Aristotles Refutation Of Platos Theory Of Ideas

Essay, Research Paper

Aristotle refutes Plato’s Theory of Ideas on three basic grounds: that theexistence of Ideas contradicts itself by denying the possibility ofnegations; that his illustrations of Ideas are merely empty metaphors; andthat they theory uses impermanent abstractions to create examples ofperception. Though the theory is meant to establish concrete standards forthe knowledge of reality, Aristotle considers it fraught withinconsistencies and believes that the concept of reality depends upon allforms’ correlations to other elements. Ideas, Plato believes, are permanent, self-contained absolutes, whichanswered to each item of exact knowledge attained through human thought.Also, Ideas are in Plato’s view concrete standards by which all humanendeavor can be judged, for the hierarchy of all ideas leads to the highestabsolute – that of Good. In addition, the theory claims that states ofbeing are contingent upon the mingling of various Forms of existence, thatknowledge is objective and thus clearly more real, and that only theprocesses of nature were valid entities. However, Aristotle attacks this theory on the grounds that Plato’sarguments are inconclusive either his assertions are not al all cogent.Aristotle says, or his arguments lead to contradictory conclusions. Forexample, Aristotle claims that Plato’s arguments lead one to conclude thatentities (such as anything man-made) and negations of concrete ideas couldexist – such as “non-good” in opposition to good. This contradicts Plato’sown belief that only natural objects could serve as standards of knowledge. Also, Aristotle refutes Plato’s belief that Ideas are perfect entities untothemselves, independent of subjective human experience. Ideas, Aristotleclaims, are not abstractions on a proverbial pedestal but mere duplicates ofthings witnessed in ordinary daily life. The Ideas of things, he says, arenot inherent to the objects in particular but created separately and placedapart from the objects themselves. Thus, Aristotle says, Plato’s idea thatIdeas are perfect entities, intangible to subjective human experience, ismeaningless, for all standards are based somewhere in ordinary humanactivity and perception. Thirdly, Aristotle assails Plato’s efforts to find something common toseveral similar objects at once, a perfect exemplar of the quality thosethings share. Beauty is a perfect example; Plato considered Beauty both anotion and an ideal, isolated by abstractions and fixed permanently whileits representatives fade away. Aristotle claims that abstractions likeBeauty cannot be cast as absolutes, independent of temporal humanexperience; the Idea of Beauty changes with time and individual perceptionsand cannot (as Plato felt) exist forever as a concrete standard. Plato and Aristotle reach some agreement, though, on the topic of reality.Plato believes that all reality was derived from his Ideas (which themselvesdealt with concrete hierarchy of rational ideas. St. Anselm, though, makes the most dogmatic and logically tortuous case forGod’s existence, relying not upon explanations of goodness, truth, orrational order of ideas but upon an absurd argument. He claims thateveryone has some sense of God, and he claims that for one to deny God’sexistence is an invalid and contradictory assertion; therefore, God exists.Also, Anselm believes that those capable of understanding God cannot believethat he does not exist – as if the enormity of the idea was so clear thanonly a fool could not perceive it. His arguments seem the weakest of the four viewpoints here, for they areriddled with dogma and assume that God is a constant – using faith alone.Anselm considers faith paramount to logic or other forms of thought and asksno questions as to what powers the universe or what goodness is – hebasically follows the Christian “party line” too closely to be valid. In general, St. Augustine combines Plato’s idea of a moral hierarchy withhis own rational observations of truth and goodness being embodied in their

highest form by God. While Plato wavers on God’s superiority, Aristotleviews man as god’s pawn, and Anselm uses tortuous dogmatic logic,Augustine’s arguments seem to make the most sense from not only a Christianpoint of view but from a moral and rational one as well. The philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, and St. Anselm on theexistence of God all vary on the issue of God’s nature; though each thinkertakes a different approach to why there is a God, that of St. Augustineseems the most valid because he takes a rational stance and does notdogmatically assume God’s existence. Plato’s philosophy assumes that God exists as a supremely good being whosegoodness is analogous to Plato’s concrete concept or the ultimate good.However, God and goodness are not one and the same; Plato does not directlystate that goodness is good, but that God is good, since he exemplifies theidea at the top of Plato’s hierarchy. In short, God does not equalgoodness, but God encompasses it better than any other being. This implies not that God is perfect, but that God’s intentions and actionshave good aims – goodness may emerge from other sources besides God. Themain problem with Plato’s philosophy is his inconsistency; he owes theexistence of his Ideas to both God and goodness, but he claims the two arenot identical. God becomes subordinate to the “universals” in Plato’sordered cosmos, and his defense of God appears rather weak. While Plato assumes God exists as the ultimately good (but not omnipotent)being, Aristotle questions God’s active role in the universe and claims thatnature depends upon an immaterial Supreme Being. For example, he citesnatural genesis and the perpetuity of movement as evidence of God’simmaterial existence, and he implies that God is a self-sufficient,compelling force for both nature and man. Aristotle’s concept of God seems valid as a pre-scientific explanation ofthe universe; however, he seems to ignore God’s embodiment of moral goodnessand man’s ability to think and act freely and still be good. He believesthat all goodness comes from within God and that the goodness in man isdrawn toward God and nothing else. Aristotle’s ideas on God seem, from amodern point of view, effective only as explanations of the supernatural andeven of the miracle of life. St. Augustine links God with rational thought and states that humanknowledge of truth depends upon man’s relationship to God. His argumentmoves him from existence of the self to the objectivity of truth and finallyto God’s reality. Augustine assumes that God is a rational being and thatthe rational and the good are identical. Only God could be superior totruth, he says, and therefore must be the ultimate good; therefore, truth,goodness, and God are one and the same. His argument seems fairly clear-eyed and rational, for he does not approachGod’s goodness dogmatically or automatically assume God’s existence.Instead, he works toward that end by evaluation the rationality of truth andgoodness, and he casts God in that role as the ultimate embodiment of both.In general, Augustine implies, God represents goodness and occupies thepinnacle of the concept like unity and twoness). He considers unity andgoodness the combined center of his system of Ideas and stated that theIdeas had to be more real and concrete than any objects of ordinaryexperience. Aristotle, meanwhile, agreed with Plato’s notion that theimmaterial (form) and the material (matter) were distinctly separateentities; however, he did not share Plato’s belief that all forms werepermanent, freestanding truths; he felt that form correlated to matter.Ideas, he stated, correlated to something material and were thus changeableand often dependent upon the observer. In general, Aristotle refutes Plato on the grounds that his Theory of Ideastries too hard to establish concrete, universal definitions for things thatdepend too much on the material. Though both thinkers agree on theseparation of the material and immaterial (which gave both a somewhatsimilar view of God), they still differ sharply over the permanence ofstandards by which human nature and endeavor can be judged.


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