Jan 10, 2019 in Analysis

Ancient Philosophy Essay

Take-home Exam: Ancient Philosophy

1. Discuss Plato’s distinction of two types of knowledge. How does the doctrine of the forms provide for scientific knowledge and at the same time account for change? Why does Plato write dialogue instead of prose? Who or what Socrates arguing against in Plato’s Phaedrus?

Plato was one of the most devoted Socrates’ students and followers. He improved and developed teacher’s doctrines and even formed his philosophic ideas. In the dialogue "Theaetetus" Plato formulates the definition of knowledge - a certified true belief. Plato distinguishes two types of knowledge: knowledge of ideas – perfect, fair knowledge. Knowledge of numbers and sciences based on them - close to the fair. Knowledge of physical objects received through the senses - apparent knowledge.

Knowledge concerns the nature of things and can be achieved by total understanding (ideas, concepts), considerations of individual things only generate beliefs and knowledge of individual things is impossible. That is the rational cognition precedes the senses. Plato compares imperfection of sensory perception via observation of shadows of things. Perceptual knowledge of things of the material world enables to read only a reflection of the true essences - ideas. To achieve true knowledge about essence of things one need to remember that contemplated the human soul, being in the world of ideas.

You can apply the method of Socratic dialogue - questions and answers, which aims to get the truth. Dialectics acts as stimulation method to recall knowledge and lies in the ability to put questions that lead to ideas. The dialectic of Plato provides two ways: climbing up - the ability to see common overall in individual things (limit is the Good idea) and climbing down - the ability to share general in specific kinds. For example, Socrates’ objective questions lead Theaetetus’ beliefs to deny them. With each following question or statement, he denies his ideas, convincing Theaetetus by claims based on logic.

Prose is a literature form consisting from mostly of monologues and author cannot prove or deny his thoughts because of absence of counterarguments. Therefore, Plato used dialogues to prove his statements after he declined opponent’s counterarguments. However, there is another explanation – Plato took notes of some of Socrates’ conversations with his students and decided not to change them, but let them stay original, word by word.

In “Phaedrus” Socrates argues about the speech of orator Lysias. He begins by pointing out that in the speech of Lysias is no definition of "love", without which all talk about it will not come to the desired goal. Orator devotes it banal proof that external worldly truth that people in love should prefer to reciprocate, and not the one, who shows no reciprocal feeling. In the naive, superficial Lysias’ justification much seems wrong to Socrates. Dispute boils between him and the Phaedrus. The young man asked the philosopher to express in details his views on the same subject. Socrates gives a definition. Love, he says to Phaedrus, is of two kinds: it can be like, spontaneous, unbridled passion, or reasonable attachment that does not enslave the will of the person. He states that passion is not always evil. Even intelligent love bears the strongest sensual element, and it is even fury. But it is a kind of divine gift, possessed by the great prophets of the past. Fury is found in many religious sacraments, genuine spiritual cleansing is impossible without it. And art appears to be a peculiar kind of fury, out of the soul beyond itself.

Socrates says to Phaedrus that no material body and not one thing cannot move itself. It is guided only by the influence of something else. For the human body the soul is its engine.


2. Compare and contrast Aristotle’s notion of universal concepts with the Platonic forms. Briefly explain their different accounts for the problem of Being and becoming. What constitutes their epistemological and metaphysical differences?

Plato claims that at the basis of all things and phenomena of the world are immutable ideal essences - ideas. It acts by a common idea that is inherent in each thing of a certain type (all dogs commonly represent the idea of the dog, all different trees - the idea of the tree). They are true being. He states that all things given to us in sensation are secondary to the ideas derived from them and following them. Ideas, as primary essences, are conceiving only by reason. The idea appears to be essence, cause and purpose of things. Ideas are organized by genus-species ratios. World of ideas only contains good ideas, the highest among them stands the idea of Good (in the natural world, it corresponds to the sun). Perfect and natural worlds confront each other as abstract to concrete, original to a copy, essence to phenomenon, good to evil.

Matter is a space, invisible and unformed, which can take many forms. It is a source of plurality, objectivity, individuality, mortality and fertility, necessary evil and lack of freedom - all that is not inherent to ideas.

Matter is eternal and not created by ideas. Ideas represent the examples of matter design. Plato distinguishes three worlds as levels of existence: the world of ideas (true being), matter (almost nothing) and the world of things – world of becoming (intermediate between nothingness of matter and being of ideas). Plato ambiguously considers the concept of God as creator of ideas as an artisan who models things in the way of ideas, or even as a measure of all things. Thus, the primordial cosmos Plato describes as: God, ideas and matter.

