“Every man is born an Aristotelian or a Platonist. They are the two classes of men, besides which it is next to impossible to conceive a third.” So wrote the English poet and literary critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1830. If, then, every man (or woman) is either an Aristotelian or a Platonist.
There are many research sources, in print and online, that may be helpful to you. You may wish to consult a standard history of philosophy, such as those written by Bréhier, Copleston, or W. T. Jones, and read through the sections on Plato and Aristotle. These “secondary sources” should contain excerpts from the “primary sources” written by the philosophers themselves, or at least references to passages from the primary sources which you may wish to consult. For instance, with regard to Plato’s political philosophy you may wish to consider passages from the Republic – although for the purposes of this assignment perhaps you should not attempt to read the entire work; it is quite lengthy!
Plato and Aristotle may not have been diametrically opposed to each other; after all, Aristotle started out as a student of Plato. However, they are often spoken of as representing opposing temperaments, so that each of them is representative of a certain “archetype,” as Coleridge would insist. Keep in mind that historians of philosophy often speak of “Plato-the-mathematician” as opposed to “Aristotle-the-biologist”; it is frequently remarked that Aristotle’s father was a doctor. Perhaps, then, Aristotle was the more “concrete” thinker, whereas Plato was more “abstract.”
Furthermore, Aristotle’s “naturalism” is often contrasted with Plato’s “supernaturalism.” Plato is often regarded as a precursor of Christianity; the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously described Christianity as “Platonism for the masses.” At the same time, remember that Plato preceded Christianity and could not have been a Christian. Neither should it be assumed that Aristotle was some sort of atheist, although he could not have been a Christian either.
Aristotle makes reference to a “god,” although this “god” often is described as an “unmoved mover” that sets the universe in motion but is not an object of worship.
You should consider Plato’s theory of the Forms, as opposed to Aristotle’s criticism, according to which form is immanent in matter – as is discussed in Chapters 2 and 3 of your textbook. In political philosophy, you may wish to compare Plato’s Republic to Aristotle’s Politics – without attempting to read either work in its entirety. Plato often is represented as presenting an outline of an “ideal state” – whereas Aristotle, instead of attempting to construct the best régime “once and for all,” is willing to consider what would be the best constitution for a state that is rich, poor, large, small, etc. Plato’s admirers sometimes object to the proposition that he was attempting to construct an “ideal state.” Instead, they argue that he was simply trying to show that in the “good régime,” a certain type of character should predominate. Nevertheless, as the author of your textbook points out, Plato did attempt to tutor the young ruler of Syracuse in Sicily, Dionysus II, in an attempt to turn him into a “philosopher-King.”
If Plato and Aristotle represent opposite temperaments, which temperament is closest to your own? Which view of the world makes more sense to you? It is hoped that this exercise will help you to express and clarify your own beliefs.
For a guide to writing a philosophy paper, visit the web page <http://phil.ucalgary.ca/undergrad/howtowrite.html>. Here you will find an essay by Dr. Jack MacIntosh of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta (where your instructor once studied) – “How to Write a Philosophy Paper.” (Actually, some of the material you find here may be more relevant to your second written assignment than to this one.)
There are a number of research sources available on Plato and Aristotle. Your assignment is not entirely a research paper -- in addition to your textbook, you might look at just a couple of other sources, enough so that you understand the difference in temperament and inclination between Plato and Aristotle.
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