The Philosophical Apprentice

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” Albert Einstein

Archive for the tag “Plato”

If Socrates Claimed He Had No Teaching Was He Really a Philosopher

I think that Socrates certainly was a philosopher, particularly in the sense that he was lover of wisdom. One of the reasons I think that he had no teachings was that Athens in the midst and wake of the Peloponnesian War had been overrun with Sophists (the political consultants of the day) who all had ‘teaching’ they would sell to the whoever paid them. Since the Sophists viewed knowledge merely in instrumental terms for the wealth and power they could generate they and their students were not in a position to love truth and beauty, that is to be true philosophers. As Reeve and Miller remind us the Sophists and their ilk were arrogant because they though they had all the answers (Reeve Miller, pg 45). Socrates, however, as a true philosopher believed that philosophy, especially through the use of the Elenchus, had a moral aim which was to get people to realize that they really didn’t know what they thought they knew and a result they would be open to truth and beauty which would help them lead happy and virtuous lives. (Reeve & Miller, 45-46)


Reeve, C.D.C., and Patrick Lee Miller, eds. Introductory Readings in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett, 2006.


Where is the agreement between Plato and Aristotle?

That Plato and Aristotle share much in common goes without saying. Aristotle spent a long and profitable tutelage under Plato. Why study under a teacher unless you’re learning something from him? From my perspective, there are two areas where Plato and Aristotle are in broad agreement – truth and reality. This assertion is best defended against the backdrop of the impasse that had arisen in Greek Philosophy. I call this the problem of change. At one end there is the empiricist / phenomenalist camp represented by Heraclitus which held that everything in the world was in a constant process of change. The other camp, the rationalists, represented by Parmenides maintained that in a system like that of the phenomenalists there was no room for being, which was by definition changeless. Whereas Heraclitus maintained that everything changed and nothing endured (all is becoming is another way of saying this), Parmenides, on the other hand, maintained that being could not not be and hence change was an illusion. The former precluded a rational account of the world and fostered relativism while the latter did violence to common sense by denying sense experience altogether; it also aroused skepticism in the populace at the time. All these strands came together with the Sophists who represented to the eyes of Plato a threat to the moral order. The question then for Plato became then the status of universals. What persisted in the things of this world that could be the object and reference for true statements, especially in moral matters, and, additionally, what was the ontological status of those universals? Where did they reside for instance? For Plato, the objects of knowledge were the forms which existed in an eternal changeless world while the objects of our mundane material world were mere copies of the forms that possessed less reality than the forms themselves – this is I call the form / matter distinction . Although Aristotle is often depicted as differing widely from Plato in many matters in this instance I believe Aristotle is in broad agreement with Plato in that he accepts the form matter distinction. He agrees with Plato in his approach rather than adopting other solutions to the being-becoming problem that had been proposed such as atomism or the pluralism of Empedocles. The real difference is that Aristotle believed that the forms existed in the individual things in the world around rather than in some shadowy transcendent world. As Aristotle tell us: “All substance appears to signify that which is individual” (Chapter 5, Edghill Translation).

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