One of the reasons that the sophists, who had flocked to Athens in the fifth century B.C., had stirred up controversy was that their teachings seemed to many to undermine time-honored moral traditions. Their relativistic doctrines implied that justice actually meant, to paraphrase the fifth-century historian Thucydides describing Athenian war-time behavior, the strong seizing all they have the power to obtain and the weak enduring what they had to accept. Attacking this doctrine was one of the many different subjects undertaken by the philosopher Plato in the fourth century B.C. Plato's famous pupil, Aristotle, combined his teacher's passion for theoretical philosophy with a scientific curiosity about all the phenomena of the natural world. Their thought helped create a new foundation for ethical and scientific inquiry. Their philosophical interests seemed too distant from the concrete concerns of a public career to men like the orator Isocrates, however, who insisted that a proper education centered on rhetoric and practical wisdom.
The Life of Plato Socrates's fate had a profound effect on his most brilliant follower, Plato (ca. 428 -348 B.C.), who even though an aristocrat nevertheless withdrew from political life after 399 B.C. The condemnation of Socrates had apparently convinced Plato that citizens in a democracy were incapable of rising above narrow self-interest to knowledge of any universal truth. In his works dealing with the organization of society, Plato bitterly rejected democracy as a justifiable system of government. Instead, he sketched what he saw as the philosophical basis for ideal political and social structures amon g human beings. His utopian vision had virtually no effect on the actual politics of his time, and his attempts to advise Dionysius II (ruled 367-344 B.C.), tyrant of Syracuse in Sicily, on how to rule as a true philosopher ended in utter failure. Otherwise we have almost no evidence for the events of Plato's life.
Political philosophy formed only one portion of Plato's interests, which ranged widely in astronomy, mathematics, and metaphysics (theoretical explanations for phenomena that cannot be understood through direct experience or scientific experiment). After Plato's death, his ideas attracted relatively little attention among philosophers for the next two centuries, until they were revived as important points for debate in the Roman era. Nevertheless, the sheer intellectual power of Plato's thought and the controversy it has engendered ever since his lifetime have won him fame as one of the world's greatest philosophers.
Plato's Academy Plato seem to have disagreed with Socrates's insistence that fundamental knowledge meant moral knowledge based on inner reflection. Plato concluded that knowledge meant searching for truths that are independent of the observer and could be taught to others. He acted on this latter belief by founding the Academy, a shady gathering spot just outside the walls of Athens, which was named after the local hero whose shrine was nearby. The Academy was not a school or college in the modern sense but rather an informal association of people, who were interested in studying philosophy, mathematics, and theoretical astronomy with Plato as their guide. The Academy became so famous as a gathering place for intellectuals that it continued to operate for nine hundred years after Plato's death, with periods in which it was directed by distinguished philosophers and others during which it lapsed into mediocrity.
The Dialogues of Plato Plato did not write philosophical treatises in the abstract fashion familiar from more recent times but rather composed works called dialogues from their form as conversations or reported conversations. Almost as if they were short plays, the dialogues have settings and casts of conversationalists (often including Socrates), who talk about philosophical issues. Divorcing the philosophical content of a Platonic dialogue from its literary form is no doubt a mistaken approach; a dialogue of Plato demands to be taken as a whole. The dialogues were meant to provoke readers into thoughtful reflection rather than to spoon-feed them a circumscribed set of doctrines.
Platonic Doctrines Plato's views seem to have changed over time, and he nowhere presents one, coherent set of doctrines. Although it is unwise to try to summarize Plato rather than to read his dialogues as complete pieces, it is perhaps not too misleading to say that he taught that human beings cannot define and understand absolute virtues such as goodness, justice, beauty, or equality by the concrete evidence of these qualities in their lives. Any earthly examples will in another context display the opposite quality. For instance, always returning what one has borrowed might seem to be just. But what if a person who has borrowed a weapon from a friend is confronted by that friend who wants the weapon back to commit a murder? In this case, returning the borrowed item would be unjust. Examples of equality are also only relative. The equality of a stick two feet long, for example, is evident when it is compared with another two-foot stick. Paired with a three-foot stick, however, it displays inequality. In sum, in the world that human beings experience with their senses, every example of the virtues and every quality is relative in some aspect of its context.
Platonic Forms Plato refused to accept the relativity of the virtues as reality. He developed the theory that the virtues cannot be discovered through experience; rather, the virtues are absolutes that can be apprehended only by thought and that somehow exist independently of human existence. The separate realities of the pure virtues Plato referred to in some of his works as Forms (sing. eidos , plur. eide , or sing. idea , plur. ideai ); among the Forms were Goodness, Justice, Beauty, and Equality. He argued that the Forms were invisible, invariable, and eternal entities located in a higher realm beyond the empirical world of human beings. The Forms such as Goodness, Justice, Beauty, and Equality are, according to Plato, true reality; what humans experience with their senses are the impure shadows of this reality.
