Varieties of Knowledge in Plato and Aristotle

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Updated: Mar 28, 2023
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Have you ever wondered how someone depicts the truth from a lie? Or maybe even wondered how do we know what we know? Two philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, sought out to help us understand the why we do what we do and how do we know what we know. Both philosophers’ debate in the knowledge at birth, the mechanism to find the truth, and concepts of reality. Despite Aristotle being taught by Plato they had different theories and views. Plato’s theory of ideal forms claims that a perfect world exists beyond the world around us.

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Our world contains forms imperfectly copied from the ideal forms in the world beyond. In contrast, Aristotle’s theory of the natural world states that our world is reality. Aristotle thought the world consists of natural forms, not necessarily ideal or imperfect. Our senses can correctly perceive the natural forms. Basically, reality became a debate between Plato’s two worlds and Aristotle’s single world reality.

Plato introduces his Theory of the Knowledge through the Simile of the Divided Line, the Allegory of the Cave, and Allegory of the Sun. The Divided Line is divided into two halves being the physical world which is the lower half and the intellectual world which is the upper half. Both worlds consist of the epistemological and metaphysical importance of Plato’s theory. The physical is the ever-changing objects and illusions and is the world of opinions and beliefs. This world contains many imperfect things. The upper half mathematics, theories, and the eternal and unchanging world of Truth and Knowledge. It is a conceptual world “visible” only to the mind. The Allegory of the Cave helps explain the ascent up the Divided Line. The story starts with prisoners chained in a cave. All they know are the shadows on the wall because this is all they know so they think those shadows are real. One day a prisoner breaks free and realizes that there are objects. These objects are what created the shadows that the prisoners only knew of. He is finally exposed to the real world and the truth about the world and the world within the cave. In the Allegory of the Sun, Plato compares the Sun to the Good, which is the highest point on the line. It is from which all things originate. In the same way that our physical world could not exist without the sun, nothing can exist without the Good. The light of the sun is necessary for our eyes to see in the same way that Truth is necessary for our soul to understand the Good.

Aristotle offers a theory of predication that explains how terms of language apply to things in the world, called categories. Aristotle’s Categories place every object of human awareness under one of the 10 categories. The first category is substance and it is independent in itself as an object. The other nine categories are called accidents: quality, quantity, relation, place, time, position, state, action, affection. These accidents are properties that describe the substance.

Aristotle’s main disagreement with Plato is over the theory of Forms. He was able to shift the focus from pure being to physics. Aristotle states that there are three basic ingredients for the explanation of change: The Substance, privation, and the Form. He complains that Plato’s Forms cause movement nor change, so Aristotle offers a different approach. Aristotle learned from earlier philosophers of Nature the view that change takes place between two opposites of one kind or another. This provides the basis of his own general theory of form (Pojman, Vaughn 203). There are four causes of change: Matter/Material, Formal, Efficient, and the Final/End Cause. The Matter/Material cause is the foundation of which change occurs. It is the underlying subject which persists through change. The Formal cause is that from or to which a thing changes. The Efficient cause is the one who is the “moving” cause, which would be the person making sure that change is acquired. The Final/End cause us the goal toward which the change is moving.

Both Aristotle and Plato sought knowledge as a good in its own right. Both philosophers believed in a universal goal for all things, the final cause, or the Good (Pojman, Vaughn 202). The two philosophers differ when it comes to modern science. Aristotle believes in teleology because of the regularity in astronomy, physical behavior, and generation. Meaning, nature has unconscious purposes. Whereas Plato was more commonsensical and idealistic. He loved biology, facts, physics, and scientific observation. Plato offers us myths and allegories to convey a comprehensive world view, whereas Aristotle sought to remove symbol and myth from philosophy to replace with logical precision and rational explanation.

Epistemology is the theory of knowledge and distinction between belief and opinion. The Theory of the Forms is important because it shows us that everything in life is based off something else. Without these two philosophers we would not have any solid foundation to go off when trying to understand the truth. Although, both differ in many ways they both had the same goal of providing the truth and to tie everything back to the Good.

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Varieties of Knowledge in Plato and Aristotle. (2021, Jul 05). Retrieved from