Socrates, Plato and Aristotle – Philosophical Thoughts of Three Great Thinkers
Plato learned from Socrates and Aristotle learned from Plato.
The student-teacher-student relationship was one of the most fascinating aspects of the formation of the world of Western Philosophy. There were no organized places to learn and teach. It was Plato who had set the Academy and it was Aristotle who had set the Lyceum. The Plato’s Academy was founded in 387 BC in Athens. Aristotle joined the Academy at an early age of 16 or 17 and remained there till the age of 37. Aristotle left Athens and tutored Alexandria the Great. It was after that tutelage that he ventured to conquer the East.
There are no written words from Socrates and it was only the written words of Plato in the form of dialogues that he had with Socrates. And it was Plato who described Socrates as his teacher and that what he learned about philosophy is from his master.
Socrates remained the main subject in almost all works of Plato.
Socrates questioned everything. His method of enquiry is known as Socrates method (elenchus). The preaching of pedagogy, it is the practice of teaching where the teacher gets the best answer from the students by eliciting the technique of questioning. The phrase “unexamined life is not worth living” is the core behind the very idea of questioning everything around and the art of living and learning is deeply in the craft of questioning. If we have a problem then we break it down into a series of questions and we will have the answer in the response to those questions.
The art of questioning is one of the most difficult art but deceptively appears as the simplest act of life.
Either we take it for granted or we get lost in the disguise of such power of simplicity. His major contribution remains in the field of Ethics but his thoughts on Logic and Epistemology may not be striking but cannot be kept aside. He believed that wisdom was parallel to one’s ignorance. He believed that one should focus on self-development than on material possession.
The profound thoughts of Socrates are known through the work of Plato and Aristotle, and before them it was Xenophon and Aristophanes.
Most of the thoughts of Socrates we know came from the Plato’s work “The Apology”.
Aristotle philosophy stressed more on biology and on the other hand Plato’s philosophy emphasized more on mathematics. Aristotle was considered the first biologist in the western world, the originator of scientific study of life. His study of natural world led him to both biologist and a scientist. Plato predominantly known as a great philosopher he was also a mathematician inspired by Pythagoras. In his Academy he emphasized mathematics as a way of understanding reality and led to work in geometry and harmonics. In fact Plato became known as maker of mathematics, he was known as the Platonic Solids
Plato more an idealist.
He believed in the idea of an “Ideal State”, a state where people have relinquished the idea of having a family and building the private property. No government unified self-governed society. No family. No private property. No father or mother can claim a child. No man or woman can claim a property. Every human being need to go beyond the possession and selfishness.
Aristotle more a realist.
He believed in the idea of a “Practical State”, state where people have their own family, possessed property and run by a government. The physical world, the real working that governs our life. The unit of family. Our children for whom we work. The piece of private property. The possession of things that empowers us. The real world and accepting the rules of reality.
The School of Athens is a fresco by Italian Renaissance Artist Raphael.
It was painted during 1509 to 15011, and he was commissioned to decorate Stanze di Raffalleo. The painting emphasizes the worldly matter and not the spiritual and it was during Renaissance the movement was moving away from the world of spiritualism. If we analyze the painting we have Plato and Aristotle side by side and talking on something. Plato is pointing his finger towards the sky and Aristotle is showing his palm towards the earth. Perhaps there was some intriguing conversation between the idea of “Idealism” and the idea of “Realism”. As both had crafted their own school of philosophy, there were differences and the paradox added to the evolution of the subject of philosophy. And together those thoughts hugely contributed towards the building of a whole body of western philosophy that defines and redefines the way we think and work today.
The work of these great thinkers continues to influence and inspire us and make us think differently based on those very fundamental premises.
Academy and Lyceum
Lyceum was known as the peripatetic school, it is from the Greek work “peripatos” meaning stroll. Aristotle loved walking and teaching. This very habit of strolling about the grove and teaching acquired the label of Peripatetic. It was a school where the focus was on finding answers for scientific enquiry to conducting modern scientific studies. It was here he wrote widely on subjects from politics to logic to ethnics to metaphysics. In other way it is associated with place to walk to oasis for reflection.
Aristotle studied in the Academy set by Plato. Academy was considered the first university in the western world. He believed that the philosopher should rule the world. They are the constant seeker of true knowledge. They are the in the best position to rule based on the knowledge. Unlike Lyceum it was not a formal setup of education but a place where thinkers, intellectuals, philosophers deliberated on subjects ranging from philosophy to astronomy, from mathematics to physics.
