VVR

Western PHILOSOPHY(Study Material)

PLATO (428-347BC)

The Western philosophy begins with Greek period, which supposed to be from 600 B.C. – 400 A.D. This period also can be classified into three parts -

  1. Pre Socrates period - Which includes the thinkers like Thales, Heraclites, Parmenides, Pythagoras etc, in which Heraclites gave the thoughts of continuous changing and in contrary Parmenides gave the thoughts of permanent unchanging; while Pythagoras was a great Mathematical philosopher.
  2. Socrates period - Which includes the thoughts of Plato and Aristotle in addition to Socrates.
  3. Post Socrates - Which includes the thoughts of Plotinus etc.

As far as Plato is concerned, He is known as a perfect Greek, because in Plato’s thought the Greek philosophy reached at its extreme, because Plato reconciliated the philosophical thoughts of his prominent precursors and in the twentieth century A.N.Whitehead, Great Mathematician made a comment that whole western philosophy is footnote on Plato’s philosophy. So, Plato not only was influenced by his precursors but directly or indirectly has influenced all future philosophers.

Plato was influenced by continuous changing of Heraclites, but he confined it only up to the material world and said that all the objects of the material world are influx or this material world is continuous changing. On the other hand, he was also influenced by Parmenides because as Parmenides said that the Absolute Reality is unchanging, indestructible, immutable, eternal, and permanent. Plato also said that the IDEAS are immutable and permanent. Plato was also influenced by atomists like Leucippus and Democritus, because as they supposed that atoms are infinite in number, similarly Plato said about the Ideas. Plato was also influenced by Numbers and Mathematics of Pythagoras, because right from here the conceptual knowledge starts.

Apart from them Plato was deeply influenced by his teacher Socrates, that is why in his dialogues the main speaker is Socrates. Plato wrote number of dialogues; in which, first one was Apology and among other important dialogues Parmenides, Republic, Symposium, Pheado, Meno, Laws, etc. can be named.

Plato’s whole philosophy is known as Idealism. In order to understand Idealism, firstly we have to know that what the Ideas are? In order to make it clear, he said that we use to call number of objects of the world with the same title. It means these different objects are representing some other existence which is idea. Likewise Plato said that some times we put the same adjective with numbers of objects of the world for e.g. “A natural scene is beautiful, A painting is beautiful, A beautiful object and even a beautiful woman. What does it mean? It means the Beauty belongs to all these objects equally and this beauty is none other than the Idea. Here the examples of Cowness for Cows, Chairness for Chairs, Manliness for Men, can also be given.

Plato’s thought is known as REALISM OF THE IDEAS, which means ideas are not supposed to be only mental or imaginary, but like the objects of the material world they are also enjoying their independent existence from us. Although we can’t do the sensitive perception of the Ideas, but it doesn’t mean that the Ideas are imaginary, because as the material objects are the subject matter of our sensitive perception, the Ideas are something to be realized and they are the subject matter of our rational knowledge or we can say that our soul does the perception or realization of ideas.

Altogether we can say that Plato didn’t reject the material world and said that it is ACTUAL, because it is the subject matter of our sensitive perception, but it is not REAL, because it is mutable and perishable. In contrary the world of Ideas is REAL, but not ACTUAL, because this world is immutable, eternal, and permanent, but it is not the subject matter of our sensitive perception. So, we can see a paradox in Plato’s philosophy that whatever ACTUAL is not REAL and whatever REAL is not ACTUAL. Number of his followers have accepted this dichotomy. As far as, the Characteristics of Ideas are concerned:—

Ideas are said to be Substance because they are enjoying independent and eternal existence and they are not dependent upon material world at all. In contrary, the material world depends upon the Ideas.

Plato’s ideas are Universal, because they are extended up to all the particulars of its group, while in contrary, the extensiveness of particular objects is only up to them. So, we can say that the objects of material world are the copies or replicas of Ideas. The objects of the material world may be good or bad, however, even best object can not become the Idea.

Plato’s Ideas are not the subject matter of sensitive experience, because our sensitive organs can do the sensitive perception of objects of the material world. On the other hand, the Ideas are the subject matter of knowledge of Reason, thats why Plato said that as our sensitive organs do the perception of the objects; the Soul does the perception of ideas.

There shall be only one Idea according to one group, so we can say that no two Ideas can be similar. Finally we can say that the Ideas of Plato are Immutable, Non-Temporal, Permanent, Indestructible, Simple etc. In contrary the objects of material world which are mutable, temporal, changing, destructible, complex etc.

