Plato and Aristotle Science Religion and the Making of the Modern Mind Essay

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Science, Religion, And the Making of the Modern Mind: Plato and Aristotle

The question of whether or not knowledge is identical to mere true belief goes as far back as Plato, as he argued that correct judgment, though a necessity for knowledge, is not sufficient for it. To reinforce his argument, Plato explains the nature and structure of human knowledge using a set of relevant theories and dialogues. Aristotle, a student of Plato, subscribes to most of Plato's philosophical thought, but disagrees with others, and spends time trying to develop alternative theories in support of his position. There, however, is no doubt that Aristotle's philosophy was influenced by Plato's thought.

Plato's Philosophical Analysis on the Nature of Knowledge

Plato expresses that knowledge is not only unitary and systematic, but has a logic-given structure and unity that "rests at bottom on ontology" (Barnes 22). Furthermore, it presents significant philosophical problems, and is, in itself, essentially explanatory (Barnes 22).

Knowledge is a Systematic and Coherent System: Plato held that knowledge and science alike are not products of randomly-amassed facts, but of properly-organized, well-coordinated axioms. Geometry was the most developed among the Greek sciences; Plato admired it for the intellectually attractive and elegant manner in which it flowed (Barnes 23). It represented an axiomatized system, where one uses a few axioms or primary truths to derive, "by a series of logically compelling deductions, all the other truths of geometry" (Barnes 23). Plato posits that knowledge applies the same principle, in that every theorem held by an individual derives from some pre-determined axioms, but in order to establish the connection between the two, the individual has to employ a complex process of reasoning (Barnes 23; Lloyd 102). To this end, knowledge is unitary and systematic; "systematic because it can be presented axiomatically; unitary because all truths can be derived from a single set of axioms" (Barnes 23).

Knowledge is Structured on Logic: According to Plato, axioms form the basis of knowledge. However, through his dialogues, particularly Sophist and Parmenides, Plato demonstrates that logic must be applied to qualify an axiom and, hence, ensure that the knowledge flowing from it is correct (Barnes 27). The Sophist demonstrates that through logic, one is able to rule a statement as being either true or false, and consequently determine whether or not it qualifies to be held as knowledge (Banach; Barnes 28).

Knowledge is Based on Ontology: ontology is the study of "the fundamental entities of which the world consists" (Barnes 22). Plato's ontological thought is contained in the theory of forms, which postulates that every natural object is an imperfect manifestation of the ideal species or form from which it originates (Banach). Knowledge, therefore, flows from the ultimate realities, on which everything else is dependent. In the Timaeus, Plato demonstrates that human knowledge flows from the Demiurge, who created the cosmos, and desires that everything in it be like Him (Zeyl).

Knowledge is a Search for the Explanation or Causes of Things: knowledge is based upon the condition of causality. Barnes points out that "to explain something is to say why it is so; and to say why something is so is to cite its course" (32). The logic is that if I claim to know something, then I should be in a position to explain every detail of its primary truths, including the causes of the conclusion (Barnes 32).

Knowledge is Based on One's Understanding of the World: the knowledge an individual holds is largely based on what they understand about the world. Plato posited that we believe we know something because according to us, it is in line with what the world has made us understand (Barnes 22).

Of particular significance is that Plato considered the Forms solutions to several scientific and philosophical issues. For instance, Parmenides and Heraclitus held the view that perceptible things are unknowable and unstable; but Plato tends to think that the Forms, which tend to be intelligible, and capable of being securely grasped by logic, can adequately serve as the basis for true account because they are knowable (Banach). Perceptible things are viewed differently by different people, "but if one grasps the underlying forms, one can both avoid being taken in by conflicting appearances and explain why the appearances conflict in the first place" ( The forms, to this end, offer the clarity, understanding, epistemic reliability, and ontological security that perceptible things do not; and are the source of the deviation between knowledge and true beliefs.

Plato's View on the Methodology of Natural Sciences as Demonstrated by the Timaeus

Plato, in the Timaeus, proposes or brings fourth a rather elaborate account on the creation of the cosmos (Zeyl). The beauty and order depicted in the formation of the universe impress him, and he uses the Timaeus to explain them. Plato concludes that the universe resulted from a beneficent, purposive, and rational agency, who imitates an eternal and unchanging model, and "imposes mathematical order on a preexistent chaos to generate the ordered universe (Kosmos)" (Zeyl "Plato's Timaeus").

Plato holds that the universe, and all that is in it, are so arranged as to further produce positive effects (Zeyl). He expresses that this is an achievement of intellect, represented by a Craftsman out to construct a world that is absolutely perfect; and that intelligence always gives rise to perfection. To this end, Plato concludes that the universe, in itself, offers sufficient clarity and understanding, and that natural scientists should stop spending their time trying to study it; rather, they should aim at understanding the perceptible things inside the universe.

He uses the concept of the forms to demonstrate that the wandering of the planets, though seemingly irregular, is a "manifestation of underlying perfectly orderly circular motions" ( With this, Plato "reduces to order the random transformations of" fire, air, water, as well as the earth, and concludes that the atoms making up every perceptible thing in the universe are "combinations of right triangles" (

With these micro-level accounts, Plato was able to explain such scientific concepts as digestion, respiration, sensory perception, the efficacy of treatment, and susceptibility to disease, all of which had proved problematic for his predecessors. With this, Plato set forth the methodology of natural sciences; that one has to first set down the matter/phenomenon and the views commonly held about it (which in his case, was the universe, and the view that it was created by a supernatural Being), then go through the puzzle created by those views (what the Being's aims were), and finally prove the truths, if any, in those views. In the Timaeus, Plato demonstrates that the universe must indeed have been created by a highly intelligible Being whose main aim was to provide the framework for the things contained in it to better their lives through new discoveries.

Aristotle's View on the Nature of Change; and how it Deviates from Plato's thought

Aristotle's thought mainly focused on middle-sized material objects which are temporary and subject to change, unlike the forms advanced by Plato, which never alter (Barnes 46). Aristotle holds that an object can change in terms of place, quantity, quality and substance (Barnes 46). He asserts that i) change with regard to quantity is growth, and that it is natural for natural things to grow, and then diminish when their time is up; ii) change with regard to quality is alteration; iii) change with regard to substance is represented by birth and death; and iv) change with regard to place is motion (Barnes 47). Aristotle holds that regardless of the type, change always results in something new (Barnes 47). He further posits that there are three things that are fundamental to any process of change; the state from which something is changing, the state to which something is changing, and the factor behind the…[continue]

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