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Paul Gerard Horrigan






1. Ancient Philosophy



2. Medieval Philosophy



3. Renaissance Humanism to Kant



4. Fichte to Gadamer









A number of social, political and economic conditions permitted the rise of philosophical speculation in the Grecian colonies of Ionia. In the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., the Greek colonies along the Ionian coastline, through contact with the civilizations of the East, managed to establish a veritable commercial trading empire. The Ionian seamen and traders brought in a steady flow of goods and riches from the East and, in time, the colonies became so well-off that many of her citizens were endowed with that essential leisure time needed for philosophical contemplation and speculation. The Greek colonies were also in contact with the other ancient civilizations of the Orient (which had, at that time, a superior scientific knowledge and where the arts and sciences were flourishing), and because of this constant interaction the Greeks developed a natural love for observation, speculation, and research. The republican spirit of the Grecian city-states also encouraged free debate in various fields, something which the older, blood-thirsty and warlike tyrannical regimes had sought to stamp out. Thus, we find the first philosophical schools developing in the Greek colonies. Though many of the early Greek philosophers were scientists, mathematicians, astronomers and doctors, they also sought to investigate the first principles and ultimate causes of all things by means of human reasoning (the characteristic mark of the true philosophical spirit). We also see a passage from the anthropomorphic, mythological solutions of old concerning God, cosmos, and man, to philosophical ones based on reasoning and argumentation.1[1]


Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy (spanning over a millennium, from the 6th century B.C. to Justinian’s decree closing the pagan-oriented philosophical schools in 529 A.D.) can be divided into five distinct periods: 1. The Pre-Socratic period (which was centered upon the cosmological problem). The Pre-Socratics include the Ionians (Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, and Heraclitus), Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, the Eleatics (Parmenides and Zeno), and the Pluralists (Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Democritus) ; 2. The Sophists (where we find a shift from an objectivist cosmocentrism to a relativistic and subjectivistic anthropocentrism. Sophism’s main exponents include Protagoras and Gorgias) versus Socrates (who, though focusing his philosophical musings almost wholely on man, was, nevertheless, an ardent seeker of objective truth) ; 3. Plato and Aristotle (where Greek philosophy, without a doubt, reaches its highest systematic development) ; 4. The Hellenistic period (which includes Stoicism, Epicureanism, Skepticism, and the later diffusion of Eclecticism) ; and 5. Neo-Platonism (whose most famous exponent is Plotinus).

The Ionian School


The very first philosophical school in Greece was called the Ionian or Ionic school2[2] because her principal exponents, Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, and Heraclitus, had come from Ionia, which was then the name of the Western coast of Asia Minor (now part of Turkey).3[3] The first Ionian philosopher is Thales (c. 624–c. 562 B.C.) who sustained that the principle or ultimate cause of all things was water. It is the ultimate constitutive material principle of everything, remaining as a permanent substratum throughout the different changes of things. Aristotle conjectures that the observation of nature may have led Thales to such a conclusion: “Thales got this notion perhaps from seeing that the nutriment of all things is moist, and that heat itself is generated from the moist and kept alive by it (and that from which they come to be is a principle of all things). He got his notion from this fact, and from the fact that the seeds of all things have a moist nature, and that water is the origin of the nature of moist things.”4[4]


Anaximander5[5] (c. 610–c. 540 B.C.) instead held that the first principle of all things was the “indeterminate” or “infinite” (ápeiron), which is a compound of all contrary elements. All things originate from it and return to it. The Stagirite understood the apeiron to mean unlimited extension in space and qualitative indetermination. It is wholely indeterminate, that is, it is without any formal determination. Anaximander also believed that the apeiron was a divine principle, encompassing and governing all things as an immortal and indestructible principle.


Anaximenes (c. 585–c. 528 B.C.), considered air to be the primordial principle of all reality. Air, for this Ionian thinker, is infinite, encompassing all things, and is in constant motion. Anaximenes probably chose air because all living things need air for respiration.


Heraclitus6[6] (c. 540–c. 480 B.C.) was the first thinker to delve deeply into the nature of change and becoming in the world. He is the philosopher of change. For him, what exists is not being but becoming ; change is the only reality. The sole material of this universal becoming is fire, since it is at once the most elusive and the most active of elements and is perpetually in movement. Change and becoming have their own cause and law which Heraclitus calls the logos (or universal reason). Maintaining that all reality is pure change or becoming, that nothing is and everything changes, that whatever is, insofar as it is, is not, since it is subject to change, he denied the principle of non-contradiction which states that it is impossible to be and not to be at the same time and in the same respect. Heraclitus’ philosophy of pure flux holds that “we go down, and we do not go down into the same river ; we are, and we are not ; sea water is at once the purest and the most tainted ; good and evil are one and the same thing.”7[7] He also held that the soul was fire; the drier the soul the more wisdom it will have, and the more humidity it has the lesser its reasoning powers become.


