Home Forums Everything Else Plato vs. Aristotle Reply To: Plato vs. Aristotle


[i:2tdb6qcl][b:2tdb6qcl]I won’t take someone elses work and present it as my own. The credit for this goes to… http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/athenians.html[/b:2tdb6qcl][/i:2tdb6qcl] [i:2tdb6qcl]My own thoughts started with “Ari was Plato’s student. Good students learn from the master and than add to what they are taught. I think it was Newton who said something like, I was able to see what I saw by standing on the shoulders of those who came before me.[/i:2tdb6qcl]

First, we must point out that Aristotle was as much a scientist as a philosopher. He was endlessly fascinated with nature, and went a long way towards classifying the plants and animals of Greece. He was equally interested in studying the anatomies of animals and their behavior in the wild.

Aristotle also pretty much invented modern logic. Except for its symbolic form, it is essentially the same today.

Let’s begin with metaphysics: While Plato separates the ever-changing phenomenal world from the true and eternal ideal reality, Aristotle suggests that the ideal is found “inside” the phenomena, the universals “inside” the particulars.

What Plato called idea or ideal, Aristotle called essence, and its opposite, he referred to as matter. Matter is without shape or form or purpose. It is just “stuff.” pure potential, no actuality. Essence is what provides the shape or form or purpose to matter. Essence is “perfect,” “complete,” but it has no substance, no solidity. Essence and matter need each other!

Essence realizes (“makes real”) matter. This process, the movement from formless stuff to complete being, is called entelechy, which some translate as actualization.

There are four causes that contribute to the movement of entelechy. They are answers to the question “why?” or “what is the explanation of this?”

1. The material cause: what something is made of.
2. The efficient cause: the motion or energy that changes matter.
3. The formal cause: the thing’s shape, form, or essence; its definition.
4. The final cause: its reason, its purpose, the intention behind it.

1. The material cause: The thing’s matter or substance. Why a bronze statue? The metal it is made of. Today, we find an emphasis on material causation in reductionism, explaining, for example, thoughts in terms of neural activity, feelings in terms of hormones, etc. We often go down a “level” because we can’t explain something at the level it’s at.

2. The efficient cause: The motion or energy that changes matter. Why the statue? The forces necessary to work the bronze, the hammer, the heat, the energy…. This is what modern science focuses on, to the point where this is what cause now tends to mean, exclusively. Note that modern psychology usually relies on reductionism in order to find efficient causes. But it isn’t always so: Freud, for example, talked about psychosexual energy and Skinner talked about stimulus and response.

3. The formal cause: The thing’s shape, form, definition, or essence. Why the statue? Because of the plan the sculptor had for the bronze, it’s shape or form, the non-random ordering of it’s matter. In psychology, we see some theorists focus on structure — Piaget and his schema, for example. Others talk about the structure inherent in the genetic code, or about cognitive scripts.

4. The final cause: The end, the purpose, the teleology of the thing. Why the statue? The purpose of it, the intention behind making it. This was popular with medieval scholars: They searched for the ultimate final cause, the ultimate purpose of all existence, which they of course labeled God! Note that, outside of the hard sciences, this is often the kind of cause we are most interested in: Why did he do it, what was his purpose or intention? E.g. in law, the bullet may have been the “efficient” cause of death, but the intent of the person pulling the trigger is what we are concerned with. When we talk about intentions, goals, values, and so on, we are talking about final causes.

Aristotle wrote the first book on psychology (as a separate topic from the rest of philosophy). It was called, appropriately, Para Psyche, Greek for “about the mind or soul.” It is better known in the Latin form, De Anima. In this book, we find the first mentions of many ideas that are basic to psychology today, such as the laws of association.

In it, he says the mind or soul is the “first entelechy” of the body, the “cause and principle” of the body, the realization of the body. We might put it like this: The mind is the purposeful functioning of the nervous system.

Like Plato, he postulates three kinds of souls, although slightly differently defined. There is a plant soul, the essence of which is nutrition. Then there is an animal soul, which contains the basic sensations, desire, pain and pleasure, and the ability to cause motion. Last, but not least, is the human soul. The essence of the human soul is, of course, reason. He suggests that, perhaps, this last soul is capable of existence apart from the body.

He foreshadowed many of the concepts that would become popular only two thousand years later. Libido, for example: “In all animals… it is the most natural function to beget another being similar to itself… in order that they attain as far as possible, the immortal and divine…. This is the final cause of every creatures natural life.”

And the struggle of the id and ego: “There are two powers in the soul which appear to be moving forces — desire and reason. But desire prompts actions in violation of reason… desire… may be wrong.”

And the pleasure principle and reality principle: “Although desires arise which are opposed to each other, as is the case when reason and appetite are opposed, it happens only in creatures endowed with a sense of time. For reason, on account of the future, bids us resist, while desire regards the present; the momentarily pleasant appears to it as the absolutely pleasant and the absolutely good, because it does not see the future.”

And finally, self-actualization: We begin as unformed matter in the womb, and through years of development and learning, we become mature adults, always reaching for perfection. “So the good has been well explained as that at which all things aim.”