Metaphysics: Aristotle and Plato’s Views
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that tries to answer a few questions by looking at the fundamental nature of the world. What is appearance? What is real? And ultimately what is the nature of reality? It helps us to try and see past the physical things and determine for ourselves whether something actually exists and the ultimate reason for why it exists. Although a single term, metaphysics covers a wide array of topics, including Plato’s idea of individual items and their properties such as an orange which has a size, color, and shape that can be easily defined, and are known as particulars. There are also abstract objects such as emotions or letters which have no defined size, shape, or color. Religion is also a part of metaphysics, and asks questions as to whether a god or gods exist and their roles on earth and in the universe. In addition, not whether or not a god exists but if a god could exist. Plato’s form of metaphysics known as dualism says that there are two kinds of reality. “There is the reality of physical objects in space and time, which are objects of the senses and which are in flux growing, decaying and changing…there is also another kind of reality, the reality of concepts, ideas, forms, or essences, which are objects of thought” (Lazine 54). Plato better describes this in his Theory of Forms, which says everyone who is alive knows what a perfectly straight is, yet no one has ever seen one. “... When a man has discovered the instrument which is naturally adapted to each work, he must express this natural form and not others which he fancies, in the material…” (Plato 99). In this statement he is making the assertion that what we believe to be a perfectly straight line is actually just an expression of the tool we are using. In Plato’s cave allegory he gives a very compelling argument for dualism. He describes men who have lived chained to a cave wall with a fire behind them that depicts the shadows from objects and projects them on a blank wall in front of the people. His story illustrates the differences between ideas and what we believe to be reality, the shadow’s being ideas that the men perceive to be reality, without ever being able to see the actual reality right behind them. Plato also argues human perception to be an example of his Theory of Forms. We perceive a certain object no matter what variations it may have, for instance an object may be broken and smashed into pieces, and yet looking at the pieces we can still see the idea of the object that lay broken.
Contrary to the beliefs of Plato, Aristotle believes in only one reality, that which is physical where everything is consisted of matter. Such as plants, animals, and men, he calls these things substances. Aristotle defines substances as consisting of forms and matter, form being what the thing is and matter being what it is made of. He then goes on to describe matter not as being a particular kind of thing, but of the underlying qualities of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Aristotle would go on to give an explanation for something’s form, or to answer the question, Why? He would write his Four Causes in an effort to show how something became what it is and to better explain its form. "We do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause"(Aristotle 194). His first was the Material Cause, the change or movement of an object which is determined by what material the moving object consisted of. An example of his first cause could be an ice sculpture; the Material Cause of the sculpture would be ice. Aristotle’s second cause is, the Formal Cause. The Formal Cause is the change or movement of an object caused by the shape or configuration of the thing that is changing. An example of this could be the blueprint of the previous ice sculpture and how it’s supposed to be put together. His Third Cause is the Efficient or Moving Cause. It states that a change or movements efficient cause separate from the thing being changed, acts as an agent of the change or movement. The Efficient Cause of an ice sculpture is the person who sculpted the ice. Aristotle’s fourth cause is the Final Cause. The Final Cause of a thing is the reason or purpose behind it. So the Final Cause of an ice sculpture could be the entertainment of people. Plato and Aristotle have differentiating beliefs in the area of Metaphysics; Plato believes that there are two realities to everything in the universe the idea, and the physical thing. While Aristotle believes only in the physical reality, and that the idea or the form of a thing is a part of the item itself. The metaphysical view that I consider to be fact, alongside Plato, is dualism. I believe after researching the topic that there are indeed two realities. I am compelled, in part, to accept dualism because of Plato’s cave allegory; it struck me as true, and something that I had never thought of before I read it. To me it makes sense that if you were to have never seen the reality of something how could you know that it was true until an event happened that opened your eyes. i.e. the man climbing out of the cave to see the world was more than he thought it to be. However I don’t completely disagree with Aristotle, his four causes to answer the question, why? , seemed very enlightening to me. I simply chose to disagree with him because I don’t believe that an object can consist of the idea that shapes it, and also the matter that the particular item is composed of. To me the idea of an object is not in the object itself but in my perception of it.
Aristotle, Physics 194 b17–20
Lavine, T.Z. From Socrates to Sartre. New York: Bantam, 1984. Print. Plato, Cratylus 99