Both Plato and Aristotle put forth contrasting ideas about the notion of forms. While Plato argues for a theory of Forms (also known as Ideas), Aristotle disagrees with this concept, proposing his own theory of causality. As a PhD student in philosophy, I find both perspectives noteworthy, although I tend to lean more towards Aristotle’s views due to their practicality and emphasis on empirical observation.
Plato’s theory of Forms asserts that there exists a separate, non-material realm of perfect and eternal Forms that serve as the ultimate reality, whereas the physical world we perceive is a mere reflection or imitation of these Forms. According to Plato, Forms are abstract entities that are objective and timeless, representing the true nature of things. The physical objects we encounter in our everyday experience are merely imperfect copies of these ideal Forms. For instance, there is an ideal Form of a table, and individual tables in the physical world are mere imperfect copies of this perfect Form. Plato claims that knowledge is gained through recollection and contemplation of these Forms.
On the other hand, Aristotle challenges Plato’s view by proposing that forms are not separate entities but are inherent within individual objects themselves. He argues that forms or essences are not transcendent ideals but rather immanent in the world we experience. According to Aristotle, the essence of an object consists of its form and matter—the combination of its characteristics and potentialities. Forms, in Aristotle’s view, are not distinct from the physical world but are actualized through the processes of change and development. Unlike Plato, Aristotle suggests that knowledge is gained through empirical observation and scientific investigation of the natural world.
I find Aristotle’s approach to be more compelling for several reasons. Firstly, Aristotle’s theory aligns better with our everyday experience and the development of scientific knowledge. His framework accommodates the idea that the physical world is constantly changing and evolving, and that objects possess an inherent nature that is not separate from reality. This perspective allows for a more practical approach to understanding the natural world through observation, experimentation, and logical reasoning.
Secondly, Aristotle’s emphasis on causality offers a more comprehensive explanation of how things come to be. He introduces the concept of four causes: material, formal, efficient, and final. These causes represent different aspects of an object’s existence and help uncover the underlying principles and purposes of phenomena. Plato’s theory of Forms, though providing a nuanced account of universals, lacks a similar explanatory framework.
Furthermore, Aristotle’s view allows for a more inclusive understanding of knowledge. While Plato suggests that knowledge is based on recollection, which assumes that we possess knowledge from a previous existence, Aristotle emphasizes the role of perception and experience in acquiring knowledge. He argues that we gain knowledge through the senses and our ability to reason from the information we gather. This perspective is more aligned with modern scientific inquiry, which heavily relies on observation and experimentation.
In conclusion, both Plato and Aristotle present intriguing perspectives on the notion of forms. While Plato’s theory of Forms highlights the existence of an abstract, separate reality, Aristotle’s theory of immanent forms offers a more practical and inclusive approach. As a PhD student in philosophy, I find Aristotle’s framework to be more compelling due to its compatibility with empirical observation, emphasis on causality, and inclusive understanding of knowledge acquisition.