How do we explain the world around us? How can we get to the truth? Plato and Aristotle began the quest to find the answers thousands of years ago. Amazingly, all of philosophy since that time can be described as only a rehashing of the original argument between Plato and Aristotle. Plato and Aristotle’s doctrines contrast in the concepts of reality, knowledge at birth, and the mechanism to find the truth.
Firstly, Plato’s concept of reality contrasts with Aristotle’s concept. Plato’s theory of ideal forms claims that a perfect world exists beyond the world around us. Our world contains forms imperfectly copied from the ideal forms in the world beyond. In contrast, Aristotle’s theory of the natural world states that our world is reality. Aristotle thought the world consists of natural forms, not necessarily ideal or imperfect. Our senses can correctly perceive the natural forms. Basically, reality became a debate between Plato’s two worlds and Aristotle’s single world reality.
Secondly, Plato and Aristotle contrast in their view of what knowledge we possess at birth. Plato supports the doctrine of Innatism, which claims that we enter this world with prior knowledge. All people possess immortal souls; therefore, the knowledge acquired in one life can be transferred into the next reincarnation. However, we forget the knowledge at the shock of birth and we then spend the rest of our lives trying to retrieve the lost knowledge. In contrast, Aristotle’s doctrine of Tabula Rasa, or blank slate, states that we are born without any knowledge. Aristotle also claimed we possess souls, but he disagreed with Plato on the soul’s status of immortality. Aristotle felt souls do not return to the world, so knowledge cannot be returned to the world either.
Thirdly, Plato and Aristotle hold contrasting views on the mechanism of finding the truth. Plato relied on the ability to reason in his attempt to explain the world. He produced his ideal world based on reason since such a world lies beyond the realm of the five senses. Plato ignored his senses because he believed his senses only revealed the imperfect forms of the ordinary world. In contrast, Aristotle believed in the ability of induction. According to him, the natural world was real and worthy of observation. As a result, Aristotle relied heavily on his five senses to study the natural phenomena. The mechanisms of reason and induction each led to two very different views of the world.
In conclusion, Plato and Aristotle’s doctrines contrast in the concepts of reality, knowledge at birth, and the mechanism to find the truth. Perhaps no other philosophers had such an enormous impact on the civilized world.