Now, we can discuss about the Ideas in five ways -

  1. Epistemologically, they are the ultimate subject of knowledge, because the continuous changing objects of the material world can’t suppose to be the ultimate subject of knowledge.
  2. By nature, they are universal, because they are extended up to all particular objects of their group.
  3. Teleologically, the Ideas are supposed to be permanent moulds in which the objects of material world are used to be molded.
  4. Ontologically, they define the status of objects of the material world, because whichever object of the material world does express its Idea in better way is supposed to be more developed and in contrary whichever object of the material world expresses its Idea in the worst way is supposed to be bad.
  5. Mystically, Plato’s Ideas are the expressions of the Idea of the good, because he supposed that these ideas are infinite in number and in addition, he also believed in a pyramidical system of Ideas, where the Idea of Good is at the top and no knowledge is creative without realizing the Idea of the Good. In this pyramidical system, there is only one idea on the top which was named as Absolute Reality in Phaedrus, Absolute Beauty in Symposium and Idea of the Good in Republic. That’s why Plato said that Realization of the Idea of the Good is ultimate goal of the human life.

Plato also gave a few Arguments to prove the existence of ideas -

  1. In order to present the argument of knowledge Plato said that material objects can not suppose to be the ultimate subject of knowledge, because they are changing and perishable as well. So we have two options - either to reject the concept of stable, permanent and objective knowledge or to believe on the existence of Ideas. First alternative can’t be accepted at all, so the Ideas are supposed to be the ultimate subject of knowledge and we are bound to believe in the existence of ideas.
  2. In order to give, the argument of third man Plato said that as we give same name to the two objects of the world, it denotes that both are related to any third existence or we can say that both are expressing any third existence, that is none other than the Ideas.

Such kinds of number of arguments for the existence of Ideas were presented by Plato, so altogether we can say that there is no doubt about the existence of Ideas.

As far as Pyramidical System of the Ideas is concerned, then according to Plato, Ideas are infinite in number, but they are not existing in zigzag way, but in a systematic manner and this system is pyramidical, in which as we go upward the lower Ideas are used to be merged in superior Ideas. So, gradually the number of Ideas get reduced and at the top of this pyramidical system there is only one Idea exists, i.e. The Idea of the Good. The knowledge of Idea of the Good is the ultimate knowledge and no knowledge is supposed to be creative without the Light of this highest Idea. Plato had compared the Idea of the Good with the sun and said that as sun is lightening our eyes, the objects of the world and even all the planets, likewise, all the knowledge can be creative only in the light of Idea of the Good. In order to prove the importance of Idea of the Good, Plato has given his famous CAVE ANALOGY, in his dialogue Republic. Although, this example is imaginary, but important as well and can give the message of real knowledge even today. The essence of this example is -

  1. At the very first stage, People were thinking that the images were real. This is the condition of complete ignorance.
  2. In the second stage, one person turned his neck back and did the perception of real human beings and became wise.
  3. In the third stage, that man went out of the cave and did the perception of the sun, which has highest quantity of light and which is lightening the whole world.
  4. The fourth stage, that person sent to the cave once again, but now he would have no interest in the images, while his colleagues will still suppose that images are real. The wise man continuously explaining the other people that these images are not real and the reality is something different, but they will not agree with the opinion of the wise man. Even in this condition this wise man had no anger on other people, but only having the feelings of mercy and kind. This wise man is none other than the Socrates.

As far as, Plato’s Epistemology is concerned, then it is based upon criticism of Sophist’s concepts of knowledge. They were contemporary to Socrates and preached the human beings for their practical life. They also used to roam around like Socrates and thus no original writings of Sophist are available. Sophist gave their theory of ‘HOMO MENSURA’, which means ‘Man is the measure of all things’. Sophist believed in subjectivity and relativity of knowledge and according to them knowledge is also temporal.

But Plato criticized this concept of knowledge and said that the knowledge should be objective and absolute, and permanent as well. In order to prove this concept of knowledge, Plato gave another imaginary example of VERTICAL LINE, in which a vertical line is divided in four parts. At the lowest level, Sensitive organs are the sources of knowledge and the subject of knowledge is illusion. It is no real knowledge at all or the condition of ignorance. Such as knowledge of images in the example of cave.

