From the Greek Classical era roughly two schools of philosophy developed. The one that follows Plato (428-348 BC), and another that is dominated by his student, Aristotle (384–322 BC). Although periods emerged of mixed influence, the two views can’t really be reconciled. What we can discern is that when the ideas of Aristotle (or those like him) dominate, society blossoms. But when his world view is rejected in favor of Plato, civilization crumblessooner or later.
Everything that is necessary to make a society civilized, every rational value we have, whether it is the emergence of the Renaissance with its arts, science and discoveries, the birth of national awakening and the creation of the nation state, the Industrial Revolution that lifted humanity out of the agrarian paradigm, individual rights rooted in reason, or even the structure of modern language, we owe it all to Aristotle.
The Italian Renaissance (literally re-birth), the Scottish Enlightenment, the Dutch Golden Age, as well as the Islamic Golden Era were ultimately made possible by the School of Aristotle, which reached the Venetians as well as the Muslims by means of conquering portions of Eastern Rome, i.e. the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, and finally Constantinople itself.
Aristotle emphasized good reasoning and the scientific method. For example, in his work on ethics and politics, Aristotle teaches that a moral person is one who cultivates virtues based on reason. Reason requires free will and free enquiry by the individual. The School of Plato on the other hand is usually a universal experience based on dualism. The world of Aristotle is objective and external, while Plato’s is subjectively looking inward towards a metaphysical realm that is more real than reality itself.
Aristotle rejected Plato’s theory of Forms (ideas, actually Concepts), that holds that properties such as beauty are abstract universal entities that exist independent of the objects themselves. Aristotle argued that Concepts (what Plato calls Forms) are intrinsic to the objects themselves and cannot exist apart from them, and so must be studied in relation to them. (Aesthetics is an exception to that rule: art is idealized universal form that the artist attempts to capture in his work.)
It is clear why believers of all denominations are easily drawn to the mysticism of Plato with its otherworldly idea of Form. It is however a Western attraction. Although they may not be aware of it, the Orthodox East has an entirely different concept of reality.
Father Ezra Ham of the St. Elijah Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City (page) removes the reservations that Protestant theologian Ryan Reeves (video) appears to have regarding the rejection of Platonism. His analysis is clear.
Aristotle + Christ
Roman Catholicism (pre Aquinas)
Plato + Christ + St. Augustine
Roman Catholicism (post Aquinas)
Christ + Aristotle + St. Augustine
Christ + Plato + St. Agustine
Plato’s otherworldly theory of Form has given the West its concept of Heaven, a parallel world somewhere ‘up there’ (pointing nebulously to the sky) that has somehow become synonymous with Paradise, as opposed to Hell, that is somewhere ‘down there’.
This misconception in turn has given rise to the Progressives’ collectivist ideals of a makeable world, Paradise on Earth, by way of Hume’s Law that confuses ‘Is with Ought’.
The Greek Orthodox school on the other hand has a holistic concept of reality per Aristotle, entirely different from Plato’s dualism of ‘as above, so below’ that is plaguing Western culture to its core.
In the Orthodox reality the visible and the invisible are part of the same, single Kosmos. There is only one World and it is in the here and now. It’s just that the invisible can’t be discerned by the human senses (although the veil is lifted from time to time to those willing to see).
Aristotle distinguishes sense perception (empiricism) from reason, which unifies and interprets sense perceptions, the ultimate source of knowledge. Father Ezra has commented that Westerners tend to take apart things they want to understand, while those in the East are looking for an ontological experience.
Aristotle is often contrasted to Plato. But in the current era in the West it is perhaps better to contrast him to Kant. This German Protestant philosopher, whose influence on (post)modernity can’t possibly be over-stated, has completely obliterated Aristotelian thinking in the West.
Anything Aristotelian has now become the enemy. It is no coincidence that specifically rational thought (not to be confused with Rationalism), economic enterprise, every virtue ascribed to Western culture has become the target of vicious attacks from Postmodernists.
The irony is, that only Western culture in the Platonic tradition could have given birth to Postmodernism. It requires the hatred of the Good we see in Jean Jacques Rousseau, the fear and disdain for reason as instituted by Emmanuel Kant and the full throttled attack on logic as presented by Hegel.
Throughout our blogs we will continue to compare and contrast the two opposing philosophic schools of Plato and Aristotle and show how they influenced Eastern and Western civilization, each in an entirely different way.