The main importance of these first philosophers, our Ionians, lies in the fact they raised the question as to the ultimate nature of all things, rather than in any particular answer given to the question they raised.




Pythagoras8[8] (c. 571–c. 497 B.C.) was a thinker of many talents, occupying himself in such fields as astronomy and music, and, in particular, in arithmetic and geometry. He was also the initiator of a famous school named after him. Pythagoras held that the essential nature of the universe consisted in numbers. Aristotle, writing of the Pythagorean school, explains that “the Pythagoreans, who were the first to take up mathematics, not only advanced in this study, but also having been brought up in it, they thought its principles were the principles of all things. Since these principle numbers are by nature the first, and in numbers they seemed to see many resemblances to the things that exist and come into being – more than in fire and earth and water…, since, again, they saw that the modifications and the ratios of the musical scales were expressible in numbers ; since, then all other things seemed in their whole nature to be the first things in the whole of nature, they supposed the elements of numbers to be the elements of all things, and the whole heaven to be a musical scale and a number.”9[9] For Copleston, “it seems clear that the Pythagoreans regarded numbers spatially. One is the point, two is the line, three is the surface, four is the solid. To say then that all things are number, would mean that ‘all bodies consist of points or units in space, which when taken together constitute a number.’10[10]11[11] Pythagoras had a very spiritualistic conception of man and proposed a strict moral and ascetical code for his followers. He also taught the immortality of the soul and the doctrine of transmigration of souls (metempsychosis).




The philosophical genius of Parmenides12[12] (c. 520–c. 440 B.C.) discovered that betweeen being and non-being there existed a radical distinction: being is and non-being is not ; being is thinkable and non-being cannot be thought of. He was the first formulator of the principle of non-contradiction, holding that being is and non-being is not. Though Parmenides affirmed that being was the object of the intellect, he went to excess, holding that being was the only reality, thus denying all change in the world. Change, motion, and becoming are illusory for him. There exists only being, the one, perfect, complete, immutable and eternal. Thus, he ended up a monist. He laudably wanted to re-establish the truth of being in opposition to the philosophy of pure becoming of Heraclitus. But he understood his principle “Being is, non-being is not” in a rigid, inflexible manner and rejected every non-being, including relative non-being. Thus, he concluded that all limitation, multiplicity and change were impossible and therefore all reality was but a single, homogeneous, immobile being. “Parmenides, reaching the opposite pole to Heraclitus, fixed, as he did, once for all one of the extreme limits of speculation and error, and proved that every philosophy of pure being, for the very reason that it denies that kind of non-being which Aristotle termed potentiality and which necessarily belongs to everything created, is obliged to absorb all being in absolute being, and leads therefore to monism or pantheism no less inevitably than the philosophy of pure becoming.”13[13] Parmenides’ notion of being was not analogical but univocal. He failed to draw a distinction between the infinite and the finite. A correct solution to the problem of Parmenides lies in the doctrine of act and potency later developed by Aristotle, and in the teaching that being is not univocal but analogical. “Thus all the difficulties raised by Parmenides could easily be solved by dividing Being into two kinds, two realities, two essentially different realizations (rationes simpliciter diversae secundum quid eaedem) of the same analogical idea of Being: 1. Being realized in a supreme and infinite degree, i.e. the essentially existent, the purely actual – ipsum esse subsistens – to which are applicable all Parmenides’ metaphysical inferences, provided all material elements be excluded ; and 2. Being realized in varyingly limited degrees, in things affected more or less with potentiality, the objects of sense experience. In regard to beings of this kind, the Eleatic arguments have no validity.”14[14]


The Atomist School


Though Leucippus (who flourished sometime during the fifth century B.C.) is the founder of atomism,15[15] Democritus16[16] (460–360 B.C.) is undoubtedly its most famous exponent. Atomism is a philosophy which holds that being is constituted by atoms, indivisible and immutable particles, different from each other only in form and dimension. Atoms are constantly in movement, and the diversity of things is caused by the movement of atoms in a vacuum, an existent reality. When atoms unite they bring about generation, and when they separate from one another corruption is brought about. Every corporeal being that exists is composed of atoms that are separated from one another by a vacuum. The cause of movement of the atoms lies in their very instability ; they are by nature in constant motion. Knowledge, according to Democritus, takes place by means of the action of atoms upon the sensitive organs. Atoms constantly flow out of things, and when they reach the senses they affect similar atoms present in the senses.


