Plato taught that the body is the mere avatar of the soul, its prison, or even its tomb. His student Aristotle, on the other hand, turned the order of things around. He conceived the soul as the emergent truth of the... [more]
Plato taught that the body is the mere avatar of the soul, its prison, or even its tomb. His student Aristotle, on the other hand, turned the order of things around. He conceived the soul as the emergent truth of the body, the body's most complete and self-fulfilling actualization.
Obviously, Aristotle was more concerned with
material things than was his mentor. He interpreted Plato's mysticism with the eye of a scientist. Whereas Plato kept his gaze focused on the immaterial and immutable Ideas suspended in heaven, Aristotle surveyed the surface of the earth at his feet. He sought to define, by means of categorical distinctions, a stable set of classes capable of subsuming the world's myriad particular forms.
In fact, the category was essentially Aristotle's invention. The West's hierarchical view of the world is a direct descendant of Aristotle's thought. Of course, Plato was also a lover of clear divisions and distinctions. But he concerned himself primarily with abstract matters: the difference between knowing and not knowing, between essence and appearance, between the good and the bad. Aristotle, on the contrary, divided up the things of this world: animals and plants, organic and inorganic forms, physical and nonphysical causes. Where Plato described the Ideas as perfect immaterial essences that matter could only degrade and distort, Aristotle saw them as inextricably tied to their material embodiment.
He conceived this embodiment as a transition from potentiality to actuality. Change is precisely the process whereby something merely possible becomes actual. Speech, for example, is part of the potential of every human being, but this faculty only becomes actualized at a certain age and under certain circumstances. By drawing this distinction between latency and fulfillment, Aristotle was able to show how members of the same species can differ in actuality, yet share the same potentiality: not all humans can speak, but speaking is a potential attribute of every human.
From metaphysics to poetry, biology to politics, Aristotle went about dividing up the world. His genius lay in discovering the crucial point at which two things can be distinguished: the mean between the extremes. By conceiving things in terms of their potential, he separated essences from contingent accidents and ossified an entire architecture of formal distinctions. Whereas Plato, with all his mystical musing on eternal form, was appropriated by Christianity,
Aristotle lies at the basis of Western science. [show less]