Plato & Aristotle Or The Philosophy of Human Nature As Divined by two Great Philosophers

Plato & Aristotle

The Philosophy of Human Nature

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As Divined by two Great Philosophers

Human nature is a nature of reason, not strictly adherent to passion or feelings.  Morality then, becomes the crux of this nature.  Morality is reason.  This is not to say that Plato was an ascetic; he placed passion, and feelings in his philosophy but the ethics of humanity are tied into the good of a person because reasonably, being virtuous, or good led a person to being happy (eudemonism).

            Anything else that a person may be presented with and made to make a choice, that choice should be rooted in virtue.  Whatever else is chosen by free will should only serve to making that person virtuous.

            Plato was a man filled with faith in human nature.  Plato’s philosophy of human nature doing evil was that a person only does evil in ignorance, for he believed everyone, just as himself wants only what is good.  The source of someone doing evil is brought about by unlimited desire.  Something that goes unmitigated becomes possessive of that person and they in turn want, and want, without satiation.  This is when the appetitive part of the soul (the part of the soul that wants sex, food, etc.) overtakes the rational (part seeking truth, and reason) of the soul resulting in moral weakness or akrasia.

            It is not then self-interest that leads a person to happiness, and there is a definite equilibrium between the allowance of each part of the soul guided by reason, and asceticism.  Plato was a not a Sophist.  Without the guidance of moral reason then a state of chaos would ensue entailing an everyman for himself type of attitude.

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Plato’s Flashlight in a Cave
For Plato, the philosopher was the one who escapes the cave.  The cave then is a representation of the senses of humans; they see false objects, and hear false words.  The person who is in the cave is using their senses to obtain a diagram of the world around them, but the cave is dark and there is no light, so all they see are shadows, or reflections of themselves; reflections that are of a lesser human.  The philosopher on the other hand escapes the cave, or escapes the world of bodily necessity, and comes into the sun to realize that what objects are truly.  Plato, being an opportunist but also a realist describes the scene of the philosopher escaping the cave and his encounter with the sun (truth),

…he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he is forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities…He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upperworld. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day? (Plato The Cave)

The philosopher was guided by reason to escape the cave.  Upon witnessing the sun, he begins to see the truth.  Throughout the dialogue in The Republic Plato utilizes the ‘cross examination’ method of Socrates, and this is especially true in the metaphor of the cave.  In Book 7 of The Republic, Socrates is having a dialogue with Glaucon.  Socrates, or Plato writing the dialogue, convince the man, through a series of questions that the cave is a false reality, and only when a person sees the sun can the truth be found.  In answering the question as to whether or not one should return to the cave to free the prisoners or pity them, then in a Platonic response the answer is yes.  Since the philosopher is the one who makes it out of the cave due to their enlightenment, Plato is stating that it is a necessity for the philosopher to travel back into the cave to convince the other prisoners that a greater and brighter world exists for them as well.  The point of the allegory in the cave is that humanity is blinded by their own ignorance, and since it is impossible for the ignorant to achieve an epitome such as the volume as a philosopher can achieve then the philosopher must have pity on the prisoner since they lack the necessary advancement to discover their own path out of the cave.

The allegory of the cave is one of ignorance versus enlightenment.  Those who make it out of the cave are the philosophers and share a rare gift of knowledge that the world expands beyond one’s preconceived notions of reality (reality in this case being the cave).  The people who stay in the cave are the prisoners of their own lack of understanding, or their own limited perception.  Therefore since the philosopher has the tools which enable mankind a vision outside of their normal and predestined boundaries the only way an evolution of thought may occur is if the rest of the prisoners are freed from their own unawareness.

Socrates taught philosophy in a question answer dialogue.  The dialectic art of arriving at the truth was the system Socrates used.  In this regard he would arrive at the truth by questioning the belief of engaged speakers in a philosophic circle.  Although this idea of philosophy may come across as non-confrontational, Socrates used this method to verbally jab at the speaker until they themselves found fault in their philosophy, and through a system of negative or positive responses came to recognize the truth.  The aim of such confrontational questioning was always about truth; Socrates believed that this was the main goal of philosophy, and philosophical discussions, and he believed that everyone involved with the account was in pursuit of this goal as well.  Thus, the duty of the philosopher who makes it out of the cave is to return with this knowledge this nearly divine truth and give it as a gift to the prisoners much like Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give to humanity so must the philosopher give truth to the prisoners.