The next stage is the knowledge of the practical world and here also the sources of knowledge are our sensitive organs. Although it gives the actual knowledge of the practical world, but can’t suppose to be the highest level of the knowledge. For example, knowledge of actual human beings moving behind in the example of cave.

The next stage is rational knowledge and here the subject is mathematics. This is the first level of conceptual knowledge. Here, the Reason comes into the action, but according to Plato this is also not the highest level of knowledge because at the fourth stage or at the top of the vertical line the world of Idea is existing and here the sources of knowledge is rational intuition. That’s why Plato said that as our sensitive organs do the perception of the objects of the material world, The soul does the perception of ideas. Even at this top level, Plato believed in the pyramidical system, at the top of which the Idea of Good is existing, the realization of which is the highest goal of the human life.

Altogether, Plato wanted to say that opinion and knowledge are two different things and opinion can’t suppose to be knowledge, because opinion may be right or wrong but Real knowledge will always be right. Even if the opinion is right, it can’t suppose to be the knowledge, because opinion is always probable, while knowledge is always certain. Here also, Plato is against the sophists.

Plato defined the knowledge in the form of memories and said that knowledge is none other that the memories, because we often see that a few people learn few things very quickly which shows that he has the impressions of that knowledge from the early lives on the other hand, a few people aren’t able to learn the same knowledge quickly, which shows that they don’t have the impressions of that knowledge. But against this theory of Plato, we can say that if the knowledge is only memory then how it can be originated first, because memory is possible only of known’s.

As far as Plato’s concept of Soul is concerned, then we all know that the user is different from the using objects. According to Plato, this material body is not doing function on its own because it is just a composition of matters. So, their shall be some entity which is controlling our body and it is none other than the Soul. Therefore, we are bound to accept the existence of Soul, even after knowing that it is not the subject matter of our sensitive perception.

Plato not only believed in the existence of soul but also believe in the immortality and eternity of the Soul, because according to Plato, the Soul is Simple, Part less, indestructible, and imperishable. Plato had also given numbers of arguments for the immortality and eternity of the Soul, in which Metaphysical argument, Epistemological argument, and Moral argument is important. Although Plato believed that Soul is simple, but mentioned that it has three faculties in body -

  1. Rational Faculty, which is represented by upper part of the body.
  2. Spirited faculty, which is represented by middle part of the body.
  3. Appetite faculty, which is represented by lower part of the body.

As far as concept of God is concerned, then although technically, there is no place of God in Plato’s Philosophy, because in the Pyramidical System of Ideas Plato placed the Idea of Good at the extreme, that’s why as he will discuss over the God, immediately the question arises like - whether God has created the Idea of the Good? It can’t be accepted because in this case the Idea of the Good cant’s be placed at right on top. Whether the Good has created the God? It also can’t be accepted, because this kind of god will become a Joke. Whether both these are at the same level? It also can’t be accepted, because it will create the dualism of highest. But even then because on that time no one could have reject the concept of God and become atheist, that’s why Plato also accepted the concept of God in the form of DEMIURGE and said that God is the ultimate cause of the motion of the world and the efficient cause as well.

Plato’s Idealistic Philosophy was criticized by his disciple Aristotle, who had given numbers of arguments against the idealism of Plato and a Few arguments are as Follows -

Being a scientist Aristotle emphasized on theory of causation and as made first question to Plato that what is the cause of the objects of the material world? According to Aristotle, Plato will definitely indicate towards the Ideas, but Aristotle said that the objects of the material world are moving while the Ideas are stationary. So, how they can suppose to be the cause of the objects of the material world? In addition, Aristotle also said that the Ideas and the objects of the material world are just contrary, because the Ideas are abstract, while the objects are concrete, Like wise, the ideas are eternal, immutable, indestructible, simple etc. while the objects of the material world are perishable, mutable, destructible, complex etc. Aristotle didn’t stop over here and further said that we can see the various stages of the object of the material world, so whether there are different ideas for the different stages or there is only one Idea? According to Aristotle, none of the alternatives are acceptable; because if we accept the first alternative then the problem is objects of the material world are changing every movement and Plato himself clarified that there shall be only one Idea according to one category. On the other hand if we accept the second alternative then it is impossible to explain the various stages of the objects of the material world through a single Idea. Altogether, Aristotle wanted to say that the objects of the material world are moving and Plato couldn’t explain this motion through the Ideas.