The Pluralistic Physical School


The main philosophers of this school are Empedocles and Anaxagoras. The school is described as pluralistic because they chose a plurality of elements for their first principle. Empedocles17[17] (c. 483–c. 423 B.C.) held that the ultimate cause of all things resided in the four original and immutable elements of earth, fire, air, and water. These elements are the ungenerated, incorruptible, and immutable substances that constitute the origin of all things. “From these things all other beings have proceeded – those that existed in the past, those that exist at present, and those that will exist in the future – trees, men and women, animals, birds, the fish that live in the water, and also the gods who live long lives and who enjoy special prerogatives. For only these elements exist ; and by combining themselves in different ways, they take on a variety of forms, each particular combination giving rise to a particular kind of change.”18[18] The four elements never change; it is through their different combinations that other things are brought into existence. He also sustained that the change and becoming that we experience in the world are a result of the conflict between the two primordial forces of love and hate. Hate and love make the four elements unite with or separate themselves from one another. Love brings things together and brings about generation, while hate is divisive and brings about corruption. Love and hate are in constant opposition with each other, and the predominance of one over the other is in perpetual alternation, giving rise to the cosmic cycles of generation and corruption. Empedocles’ theory of knowledge is materialist ; knowledge is the result of the contact between the elements of things and the elements of the senses.


Anaxagoras19[19] (c. 500–c. 428 B.C.) sustained that the first principle of all things consists in a great indeterminate mixture composed of an infinite number of qualitatively diverse substances, infinitely small in size. Aristotle called Anaxagoras’ first principle the homeomeries. They are the “seeds” all things. The homeomeries in a way embody all things in itself. All beings are made up of a mixture of homeomeries, and different mixtures give rise to different things, depending on the element which has the biggest proportion in the mixture. Movement in the world is caused by the Supreme Intelligence or Mind (Nous). The Nous, it should be noted, did not create the world but rather sets the world in motion whereby things begin to differentiate themselves from one another and take on particular characteristics. The motion initiated by the Nous is what determines the diverse proportions of homeomeries in things. Anaxagoras describes his Nous: “While all other things are composed of a mixture of all things, the Intelligence is infinite and independent, not mixed with other things, but is by itself alone. Otherwise, if it were mixed with something else and were not alone by itself, it would participate in all other things, for everything is in everything as I said earlier. The things mixed with it would prevent it from governing any of them in the manner rendered possible only by its independence from all other things. The intelligence is the most subtle and pure of beings. It knows everything completely and has maximum power….The Intelligence ordains everything that is brought into being – those things that existed in the past and exist no longer, those that exist at present and those that will exist in the future. It also causes the rotation of the stars, the sun and the moon, the air and the ether that are separating from one another. It is this rotation that causes their separation.”20[20]


The Sophists


The adherents of Sophism came from various parts of the Greek world but their center was in Athens. The Sophists21[21] were characterized by their mistrust of metaphysics, which they considered illusory, and their concentration on dialectics, rhetoric, and eloquence at the expense of truth. Maritain describes them: “They did not seek truth. Since the sole aim of their intellectual activity was to convince themselves and others of their own superiority, they inevitably came to consider as the most desirable form of knowledge the art of refuting and disproving by skillful arguments, for with men and children alike destruction is the easiest method of displaying their strength, and the art of arguing with equal probability the pros and cons of every question, another proof of acumen and skill. That is to say, in their hands knowledge altogether lost sight of its true purpose, and what with their predecessors was simply a lack of intellectual discipline became with them the deliberate intention to employ concepts without the least regard for that delicate precision which they demand, but for the pure pleasure of playing them off one against the other – an intellectual game of conceptual counters devoid of solid significance. Hence their sophisms or quibbles. Their ethics were of a piece. Every law imposed upon man they declared to be an arbitrary convention, and the virtue they taught was in the last resort either the art of success, or what our modern Nietzscheans call the will to power. Thus, of the spirit which had inspired the lofty intellectual ambitions of the preceding age, the Sophists retained only the pride of knowledge ; the love of truth they had lost. More ardently than their predecessors they desired to achieve greatness through knowledge, but they no longer sought reality. If we may use the expression, they believed in knowledge without believing in truth. A similar phenomenon has recurred since in the history of thought and on a far greater scale. Under these conditions the sole conclusion which Sophism could reach was what is termed relativism or scepticism.”22[22]