Each Form, Plato seems to say, is an essential quality, one that people experience only through contrast between opposites. For example, that a stick embodies equality to another of the same length but inequality to a stick of a different length demonstrates equality only through contrast with the unequal stick. The Form Equality, however, is the pure essence of equality, which under no circumstances can be unequal or possess the quality of inequality. Such a pure Form is beyond human experience. The same reasoning applies to the other virtues such as goodness or beauty or justice.
Plato's concept of Forms required the further belief that knowledge of them came through the human soul, which must be immortal. When a soul is incarnated in its current body, it brings with it knowledge of the Forms. The soul then uses reason in argument and proof, not empirical observation through the senses, to recollect its pre-existent knowledge.
Plato was not consistent throughout his career in his views on the nature or the significance of Forms, and his later works seem quite divorced from the theory. Nevertheless, Forms provide a good example of both the complexity and the wide range of Platonic thought. With his theory of Forms, Plato made metaphysics a central issue for philosophers ever since.
The Platonic Demiurge Plato's idea that humans possessed immortal souls distinct from their bodies established the concept of dualism, positing a separation between spiritual and physical being. This notion of the separateness of soul and body would play an influential role in later philosophical and religious thought. In a dialogue written late in his life, Plato said the pre-existing knowledge possessed by the immortal human soul is in truth the knowledge known to the supreme deity. Plato called this god the Demiurge (“craftsman”) because the deity used knowledge of the Forms to craft the world of living beings from raw matter. According to this doctrine of Plato, a knowing, rational God created the world, and the world therefore has order. Furthermore, its beings have goals, as evidenced by animals adapting to their environments in order to flourish. The Demiurge wanted to reproduce in the material world the perfect order of the Forms, but the world as crafted turned out not to be perfect because matter is necessarily imperfect. Plato suggested that the proper goal for human beings is to seek perfect order and purity in their own souls by making rational desires control their irrational desires. The latter cause harm in various ways. The desire to drink wine to excess, for example, is irrational because the drinker fails to consider the hangover to come the next day. Those who are governed by irrational desires thus fail to consider the future of both body and soul. Finally, since the soul is immortal and the body is not, our present, impure existence is only one passing phase in our cosmic existence.
Plato's Republic Plato employed his theory of Forms not only in metaphysical speculation about the original creation of the everyday world in which people live but also in showing the way human society should be constructed in an ideal world. One version of Plato's utopian vision is found in his most famous dialogue, the Republic . This work, whose Greek title (Politeia) would be more accurately rendered as System of Government, primarily concerns the nature of justice and the reasons that people should be just instead of unjust. Justice, Plato argues, is advantageous; it consists of subordinating the irrational to the rational in the soul. By using the truly just polis as a model for understanding this notion of proper subordination in the soul, Plato presents a vision of the ideal structure for human society. Like a just soul, the just society would have its parts in proper hierarchy, parts that Plato in the Republic presents as three classes of people, as distinguished by their ability to grasp the truth of Forms. The highest class constitutes the rulers, or “guardians” as Plato calls them, who are educated in mathematics, astronomy, and metaphysics. Next come the “auxiliaries,” whose function it is to defend the polis . The lowest class is that of the producers, who grow the food and make the objects required by the whole population. Each part contributes to society by fulfilling its proper function.
Guardians in the Republic Women as well as men qualify to be guardians because they possess the same virtues and abilities as men, except for a disparity in physical strength between the average woman and the average man. The axiom justifying the inclusion of women, namely that virtue is the same in women as in men, is perhaps a notion that Plato derived from Socrates. The inclusion of women in the ruling class of Plato's utopian city-state represented a startling departure from the actual practice of his times. Indeed, never before in Western history had anyone proposed- even in fantasy- that work be allocated in human society without regard to gender. Moreover, to minimize distraction, guardians are to have neither private property nor nuclear families. Male and female guardians are to live in houses shared in common, to eat in the same mess halls, and to exercise in the same gymnasiums. The children are to be raised as a group in a common environment by special caretakers. Although this scheme is meant to free women guardians from child-care responsibilities and enable them to rule equally with men, Plato fails to consider that women guardians would in reality have a much tougher life than the men because they would have to be pregnant frequently and undergo the strain and danger of giving birth. At the same time, he evidently does not believe they are disqualified for ruling on this account. The guardians who achieved the highest level of knowledge in Plato's ideal society would qualify to rule over the ideally just state as philosopher-kings.
