Why Plato Is Greater Than Aristotle

Vom Patti



It is an unfortunately common conception that Aristotle is the peak of classical philosophy. It is said that he is greater than Plato, who in turn is greater than the presocratics. Even professors who otherwise seem like smart and healthy individuals often tend to imply that the presocratics were simpleminded fools and that Plato was not much ahead of them. This is a sad but frankly not surprising opinion. Plato was essentially a mystic and Aristotle a logician, and I think we all know which of the two, mysticism or logic, is more fashionable these days.

I’m not denying that Aristotle is a truly remarkable philosopher. Without Aristotle the French revolution might never have happened, and without the tragic failure that was the French revolution there would have been no need for German romanticism, and I think we all know there is nothing more important in the history of thought than German romanticism. But what is the greatest thing that Aristotle taught us? I believe it is this: That every thing is a part of a bigger thing and that every thing that is a part of a bigger thing has a purpose as a part of that bigger thing. For a scientist it is a delight to classify these things and their parts based on the how the parts relate to each other and what their purposes are. All the classes that a scientist divides things into are clearly nothing but a linguistic counterpart of the metaphysical Ideas that Plato is said to have postulated from the same perceivable entities that play a central part in Aristotle’s materialist philosophy.

It has been proven time and time again that the basic propositions of Plato’s system of Ideas imply numerous metaphysical oddities and lead to a blown out ontology of a presumably infinite amount of abstract entities that serve no purpose in science or indeed everyday life. This is why one might falsely assume that what makes Aristotle greater than Plato is that he abandoned Plato’s ridiculous doctrine of Ideas. But the main thing about Plato’s philosophy is that he had no doctrines. Every one of his dialogues ends in a paradox. His dialogues — including the ones that are claimed to present a doctrine of Ideas — begin with a sensible thought and proceed to develop that thought towards the inevitable collapse of logic. Aristotle tried to save the logic and admittedly did a decent job. Plato, however, showed us that logic — and not just Aristotle’s crude predicate logic that even the scholastics found insufficient — will certainly fall apart when it comes to the truly important things, and perhaps before. This is why Plato is greater than Aristotle and quite possibly greater than anyone.