Sophism’s main exponents were Protagoras and Gorgias. Protagoras23[23] (c. 481–c. 411 B.C.) elaborated an essentially relativistic and anthropocentric doctrine of knowledge and life. It was he who coined the phrase “man is the measure of all things,”24[24] by which he meant that all was relative to the dispositions of the human subject, the “truth” being that which appears true to him.


Gorgias (c. 484–c. 375 B.C.) instead rejected the anthropocentric relativism of Protagoras for an even more radically skeptical (and one should add nihilist) view of reality, negating the existence of being as well as the correspondence between being and thought. His three theses are: “First: nothing exists. Second: if anything existed, it cannot be known by man, Third: if it can be known, it cannot be transmitted and explained to others.”25[25] Not having any faith in philosophy Gorgias concentrated his efforts on rhetoric; though words have no truth content they can be utilized in order to control and manipulate the minds of others.




The great Athenian philosopher Socrates26[26] (469–399 B.C.) dedicated his fruitful life to the search and communication of truth. We do not have any of his writings so in order to know his philosophical thought we have to have recourse to those who have written of him, namely, Aristophanes, Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, and the Minor Socratics. The method that Socrates used (called the socratic method) in the quest for truth consisted first of all in the use of irony in which he would appear to know nothing of the subject matter and his student everything. Through his superior knowledge and wit he would make his student realize his utter ignorance regarding the subject matter which he boasted about knowing in the first place. The second part of the socratic method consisted in the maeiutic or intellectual midwifery, wherein Socrates helps his student awaken the dormant knowledge of things possessed in him so that the latter in the end is able to define the nature of the subject matter at hand by his very own power.


Socrates was a zealous opponent of sophistry, teaching his disciples to know themselves, objective truth, and the inestimable worth of their souls. Though he occupied himself mainly with human problems, something he shares with the Sophists, Socrates differs from them in his findings, such as the affirmation of the existence of the immortal soul, the ability of the human mind to attain the universal concept, and in the effective use of the inductive method. Again, against the Sophists, he insisted on the essential distinction between good and evil, of vice and virtue. Happiness, for him, consists in the virtuous life. Socrates is rightly said to be the founder of ethics. Unfortunately he committed the intellectualist error of confusing the knowledge of virtue with being virtuous. He mistakenly held that the knowledge of a virtue was sufficient to put it into practice. But experience shows us that one can know, for example, what the virtue of justice is yet fail to be a just person; one becomes just not merely by possessing a knowledge of justice but by habitually doing just acts.


Socrates was an outspoken person who took on the corrupt leaders of his time, holding them to account. And in the process, he inevitably produced enemies who wanted him out of the way. A trial took place wherein he was accused of impiety, of corrupting the youth of Athens. But Socrates countered that it was his very judges who were corrupting the youth and all of Athens by their vice and corruption. He in fact told his accusers that far from being a threat to Athens, Athens in reality needed him. Faced with the possibility of death he nevertheless was not cowed by fear. He was once a soldier and his accusers and all in the trial knew of his unimpeachable bravery in battle. Not in the least intimidated by his accusers he told them that he had to obey God rather than men: “for know that this is the command of God; and I believe that no greater good has ever happened in the state than my service to the God. For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul…This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person.”27[27] He then warned his listeners that a person who does injustice suffers a far greater injury than the one suffering it. He then said: “And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against the God by condemning me, who am his gift to you. For if you kill me you will not easily find a successor to me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of a gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is a great and noble steed who is tardy with his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. You will not easily find another like me, and therefore I advise you to spare me.”28[28] They did not spare him, condemning him to death by drinking hemlock, a deadly poison. Before being led away Socrates warned the jury of the justice that awaits them: “If you think that by killing men you can prevent some one from censuring your evil lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable; the easiest and noblest way is not to be disabling others, but to be improving yourselves.”29[29] “The hour of departure has arrived,” said Socrates in conclusion, “and we go our ways – I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows.”30[30] And he died with the utmost serenity. In the conclusion of Plato’s Phaedo we read this testimony: “Such was the end of our friend, concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best.”31[31]




