PgBrass and Aristotle are probably the two most influential thinkers in Western culture. Even today, much of our thinking, whether or not we have studied philosophy in schools and universities, has its raison d’être in the works that these two inhabitants of ancient Greece developed between the 5th and the 4th century BC.
In fact, they are considered the main culprits in the consolidation of Western philosophy.
However, these two philosophers did not agree at all. The differences in the thought of Plato and his pupil Aristotle they became deep and very relevant, although Aristotle was greatly influenced by his Athenian master. Below we will see an overview of what those points of divergence were.
Differences between the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle
In many ways, these two philosophers had opposing intellectual positionsAlthough, whenever Aristotle departs from his master’s path, he tries to formulate his explanations on the basis of Platonic thought.
These main differences between their way of understanding the world they both advocated are as follows.
1. The position vis-à-vis essentialism
Plato is well known for establishing a fundamental separation between the world of sensible impressions and that of ideas. The first is made up of anything that can be experienced by the senses and is false and deceptive, while the second is only accessible by the intellect and enables the attainment of absolute truth.
This means that for Plato the essence of things resides in a plane of reality independent of objects and bodies, And that the latter are only an imperfect reflection of the former. This essence is, moreover, eternal and cannot be altered by what happens in the world of the physicist: the absolute idea of what a wolf is remains even if this species is extinct or completely dissolved in the hybridization with the domestic dogs.
- You can read Plato’s theory of ideas more blindly in this article: “Plato’s Theory of Ideas”
For Aristotle, on the contrary, the essence of bodies (living or inert) resides in themselves., Not on another plane of reality. This philosopher rejected the idea that all truth is outside of that which is composed of matter.
2. Belief or not in eternal life
Plato defended the idea that there is life after death, as bodies degrade and disappear, but souls, which form the very core of people’s identity, are eternal, as are universally true ideas (mathematical laws, for example).
Aristotle, on the other hand, had a conception of death closer to that of tradition based on Homer’s myths. He believed that in human beings there are souls, but these disappear as the physical body degrades, With which the possibility of existing after death is ruled out.
3. Different theories of ethics
In Plato’s philosophy, knowledge and ethics are elements that are totally related to each other. For him, good and moral perfection are accessible by the progressive approach to truth, so that being ignorant equates with evil and progressing by wisdom makes us better.
This idea may seem strange at first, but there is a certain logic in it when you consider the importance that this philosopher placed on the existence of absolute ideas: all these decisions that we make on the fringes of truth are erratic. and irresponsible.
Aristotle, on the other hand, emphasizes ethics on the goal of achieving happiness. In accordance with this idea, for him good can only be something which is exercised through our actions and which does not go beyond them. This idea makes sense, because it removes the existence of absolute and timeless truths from the equation, and so we have to do good here and now with the resources at our disposal.
4. Tabula rasa o innatism
Another of the big differences between Plato and Aristotle concerns the way they conceive of the creation of knowledge.
According to Plato, to learn is, in fact, to remember ideas that have always existed (Because they are universally valid) and our soul, which is the engine of intellectual activity, has already been in contact with them in the world of the non-material. This process of recognizing the truth is called anamnesis and goes from the abstract to the specific: we apply real ideas to the sensory world to see how they fit together.
For Aristotle, knowledge is created from the experience and observation of the concrete, and from there we move on to the creation of abstract ideas that explain the universal. Unlike his Athenian master, he didn’t believe there were perfect ideas in us and absolutely true, but we created a picture of it from our interaction with the environment. We explore the environment trying to distinguish lies from truth through empiricism.
This model became known as the “tabula rasa” centuries later and was advocated by many other philosophers, such as John Locke.