5 Reasons Why Plato and Aristotle Still Matter Today

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5 Reasons Why Plato and Aristotle Still Matter Today
The ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle may seem like the quintessential (perfect example) Dead White

Males, but in fact they’re very much alive. Twenty four centuries ago they laid the foundations of Western culture,

and their ideas and insights still dictate essential features of our world right now, from what we eat to what we see

on the Internet.

Plato was a typical playboy from a wealthy, connected Athenian family until he met a man named Socrates,

who taught him that the surest path to wisdom was rational (using logic) contemplation (deep thought), and that

being a “lover of wisdom” or philosopher was the highest form of life.
Plato taught his students that all of us want to be part of something higher, a reality in which the world we see is

only a small part, and which unites everything into a single harmonious (all in unison) whole. All of us, he said,

want to crawl out of the cave of darkness and ignorance, and walk in the light of truth. “There is no other road to

happiness,” Plato concluded, “either for society or the individual.”

Plato’s most brilliant pupil, however, arrived at a very different view. Growing up in a family of Greek

physicians, Aristotle learned early on the value of observation and hands-on experience. We don’t live in a

cave, was his reply to Plato; we live in the real world. “Facts are the starting point” of all knowledge, Aristotle

wrote. So instead of accepting his teacher’s belief in pure contemplation, Aristotle said our path to knowledge

comes through logical, methodical (as in the Scientific Method, taking it step by step) discovery of the world

around us–and the facts that make it up.

Plato asks: “Why does it exist at all?” Aristotle asks: “How does it work?” Plato asks, “What do you want your

world to be?” Aristotle asks, “How do you fit into the world that already exists?” Plato asks, “What’s your dream?”

Aristotle replies, “Wake up and smell the coffee.”
Two different world-views; one great debate. And here are five important lessons we can learn from both.
1. Two thousand four hundred years ago, Plato taught that every human soul has the desire to reach for a higher, purer,

and more spiritual truth that will illuminate our lives and transform our world. That’s made him the chief

spokesman for every religious mystic and every believer in a supernatural reality the West has ever produced,

but also for artists and musicians, not to mention lovers who are also soulmates (there’s a reason why it’s called

Platonic love).
2. Aristotle, on the other hand, said the light of truth is found here in the material (the things we see and touch)

world, and our job is to understand and find our place in it. That made him the father of Western science (he wrote

the first books on every field from biology and physics to astronomy and psychology) as well as technology, and

the model of logical thinking, as opposed to Plato’s belief in the value of instinctive leaps of imagination.

3. The entire history of Western civilization has been the great struggle between these two ways of seeing the

world, and that includes not just in every society but within ourselves: the constant tension between our inner

Plato and inner Aristotle, our material and logical versus our spiritual and creative halves; that’s gets played

out every day, in every way, in everything we do.

4. Today, Aristotle is the godfather of the Internet, entrepreneurial start-ups, and e-commerce: as he wrote in

His book, Politics, the entire purpose of society is to enable each person “to attain a higher and better life by the

mutual exchange of their different services.” Plato speaks instead to the environmentalist who wants to protect the

planet; who sees the Big Picture and want to “think globally, act locally”--the bumper sticker Plato would

most love.
5. Plato and Aristotle are important in personal relationships, too. Choosing the right mate or date can be as

much about finding someone who balances our inner Plato or Aristotle, as it is about compatibility or shared

interests--maybe more so. While one may be more grounded and focused on the here and now, the other in the

relationship may focus more on possibilities and what could be. Otherwise, a couple might find that a pair of

Platonists end up spending too much time contemplating the Eternal to get anything done, while two Aristotelians

have a habit of falling into workaholic schedules.

Plato vs Aristotle

Plato believed that concepts had a universal form (shape), an ideal form, which leads to his idealistic philosophy.

Aristotle believed that universal forms were not necessarily attached to each object or concept, and that each

instance of an object or a concept had to be analyzed on its own. For Plato, thought experiments and reasoning

would be enough to "prove" a concept or establish the qualities of an object, but Aristotle dismissed this in favor

of direct observation and experience.

An example of this difference, is the allegory (story with a moral) of the cave, written by Plato. To him, the world

was like a cave, and a person would only see shadows cast from the outside light, so the only reality would be

thoughts. To the Aristotelian method, the obvious solution is to walk out of the cave and experience what is casting

light and shadows directly, rather than relying solely on indirect or internal experiences.

The link between Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle is most obvious when it comes to their views on ethics. Plato

was Socratic in his belief that knowledge is virtue, in and of itself. This means that to know the good is to do

the good, i.e., that knowing the right thing to do will lead to one automatically doing the right thing; this implied

that virtue could be taught by teaching someone right from wrong, good from evil. Aristotle stated that knowing

what was right was not enough, that one had to choose to act in the proper manner—in essence, to create the

habit of doing good. This definition placed Aristotelian ethics on a practical plane, rather than the theoretical

one espoused by Socrates and Plato.
For Socrates and Plato, wisdom is the basic virtue and with it, one can unify all virtues into a whole. Aristotle

believed that wisdom was virtuous, but that achieving virtue was neither automatic nor did it help to acquire any

other virtues. To Aristotle, wisdom was a goal achieved only after effort, and unless a person chose to think and

act wisely, other virtues would remain out of reach.

Plato felt that the individual should incorporate his or her interests to that of society in order to achieve a perfect

from of government. His book, The Republic, described a utopian (perfect / non-existent) society where each of the

three classes (philosophers, warriors, and workers) had its role, and governance was kept in the hands of those

deemed best qualified for that responsibility, those of the "Philosopher Rulers." The tone and viewpoint is that of

an elite class or group taking care of the less capable, but unlike the Spartan oligarchy that Plato fought against,

the Republic would follow a more philosophical and less military path.

Aristotle saw the basic political unit as the city (polis), which took precedence over the family, which in turn

took precedence over the individual. Aristotle said that man was a political animal by nature and thus could

not avoid the challenges of politics. In his view, politics functions more as an organism than as a machine, and

the role of the polis was not justice or economic stability, but to create a space where its people could live a

good life and perform beautiful acts. Although avoiding a utopian solution or large-scale constructs (such as

nations or empires), Aristotle moved beyond political theory to become the first political scientist, observing

political processes in order to formulate improvements.

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