Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Write-Up: Plato and Aristotle in Agreement?

George E. Karamanolis.  Plato and Aristotle in Agreement?  Platonists on Aristotle from Antiochus to Porphyry.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006.

Something that many Intro to Philosophy students learn is that there were philosophical differences between Plato and Aristotle.  Plato believed that there were transcendent forms, or concepts, that objects in the natural world reflected.  We see horses, for example, and in Plato’s heaven there is a concept of a horse.  Aristotle, by contrast, did not believe in the transcendent forms, but rather focused on particular objects, with their commonalities and peculiarities.  Plato in the Republic said that human beings have a soul consisting of rational, spirited, and appetitive parts.  Aristotle, by contrast, defined the soul as the form that an object took.  Plato thought that a demiurge formed matter into a cosmos.  Aristotle, however, regarded the cosmos as eternal.  Each had distinct elements of his philosophy.  Plato believed that humans were actually recollecting when they “learned” something, since their soul pre-existed their physical existence, and people in learning were remembering what they knew prior to their birth.  Aristotle presented many virtues as a golden mean between two extremes: courage, for example, was in between cowardice and being rash.

Plato and Aristotle in Agreement? is about how Platonist philosophers between the first century B.C.E. and the third century C.E. handled the contradictions between Plato and Aristotle.  One approach was to see Aristotle as one who was faithful to what Plato taught, since Aristotle was a pupil of Plato.  Aristotle believed that there was a divine intellect, for instance, and there were Platonists who suggested that perhaps Aristotle believed that this divine intellect thought about the transcendent forms, implying that Aristotle himself believed in the transcendent forms, like Plato.  Another approach was to acknowledge the differences between Plato and Aristotle.  Some did so in order to warn Platonists not to accept Aristotle’s philosophy.  Others, however, did so with less antagonism towards Aristotelianism.

In addition, the book talked about how other schools of philosophy sought to deal with Plato.  Stoics, for example, believed that human beings were born as tabula rasas, which appeared to contradict Plato’s idea that the soul pre-existed and that humans remembered things from their pre-birth life.  The book was also about how Plato’s writings were various and open to interpretation, and thus different people interpreted and applied Plato’s writings in different ways.  Plato, for example, depicted Socrates asking questions and destabilizing people’s ideas, and there were some philosophers who regarded this as an endorsement of philosophical skepticism.

Moreover, the book discussed the philosophical debates and issues of the first century B.C.E. to the third century C.E.  Was the universe good and an extension of God, or was it separate from a God who would not involve himself in inferior and changeable matter?  Was the soul human rationality only, or did it include other parts (a vegetative aspect, for example)?  Did a good life entail denying the body and focusing on virtue alone, or could one be virtuous and also enjoy the pleasures of life?  Were the forms within the divine intellect or the divine soul, or were they rather imminent, as part of nature, instead of transcendent?

Interesting book.

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