The theory of knowledge (epistemology) is “a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.” According to Dictionary.com. Some philosophers are divided on this theory of knowledge, whether justified true belief is said to be considered knowledge or not. My goal in writing this paper is to examine the key similarities and differences between two of the most famous philosophers, Plato and Aristotle.
For Plato, knowledge is to remember. To search for knowledge is simply to remember what you already knew. This theory is based on Plato’s idea that the soul is immortal. If the soul is immortal then it retains all knowledge and only needs to be asked the right questions. So, when a new idea is cultured, it is actually being remembered. Plato often helped explain himself through examples and stories. One of Plato’s renowned illustrations is his divided line. Plato divides human knowledge into four categories, differing in their level of clearness and truth. Visualize a line divided into two sections of unequal length. The top section correlates to knowledge, and is the realm of intellect. The bottom level correlates to opinion, and concerns the world of sensory experience. Plato says that the sections are “unequal” in length, but the conventional view is that the knowledge section is the longer one.
Another one of Plato’s illustrations is the allegory of the cave. In the allegory of the cave, Plato compares prisoners that are chained up in a cave with no way of seeing anything but what is in front of them to people who are untrained in the theory of forms. There is a constant fire burning and it creates shadows on the wall in front of the prisoners each time something walks by, but they can only see the shadow. Eventually one of the prisoners escapes and sees the world for what it actually is for example, the sun and the objects that created the shadows on the cave wall. There is more to the story, but the moral of the story comes from the beginning of the allegory of the cave, which is what I covered. The lesson in this story is that our senses are very deceiving. Marc Cohen, the author of https://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/cave.htm states in his summary of the allegory of the cave, “Such prisoners would mistake appearance for reality.” The world available to our human senses is only a replication of the authentic world. Plato concludes that people begin to understand reality when they get out of their metaphorical cave. In Plato’s simile of the sun, there is a continual comparison of the form of the good and what it does in the world, to what the sun does in the world of sight. We cannot see without the sun. In this analogy, the sun is the good, eyes are the mind, sight is knowing, and visible things are intelligible things. In addition to that, in the simile of the sun we have the physical, visible world where the sun is the source of sight, and we have the intelligible, knowable world, and in this world the form of the good does the job of the sun. The sun makes visible things visible, and the form of the good makes knowable things knowable.
Now that we’ve covered Plato, let’s dive into Aristotle. As we know, Plato and Aristotle had their differences, in fact, according to https://www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/ Aristotle “famously rejected Plato’s theory of forms, which states that properties such as beauty are abstract universal entities that exist independent of the objects themselves. Instead, he argued that forms are intrinsic to the objects and cannot exist apart from them, and so must be studied in relation to them.”
Like Plato, Aristotle explained his beliefs through metaphors and analogies in addition to developing his outlook on the world and why things were the way that they were. Aristotle’s 10 categories were substance, quantity, quality, relatives, somewhere, sometime, being in a position, having, acting, and being acted upon. All of these are defined by Aristotle basically the same way we would define them today, with the deviation being substance. According to Aristotle, there are primary and secondary substances. A primary substance is an actual whole thing, like a cat or a person. A secondary substance is a trait of that thing, like honesty or kindness.
Aristotle’s metaphysics focused on the four causes of being. The four causes consist of material, formal, efficient, and final. As Jessica Whittemore of study.com states, “According to Aristotle, the material cause of a being is its physical properties or makeup.” For example, when looking at a dining table, material cause would be wood, formal cause would be design, efficient cause would be carpentry, and final cause would be dining.
Though Plato and Aristotle are both well-known philosophers, they definitely have their differences. The form that Aristotle says is primary substance differs from Plato’s belief that it is separable from all matter. Plato viewed art as an illusion and leading further from the truth, therefore it was bad. Aristotle on the other hand viewed art as a good thing in moderation and a great way to express oneself. Plato’s view on knowledge was that it was justified true belief and wisdom was the basic virtue and all virtues can be unified. Aristotle believed that wisdom was virtuous however, achieving virtue didn’t unify any other virtues. Aristotle also believed that senses were necessary to determine what is real, while Plato believed that our senses could fool us.
In conclusion, Plato held that it was essential to obtain certain kinds of knowledge of a good life in order to have a good life while Aristotle argued that the good life was a life of happiness. By going through both Plato and Aristotle’s Metaphors and belief systems, I found that they both believed thoughts were superior to the human senses. However, Aristotle stated that the senses were required in order to correctly define reality and Plato believed the senses could deceive people, which is why he disliked art, calling it an “illusion.” http://decodedpast.com/platos-argument-art-imitation-imitation/2990.
Harper, Douglas. “Epistemology.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, 2012, www.dictionary.com/browse/epistemology.
Uebersax, John S. “Plato’s Divided Line.” National Days of Prayer to Avert War: A Historical Comparison, 2014, www.john-uebersax.com/plato/plato1.htm.
Cohen, Marc S. “Allegory of the Cave.” Neuroscience For Kids – Brain vs. Computer, 2006,
No author. “Aristotle (384—322 B.C.E.).” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 0AD, www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/.
Whittemore, Jessica. “Aristotle’s Metaphysics: The Four Causes.” Study.com, Study.com, 2018,
Cameron, Janet. “Plato’s Argument: Art Is an Imitation of an Imitation.” Decoded Past, 6 Feb. 2014, http://decodedpast.com/platos-argument-art-imitation-imitation/2990