Plato and Aristotle were ancient Greek philosophers who helped establish western philosophy and are two of the most influential and well-known figures in the history of philosophy. Although Plato was Aristotle’s teacher, their theories and beliefs differ somewhat from each other.
Aristotle was more focused on empirical matters than Plato was, examining the material world and exploring science, as well as ethics and ideals. Plato rejected the physical world as consisting of copies of ideals, as in his famous allegory of the cave, which describes people that are forced to look at shadows in a cave for their whole lives and then are exposed to the real objects that the shadows represent. This is a metaphor for how regular people view objects, with only enlightened philosophers being able to truly comprehend these forms.
Consequently, Plato and Aristotle disagreed about the value and benefit of art, which Plato seeking to take artists’ power and prominence away, and Aristotle seeking to develop ways to determine the significance of works of art. Both philosophers were concerned with mimesis (imitation) but Plato rejected art for this reason, while Aristotle was curious and interested in art and was accepting of the creative process and the fact that imitation doesn’t produce perfect copies of the original object.
Politically speaking, their views on the ideal society also differ significantly. Plato’s Republic consists of a utopian society, ruled by wise philosopher who are objective and rational, and who have been raised not to value material wealth or seek exclusive human relationships, even with their own children. Every person in the society has qualities that correlate with gold, silver, or iron, and the classes and hierarchy are formed using this theory.
The leaders of the society are the guardians, then there are the auxiliaries that guard and defend it, and finally, the farmers and artisans who work the land. Children are placed into a class based on abilities and skills, and remain in this class for life. Plato’s ideal society is supposed to be based around justice and the common good, with life being difficult and taxing for all classes, but the society benefiting as a whole, and children having equal opportunities not based on their parents’ status.
Aristotle’s ideal society is more focused on happiness, fellowship regardless of class, and the participation of all citizens in political matters. He also believes that there should be a balance between work and leisure. They do agree on the education of children, with the need to have specific educators who teach children right from wrong, and reality from fiction, but Aristotle believes this should end at adulthood, at which point they become full citizens and understand these issues. Plato believes that the guardians are the only ones capable of this status.
Overall, Aristotle was more likely to use scientific and physical methods when determining truths, while Plato was more likely to use his intuition and common sense. However, many argue that while Plato was a more extravagant thinker, Aristotle was more rational and realistic, building on existing systems and always looking for practical improvements.
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