PLATO VS. ARISTOTLEIntroduction
Plato and Aristotle are both ancient Greek philosophers who were not only contemporaries, but who knew one another well. Plato was born in 428 B.C. and accepted as a monumental figure in the history of Western philosophy. He is grown to be a politician in the state. An older philosopher Socrates had great influence over Plato which is shown in his works. The execution of Socrates, on charges of impiety and corrupting the young minds, was a turning point of Plato’s life. After Socrates death Plato retired from political life and travelled for a number of years. After his return to Athens, he founded the Academy, an institution for studying and spreading the philosophy. Aristotle was born in 384 B.C. and was a student of Plato. Later set up his own school of philosophy in Athens. Aristotle contributed to vast field of studies such as politics, ethics, history, and rhetoric. He is more interested in describing and classifying things as they are. The ideas of both philosophers are still in argument of others. In this context, the ideas, confirmations and contradictions of those two philosophers will be examined thoroughly.
Plato’s Republic and Theory of Forms
Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” in his book Republic is brief introduction to theory. The Cave attempts to explain nature of reality. Story takes progress through dialogues between two characters; Socrates and Glaucon. The Cave represents the state of most human beings, and the tale of a dramatic exit from the cave is the source of true understanding. People that stuck in the Cave since childhood and they only see shadows of the outside passengers that mirrored on the cave wall. They presumed those images on the wall were real. After being set free and learning of the reality of the world, one of the prisoner sees how pitiable his life was in the cave. If he gets back to the cave to inform his colleagues, they probably will not believe him as their reality much different than his. Plato’s point is that, once we understand what reality is (the forms), it is the job of the informed to lead the ignorant out of the cave and into true knowledge. This means, that those who still uninformed will resist, since the cave is all they have ever known. But this doesn’t change the obligation of the enlightened philosopher to try to help his fellow citizens. The Republic, the first Utopia in literature, asserts that philosopher is the only one capable of ruling a state in a reasonable way, since they are very well aware of the harmony of all parts of the universe and know how to use them for good. One can become a philosopher among hundreds of people after taking great education and passing many difficulties which set by the mentor. Plato envisioned the Academy as a school for statesmen where he could train a new kind of philosopher-ruler (or “guardian”) according to the principles set forth in his Republic. Reasoning is the tool of the philosopher to pursuit knowledge and form an enlightened state. “To Plato, the Republic was more “real” than any state actually in existence. In this book Plato states that he has banished all imaginative poetry-dramatic, epic, lyric.” (Partee 1970, 209). The Schools of philosophy in classical Athens were training grounds, as were the Schools of rhetoric oriented towards theoretical skills. Greek philosophers applied themselves to every kind of topic which is highly different than philosophers nowadays. Plato’s notion of justice is defined as a condition where each one man must perform one social service in the state for which his nature best adapted. Moreover, Plato states that all things will be produced in superior quantity and quality, and with greater ease, when each man works at a single occupation, in accordance with his natural gifts, and at the right moment, without meddling with anything else. In Plato’s theory of forms, the physical world is imitation of an abstract world. In that metaphysical realm everything has an eternal perfect forms. The world we live in is temporary and changeable. Plato therefore, banishes all the artworks for they are merely a copy of a copy. The copies or imitations can be dangerous because of their potential to take place of the original. The French 20th century philosopher Jacques Derrida suggest that writing is dangerous and dishonest because it copies (phonetically) from speech and because it can be distanced from its author, separated from its origin. For example, a portrait of a landscape or a poem of a nature are leading away from the truth rather than toward it as they are imitation of an imitation. The objects of this world are imitations of world of forms where they are in their true forms.
Plato on Poetry
Plato’s discussions of rhetoric and poetry are both extensive and influential. Plato in his work Ion tries to convince reader of false effects of poetry via dialogue. “Plato’s thought is internally dialogic because of two alternating voices: First is the voice of the essentialist who is concerned with the problem of the One and the Many; second is the voice of an existentialist who is concerned with the ways a concept-for example, emotion-is embedded in concrete human activity.” (Black 1958, 365). First character is a rhapsode, recider of poetry, second character is Socrates who tries to enlighten rhapsode with his wit and reasoning. Socrates points out that the rhapsode, like the poet himself, is in state of “divine possession,” and speaks not with his own voice. Socrates likens this process to a magnet, which transmits its attractive power to a series of iron rings. The Muse is the magnet, the poet is the first ring, the rhapsode is the middle ring, and the audience is the last one (Ion, 533a, 536a-b). In this way, the poet interprets the utterances of the gods, and the rhapsode interprets the poets. Therefore, the rhapsodes are “interpreters of interpreters” (Ion, 535a). Plato sees poetry irrational and self-interested. Indictment of poetry in Plato’s utopic state is based on; (1) its intrinsic expression of falsehood, (2) its intrinsic operation in the realm of imitation, (3) its combination of a variety of functions, (4) its appeal to the lowers aspects of the soul such as emotion and appetite, (5) its expression of irreducible particularity and multiplicity rather than unity. In Platonic view man must detach from emotions for they are leading man out of the truth and preventing to reach the One.