            Morality must then be shown as adhering to individual interests.  Plato did not agree with the type of hedonism exhibited by the Sophists, who thought human nature was an extension of the animal world.  Instead, Plato states that the nature of man is reason; and in this reason exists an organized society constructed by reason.

            Happiness for the rational man then comes into fruition by governing their more base, animal, desires, which are irrational.  This morality is extended into the realm of society because of human interaction.  Therefore, if a man is to be the pinnacle of reason, and morality, and happiness, then the society that he lives and associates must then also exhibit such a moral temperance.  If then a society is blinded by hedonism, or pure desire of self, a man in that society has no hope for personal happiness because of lack of morality, reason, and thus fully succumbing to akrasia.

Plato is a firm believer in man not adhering to the masses opinion but staying true to one singular person, a person of wisdom, and as Plato states through Socrates, “And he ought to live and train, and eat and drink in the way which seems good to his single master who has understanding, rather than according to the opinion of all other men put together?”  Plato’s basic rhetoric involves the golden rule of do unto others as you would have done unto you.  There must then remain the basic principles of morality in society for society to maintain it’s virtuous code of ethics.

Aristotle accepts pluralism over Plato’s unity in a myriad of ways.  In the definition of pluralism there must not exist one dominating group.   Thus, Aristotle challenges the idea of unity, or one by believing in objective reality.  Aristotle, in the viewpoint of being a pluralist does not place emphasis on the existence of subjective ideas, “…numbers and spatial magnitudes cannot exist apart from things…he who first supposed that the Forms exist and that the Forms are numbers and that the objects of mathematics exist, naturally separated the two” [Ibid., Book XIII, 1085b 35 & 1086a 12—14, P. 909].  With this statement, Aristotle’s philosophy aligns him with naturalist philosophers and not congruently with Plato’s unity.

The realm of the reasoning man, according to Plato in his work Phaedo, is extrapolated by Socrates (for this part of the essay Socrates ideas will also be Plato’s ideas on the soul and the way in which the soul plays an important role in human nature), that is, a man who is within reason also must admit to the fundamental truths regarding life after death.  That is to say, in Socrates explanation of immortality, there remains the outlook that the body and the soul are not eternally combined; but the soul is grounded in the body through emotions, and feral states of humanity.  When the soul is released from such torpor, it then reclines back into its previous non-corporeal state to either rest, or to transform and reinvent itself in the world.  The soul, according to Socrates, is that which is in us that command and it is the body that serves.

            The soul then, according to the previous statement is created in the divine will, and since divinity cannot be defined through the corporeal, the body must be mortal, and therefore finite.  The soul on the other hand is infinite.  The soul is the image of divinity; in the soul there is found an unceasing existence of transformation.  The reasonable man must then accept the dichotomy of the body and soul, as well as accept their harmony he must distance the idea that the body and the soul are one.  The body is mortal, and can succumb to dissolution, but according to Socrates, the soul is indissoluble.

            The soul then has a life of her own.  Socrates questions the ideas of what humankind supposes to be immortal.  God is immortal, and the diversity of heaven and hell in all fallible senses is immortal, but the reasonable man but design for himself the idea that he too is of a strand of divinity.  The soul is associated with the ideal and the invisible.  The body commands emotions, and its fate lies within those external circumstances, that is nature, but the soul, in Socrates’ view is above nature.  The soul is a higher self.  As the introduction to Phaedo states, “The human being alone has the consciousness of truth and justice and love, which is the consciousness of God.  And the soul becoming more conscious of these, becomes more conscious of her own immortality” (23).  The soul hinges upon the realization that she is immortal.  In that consciousness, and in that state of being, there exists God, and all that is immortal.

            Therefore, Socrates is trying to define the perimeters of immortality, and the fact that a reasonable man cannot indubitably believe that the body and the soul will perish, but must in fact take credence to the soul existing at a higher level of existence, that is, at the level with God.  Socrates is placing a belief system in his dialectic, and in so doing he goes into analyzing the existence of God, or the intangible being that is the divine.  In Phaedo Socrates circulates his ideas around the immortality of the soul and the acceptance of this by the reasoning man on the basis of the dimension that God portrays.