Plato32[32] (427–347 B.C.) was one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The time he spent with his master Socrates deeply influenced his philosophy. After the death of Socrates, Plato travelled to various cities, sojourning above all in Syracuse. He returned to Athens in 387 where he founded the Academy, which could be called Europe’s first university. The academy continued until 529 A.D. when it was suppressed by the Emperor Justinian. Plato went to Syracuse another two times but was unsuccessful in his attempt to educate the city’s tyrant. He returned to Athens, this time for good, dying there at the age of around 80 years. Plato wrote many works, some of which have been lost to posterity. Many of his philosophical works were written in dialogue form. His philosophy is centered round and dominated by his Doctrine or Theory of Ideas which may be summed up in the following principle: The specific object of human knowledge is the real world of Ideas, of which the world of the senses is but the shadow or the copy. Real being, according to our philosopher, is not to be found in the particular sensible objects that make up what we call Nature, but rather in the universal essences which are the objects, not of sense, but of the conceptions of the intellect. Particular beautiful persons or things, for example, are not real beauty ; only the universal essence or Idea Beauty is. Particular sensible things only imitate reality insofar as they imitate the Ideas ; particular horses are only imitations of the one, eternal, universal Horse, or the Idea Horse. The very essence of Plato’s Doctrine of Ideas is that the universals are the true realities and the particulars, the individual things that we experience in Nature, are only half-real imitations of these true realities. Plato’s Ideas are not something in our mind but are primarily objective realities in themselves. They are objective universal essences existing apart from the phenomena of the sense world and apart from our conceptual representations. How did he arrive at such a false conclusion, that universal Ideas really exist apart from the human mind? According to Jacques Maritain, “failing to analyze with sufficient accuracy the nature of our ideas and the process of abstraction, and applying too hastily his guiding principle, that whatever exists in things by participation must somewhere exist in the pure state, Plato arrived at the conclusion that there exists in a supra-sensible world a host of models or archetypes, immaterial, immutable, eternal, man in general or man in himself, triangle in itself, virtue in itself, etc. These he termed ideas, which are the object apprehended by the intellect, the faculty which attains truth – that is to say, they are reality.”33[33] Plato’s system can be classified as an exaggerated realism which retains that universals are real things existing by themselves. Universal concepts would exist independently of the individuals they are predicated of. To correct this error of Plato we have the position of moderate realism as espoused by the likes of Aristotle and St. Thomas. In moderate realism what is known exists as universal in the intellect, but as individual outside the mind. Our words and universal concepts no doubt signify certain natures, but these natures do not exist in themselves but are individualized in things. Only individual beings exist in reality, for the things that exist cannot be predicated of another. Universality is a property only of our abstract concepts ; it is by virtue of their universality that they are predicable of many. “Something is a universal not only because it can be predicated of many, but also because what is signified by its name can be found in many.”34[34] “For example, justice is a virtue proper to human nature ; hence, the foundation of its demands is found in every individual subject who possesses that nature. The common nature that is possessed by many individual beings is common not numerically but formally. If I write ‘A’ twice – ‘A’ and ‘A’ –, I reproduce the same form in two numerically distinct letters ; in the same way, human nature is actualized in John, Frederick, and Timothy, in such a way that numerically, each one has his own individual nature. For a nature to be multiplied in several individuals, the form must be capable of being received in several material subjects. The answer to the problem of the universals is, therefore, linked to the hylemorphic composition (the union of matter and form) of material beings (John and Peter are both men because they share the same nature ; but they are distinct individual men because the formal principle of that nature has been received in different matters). As regards accidental properties, the answer of moderate realism involves the distinction between substance and accident (the property ‘yellow’ can be multiplied if there are many substances capable of receiving it).”35[35]


A thing exists in the mind as a universal, in reality as an individual. That which we apprehend by our ideas as a universal does indeed really exist, but only in the object themselves and therefore individuated – not as a universal. For example, the human nature found in Paul, Billy, Edward, and Bobby really exists, but it has no existence outside the mind, except in these individual subjects and as identical with them ; it has no separate existence, does not exist in itself. To summarize Plato’s error, he believed that that which our ideas present to us as a universal really exists extra-mentally as a universal. To correct this, moderate realism holds that that which our ideas present to us as a universal does not exist outside the mind as a universal but rather individuated.