Aristotle on Poetics
Unlike Plato, Aristotle praises poetry for they are pleasurable and representative of basic human instinct. History shows that things that were, philosophy defines things that are, and poetry relate to things that have not yet come to past. Man tends most towards representation and learns his first lessons through representations. Since childhood imitation is a part of human nature. We imitate the elders and the nature to grow our own nature. For poets imitate the nature they bring us closer to the reality which is unseen before. Moreover, Aristotle claims that because of being in verse form a writing can’t be called poetry. For example writing a scientific truth in a verse form still science not a poem. The great philosopher Aristotle also suggested that poetry is divided into three genres: tragedy, comedy and epic. Among these three he put the tragedy above all for their characters are following qualities of vice and virtue. Making the soul great and the man even greater. Aristotle says that tragic characters must remain as the same person and not changing rather than narrating (becoming) another person as Homer does. Tragic plot must be built on complex structure. Complex structure means in which plot consist of a recognition, a reversal or both and moreover it should represent terrifying and pitiable events. Since recognition is a recognition of people, some recognitions are by one person only of the other, when the identity of one of them is clear. For example in the tragedy Oedipus the King, the protagonist recognizes his true identity just before the climax. And his recognition of the truth coincides with the reversal of his fortunes. A reversal is a change of the actions to their opposite in accordance with probability or necessity. Oedipus kills his own father and marries with his mother which is a tragic terrifying event. At the end he blinds himself which is pitiable, another necessity of complex plot. These two elements are belonging the term catharsis in which audience gets relief of emotions at the end of tragedy. Tragedy must have unity of time, place and action. Every action must have its coincidental further leading to climax. Aristotle clarifies that there are four things at which the poet should aim regarding characters. “(1) First and foremost, the characters should be good. The tragedy will have character if, as we said, the speech or the action makes obvious a decision of whatever sort; it will have a good character, if it makes obvious a good decision. Good character can exist in every class of person; for a woman can be good, and a slave can, although first of these may be inferior and the second wholly worthless. (2) Second, they should be appropriate. It is possible to be manly in character, but it is not appropriate for a woman to be so manly or clever. (3) Third, the character should be life like. This is different from making the character good and appropriate in the way already stated. (4) Fourth, the character should be consistent. If the model for the representation is somebody inconsistent, and such a character is intended, even so it should be consistently inconsistent.” Furthermore, the tragic heroes can’t be evil and can’t have god-like perfection. They are just representatives of better qualified of what we really are. Actually tragedy is not the representation of human beings but of action and life. The actions are the definer of a character. Happiness and unhappiness lie in action, and the end of life is a sort of action. Therefore the end of tragedy, the end of character is most important of all. On the other hand, comedy prefers to represent people who are worse than those who exist. The main purpose of the comedy make the audience laugh by showing them a sort of error and ugliness that is not painful and destructive. And lastly the epic poetry, consists of exaggerated events and thus placed last in Aristotle’s genre sequence. Although despising epic poetry, Aristotle is clearly an admirer of Homer’s, as almost all his examples of good epic poetry are drawn from Homer. He praises Homer for reducing his own voice in the narrative and letting the actions and the characters tell the story themselves. He uses Homer to show how epic poetry can recount exaggerated events in a believable manner. A tragedy could never get away with such marvels, since they are less credible when we see them performed. Having said this, he remarks that no plot should ever hinge on improbable events but praises Homer for managing through his art to make this flaw in the Odyssey seem insignificant. He also praises Homer as a master of using paralogisms (conclusions resulting from faulty or illogical arguments) to make lies seem believable. Moreover, Aristotle always clarifies his philosophical thoughts with a great detail and effort. All his ideas consist of extended terms and determinations. Having a career involved in politics and government, Aristotle served Alexander the Great as his tutor for three years.
