Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle Prof.Rose Cherubin Department of Philosophy George Mason University http://www.gmu.edu/courses/phil/ancient/index.htm “Homegrown” Philosophy in Athens • Socrates (469-399 BCE) – left no writings, but served as an informal teacher and mentor to Plato, Alcibiades, and Xenophon, among others (and as a formal and informal nuisance to most of Athens) • Plato (427-347) – wrote dialogues, of which about 3 dozen survive. – Many of these feature a character named after and based on Socrates. – Plato founded a school known as the Academy. • Aristotle (384-322) – came to Athens in 367 from Stagira in Thrace (northern Greece) to study with Plato. – Some years after Plato‟s death, A. founded his own school in Athens, the Lyceum. – Aristotle wrote treatises on an even wider variety of topics than Plato, including physics, biology, logic, psychology, ethics, and more. Socrates • What we know of Socrates comes mainly from his portrayals in Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophanes. • Common elements in all 3 portrayals: – Socrates went around asking people questions in a systematic and sustained way; – These questions often had a what-is form (What is justice? What is piety? etc.); – Socrates‟ method involved demonstrating contradictions in his respondents‟ claims; – The Athenians‟ responses to the questions showed that they did not know what they thought they knew; – Socrates was especially committed to showing influential people that they were espousing contradictory or incoherent things. What did Socrates actually say? • The short answer is: We don‟t know. • He may well have said that he was wiser than other Athenians in so far as he recognized where he was ignorant, and tried to remedy these lacks – and also tried to search out further previously unnoticed areas of ignorance. • He seems to have looked for explanations and arguments as the appropriate ways to justify actions, suggesting that he was implicitly proposing a basis for right and authority other than “might makes right.” This basis would be truth, or a commitment to finding it. Plato • All surviving work is in dialogue form. • Why might Plato have used this form? • Effects: – Is Plato trying to espouse a certain set of ideas, and if so, which characters voice it? (Problems beset several proposals.) – If not, what does the dialogue form give the reader? Plato • Well-known and influential ideas: – The Platonic Forms or Ideas – The “Socratic Method” (apparently based on something Socrates did, but further developed and portrayed in writing by Plato) – “platonic love” – intellectual, political, and social equality of the sexes Plato: The “Forms” • There is no single “theory of Forms” or “doctrine of Forms” in Plato. • The Forms appear in proposals by various characters as ways of answering questions such as: – What if anything would make knowledge possible? (Knowledge of the ultimate nature of things, of what we should do, etc.) – Are there stable underlying recognizable features of the universe that make things be the way they are? – And, do they conform to the names we have for things, such that what we pick out using language are real features of the universe? For example, is there a Good Itself or Form of the Good that all good things “have and that makes them good? Plato: Socratic Method • Often what is called the Socratic Method is a procedure of questioning to elicit a particular answer, a particular bit of content. • But Plato portrays Socrates as asking questions to explore people‟s ideas and especially to show people the incoherences, contradictions, and unwarranted assumptions in their everyday claims and beliefs. Plato: “Platonic Love” • The phrase „platonic love‟ generally refers to a non- physical attraction. This is not exactly what Plato meant... • The phrase seems to derive from a passage in Plato‟s Symposium, where Socrates describes how one can progress from love of physical beauty through love of beautiful deeds and behaviors to love of Beauty Itself. But it all starts with, and does not necessarily leave behind, physical attraction. • Why then did „platonic‟ come to mean non-physical? Plato: Equality of the Sexes • In Plato‟s Republic, the character Socrates argues that men and women are equally qualified and capable to carry out the various functions of citizens in a democracy or oligarchy, and that they should therefore have the same rights with respect to education, voting, property, and the like. • Socrates and his friends are discussing an ideal community, so as to gain insight about justice. There is no question of such reforms being possible in practice (Socrates was executed for less). Assos, City walls and entry road (4th century BCE) Aristotle spent time in this area when he was forced to leave Athens. Life of Aristotle • 384 BCE: Aristotle