Metaphysics

Word Count: 1734 |

Fall 2006

The word metaphysics is defined as “the study or theory of reality; sometimes used more narrowly to refer to transcendent reality, that is, reality which lies beyond the physical world and cannot therefore be grasped by means of the senses.” It simply asks what is the nature of being? Metaphysics helps us to reach beyond nature as we see it, and to discover the “true nature” of things, and their ultimate reasons for existence. There are many ways to approach metaphysics. Two of the earliest known thinkers on the topic are Plato and Aristotle. These two philosophers had ideas that held very contrasting differences that can be narrowed into a strong, select few. Both of the two thinkers approached metaphysics, the levels of reality, approaches of the forms in contrasting ways. Although both believed in the concept of forms, they both defined this concept differently. Undeniably there are some similarities between the two thinkers, considering Aristotle was Plato’s pupil and lecturer. It is the strong beliefs that make for the interesting and compelling relationship between the Platonic and Aristotelian views of philosophy so comparable.
Plato lived between 427 and 347 BC. The ancient great mind Plato does present such a heavy emphases on the soul throughout his writings, he does not deny the influence that may be exercised on the soul by or through the body. In the Republic he includes physical training among the constituents of true education, and he rejects certain types of music because of the deleterious effect they have on the soul. Even though Plato does speak on occasion that the soul merely dwelt in the body and used it, he cannot be represented as denying any interaction of soul and body on one another. Plato may not have explained interaction in great detail, but this is a difficult thing to accomplish in psychology in its own right and it is evident that he at least held to some level of interaction between the substances of soul and body, even though it may have been in a very minimal sense. Plato also believed that everything real takes on a form but doesn’t embody that form. This reasoning was a product of Plato’s extensive support of dialectic. This is Plato’s that there are “two worlds”, the becoming and the being. Plato originated the Theory of Forms, and envisioned them as descriptions of existing and abstract objects. (Copleston). A form applies to more than a single thing, such as something as good. For example, chairs participate in the form of chair. There are many different styles, colors, and shapes of chairs, but holistically all chairs are a part of a form. The chair in a room could be your diluted idea of a chair. It could be a hologram, or you could even be hallucinating that you’re seeing a chair. There is a form for every corresponding type of reality; such as humans, birds, colors, love, beauty, etc. And of course, for Plato, God is synonymous with the Form of the Good.
Aristotle grew from being Plato’s pupil to being an independent thinker and ultimately his rival, and lived between 384 and 322 BC. Plato was an inside/out philosopher as opposed to Aristotle’s outside/in thinking. This basically means that Plato developed his ideas from within and applied them to the outside world, also known as deductive reasoning. Conversely, Aristotle had an inductive reasoning, and took the views from the world around him and applied them within. These different approaches to metaphysics lead to the issue of Aristotle’s imminent reality versus Plato’s dualistic, transient reality. Aristotle’s beliefs lead to him seeing only one level of reality. He felt there was only one imminent world and that forms existed within particular things. (Owens). Aristotle held that forms had no separate existence and existed in matter. In Opposition to Aristotle, Plato’s thoughts tended to believe in two levels of reality. Plato held that metaphysics is dualistic: he proposed that there are two different kinds of realms – the physical and the mental. There is what appears real and what is real. So, when Aristotle introduces the soul as the form of the body, in turn, that the body is the matter of the soul, He believed that although the soul is not a material object, it is not separable from the body. According to Aristotle, “…the soul does not exist without the body. For it is not a body, but something which belongs to a body, and for this reason exists in a body, and in a body of such-and-such a kind” (Heinaman). This position held by Aristotle is what is known as Hylomorphism–that the soul and body are one composite substance. In other words they are one hylomorphic soul/body unity. (The word Hylomorphism is simply a compound word composed of the Greek terms for matter. Hule and form or shape Morphe.) Thus, one could equally describe Aristotle’s view of body and soul as an instance of his “matter-formism.” The position of Aristotle on the soul’s relationship to the body is as intricate as the relationship between an impression made in wax and the wax itself. (Heinaman). Basically, one cannot be had without the other, and it’s necessary that the body and soul must be present to make up the entirety of an individual person.
