Aristotle Refutes Plato

Aristotle refutes Plato’s Theory of Ideas on three basic grounds: that the
existence of Ideas contradicts itself by denying the possibility of negations;
that his illustrations of Ideas are merely empty metaphors; and that they theory
uses impermanent abstractions to create examples of perception. Though the
theory is meant to establish concrete standards for the knowledge of reality,
Aristotle considers it fraught with inconsistencies and believes that the
concept of reality depends upon all forms’ correlations to other elements.


Ideas, Plato believes, are permanent, self-contained absolutes, which answered
to each item of exact knowledge attained through human thought. Also, Ideas are
in Plato’s view concrete standards by which all human endeavor can be judged,
for the hierarchy of all ideas leads to the highest absolute – that of Good. In
addition, the theory claims that states of being are contingent upon the
mingling of various Forms of existence, that knowledge is objective and thus
clearly more real, and that only the processes of nature were valid entities.

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However, Aristotle attacks this theory on the grounds that Plato’s arguments are
inconclusive either his assertions are not al all cogent. Aristotle says, or his
arguments lead to contradictory conclusions. For example, Aristotle claims that
Plato’s arguments lead one to conclude that entities (such as anything man-made)
and negations of concrete ideas could exist – such as “non-good” in
opposition to good. This contradicts Plato’s own belief that only natural
objects could serve as standards of knowledge. Also, Aristotle refutes Plato’s
belief that Ideas are perfect entities unto themselves, independent of
subjective human experience. Ideas, Aristotle claims, are not abstractions on a
proverbial pedestal but mere duplicates of things witnessed in ordinary daily
life. The Ideas of things, he says, are not inherent to the objects in
particular but created separately and placed apart from the objects themselves.


Thus, Aristotle says, Plato’s idea that Ideas are perfect entities, intangible
to subjective human experience, is meaningless, for all standards are based
somewhere in ordinary human activity and perception. Thirdly, Aristotle assails
Plato’s efforts to find something common to several similar objects at once, a
perfect exemplar of the quality those things share. Beauty is a perfect example;
Plato considered Beauty both a notion and an ideal, isolated by abstractions and
fixed permanently while its representatives fade away. Aristotle claims that
abstractions like Beauty cannot be cast as absolutes, independent of temporal
human experience; the Idea of Beauty changes with time and individual
perceptions and cannot (as Plato felt) exist forever as a concrete standard.


Plato and Aristotle reach some agreement, though, on the topic of reality. Plato
believes that all reality was derived from his Ideas (which themselves dealt
with concrete hierarchy of rational ideas. St. Anselm, though, makes the most
dogmatic and logically tortuous case for God’s existence, relying not upon
explanations of goodness, truth, or rational order of ideas but upon an absurd
argument. He claims that everyone has some sense of God, and he claims that for
one to deny God’s existence is an invalid and contradictory assertion;
therefore, God exists. Also, Anselm believes that those capable of understanding
God cannot believe that he does not exist – as if the enormity of the idea was
so clear than only a fool could not perceive it. His arguments seem the weakest
of the four viewpoints here, for they are riddled with dogma and assume that God
is a constant – using faith alone. Anselm considers faith paramount to logic or
other forms of thought and asks no questions as to what powers the universe or
what goodness is – he basically follows the Christian “party line” too
closely to be valid. In general, St. Augustine combines Plato’s idea of a moral
hierarchy with his own rational observations of truth and goodness being
embodied in their highest form by God. While Plato wavers on God’s superiority,
Aristotle views man as god’s pawn, and Anselm uses tortuous dogmatic logic,
Augustine’s arguments seem to make the most sense from not only a Christian
point of view but from a moral and rational one as well. The philosophies of
Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, and St. Anselm on the existence of God all vary
on the issue of God’s nature; though each thinker takes a different approach to
why there is a God, that of St. Augustine seems the most valid because he takes
a rational stance and does not dogmatically assume God’s existence. Plato’s
philosophy assumes that God exists as a supremely good being whose goodness is
analogous to Plato’s concrete concept or the ultimate good. However, God and
goodness are not one and the same; Plato does not directly state that goodness
is good, but that God is good, since he exemplifies the idea at the top of
Plato’s hierarchy. In short, God does not equal goodness, but God encompasses it
better than any other being. This implies not that God is perfect, but that
God’s intentions and actions have good aims – goodness may emerge from other
sources besides God. The main problem with Plato’s philosophy is his
inconsistency; he owes the existence of his Ideas to both God and goodness, but
he claims the two are not identical. God becomes subordinate to the
“universals” in Plato’s ordered cosmos, and his defense of God appears
rather weak. While Plato assumes God exists as the ultimately good (but not
omnipotent) being, Aristotle questions God’s active role in the universe and
claims that nature depends upon an immaterial Supreme Being. For example, he
cites natural genesis and the perpetuity of movement as evidence of God’s
immaterial existence, and he implies that God is a self-sufficient, compelling
force for both nature and man. Aristotle’s concept of God seems valid as a
pre-scientific explanation of the universe; however, he seems to ignore God’s
embodiment of moral goodness and man’s ability to think and act freely and still
be good. He believes that all goodness comes from within God and that the
goodness in man is drawn toward God and nothing else. Aristotle’s ideas on God
seem, from a modern point of view, effective only as explanations of the
supernatural and even of the miracle of life. St. Augustine links God with
rational thought and states that human knowledge of truth depends upon man’s
relationship to God. His argument moves him from existence of the self to the
objectivity of truth and finally to God’s reality. Augustine assumes that God is
a rational being and that the rational and the good are identical. Only God
could be superior to truth, he says, and therefore must be the ultimate good;
therefore, truth, goodness, and God are one and the same. His argument seems
fairly clear-eyed and rational, for he does not approach God’s goodness
dogmatically or automatically assume God’s existence. Instead, he works toward
that end by evaluation the rationality of truth and goodness, and he casts God
in that role as the ultimate embodiment of both. In general, Augustine implies,
God represents goodness and occupies the pinnacle of the concept like unity and
twoness). He considers unity and goodness the combined center of his system of
Ideas and stated that the Ideas had to be more real and concrete than any
objects of ordinary experience. Aristotle, meanwhile, agreed with Plato’s notion
that the immaterial (form) and the material (matter) were distinctly separate
entities; however, he did not share Plato’s belief that all forms were
permanent, freestanding truths; he felt that form correlated to matter. Ideas,
he stated, correlated to something material and were thus changeable and often
dependent upon the observer. In general, Aristotle refutes Plato on the grounds
that his Theory of Ideas tries too hard to establish concrete, universal
definitions for things that depend too much on the material. Though both
thinkers agree on the separation of the material and immaterial (which gave both
a somewhat similar view of God), they still differ sharply over the permanence
of standards by which human nature and endeavor can be judged.

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