is born at Stagira in Thrace (northern part of the Greek peninsula). His father was court physician to King Amyntas II of Macedonia. • 367-347: Aristotle studies, and later teaches, at Plato‟s Academy in Athens. • In 347 Plato dies, and there is also anti-Macedonian sentiment in Athens, so Aristotle accepts an invitation to work and teach in Assos in Asia Minor. About 344 he moves to nearby Mytilene. It is in this period that he seems to have begun his empirical research in biology and natural history. • 342: Aristotle is recalled to Macedonia to serve as tutor to Alexander, son of King Philip. The tutoring seems to have ended in about 340. • 334: Philip dies; Aristotle returns to Athens and founds a school, the Lyceum. • 323: For Alexander-related reasons, anti-Macedonian sentiment returns to Athens, and Aristotle goes north to Chalcis, where he dies in 322. Aristotle‟s Catfish, Silurus aristotelis • Aristotle spent much of his time in Asia Minor investigating fish. In History of Animals 621a20-b2, Aristotle reported on the odd behavior of a catfish of Asia Minor: the male guards the young by attacking predators and fishhooks, and by disturbing the water and somehow making grunting noises. For years it was thought that Aristotle was reporting a mere fanciful tale, but in the mid-19th century Agassiz discovered that there really was such a fish. It was named after Aristotle in 1857. First Causes and Principles • Philosophia means „love of wisdom.‟ In the Metaphysics, Aristotle tries to figure out what wisdom might involve. Thus he investigates even his own enterprise. • Aristotle argues that given what is said about “what is called „wisdom,‟” it appears that wisdom would be knowledge of “first causes and principles” – the most primary or fundamental reasons and sources for what is. • Philosophy investigates first causes and principles, but Aristotle does not say that anyone has yet found them. In fact, he suggests that in our current condition we can‟t even conceive of what it would be like to know first causes and principles. The “Four Causes” • The word Aristotle uses for „cause‟ is „aitia,‟ which literally means „that which is responsible [for something].‟ Another way to understand this is that the aitia is the “why” of something: why an event happens, or why a thing is the way it is. • Aristotle says that we speak of the “why” of things, that is, of “causes,” in four basic ways. These are sometimes referred to today as “Aristotle‟s Four Causes,” but a better way to understand them would be as four kinds of cause. • The primary discussions of these issues are in Metaphysics Book One, Chapter 3; and Physics Book Two, Chapters 3 and 7. The “Four Causes”: One • One kind of cause is what Aristotle calls the “matter” (hulē). This is that which something is made of, its constituent stuff. • This is sometimes known as the “material cause.” • Examples: wood is the matter of a wooden table; a mixture of eggs, flour, and water might be the matter of bread. • For Aristotle, matter is not limited to what we would today call “material” things, i.e. things we can sense or detect physically. Aristotle says that letters are the matter of syllables (not just audible or visible symbols of letters); that hypotheses are the matter of conclusions; and that mathematical objects (for example, ideal triangles that are two-dimensional) have “intelligible matter.” The “Four Causes”: Two • Another kind of cause is the source of motion, rest, or change: what sets off an event, or what is responsible for the something‟s coming into being, perishing, moving, or changing. • This is sometimes called the “efficient cause” or the “moving cause.” • Examples: a carpenter, working, is the moving cause of a house being constructed. A sculptor, working, is the moving cause of a statue. If lightning strikes ignite a brush fire, lightning was the moving cause of the fire. An adviser, Aristotle says, can be the moving cause of a course of action, a military campaign, etc. The “Four Causes”: Three • The third kind of cause is what Aristotle variously calls the “form” (eidos) or “substance” (a misleading translation of ousia which means „being‟) or “pattern” (paradeigma) or the account of “what it is to be” something (to ti ēn einai, sometimes translated as „essence‟). • This is sometimes called the “formal” cause. • A wooden table, a metal table, and a stone table share a “form,” that of “table,” even as they have different “matter” (materials). At the same time, it is the form that differentiates a wooden table from a wooden chair. Thus the form is part of what makes a thing what it is, and so is a “cause” of the thing‟s being what it is. • Non-sensible things have forms too: straightness is the form of an ideal geometrical line, the ratio 2:1 is the form of an octave, etc. The Four Causes: Four • The fourth kind of cause is