been similar to what Plato wrote and teached in his project “Politeis” (=States), regarding the education of members of society. However mathematics were seen as necessary preparation for the teaching of dialectics. Moreover, according to an ancient tradition at the entrance of the Academy people met the inscription “αγεωμέτρητοςμηδείςεισίτω” which meant that people which did not know mathematics and geometry had no place at the Academy (Philosophical Speech, 42). Platos students among others, was Aristotle who disagreed with him on his views and followed another philosophical direction. So because Aristotle and Plato were teacher and student they associated each other. But we find some differences in their perception of the world, politics and the position of women in society. Plato used to call Aristotle colt that kicked his mother in the abdomen at birth. The disagreements between the two great philosophers is a topic worthy of study in it self. Let us examine more precisely the places where they had a different view.


The first main and principal point of disagreement was the perception of the world. Plato believed that behind the world of consciousness and matter was a different reality, which he called “World of Ideas.” In this world there are the molds, the causes, patterns of all things and phenomena that we perceive through the senses around us. All are made on the basis of a longitudinal form, which remains eternal and constant despite the changes that time brings to everything. These timeless forms seem to be the primary elements of nature, something like mental and abstract shapes that form the natural phenomena and their number is specific. So behind the man is the “idea-man” behind the horse, there is the “idea-horse”, etc. Aristotle had a completely opposite view. For him Plato was unreal. Aristotle agreed that the natural world governed by variability, impermanence and decay (Plato & Aristotle, 48). But the “ideas” of Plato for this is not the original forms of things, but it is a logical construct of man, created through experience. So our idea for the horse formed by our logic, because we have seen and compare a large number of horses and we have come to those characteristics that are common to all, beyond their differences. This set of common features is the idea or ‘form’, as Aristotle called it, which does not exist in a specific world, but is found in everything.


For Plato the highest reality is the world of ideas and archetypes. For Aristotle, the reality is paramount to what we perceive with our senses. For Plato, everything we see around us are reflections of other things that exist in the world of ideas-and therefore also in the soul of man (The Great Political Theories, 29). For Aristotle, what are there in the soul are reflections of things and objects of the natural world.


Another important point of disagreement between the two philosophers is how to perceive the best way to govern a state. The work of Aristotle “Politics” (Πολιτικά) and the work of Plato, “State” (Πολιτεία) expressed their political views with several common but different concepts. Plato talks about the ideal state, which is ideal because it is governed by the constitution of the “nobility”. It is ruled by a group of people that have wisdom, knowledge, virtue, justice and capacity of citizens.


Every citizen within it has an important position, which is consistent with the nature, skills and work undertaken to offer depending on the scope. So it may belong to the class of rulers, in the class of Guardians – Warriors (defenders of the safety of the city from attacks), or in the class of farmers, merchants, craftsmen (who ensure the resources needed by the city to remain vibrant and survive).  The classes are more symbolic than real, and it formed the basis of socio / economic or professional criteria. They are related to the four elements of nature (earth, water, air, fire) and corresponding to features of human nature (The Great Political Philosophers, 27).


Guardians were selected based on their good physical conformation and intelligence. In the first stage of their training they had to exercise and have music education. Fitness meant caring for the welfare of the body and healthy lifestyle. Music was everything that had to do with the arts (music, dance, singing, and reading). From 20 to 30, their education mainly consisted of the mathematical sciences: arithmetic, geometry, stereometry, astronomy. An important stage of their educational progress was the five years (age 30-35) study of dialectic (philosophy), which leads to the highest form of knowledge, namely the quest for the essence of all things. Those guardians could be promoted after 50 years as rulers. With the new duties they should have the responsibility to educate a new generation of guards.


In a dramatic metaphorical description Plato shows how the vessel travels to the state ungovernable. The owner who is deaf and shortsighted person does not know how to sail. Crew members brawl between themselves and no one thinks that it needs an experienced captain is required to lead the boat. The only one who can govern the boat is the “ruler” (βασιλείς). The ruler is considered the most appropriate because he doesnt only have knowledge, but also a synthetic thought, life experience, managerial skills and character multi-faceted. He takes over from sense of duty to inject directly in legislation wisdom and integrity. He has neither personal property nor even a family; they can be unaffected and wholeheartedly dedicated to their profession hardship. Theyareliving blissfully because they enjoy the intellectual pleasures of life that are the only who last for ever and when they die they are honored as heroes.      


The class of farmers, merchants, craftsmen is the largest class. They are excluded from power. This class works but it is also protected from the others and can acquire limited wealth. The big economic differences are not allowed. This class is required to maintain, but not lavish the two other hegemonic classes. However, children born to the farmers class may be elevated to a higher class if they demonstrate outstanding intellectual ability (Philosophical Speech,97-100).


According to Aristotle, the citizens are divided on the basis of economic criteria into classes of farmers, artisans and merchants, and socially divided into poor and rich (The Great Political Theories, 29) The relationship between them is that the poor and rich will shape the form of government. The poor are usually more numerous than the rich. Depending on how power is shared and where it is concentrated, it is determined the kind of government that may have three types: monarchy or kingdom (one ruler), aristocracy (few rule) and democracy (many rule). In order to prevent it passed these altered forms of state into tyranny, oligarchy and ochlokratia respectively, it should be an incipient purpose of the common good and not the interests of one or a few.  The preference of Aristotle focused on “Middle State”, in what today we understand as democracy, where the middle class provides the balance between rich and poor.


For Aristotle, the best constitution is a monarchy, provided that the monarch is an excellent personality. Absence of such a monarch, the aristocracy is preferable and in terms of value of government is the States, a constitution, which was ruled by citizens of Middle socioeconomic status, people who subjugate.The bliss of the city does not contribute in the same way, as every system of the government.There are even systems that lead to the opposite effect. There are also those that are not designed to serve the interest of all citizens, but only some of them.


Another point of differentiation between the two giants are their views on women. From Plato’s work “State” (Πολιτεια) we understand that he believed that women are equal with men.He said that women can govern as well as men, because the wisdom, logic, bravery, virtue is not a matter of sex, but a matter of soul, and education. He stressed that a state that does not give education to women is like the man who only uses his right hand. Unlike Plato, Aristotle considers women inferior to men, because he believes that woman is an “imperfect man” (Plato & Aristotle, 145). In the process of reproduction, because the woman has a passive role (receiving) and man has the energetic roll (giving), the child inherits only the properties of man (which can now be shown as untrue). The image and vision of Aristotle on women was adopted in the middle Ages, when the women’s position deteriorated seen as a source of evil. She had a reproductive role only.


Despite the disagreements that exist between Plato and Aristotle, it is important to stress and recognize their “agreements”. Both speak about soul and its significance for humans, both stress that happiness is synonymous with virtue and high values and ideals, and both remind us that the purpose of a State should be good and cultivation of all citizens (The Great Political Theories, 29). But certainly it appears that the wise Plato and Aristotle and their logic give many useful and important answers to questions and concerns of today, so they can be both modern and timeless.

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