Plato and Aristotle were both brilliant, but different. They disagreed on a many number of issues that were very important to society. Both Plato and Aristotle lived in the classical age of Greece, the prime philosophical age. Debates facilitated by philosophers were held in the streets of Athens (the center-point of Greek philosophy at that time). The importance of Philosophy was immense during the classical age. (Class Notes, 10/28/08).
Plato, who is often considered the greatest philosopher of Western civilization, was a student of another well-respected Greek philosopher, Socrates. (Speilvogel, 131). Plato was born in Athens, Greece and lived from 429 B.C. - 347 B.C. (Jewel, Plato). Plato was fascinated by the question of “what is real?” This question lead him to his theory of Forms. He describes that what we are seeing is a reflection or shadow of the real world. For instance we know a tree is a tree because it somewhat resembles that perfect form of a tree, the Archetype. Plato also had a very strong view of government, he believed that a republic was ideal, he had a strong distrust of democracy. (Speilvogel, 131)
In Plato’s ideal form of government he believed there should be philosopher king. He believed the philosophers should be at the top of society because “they are inspired with a genuine desire for wisdom.” He believed that the second group are warriors who protect society. Finally we have everyone else, the masses, people driven not by wisdom or courage like the upper classes, but by desire. An important point to make is that in both Plato’s views on government and philosophy, he believed in a top-down approach. Meaning that the spiritual and divine reality is prior to and explains the physical world we see around us. In addition, Plato also believed that both men and women should have the same education and equal access to all positions, this of course was contrary to Greek custom. (Speilvogel, 131)
Aristotle was one of Platos students who studied at the Academy for 20 years. He did not accept Plato’s theory of ideal forms. He thought that through experience, we could generate an Archetype. By observation, we were able to create a database of Archetypes in our mind. If one were to think of the most perfect picture of a girl, it would be based on their experiences because everybody's picture would be different. Because of Aristotles craving for observation he wrote about many diverse subjects, such as: he wrote about ethics, logic, politics, astronomy, geology, biology, and physics. (Stokes, 207).
During Aristotle's exploration of governments, he observed the constitutions of 158 states to support his decision of the ideal form of government. He decided upon three ideal forms: monarchy, aristocracy, and constitutional government. Aristotle favored constitutional government as the best form for most people. (Speilvogel, 131)
One recognizable similarity is that Aristotle’s belief of Archetypes was obviously based off of Plato’s idea of Forms. However, the progression of his theory moves in the opposite direction. Another similarity is that both Plato and Aristotle wanted to find an effective form of government that would rationally direct human affairs. Their differences were far dire than their similarities. One example is the way they approached answering a question. Aristotle being the type of man he is decided to find the best form of government by analyzing existing governments. However, Plato sought an ideal state of government for all people, not based on situation. (Speilvogel, 131)
Plato was believed to be the greatest philosopher in Western civilization. (Speilvogel, 131). In Plato’s Theory of Forms, he touched on subjects important to the development of Western civilization. He was not restricted to material objects. “Plato thought there were ideal forms of universal or abstract concepts, such as beauty, justice, truth and mathematical concepts such as number and class.” (Stokes, 207) The subject Plato had the most influence on is mathematics. Aristotle did not have a great effect on Western civilization at first, 800 years after Aristotle’s death (fall of Rome), many of his writings were lost. However in the years leading up to the renaissance (during the crusades) many of Aristotle’s writings were rediscovered. This certainly assisted the renaissance, and brought a lot more observational thinking into the world. These two philosophers had different ideas, however both of them shaped history, and the way we see things today.
Speilvogel et al. World History. Glencoe-McGraw Hill. New York, New York. 2005.
Stokes, Philip. Philosophy - The Great Thinkers. Arcturus Publishing Limited. London. 2007.
The New Oxford American Dictionary, First Edition, Elizabeth J. Jewell and Frank R. Abate (editors), 2192 pages, September 2001, Oxford University Press
Joseph Puccio. Class Notes, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. October, 28th, 2008.