To become a guardian, a person from childhood must be educated for many years in mathematics, astronomy, and metaphysics to gain the knowledge that Plato in the Republic presented as necessary if one was to rule for the common good. Plato's specifications for the education of guardians in fact make him the first thinker to argue systematically that education should be the training of the mind and the character rather than simply the acquisition of information and practical skills. Such a state would necessarily be authoritarian because only the ruling class would possess the knowledge to determine its policies and make decisions determining who is allowed to mate with whom to produce the best children.
Philosophy and Life The severe regulation of life that Plato proposed for his ideally just state in the Republic was an outgrowth of his tight focus on the question of a rational person's true interest. Furthermore, he insisted that politics and ethics are fields in which objective truths can be found by the use of reason. Despite his harsh criticism of existing governments such as Athenian democracy and his scorn for the importance of rhetoric in its functioning, Plato also recognized the practical difficulties in implementing radical changes in the way people actually lived. Indeed, his late dialogue The Laws shows him wrestling with the question of improving the real world in a less radical, though still authoritarian, way than in the Republic . Plato hoped that, instead of ordinary politicians, whether democrats or oligarchs, the people who know truth and can promote the common good would rule because their rule would be in everyone's real interest. For this reason above all, he passionately believed that the study of philosophy mattered to human life.
Aristotle, Scientist and Philosopher Plato's most brilliant follower was Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). Aristotle's great reputation as a thinker in science and philosophy rests on his influence in promoting scientific investigation of the natural world and in developing rigorous systems of logical argument. The enormous influence of Aristotle's works on scholars in later periods, especially the Middle Ages, has made him a monumental figure in the history of western science and philosophy.
The son of a wealthy doctor from Stagira in northern Greece, Aristotle came to Athens at the age of seventeen to study in Plato's Academy, where he stayed until the death of Plato in 348/7. He next went to stay with Hermias, a ruler of towns in Mysia in western Anatolia. When Hermias fell from power and died in 345, Aristotle moved to the town of Mytilene on Lesbos, and then in 343 he took up a post at the royal court of Macedonia to tutor Alexander, the son of king Philip II. By 340 he had probably returned to Stagira, and in 335 Aristotle founded his own informal philosophical school in Athens named the Lyceum, later called the Peripatetic School after the covered walkway (peripatos ) in which its students carried on conversations while strolling out of the glare of the Mediterranean sun. When Alexander, who had succeeded his father as Macedonian king, died in 323, anti-Macedonian feelings among the Athenians forced Aristotle to depart for Chalcis, where he died in 322.
Aristotle's Interests Aristotle lectured on nearly every branch of learning: biology, medicine, anatomy, psychology, meteorology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, music, metaphysics, rhetoric, political science, ethics, literary criticism. Apparently an inspiring teacher, Aristotle encouraged his followers to conduct research in numerous fields of specialized knowledge. For example, he had student researchers compile reports on the systems of government of 158 Greek states. He also worked out a sophisticated system of logic for precise argumentation. Creating a careful system to identify the forms of valid arguments, Aristotle established grounds for distinguishing a logically sound case from a merely persuasive one. He first gave names to contrasts such as premise versus conclusion and the universal versus the particular that have been commonplaces of thought and speech ever since. He also studied the process of explanation itself, formulating the influential doctrine of four causes. According to Aristotle, four different categories of explanation exist that are not reducible to a single, unified whole: form (defining characteristics), matter (constituent elements), origin of movement (similar to what we commonly mean by “cause”), and telos (aim or goal). This analysis exemplifies Aristotle's care never to oversimplify the complexity of reality. Some of Aristotle's most influential discussions concentrated on understanding qualitative concepts that human beings tend to take for granted, such as time, space, motion, and change. Through careful argumentation he probed the philosophical difficulties that lie beneath the surface of these familiar notions, and his views on the nature of things exercised an overwhelming influence on later thinkers.
Aristotle's Methods Much of Aristotle's philosophical thought reflected the influence of Plato, but he also refined and even rejected ideas that his teacher had advocated. He denied the validity of Plato's theory of Forms, for example, on the grounds that the separate existence that Plato postulated for them failed to make sense. This position typified Aristotle's general preference for explanations based on common sense rather than metaphysics. By modern standards his scientific thought paid relatively limited attention to mathematical models of explanation and quantitative reasoning, but mathematics in his time had not yet reached the level of sophistication appropriate for such work. His method also differed from that of modern scientists because it did not include controlled experimentation. Aristotle believed that investigators had a better chance of understanding objects and beings by observing them in their natural setting than under the artificial conditions of a laboratory. His coupling of detailed investigation with perceptive reasoning served especially well in such physical sciences as biology, botany, and zoology. For example, as the first scientist to try to collect all the available information on the animal species and to classify them, Aristotle recorded the facts about more than five hundred different kinds of animals, including insects. Many of his descriptions represented significant advances in learning. His recognition that whales and dolphins were mammals, for instance, which later writers on animals overlooked, was not rediscovered for another two thousand years. His gynecology, however, in contrast to much of his other learning, was seriously flawed.