Upon further analysis, there appear to be some noteworthy similarities between the psychologies of the two philosophers. First off, neither Plato nor Aristotle were materialists (or functionalists) in their views on the soul. In other words, neither of them denied the existence of souls in human beings by reducing thought to mere functions of matter. They both believed in the existence of souls, and in the case of humans, that a soul had something to do with ones identity (although Plato put all of identity on the soul, whereas Aristotle did not). (Owens Furthermore, they both recognized the importance of studying the existence of the soul and held it as a priority in their philosophical systems. Also, they went to great lengths to distinguish different faculties of soul that were of greater and lesser degrees, each recognizing the soul as the source of movement in living things. Although there are some technical differences present, they both show evidence of noticing that there are different degrees of the faculties of soul (e.g. appetites, desires, etc.) present in man and that these faculties were prone to wrestle with one another within the soul. They also both held that it was the ability to reason that set human souls apart from animal and plant souls.
In more detail of the differenced between the two philosophers, Plato was a dualist in that he believed that a human being was comprised of two substances, body and soul, and it was the soul that signified the identity of the particular human. In contrast, Aristotle held that it was comprised of one substance that signified the individual human being’s identity. Also, Plato believed in the pre-existence of human souls whereas Aristotle (in his mature works) denied such a doctrine. For Plato, the soul was a thing that represented an eternal, pre-existent life form. For Aristotle, the soul was only an immaterial, temporal mover of the physical being (there was no such pre-existence.) Another related aspect of Plato’s doctrine is that of the transmigration of the soul. This is a view held by Plato that is similar to reincarnation–that there are forms of souls that pre-existed in other material things and will go on to exist in other life forms after death. According to Plato, “Every soul may be said to wear out many bodies, especially in the course of a long life” (Phaedo, 87). This was completely denied by Aristotle’s view of the afterlife.
Before there were minds there were beautiful things; round things. Forms are eternal and unchanging. Beauty and roundness have no age. The circumference of a circle is equal to times twice the radius distance, regardless of the circle, time, or place. Forms are unmoving and indivisible. What sense would it make to suppose that they might move or be physically divided? Only forms are truly real. A thing is beautiful only to the extent it participates in the form of beauty; it is round only if it participates in the form of roundness. Likewise a thing is large only if it participates in the form of largeness. The same principle holds for all of a thing’s properties. Thus, a large, beautiful, round thing – would not be beautiful, large, or round if the forms beauty, largeness, and roundness did not exist. Objects owe their reality to forms. So the ultimate reality belongs to the forms. Of course, Plato was aware that there is a sense in which the objects we experience with our senses are real, and even appearances are real appearances. But Plato’s position is that the objects we sensually experience have a lesser reality. They have a lesser reality because they can only approximate their form and thus are always to some extent flawed. Any particular beautiful thing will always be deficient in beauty as compared with the form of beauty. And, as any particular beautiful thing owes whatever degree of beauty it has to the form of beauty, the form is the source of what limited reality as a beautiful thing the thing has.
In conclusion, there are evident occasions when both thinkers agree on certain topics and ideas, and other times when they are polar opposites. All of these kinds of similarities and differences between these two brilliant and enlightened men are to be expected to some extent. The similarities are there because Plato was one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived, and Aristotle was his most prized and noteworthy pupil who was directly influenced by him. The differences between them are to be anticipated because Aristotle was a great thinker in his own right, and when he was no longer under Plato’s direct apprenticeship, he sought to critique, analyze, and develop Plato’s teaching on the soul as well as incorporate many of his own prolific thoughts into the development of his very own psychology. Incredibly, the works on the soul by both of these philosophical giants have greatly influenced the entire history of psychology and the major interpretations of their views are held in diverse forms by many philosophers for hundreds of years after Plato and Aristotle no longer existed, and even today. Their legacy lives on through knowledge and the search for truth through the intellect.

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