Epistemologies; Plato vs. Aristotle
Plato, the father of philosophy, was a rationalist. He was the first systematic metaphysician and epistemologist. He believed that we had innate knowledge; a priori. So to him learning was only a matter of remembering. Plato believed that the “ideal” world existed beyond our own physical earth because according to him realty could not be changing or imperfect. From his point of view what we see are only the particulars, the mimics of the real thing, therefore, we have to pull back from the world of peculiars and search in our own minds.
Things like justice or moral virtues do not exist in this world in a proper form. In Crito & Meno we can clearly see these ideas. The essential argument in Crito is ‘The Many vs. The One’. Socrates says “We should’t care all that much about what the populace will say of us, but about what the expert on matters justice and injustice will say, the individual authority, or Truth. ” With this phrase he is saying that we should never pay attention to the opinion of the many but always find the one who knows because that is the only person whose opinion is valuable.
And later on he goes on to say that if it is never good to do injustice then it is also wrong to do injustice in response to injustice which is why he refuses to escape. In Meno we get more in depth into the idea of inborn knowledge. Meno starts with the question ‘What is Virtue? ’ but Meno always answers the question by giving examples of virtue instead of defining the word and going to the roots of what all those virtues have in common.
Down in the world of particulars there are many kinds of virtues for example for the male it’s to run the state, female it’s to run the household but what is important, essential is the traits they both have in common; temperance and justice. Socrates uses the dialectical method in order to get answers out of Meno and also clearly demonstrates this method on a slave of Meno to prove his theory about innate knowledge.
Even though it can always be used, using the dialectical method is specifically significant when a person believes that we have innate knowledge, because if what we call learning is just remembering then teaching is just pulling out that knowledge, giving opportunities for that innate knowledge to spring forth. Aristotle on the other hand was an empiricist. He believed that we “learned” through our senses, by gathering knowledge from the world around us; “a posteriori”.
By reading ‘On the soul’ and ‘Metaphysics’ we get a clear sense of Aristotle’s epistemology. Aristotle encourages embracing the particular in order to possibly gain a sense of the universal. According to Aristotle forms are the essence and when we combine form and matter we get human. The reading ‘On the Soul’ discusses that the body and the soul is not one, that sight allows us to absorb the world in very abstract ways and that memory is learning.
In the reading ‘Metaphysics’ Aristotle sets forth causes for the explanation of change: Substance (essence), Matter (or substratum), Source of change and the cause opposed to this. Plato and Aristotle both believed in a universal purpose but the ways in which they got to these universal purposes were very different. Plato was an idealist, he despised the physical whereas Aristotle was a scientist, he loved facts and commonsense.
Aristotle would argue that we gain knowledge after experience (a posteriori) but Plato would certainly disagree and say that we gain knowledge before experience (a priori). Plato believes that there is a world of ideas where ideas exist perfectly, the objects in our world are just mimics whereas Aristotle says that the ideas we perceive are inside the particular object. By saying that matter and form combined is what makes an individual Aristotle brings Plato’s Forms “down from the heavens to concrete reality. ”