            By dimension, suffice it to say that God, in divine right, is perfect.  It is in that perfect that man may find allusions to his reasoning, and by so doing, reason that since the soul is of God, then man himself is immortal, as Plato wrights, “An evil God, or an indifferent God might have had the power but not the will, to preserve us…But is he is perfect, he must will that all rational beings should partake of that perfection which he himself is” (23).  Life after death then is a certainty on a celestial level.

            Socrates is attempting to connect his theory of knowledge with that of the soul’s ability to reincarnate or transform or simply exist beyond the development of the natural world.  In this doctrine he attempts to bring forth the ideas of past and future states of existence.  He is attempting to define eternity, which is incomprehensible to the mortal keen, but with the soul, the soul being undoubtedly of a higher fiber than that of the mundane, Socrates must conclude that the mind itself is therefore dependent on an ephemeral essence that is beyond its comprehension.  This type of thought process is one that is known as the transcendental method of interpretation.

            In this interpretation, the immortality of the soul to the reasoning man is based purely on knowledge.  On this argument in Phaedo, Cebes states, “…knowledge is simply recollection, if true also necessarily implies a previous time in which we have learned now what we recollect.  But this would be impossible unless our soul had been in some place before existing in the form of man; here then is another proof of the soul’s immortality” (60).  Knowledge is something that is acquired through a previous experience.  A reasoning man can deduce that because he is of a reasonable mind he gained knowledge through previous experience.  The idea of mutating and changing, and being in a semi-transcendental state while in one’s body is something that is prevalent in Socrates’ philosophy.

            The soul is ephemeral; it lies in the dimension of the invisible.  When the soul is within conscious contact with the body, the soul is then malleable.  The soul, once in this region must then return to herself so that divinity can be maintained, or wisdom/knowledge can be acquired.

Socrates’ definition of the reasonable man accepting that the soul is immortal hinges upon man’s knowledge that the soul must not be maintained by the body, but that the body is commanded by the soul.

The soul’s purpose is to continue, in a divine fashion immortality, and accomplishes this by eviscerating itself from the body.  Since the body is mortal it cannot exist continually with the soul, as Socrates states of this matter in relation to the reasoning man,  “…he who is confident about death has but a foolish confidence, unless he is able to prove that the soul is altogether immortal and imperishable.  But if he cannot prove the soul’s immortality, he who is about to die will always have reason to fear that when the body is disunited, the soul also may utterly perish” (81).  It is then important to preclude the soul’s indissoluble essence opposed to that of the body’s.  In the matter of life after death, it is within the soul to define the boundaries beyond corporeal existence, and the reasoning man cannot deny that existence.

            Aristotle was partial to pluralism.  He did place his faith in the idea that humans ‘aped’ reality and copy what they are witness but, and thus making reality an introverted, unattainable subject.  A person’s personal truth, through the philosophy of pluralism and Aristotle, has a background involving historical context and empirical evidence wherein truth can be extrapolated.  Aristotle believed that pluralism dealt more with a person’s culture than with a vast array of immitigable scenarios.

Aristotle was opposed to the idea of unity’s view of truth, beauty and the ideal one.  In disagreement with Plato, Aristotle gave utterance that the concept of unity was disembodied from reality, and therefore the concepts that were enforced in the philosophy had no applicable bearing.

Work Cited

Hoffman, Eva. The New Nomads.  In A. Aciman (Ed).  Letters of Transit   (pp. 35           63).  New York:  The New Press.  1989.

MacDonald, Ross.  Socrates versus Plato.  Aspects of Education.  P9-22.  1996.
Marx, Karl.  The German Ideology.  In C. Kaplan and W.D. Anderson (Eds.).       Criticism Major Statements (pp. 310-318).  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.       1846.

Plato.  Phaedo.    <>

Plato.  Crito.  Translated by Benjamin Jowett.  <>

Plato.  The Cave.  Online.

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Ritzer, George.  Modern Sociological Theory.  Boston:  McGraw-Hill Co., Inc.


Sigmund, Freud. New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (W.J.H. Sprott,           Trans.).  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, INC. 1933.


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