Aristotle's Teleology In his zoological research Aristotle set forth his teleological view of nature- that is, he believed organisms developed as they did because they had a natural goal (telos in Greek), or what we might call an end or a function. To explain a phenomenon, Aristotle said that one must discover its goal- to understand “that for the sake of which” the phenomenon in question existed. A simple example of this kind of explanation is the duck's webbed feet. According to Aristotle's reasoning, ducks have webbed feet for the sake of swimming, an activity that supports the goal of a duck's existence, which is to find food in the water so as to stay alive. Aristotle argued that the natural goal of human beings was to live in the society of a polis and that the city-state came into existence to meet the human need to live together, since individuals living in isolation cannot be self-sufficient. Furthermore, existence in a city-state made possible an orderly life of virtue for its citizens. The means to achieve this ordered life were the rule of law and the process of citizens' ruling and being ruled in turn.
Aristotle on Slaves and Women Aristotle was conventional for his times in regarding slavery as natural on the grounds that some people were by nature bound to be slaves because their souls lacked the rational part that should rule in a human being. Individuals propounding the contrary view were rare, although one fourth-century B.C. orator, Alcidamas, asserted that “God has set all men free; nature has made no one a slave.” Also in tune with his times was Aristotle's conclusion that women were by nature inferior to men. His view of the inferiority of women was based on faulty notions of biology. He wrongly believed, for example, that in procreation the male with his semen actively gave the fetus its form, while the female had only the passive role of providing its matter. His assertion that females were less courageous than males was justified by dubious evidence about animals, such as the report that a male squid would stand by as if to help when its mate was speared but that a female squid would swim away when the male was impaled. Although his erroneous biology led Aristotle to evaluate females as incomplete males, he believed that human communities could be successful and happy only if they included the contributions of both women and men. Aristotle argued that marriage was meant to provide mutual help and comfort but that the husband should rule.
Aristotle on Just Behavior Aristotle sharply departed from the Socratic idea that knowledge of justice and goodness was all that was necessary for a person to behave justly. He argued that people in their souls often possess knowledge of what is right but that their irrational desires overrule this knowledge and lead them to do wrong. People who know the evils of hangovers still get drunk, for instance. Recognizing a conflict of desires in the human soul, Aristotle devoted special attention to the issue of achieving self-control by training the mind to win out over the instincts and passions. Self-control did not mean denying human desires and appetites; rather, it meant striking a balance between suppressing and heedlessly indulging physical yearnings, of finding “the mean.” Aristotle claimed that the mind should rule in striking this balance because the intellectual is the finest human quality and the mind is the true self, indeed the godlike part of a person.
Aristotle on Human Happiness Aristotle believed that human happiness, which was not to be equated with the simple-minded pursuit of pleasure, stems from fulfilling human potentialities. These potentialities can be identified by rational choice, practical judgment, and recognition of the value of choosing the mean instead of extremes. The central moral problem is the nearly universal human tendency to want to “get more,” to act unjustly whenever one has the power to do so. The aim of education is to dissuade people from this inclination, which has its worst effects when it is directed at acquiring money or honor. In this context Aristotle was thinking of men in public life outside the home, and he says that the dangerous disorder caused by men's desire for “getting more” occurs both in democracies and oligarchies. The greatest threat to democracy was the teaching of the sophists that freedom is living exactly as a man likes. True freedom, he stressed, consisted in ruling and being ruled in turn according to the agreed-on laws of the community.
Aristotle regarded science and philosophy not as abstract subjects isolated from the concerns of ordinary existence but rather as the disciplined search for knowledge in every aspect of life. That search epitomized the kind of rational human activity that alone could bring the good life and genuine happiness. Some modern critics have replied that Aristotle's work lacks a clear moral code, but he did the study of ethics a great service by insisting that standards of right and wrong have merit only if they are grounded in character and aligned with the good in human nature and do not simply consist of lists of abstract reasons for behaving in one way rather than another. An ethical system, that is, must be relevant to the actual moral situations that human beings continually experience in their lives. In ethics, as in all his scholarship, Aristotle distinguished himself by the insistence that the life of the mind and experience of the real world were inseparable components in the quest to define a worthwhile existence for human beings.
