Two of the most influential philosophers in history could be named Plato, pupil of Socrates, and Aristotle, pupil of Plato. Plato and Aristotle both offer theories of how human beings go about the process of learning. Although they may seem somewhat similar, especially because they share a teacher pupil relationship, there are fundamental differences in each philosopher’s theories that separate their theories and make them unique. According to Plato, human beings learn via the process of recollection and for Aristotle, human beings learn from the cognitive process of abstraction. Although both offer a myriad of philosophical evidence to support their claims, it is my firm belief that the true process of our learning is fundamentally similar to Aristotle’s theory of abstraction rather than that of Plato’s theory of recollection.
Both Philosophers utilize a number of examples to which they attach and define the basic premises of their thoughts on the process of learning. “Plato was a transcendentalist meaning he believed that to understand truth we must transcend beyond this world in to a higher reality where true concepts exist. In this reality beyond the senses the knowledge found is unchanging.”(History of Philosophy) Plato, through the use of dialectic dialogue, first makes the assumption that our souls, being immortal, have lived many lives before, and have gathered all the knowledge that could ever be. So, in our lives, we gain knowledge not by learning, but instead by recollecting what we already know in our souls. Our souls contain innate knowledge of all things; however we are born having forgotten this knowledge. Throughout our lives, we are constantly in a state of recollecting all sensible things in reality. In the dialogue between Socrates and Plato in the Phadeo, it is explained that when the soul enters the body upon birth, it disposes of the knowledge of the Forms, hence why it is necessary to recollect all the past knowledge we have lost. Further, Plato utilizes the two sticks theory to help illustrate his point on recollection. He compares two sticks and claims the sticks are under the intelligible form of “sticks”, although they are not identically similar in sense reality as one may be minutely different than the other. Plato explains that the equality of the sticks only exists in the “form” of the object that has been recollected through our reasoning. He states that we begin in the learning process by first perceiving an object via its sense qualities. From here, we may use our reason, soul, to make judgments on those sense perceptions in order to learn, such like learning via mathematics. Since the sticks seem equal in our minds but are truly unequal in reality, there is no possible way we could obtain the notion of equality from sense perception because nothing is truly equal in reality, equality only existing in the world of “Forms”. Based on this rationale this means that the notion of equality must have been obtained before our birth, hence being recollected by our soul. Plato finishes the theory by stating that if it is true for equality, it must be true for other forms as well.
Yet another example utilized by Plato to strengthen his theory of the process of learning through recollection is the divided line theory, a metaphysical example proposed by Socrates. The divided line theory describes how our reason allows an individual to enhance their cognitive abilities that is higher reasoning, in order to attain knowledge. This allows humans to use reasoning to create
forms out of our sense perceptions that we make in reality. In the dialogue between Socrates and a slave boy, he demonstrates that the boy already had the knowledge of basic geometry, even though in the beginning it was unknown. The boy uses his reason to answer Socrates questions after a quick demonstration with the division of squares to yield area. Since the slave boy had never been...