Aristotle From On Rhetoric
Aristotle defines rhetoric as an ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion. To Aristotle an efficient argument depends on three basis; first, the credibility of speaker, second, the mood of audience, and third, the arguments of speaker. The word “rhetoric” derives from the Greek word rhetor, meaning “speaker”, and originally referred to the art of public speaking. Unlike Plato, Aristotle asserts that philosopher must not refrain from publicity. Speaking and reasoning as a distinctive feature of human nature must be practised in social life. The basis of Aristotle’s logic was the syllogism which is simply deductive reasoning uttered for performing better persuasive speech. To master rhetoric, one must master the syllogism, one must have a scientific understanding of character and virtue, and one must understand each emotion and how it is brought about. Given that rhetoric requires this broad mastery, Aristotle considers it to be an offshoot of dialectic and ethics. He in fact suggest that rhetoric “is quite properly categorized as political”. However, Plato argues that rhetorician is a non-expert persuading other non-experts. Consequently, rhetoric accused of training people in making the worse cause appear the better and in thereby sacrificing truth, morality, and justice to self-interest. In contrast with Plato, Aristotle urges that rhetoric is a useful skill precisely because it can promote the causes of truth and justice. Aristotle is not simply quarrelling with Plato but has his own due respect to rhetoric, “The very fact that Aristotle appears to acknowledge that rhetoric is or can be an art in the strict sense of the term is frequently taken as showing that he has already broken with the Platonic view in the decisive respect.” (Lord 1981, 329). There is very hot argument between the ideas of Plato and Aristotle about rhetoric which is clarified as follows;
Since Socrates was well aware of the differences among men and the complexity of a nature that includes human beings, he did not think that a public rhetoric was possible. A rhetoric based on universally valid definitions would be open to the same criticism as writing, which Socrates claimed says the same things to everyone. Both achieve a unity at the cost of ignoring or suppressing individual differences. As an alternative to such a rhetoric, as well as an alternative to writing, Socrates offered private speech that addressed itself to the individual natures of men. This he called true rhetoric, identifying rhetoric with his own philosophic activity. When Aristotle argues that the truths of rhetoric hold only for the most part, he therefore answers not only Socrates’ concern about rhetoric’s ignorance but also his concern that public speech abstracts from the individual natures of men. A rhetoric aware of the probable character of its conclusions, the exceptions to which its truths will inevitably be subject, is a rhetoric that allows for individual differences. It is speech that aspires to communal or general concerns but also recognizes the particular characters of men who cannot be assimilated into a class and phenomena that cannot be adequately captured by a single definition. As we have seen, Aristotle describes at the outset of the Rhetoric the beneficial limits that private interests place upon the deliberative rhetoric that proposes general laws. (Nichols 1987, 673).
In the Western world, rhetoric has played a central role in politics and law; for two millennia rhetoric has been at the center of the educational system in Europe, and its influence in education is still visible in its continued domination of the teaching of composition.
Ancient Greece was like a treasure thanks to divine philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. Their understanding of human nature and extended knowledge of philosophy makes us more enlightened and carries us out of darkness. When we consider their way of thinking, even though becoming present two millennia ago, one can be hardly surprised by the human potential. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, is a great way of showing that how reality may differ one person to another. His indictments about poetry and emotions are highly influential. Man must be able to detach from emotions when they are in quarrel with our reasoning. And thanks to Aristotle for clarifying that imitation is simply human nature. He is unquestionably right when we consider that we grow up speaking, thinking, and acting the way that our parents and people around us do. Aristotle on rhetoric is like a manifesto which promotes many new ideas with prescriptive notions. His contribution to the other vast field of studies are also beyond measure. Even though those two philosophers had contradictory points, they are the pioneers of philosophy.
Black, Edwin. “Plato’s View of Rhetoric”. The Quarterly Journal of Speech 44. London: Routledge, 1958. 361-74.
Lord, Carnes. “The Intention of Aristotle’s Rhetoric”. Hermes 109. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1981. 326-39.
Nichols, Mary P. “Aristotle’s Defence of Rhetoric”. The Journal of Politics Vol. 49, No. 3. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1987. 657-77.
Partee, Morris Henry. “Plato’s Banishment of Poetry”. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol.29, No. 2. New York: Wiley, 1970. 209-22.