Historical Perspective of Ethics; Plato, Aristotle

  • How does knowledge come out? One way: Guru to give sermons to his disciples.
  • But Plato and Socrates adopted the “Method of dialectic”- doing Question and answer session with the audience, and thus knowledge came out.
  • Also known as mid-wifery method. Just like Mid-wife facilitates the birth of a child from mother. Same way knowledge is inside, you just need to search and bring it out.
  • Socrates called up a slave and with dialectic method, he brought out a theorem of mathematics, thereby proving all men are equal whether slave or aristocrat.
  • Dialectic method is a mature method to elicit knowledge.
  • Sophists used rhetoric method / propaganda to gain emotional response from the audience, instead of moral reasoning.  They had degraded the culture of dialogue in Greek.
  • Similarly, today twitter and Facebook has degraded the culture of dialogue among youth.
  • Both Socrates and Plato were against democracy, because in their times, Junta was unaware, due to lack of quality-public dialogue.

Form, ideas and realms

  • Plato gave a theory of Form Idea– Everything in this world is a decaying copy of something whose ideal form exists outside space & time.
  • real reality as it is stable – and the visible world only offers glimpses of that real reality.
  • Visible world where everything is always becoming something but nothing is permanent – “Everything is becoming, nothing is” – Plato.
  • physical world exemplified mathematical order expressible in mathematical formulas.
  • This was further developed into the philosophy of Body & Soul – known as Platonism & became source for Christian Philosophies as well.
  • Thus, Socrates & Plato were also referred by later Christians as – “Christians before Christ.”
Plato Aristotle
He was Aristotle’s teacher. He was Plato’s best, most gifted & most famous student
Books; republic, symposium ‘The Politics’ ‘The Nicomachean Ethics’ (named after his son, Nicomachus).
Focused on values and institutions Apart from values, ethics, politics, he also focused on many optional subjects like zoology, logic, psychology, botany, astronomy, physics, poetry, meteorology, economy, metaphysics, rhetoric etc.
  • Invented the word “academy”
  • Invented technical terms such as – energy, dynamics, induction, demonstration, substance, attribute, essence, property, accident, category, topic, proposition and universal.
  • Even the title of the subject ‘Physics’ gets its name from Aristotle’s book with this title.
  • Gave idea of ‘two’ realms.
  • Wanted to direct minds of people from virtual realm and draw it nearer to deeper reality lying behind it.
  • Aristotle rejected the idea of two worlds. He only gave recognition to this world. Anything beyond the possibility of experience was nothing for him
  • He denied carrying on empty talks about so called ‘Ideal Forms’.
  • In politics, Plato hated democracy and advocated rule of “philosopher king”.
  • Aristotle writes of the dissimilarities of two systems as a neutral but interested observer.
  • Plato hated arts – because arts make people’s soul weak.
  • Aristotle said arts is complementary to soul. Arts makes people strong. For example.
  • Greek Tragedies gave insight into life and were also a medium for catharsis (‘purgation’/’cleansing’) by pity & terror.
  • Aristotle also developed the art of a plot as having ‘a beginning, a middle, and an end’.
  • “Poetry is more philosophical and more worthy of serious attention than history”.
Plato and Aristotle had disagreement over many topics. “Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth” – Aristotle.
  He wrote a zoology book “The History of Animals”- even Charles Darwin bowed to it.
  • Aristotle systematized ‘logic’ wherein he worked out valid & invalid form of inferences.
  • Aristotle is termed as a great observer. In Philosophy and all other fields of work, he approaches his subjects by recording & systematizing numerous observations. Thus, his method is more ‘empirical’.  “What is Being?” and “All man by virtue desire to know” are his famous quotes.
  • Aristotle derived the four causes namely – Material cause, Efficient cause, Formal cause & Final cause for anything to be the thing it is.
  • Aristotle gave emphasis to Teleology in Philosophy & Politics. (Teleology is a method to study & direct the actions based on the final purpose or end result of any being or action.)
  • In Philosophy – Rationality is the final goal, all the virtues & wisdom prepare us for good life & this good life must consist of Rational Contemplation.
  • In Politics – the objective of a city-state is to maximize the opportunities for its citizens to pursue the good life.
  • Aristotle gave primacy to Substance to be the binding agent for the cosmos instead of Time & Location. Substanceis something whose definition does not rely on existence of any other thing besides the substance itself.
  • For Change & Motion, he emphasized that all changes & motions must have a cause & all causes must themselves be caused. This Philosophy of his leads to an infinite regress that there would be no first cause as there must be an antecedent cause for all the causes.
  • To answer this he says that there must be a First, unmoved, Perfect Cause & mover. Here Aristotle comes to associate with God.

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