Plato and Aristotle were very different thinkers. They came at the same fundamental philosophical problems from radically different directions. Rafael nicely characterized this in his famous “School of Athens” painting – Plato, ever the tutor, sternly pointing to the sky; Aristotle, the indignant pupil, gesturing reflexively toward the earth. But this image is somewhat deceiving. To anyone unfamiliar with the territory, you might walk away from the work thinking that Plato and Aristotle differed fundamentally, rather than merely instrumentally.
The following is not a sustained argument, so much as an exploration of impressions derived from the last few years of reading. There are arguments to be gleaned from it, but I must confess, they’re not entirely conscious efforts. The blind squirrel of my mind is finding a few nuts as he tries to feel his way out of the forest. Plato and Aristotle had very different ideas about Justice. But I am less and less convinced that they disagreed about it, fundamentally.
Aristotle’s understanding of the soul is derived from his theory of substance in The Metaphysics. By way of the hylomorphic combination of body-as-matter and soul-as-form, a unique individual is generated and equipped with the capacity to act in ways that living things act. Is this theory a “middle way” between the view of living things as purely material (where life is a sort of emergent property, dependent on matter), and dualism (the view that the body is is a dependent “container” of a Platonic Form)?
In the first book of the Politics, Aristotle argues for the view that man is a ‘political animal’. To assess the claim properly, we must first understand what he means by the term, and we should understand the reasoning he uses to defend it. Thus examined, we will find his position interesting, but ultimately unsatisfactory. However, it may be possible to shore up his case. Aristotle’s ‘political animal’ (zoon politikon) is not the creature we might expect today – a conventional construct enfranchised by legal edict and duty-bound only to his own individual happiness as a free agent in a democratic nation-state.