Aristotle supports Plato's understanding of being as stable, unchanging and immovable. However, Aristotle does not identify the concept of being with ideas. He criticizes Plato because the attribution of independent existence to the ideas, separating them from the world of sense. Aristotle insists that independent being of specific things is true, and ideas - is a synthesis of the specific properties of things. Aristotle also criticizes Plato's views on knowledge as "remembering" things, that soul relived in the realm of ideas, from which the soul derived supposedly. He instead argues that the basis of knowledge is sensorial perception.

Knowledge is the ultimate goal of life. It is a divine form of human life. Aristotle denies subjectivity of knowledge. Knowledge of nature is due to a feeling, an idea, and a concept. Without senses there is no real knowledge. The difficulty of knowing is the hidden essence of things.

Perceptual knowledge creates copies as if things were remembered through repetition in practice. Sensory and experiential knowledge is knowledge of certain things. Knowledge of the total potential inherent to rational soul and begins with knowledge of a certain unit. According to Aristotle, each form has a "triple existence": in God - true and intangible; in nature - relevant and materially; in the soul - potentially and intangible. Knowledge of general is possible as actualization of potentially present in the soul of the general understanding of the human soul through attachment to the activity of the rational soul of God. Science is a soul’s acquired ability to justify. Plato, in his turn, claims that rational cognition precedes the sensual one. Both of philosophers have similar ideas about knowledge but at the same time they emphasize the most reliable, in their opinion, ways to acquire it.

3. Explain Aristotle’s “notion of being” metaphysics.

Aristotle identifies being and thinking the same: the laws of thought are both the laws of life. In "metaphysics" Aristotle provides a definition of the basic law of life: one cannot both exist and do not exist, or it is impossible that the same thing both was and was not peculiar to one in the same sense. Thus, “not being”, in the full sense, do not exist, but one can talk about levels of essences, levels of being. In general, “things” are a set of individual objects, entities that can be perceived sensually. These are quality, quantity, relations and actions. Aristotle believes that the “sensible” world is real, but there is also a “supersensible” world. The existence of transcendental life he supports by the presence of mind and entities that are perceived by understanding, not only senses. He also claims that the presence of the eternal and immovable beings as the basis of order. Thus, knowledge of sensible things is approximating to the knowledge of their entities.

Essence is awareness of the concept or the ability to exist separately. Therefore, Aristotle rejects the existence of ideas as separate entities, because the idea of an animal cannot exist by itself as a species, and exists only in the form of their families. The most common ideas, concepts, Aristotle considers as categories - the most general concepts that are not confined to one another and not generalized. Herewith, he separates the nature category from other categories, indicating that only it means that is capable of independent existence.

Also Aristotle created doctrine of matter and form as the possibility and reality. Everything that exists in nature is composed of matter and form. Matter is pure possibility or thing’s potential and form - the realization of this potential. Form does matter real that is the embodiment of a particular thing. Matter and form are two first principles. Each thing consists of a substrate (matter) and the essence of being (forms).

Shape - that is the essence of things, without which there is nothing. Form as many as lower species that no longer fall to any other (that is eternal and immutable essences). There is the first form, or "form of forms", which is the engine, but does not develop, standing over the material world. The second form - and that is in things, changes.

Aristotle understands the matter as undefined and unexecuted substance (pure possibility of being - the eternal and unchangeable) and the matter that is in things - that from which a thing consists. Matter is passive, inanimate, and incapable by itself to create something. Aristotle teaches the doctrine of the reasons that determined the transition of opportunity into reality. In each thing, he identifies four reasons:

  1. Material cause (What?)
  2. Formal cause (What is this?)
  3. Action cause (How and from the motion begins?)
  4. The final cause (Why? What for?).

Thing is the embodiment of all four reasons. For example, the cause of sculpture is an art sculptor (action cause), clay (material cause), plot (formal cause). The final form of sculpture is a goal (final cause).

In the doctrine of nature Aristotle believed that motion and time are eternal and distinguished six types of motion: the origin, destruction, quality changes, augmentation, reduction and displacement. Completion of development Aristotle calls “entelechy” – purposeful process realization. In addition, according to his doctrine of teleology goals, all things are expedient and have a purpose. Each being contains internal purposes. Due to this purpose, the result potentially had place in the existence of its implementation (egg is a potential chicken). As the main cause of all prime Aristotle consider God - eternal, fixed entity, separated from all things. However, God is the ultimate goal of everything. It is completely immaterial - full feasibility.


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