Practical Education and Rhetoric Despite his interest in subjects such as the history of the constitutions of states and the theory and practice of rhetoric, Aristotle remained a theoretician in the mold of Plato. This characteristic set him apart from the major educational trend of the fourth century B.C., which emphasized practical wisdom and training that had direct application to the public lives of upper-class male citizens in a swiftly changing world. The most important subject in this education was rhetoric, the skill of persuasive public speaking, which itself depended not only on oratorical techniques but also on the knowledge of the world and of human psychology that speakers required to be effective. The ideas about education and rhetoric that emerged in this period exercised tremendous influence throughout the Greek and Roman eras and long thereafter.
Influential believers in the general value of practical knowledge and rhetoric were to be found even among those who had admired Socrates, who had placed no value on such matters. Xenophon, for example, knew Socrates well enough to write extensive memoirs recreating many conversations with the great philosopher. But he also wrote a wide range of works in history, biography, estate management, horsemanship, and the public revenues of Athens. The subjects of these treatises reveal the manifold topics that Xenophon considered essential to the proper education of young men.
Isocrates on Rhetoric The ideas of the famous Athenian orator Isocrates (436-338 B.C.) exemplified the dedication to rhetoric as a practical skill that Plato rejected as utterly wrong. Isocrates was born to a rich family and studied with sophists and thinkers including Socrates. Since he lacked the voice to address large gatherings, Isocrates composed speeches for other men to deliver and sought to influence public opinion and political leaders at Athens and abroad by publishing speeches of his own in writing. He regarded education as the preparation for a useful life doing good in matters of public importance. He sought to develop an educational middle ground between the theoretical study of abstract ideas and purely crass training in rhetorical techniques for influencing others to one's own personal advantage. In this way he stood between the ideals of Plato and the promises of unscrupulous sophists.
Rhetoric was the skill that Isocrates sought to develop, but that development, he insisted, could come only with natural talent and the practical experience of worldly affairs that trained orators to understand public issues and the psychology of the people whom they had to persuade for the common good. Isocrates saw rhetoric therefore not as a device for cynical self-aggrandizement but as a powerful tool of persuasion for human betterment, if it was wielded by properly gifted and trained men with developed consciences. Women were of course excluded from participation because they could not take part in politics. The Isocratean emphasis on rhetoric and its application in the real world of politics won many more adherents among men in Greek and, later, Roman culture than did the Platonic vision of the philosophical life, and it would have great influence when revived in Renaissance Europe, two thousand years later.
Isocrates on Panhellenism Throughout his life Isocrates tried to put his doctrines to use by addressing works to powerful leaders whose policies he wanted to influence. In his later years he believed the state of Greece had become so unstable that he promoted the cause of Panhellenism- political harmony among the Greek states- by urging Philip II, king of Macedonia, to unite the Greeks under his leadership in a crusade against Persia. This radical recommendation was Isocrates's practical solution to the persistent conflicts among Greek city-states and to the social unrest created by friction between the richer communities and the many poor areas in Greece. Isocrates believed that if the fractious city-states accepted Philip as their leader in a common alliance, they could avoid wars among themselves and relieve the impoverished population among them by establishing Greek colonies on land to be conquered and carved out of Persian-held territory in Anatolia. That a prominent Athenian would openly appeal for a Macedonian king to save the Greeks from themselves reflected the startling new political and military reality that had emerged in the Greek world by the mid-fourth century B.C.
This article has been viewed 12955 times in the last 7 years
jack: 6th Jan 2006 - 16:09 GMT
this has been viewed 95 times now but did anyone read this stuff. i like the comics, especially prince valient. and i have a 142 iq yet i still like easy reading.
Peter: 6th Jan 2006 - 16:53 GMT
this was waaaay too long to read. all i know is that he took the photo from this entry and edited it a bit. i dont really follow this person's posts much. theyre pretty out-there.
i guess we all are, to some degree, but at least i keep my stuff concice enough that it invites reading or perusal.
elaine: 6th Jan 2006 - 16:56 GMT
nope, and it was immediately obviously not an original photo, so by definition sliding out of the interest bracket... aaaand with the text, nope and nope
BBOS referring to ....By Believing One Sees...is that right ?
Paula rRis: 20th Jun 2007 - 13:02 GMT
I like it very much. But I was serching for the phrase in "Rhetoric" of Atistotle relative a "the mathematicals speeches have no ethe, since they do not involve any resolute choice (prohairesis) either. For they have 'that for the sake of wich." And this last frase in my context is not clear for me. But I love your article. Thank you