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Compare, Contrast and Evaluate Plato and Aristotle on Human Wellbeing

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WHEN Socrates was sixty years old, Plato, then a youth of twenty, came to him as a pupil. When Plato was sixty years old, the seventeen-year-old Aristotle presented himself, joining the Teacher's group of "Friends," as the members of the Academy called themselves. Aristotle was a youth of gentle birth and breeding, his father occupying the position of physician to King Philip of Macedon. Possessed of a strong character, a penetrating intellect, apparent sincerity, but great personal ambition. Aristotle was a student in the Academy during the twenty years he remained in Athens. His remarkable intellectual powers led Plato to call him the "Mind of the School."

After the death of his teacher, Aristotle, accompanied by Xenocrates, went to the court of Hermias, lord of Atarneus, whose sister he afterward married. When Aristotle was forty years old, Philip of Macedon engaged him as tutor for his son Alexander, then thirteen, whose later exploits gained for him the title of Alexander the Great. Philip became so interested in Aristotle that he rebuilt his native city and planned a school where the latter might teach. When Alexander started out to conquer the world, learned men accompanied him to gather scientific facts. After his Persian conquest Alexander presented his former tutor with a sum equivalent to a million dollars, which enabled Aristotle to purchase a large library and continue his work under the most ideal circumstances.

When Aristotle was forty-nine years old he returned to Athens and founded his own school of philosophy. It was known as the Peripatetic School because of Aristotle's habit of strolling up and down the shaded walks around the Lyceum while talking with his pupils. In the morning he gave discourses on philosophy to his more advanced pupils, who were known as his "esoteric" students. In the afternoon a larger circle gathered around him, to whom he imparted simpler teachings. This was known as his exoteric group.

In passing from Plato to Aristotle, we at once become conscious of a distinct change in philosophical concepts and methods. This is all the more noticeable because of our ignorance of Aristotle's complete system. The writings which have come down to us comprise only about a quarter of his works. These are all incomplete, some of them seeming to be notes intended for elaboration in his lectures. They are often sketchy and obscure, highly technical and full of repetitions. Sometimes they are so abstruse that we are obliged to call upon the imagination to supply the missing links of his deductions. Before reaching our Western scholars his works passed through too many hands to remain immaculate. From Theophrastus they passed to Neleus, whose heirs kept them mouldering in subterranean caves for a century and a half. After that his manuscripts were copied and augmented by Apellicon of Theos, who supplied many missing paragraphs, probably from his own conjectures. Although the Arabians were acquainted with Aristotle's works from the eighth century onward, the Christian world paid little attention to them until three centuries later. In the eleventh century, however, the Aristotelian doctrine of Forms became the bone of contention which divided philosophers into two classes which, from that day to this, have remained separate. On the one side were the Nominalists, who maintained that Universals are mere names for the common attributes of things and beings. On the other side were the Realists, whose thought crudely resembled the Platonic doctrine of Ideas as independent realities.

It seems a great historic tragedy that Aristotle, who remained under the influence of Plato for nearly twenty years, failed to continue the line of teaching begun by Pythagoras and clarified by Plato. But Aristotle was not content to be a "transmitter." Plato claimed no originality for his ideas, giving the credit to Socrates and Pythagoras. Aristotle's failure in this direction may be due to the fact that, while both Pythagoras and Plato were Initiates of the Mysteries, Aristotle was never initiated and depended on logical speculation for the development of his theories. This accounts for his many divergences from the teachings of Plato, whose philosophy was based upon the wisdom of the ancient East. According to Diogenes Laertius, Aristotle fell away from his teacher while Plato was still alive, whereat Plato remarked, "Aristotle has kicked me, as foals do their mothers when they are born." While there is evidence that Aristotle never lost his high personal regard for Plato, the fact remains that in his later writings he never mentions Plato except to refute his doctrines, maintaining that the Platonic method is fatal to science.

At every period of the world's history some philosopher has asked the eternal question: Is there, in the universe or outside of it, an underlying Reality which is eternal, immovable, unchanging? The ancient Egyptians believed, as Hermes taught: "Reality is not upon the earth, my son. Nothing on earth is real. There are only appearances. Appearance is the supreme illusion." In the still more ancient East, only the eternal and changeless was called Reality. All that is subject to change through differentiation and decay was called Maya, or illusion.

It is the task of Philosophy to investigate this all-important question: What is real? At first glance, Aristotle's definition of philosophy seems to agree with Plato's. Plato described philosophy as the science of the Idea, the science which deals with noumena rather than phenomena. Aristotle defined it as the science of the universal essence of that which is real or actual. Plato, the Initiate, taught that there is one Reality lying behind the numberless differentiations of the phenomenal world. Aristotle maintained that there is a graded series of realities, each step in the series revealing more and more those universal relationships which make it an object of true knowledge. At the end of the series, he said, lies that which is no longer relative, but absolute.

Plato taught that "beyond all finite existences and secondary causes, all laws, ideas and principles, there is an Intelligence, or Mind, the first principle of all principles, the Supreme Idea upon which all other ideas are grounded, ... the ultimate substance from which all things derive their being and essence, the first and efficient Cause of all the order and harmony and beauty which pervades the Universe." This he called the "World of Ideas."

What, actually, is this Intelligence, this Cosmic Mind of which Plato spoke with such assurance? Theosophy explains that Universal Mind is not something outside the universe, but includes all those various intelligences which were evolved

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