what Aristotle calls “that for the sake of which” something is, or that for the sake of which something is done. He sometimes refers to it as the “end” or “goal” (telos). • This is sometimes called the “final” cause. • Clearly, with many human actions, the end or goal is a cause, in the sense that we would not have performed the action if we had not had a certain goal or purpose in mind. • Aristotle takes a more controversial position by saying that not only deliberate actions but also other things have a “sake” for which they occur or exist. Famously, he says that the telos of an acorn is an oak. Aristotle‟s Ethics • Aristotle argues that all human actions, arts, and investigations aim ultimately at eudaimonia, which translates roughly as „happiness.‟ A more informative translation might be „flourishing,‟ for Aristotle understands it as “living well and doing well,” and as having a life that was desirable and lacking in nothing. Eudaimonia, he says, is desired for its own sake. • He holds that this is only possible within a community; and that it requires aretē. This term is usually translated as „virtue,‟ but a more informative translation would be „excellence‟ – in this case, excellence at what is most deeply and characteristically human. Ethics • What does virtue or excellence have to do with happiness? Aristotle suggests that the virtues are characteristics and habits that we need to have if we are going to make our community worth living in for all of us. • Aristotle describes virtue or excellence as “a characteristic involving choice, consisting in observing the mean relative to us, a mean which is determined by a rational principle, such as a person of practical wisdom would use to determine it” (Nicomachean Ethics II.6). (“Practical wisdom” is “a truthful characteristic of acting with reason in matters good and bad for humans,” VI.5.) • Courage, for example, is the mean between cowardice and recklessness; generosity is the mean between stinginess and extravagance; etc. Ethics • Virtue or excellence is not simply doing the “right thing,” whatever that is. To be virtuous, an action must be done at the right time, for the right reason (namely, for the sake of the beautiful or noble or good), toward the right people, and in the right manner (II.6). • But what is the right action, the right time, etc.? Aristotle is not specific. But that does not mean he has no answer. It also does not mean he is a relativist (saying that what each person thinks is right is what is right), nor that he is an absolutist (insisting that he knows the one right way to do everything). Aristotle‟s Pluralism without Relativism • 1. Humans aim for "living well and doing well," a condition that would be both desirable for itself and worth living in. • a.What most people want in their lives requires some sort of cooperation. • b.Our aim of happiness also requires that we be able to use all our capacities and potentials to their best advantage, especially those most human of capacities, the capacities involved in making and acting on good choices. This excellence in making choices would be "moral excellence" or "moral arete."(I.7) • 2. Therefore we need to consider how to make choices well, and how to act on them well. We need to consider this both • a.in order to be able to identify and seek our own goals; and • b.in order to live with others in a way that makes such seeking possible. • What then is this virtue/excellence, this making and acting on good choices? Aristotle‟s Pluralism without Relativism • 3. Aristotle goes on to describe how several characteristics normally called "virtues" fit this model of observing a mean between extremes: courage is a mean between cowardice an recklessness, generosity a mean between stinginess and extravagance, etc. But he never gives a criterion for determining what should count as e.g. courage, cowardice, or recklessness in a given situation. • Therefore it appears that there could be several different way of adhering to arete and arranging a society to enable the pursuit of happiness. • 4. In fact, for Aristotle there are certain checks or parameters on any value system and any conception of virtue. Aristotle‟s Pluralism without Relativism • a. Consistency • b. Social viability • c. "Contemplation" must be possible. • d. A virtuous action is done for the sake of what is kalos (beautiful; noble); to perform noble/beautiful and good deeds is something desirable for its own sake • e. All of the virtues mentioned involve doing the "right amount" of the "right thing" at the "right time." That means that justice - balancing claims, actions, desires, needs; giving each person his/her "due", making restitution or reward, etc. - is central and no society can have arete without it. • f. The search for knowledge must be possible.
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