Republic and Politics
One inherent constraint in reading and challenge in understanding these bodies of works are the writing of different translators and they have further added the factor of subjective. It cannot be a word by word translation and meaning by meaning. First of all Socrates never wrote his work and it was Plato. And whatever Plato and Aristotle wrote they wrote in Attic Greek (Greek sub-dialect Ionic, the first literary language of ancient Greece) and there have so many different authors based on their interpretation have done the translation.
The context behind the text and the connotation behind the word have a whole of world of difference when it adds up into sentences and a message through a paragraph or chapter.
The Republic is a Socrates dialogue written by Plato around 380 BC. The word “Republic” is from Latin, “res publica” means public matters. The subject was on just city state with order, justice and reason. Socrates in Republic argued that city should be unified to the greatest good possible. The ruling class should be sharing everything, and there should be no private properties or private families. He divided the just society into three classes namely the producers, the auxiliaries and the guardians.
A 250 plus page conversations between Socrates and Plato continues to keep us in awe and wonder even after 2500 years.
This book “Republic” grapples with the very idea of empowering us, so as to galvanize our untapped power of imagination. It is the question of how we channelized our immense power of imagination to craft and construct an ideal city state. This book is so much about asking questions so if we are looking for all the right set of answers we may get relatively disappointed. It is perhaps the foundation of western philosophy, and that the power of thoughts can change our perspective and create a whole new world.
The Greek word for city is ‘polis’, and the English word politics is derived from this very word. During his time the most important political entities were the cities, it had full sovereignty over the territory that it controlled.
Politics is a work of political philosophy by Aristotle. In in the opening statement in this body of work he states that city is a partnership and citizens are sharing that partnership. He was more of scholar and loved teaching, and that eventually led to opening of his own school Lyceum. According to him it is a practical science which deals with making the people happy.
Politics is the most important text for understanding his thoughts on political philosophy. He believed that politics and ethics are closely linked. His philosophy is to discover the ultimate purpose of life. The role of politicians is to makes laws and constitutes constitution that it should work for the well-being and happiness of the citizens of the state. He had stated that “man is a political animal”. He deals with the different kinds of political community during his time. The citizens must actively participate in politics to be happy and lead a virtuous life.
Human being by nature is a political animal and it is the nature that has also bestowed human being with speech and reason that makes us distinctly different from other animals. The knowledge of what is good and what is bad, also the ability to communicate our act of being just and unjust has made us to collaborate. It is about working together for a common purpose. It is then about living together for a building a better society for our future generation. The moment there is unjust between the people living together there has to be a mechanism to resolve and someone to solve. It is the city and the law that acts to arrest these disputes and equilibrium to any disparity.
In other words without the state and the justice system human beings demonstrate their animal instincts and could be more ferocious than a wild animal.
Socrates never wrote down his work on philosophy.
Everything we know about his philosophy was from the writings of Plato. It was written in the form of a dialogue and it was more like a play. It was fascinating to read and connect. The writing of Plato was pretty comprehensive and deeply engaging unlike the writing of Aristotle which was more in the form of notes. Initially, the philosophy of Plato was more of the historical Socrates.
Plato was what he captured during the prolonged interaction with his teacher Socrates.
Over time after the demise of Socrates, there was a change in the discourse of Plato. Only later part of his philosophy was more of Plato himself less of historical Socrates. Plato profusely credits his learning and knowledge to Socrates.
Though Pythagoras is known as a mathematician but he was also a great philosopher and had immensely influenced Socrates and inspired his work. He believed that he is the wisest man Athens because he knows what he didn’t know. And Socrates main focus was on Epistemology i.e. with knowledge and on ethics i.e. on Value Theory. Plato was a man of ideas. He was an idealist. He dealt with the theory of forms where the worlds of ideas are more real than the things in the world.
Aristotle was man of things. His writing in ethics to metaphysics are driven from observation and not reasoning. Just like Galileo Galilee he believed that Sun not Earth is at the center of the Universe. Interesting, Aristotle was the teacher of Alexander the Great.
This wonderful saga of student-teacher cycle between the various great thinkers led to this rich of body of knowledge…philosophy literally means love of wisdom.
Nihar R Pradhan