Aristoltes Refutation Of Plato

’s Theory Of Ideas Essay, Research Paper



Aristotle refutes Plato’s Theory of Ideas on three basic grounds: that the

existence of Ideas contradicts itself by denying the possibility of

negations; that his illustrations of Ideas are merely empty metaphors; and

that they theory uses impermanent abstractions to create examples of

perception. Though the theory is meant to establish concrete standards for

the knowledge of reality, Aristotle considers it fraught with

inconsistencies and believes that the concept of reality depends upon all

forms’ correlations to other elements.

Ideas, Plato believes, are permanent, self-contained absolutes, which

answered to each item of exact knowledge attained through human thought.

Also, Ideas are in Plato’s view concrete standards by which all human

endeavor can be judged, for the hierarchy of all ideas leads to the highest

absolute – that of Good. In addition, the theory claims that states of

being are contingent upon the mingling of various Forms of existence, that

knowledge is objective and thus clearly more real, and that only the

processes of nature were valid entities.

However, Aristotle attacks this theory on the grounds that Plato’s

arguments are inconclusive either his assertions are not al all cogent.

Aristotle says, or his arguments lead to contradictory conclusions. For

example, Aristotle claims that Plato’s arguments lead one to conclude that

entities (such as anything man-made) and negations of concrete ideas could

exist – such as “non-good” in opposition to good. This contradicts Plato’s

own belief that only natural objects could serve as standards of knowledge.

Also, Aristotle refutes Plato’s belief that Ideas are perfect entities unto

themselves, independent of subjective human experience. Ideas, Aristotle

claims, are not abstractions on a proverbial pedestal but mere duplicates of

things witnessed in ordinary daily life. The Ideas of things, he says, are

not inherent to the objects in particular but created separately and placed

apart from the objects themselves. Thus, Aristotle says, Plato’s idea that

Ideas are perfect entities, intangible to subjective human experience, is

meaningless, for all standards are based somewhere in ordinary human

activity and perception.

Thirdly, Aristotle assails Plato’s efforts to find something common to

several similar objects at once, a perfect exemplar of the quality those

things share. Beauty is a perfect example; Plato considered Beauty both a

notion and an ideal, isolated by abstractions and fixed permanently while

its representatives fade away. Aristotle claims that abstractions like

Beauty cannot be cast as absolutes, independent of temporal human

experience; the Idea of Beauty changes with time and individual perceptions

and 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 themselves

dealt with concrete hierarchy of rational ideas.

St. Anselm, though, makes the most dogmatic and logically tortuous case for

God’s existence, relying not upon explanations of goodness, truth, or

rational order of ideas but upon an absurd argument. He claims that

everyone has some sense of God, and he claims that for one to deny God’s

existence is an invalid and contradictory assertion; therefore, God exists.

Also, Anselm believes that those capable of understanding God cannot believe

that he does not exist – as if the enormity of the idea was so clear than

only a fool could not perceive it.

His arguments seem the weakest of the four viewpoints here, for they are

riddled with dogma and assume that God is a constant – using faith alone.

Anselm considers faith paramount to logic or other forms of thought and asks

no questions as to what powers the universe or what goodness is – he

basically follows the Christian “party line” too closely to be valid.

In general, St. Augustine combines Plato’s idea of a moral hierarchy with

his own rational observations of truth and goodness being embodied in their

highest form by God. While Plato wavers on God’s superiority, Aristotle

views man as god’s pawn, and Anselm uses tortuous dogmatic logic,

Augustine’s arguments seem to make the most sense from not only a Christian

point of view but from a moral and rational one as well.

The philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, and St. Anselm on the

existence of God all vary on the issue of God’s nature; though each thinker

takes a different approach to why there is a God, that of St. Augustine

seems the most valid because he takes a rational stance and does not

dogmatically assume God’s existence.

Plato’s philosophy assumes that God exists as a supremely good being whose

goodness is analogous to Plato’s concrete concept or the ultimate good.

However, God and goodness are not one and the same; Plato does not directly

state that goodness is good, but that God is good, since he exemplifies the

idea at the top of Plato’s hierarchy. In short, God does not equal

goodness, but God encompasses it better than any other being.

This implies not that God is perfect, but that God’s intentions and actions

have good aims – goodness may emerge from other sources besides God. The

main problem with Plato’s philosophy is his inconsistency; he owes the

existence of his Ideas to both God and goodness, but he claims the two are

not identical. God becomes subordinate to the “universals” in Plato’s

ordered 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 that

nature depends upon an immaterial Supreme Being. For example, he cites

natural genesis and the perpetuity of movement as evidence of God’s

immaterial 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 of

the universe; however, he seems to ignore God’s embodiment of moral goodness

and man’s ability to think and act freely and still be good. He believes

that all goodness comes from within God and that the goodness in man is

drawn toward God and nothing else. Aristotle’s ideas on God seem, from a

modern point of view, effective only as explanations of the supernatural and

even of the miracle of life.

St. Augustine links God with rational thought and states that human

knowledge of truth depends upon man’s relationship to God. His argument

moves him from existence of the self to the objectivity of truth and finally

to God’s reality. Augustine assumes that God is a rational being and that

the rational and the good are identical. Only God could be superior to

truth, 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 approach

God’s goodness dogmatically or automatically assume God’s existence.

Instead, he works toward that end by evaluation the rationality of truth and

goodness, and he casts God in that role as the ultimate embodiment of both.

In general, Augustine implies, God represents goodness and occupies the

pinnacle of the concept like unity and twoness). He considers unity and

goodness the combined center of his system of Ideas and stated that the

Ideas had to be more real and concrete than any objects of ordinary

experience. Aristotle, meanwhile, agreed with Plato’s notion that the

immaterial (form) and the material (matter) were distinctly separate

entities; however, he did not share Plato’s belief that all forms were

permanent, freestanding truths; he felt that form correlated to matter.

Ideas, he stated, correlated to something material and were thus changeable

and often dependent upon the observer.

In general, Aristotle refutes Plato on the grounds that his Theory of Ideas

tries too hard to establish concrete, universal definitions for things that

depend too much on the material. Though both thinkers agree on the

separation of the material and immaterial (which gave both a somewhat

similar view of God), they still differ sharply over the permanence of

standards by which human nature and endeavor can be judged.


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