According To Aristotle, Plato couldn’t be able to establish a justified relation between world of ideas and material world, because even after mentioning that the Ideas are abstract and beyond sensitive perception, Plato mentioned the characteristics of Ideas in the way that they are the Ideals for the objects of the material world and enjoying their solid and independent existence. So, in this case Plato is bound to explain the relation between the world of Ideas and material world. According to Aristotle, sometimes it appears that Plato is supporting the reflection theory and saying that the objects of the material world are the copies or replicas or reflections or images of the world of Ideas, but according to Aristotle, it is not justified because if the Ideas are abstract then their images are not possible at all. In addition, according to Aristotle Sometimes it also appears that Plato is supporting the participation theory and saying that the material world participates in the world of Ideas, but according to Aristotle, it is also not justified, because in this condition the difference between material world and world of Ideas will be ended. Altogether, Aristotle wanted to say that Plato couldn’t explain the relation between the objects of the material world and world of Ideas.

Further, Aristotle said that Plato behaved like an Immature child, because when an immature child finds him unable to explain or count a heap of gravels then he makes another heap of gravels and started explaining the one on the basis of second. Like wise, when Plato found him unable to explain objects of the material world then he assumed another world of Ideas and started explaining the material world on the basis of world of Ideas.

According to Aristotle, Plato is agreed with the opinion that the Ideas are essence of the objects of the material world. But in this condition, the universal Ideas shall be existing with the objects of the material world but not away from it.

Aristotle had totally reversed the theory of Plato and said that the material world is not the copy of world of ideas, but in contrary world of Ideas is the copy of material world, because we presume the divine world on the basis of this material world.

According to Aristotle, if we accept the Idealism of Plato and world of ideas then gradually we grabbed by fallacy of infinite rigorous, because we have to assumes a third world ,which must have the characteristics of both the worlds and then another world, so, the fallacy of infinite rigorous occurs.

Finally, Aristotle said that in the last phase of his life Plato said that Ideas are identical to Numbers but in this case they will become the subject matter of mathematics not the subject matter of philosophy.

Altogether, Aristotle wanted to show that there is dualism in Plato’s philosophy for example -

  1. Dualism of Objects and Ideas.
  2. Dualism of Empirical and rational world.
  3. Dualism of Practical and transcendental world.
  4. Dualism of Phenomena and Noumena.
  5. Dualism of Real and Unreal world.

Now, we have to see that whether the criticism of Aristotle is justified? After a deep discussion and analysis, we can draw the conclusion that Aristotilian criticisms are not justified and can be easily answered. Such as -

  1. Plato never said that the Ideas are the cause of the motion of this material world, while he explained the motion of this material world through DEMIURGE, who is none other than the God and Aristotle himself explained the motion of this world through his God, whom he called an Unmoved Mover to keep himself away from the fallacy of infinite rigorous.
  2. Aristotle’s second criticism is also not justified, because in his dialogue Parmenides, Plato Precisely stated that material world is the Expressions of world of ideas. So, there shall be no question about reflection & Participation.
  3. Plato didn’t behave like an immature child, but behaved like a Mature Thinker because he just wanted say that the world of Ideas is superior to the material world.
  4. When Plato is saying that the Ideas are universal and essence of the objects and enjoying their independent existence, then Plato just wanted to say that this material world is not ultimate, because if we believe that there is no superior or Ideal world, then we can’t maintain the morality in this world. Plato never wanted to say that the ideas are enjoying their spatial and temporal existence because Plato precisely stated that ideas as beyond space and time.
  5. Aristotle’s fifth criticism is also not justified, where he said that world of Ideas is the copy of material world, because definitely the world of Ideas is superior to the material world, which can’t suppose to be a copy of inferior world.
  6. Since, the world of Ideas is ultimate, the there is no question of third world. Therefore, Platonic Idealistic philosophy didn’t grabbed by the fallacy of infinite rigorous.
  7. When Plato made their Ideas identical to number then it doesn’t means they should be the subject matter of mathematics, but it shall be considered as impact of Pythagoras and Plato’s feelings for mathematics.

Altogether, we can say that there is no dualism in Plato’s philosophy because he never said that material world is unreal, but Plato wanted to say that so for we are living in this world it can’t suppose to be unseal, but we have to realize the Ideas even after living in this world like Socrates.

Therefore, we can say that the criticisms of Aristotle are not justified and Aristotle couldn’t realize the intention of Plato, like Ramanujacharya of India Philosophy couldn’t realize the intention of Shamkracharya and raised his seven objections against the Mayavada of Shamkaracharya.