For Plato, man is essentially soul, a pure spirit forcibly united with a body. The soul existed before it was joined to the body, and its present existence in the body, which is its prison, is a punishment. What about the Platonic doctrine of knowledge? For Plato, “the Ideas alone have reality in the strict sense ; they exist as real entities (noumena) apart from the world of sense (phenomena). The objects of the sense world are but faint, changing replicas or imitations of the eternal, unchanging Ideas ; the Ideas are the eternal prototypes or exemplars of the objects of the sense world. The universal ideas of the human mind are true representations of these noumenal Ideas and cannot have their origin in the changeable and changing objects of this visible universe. It follows, according to Plato, that men’s souls must have had a pre-existence in a former life in the noumenal world, where they contemplated the Ideas as these Ideas existed in themselves. On being united to the body in its present earthly existence, the soul forgot the knowledge of the Ideas, but the universal ideas thus acquired slumber in the soul until awakened ; they lie innate in the recesses of the mind. For every object existing in the universe (tree, dog, sky, house, rose, etc.) there exists a corresponding Idea in the noumenal world. On seeing such an object in the present life (some individual tree, dog, etc.), we remember what we have known before and have forgotten: the innate slumbering universal idea is awakened and brought to consciousness. Hence, Plato’s theory of innate ideas is also called the theory of reminiscence.”36[36] While he believed in the immortality of the soul, he also held the Pythagorean tenet of transmigration of souls, or metempsychosis. That man is essentially a pure spirit (that pre-existed the body) forcibly trapped in the body, and that knowledge is reminiscence, are erroneous doctrines not faithful to experience and consciousness. “For one thing, Plato supposes that the connection between body and soul in man’s earthly life is forced and unnatural ; the relationship between the two is extrinsic, similar to the relationship between a horse (body) and its rider (soul). In this view, death should be a welcome event, a release for the soul from the imprisonment in the body. We know, however, that man dreads death. Man is by nature, as all evidence proves, a psycho-physiological integral organism. The dread of death shows clearly that the union of the body and soul is natural. If their union were merely extrinsic, it is inexplicable how the union of the body with the soul could blot out the knowledge of the Ideas formerly contemplated, because the body could not possibly influence the inner activities of the soul. Aristotle opposed Plato’s theory on the grounds that it is poetic and fantastic and contrary to the testimony of consciousness. If we actually had a former existence, the awakening of the innate universal ideas should also revive the memory of this previous existence itself. But we have no such memory. The theory is pure assumption on the part of Plato.”37[37]


What about Plato’s practical philosophy, his conception of ethics? All of his philosophy has an ethical orientation: man is on this earth as a wayfarer in expectation of the next life. In order to attain happiness it is necessary to renounce pleasures and riches and to dedicate oneself to the practice of virtue and contemplation. He taught that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit it. Nevertheless, his moral philosophy has serious flaws, as Maritain points out: “As a result of his exaggerated intellectualism he failed to distinguish the acts of the practical from those of the speculative intellect and identified virtue, which requires rectitude of will, with knowledge, which is a perfection of the reason alone. He therefore misapplied the principle, in itself true, that the will always follows the guidance of the understanding, and maintained that sin is simply due to lack of knowledge and that no one deliberately does evil : ‘the sinner is merely an ignorant person.’ The consequence of this theory, which Plato did not intend, is the denial of free will.”38[38]


And what of Plato’s sociology and political philosophy? Maritain is again critical: “Plato’s sociology betrays the same idealist and rationalist tendency which leads him to misapply another true principle, namely, that the part exists for the whole ; so that in his ideal republic, governed by philosophers, individuals are entirely subordinated to the good of the state, which alone is capable of rights, and disposes despotically of every possible species of property, not only the material possessions, but even the women and children, the life and liberty, of its citizens (absolute communism).


It appears that the radical source of Plato’s many errors “seems to have been his exaggerated devotion to mathematics, which led him to despise empirical reality. They were also due to an overambitious view of the scope of philosophy, in which Plato, like the sages of the East, though with greater moderation and discretion, placed the purification, salvation, and life of the entire man.”39[39]




Aristotle40[40] (384–322 B.C.), also called the Stagirite, was born in the town Stagira in Trace on the northern coast of the Aegean Sea. In 367, his seventeenth year, he entered the Academy and became a disciple of Plato, but his philosophy is very different from his master’s. After the death of Plato, he left the Academy and in 335 set up his own school in Athens called the Lyceum. He was also for a time teacher to the famous conqueror Alexander the Great. Aristotle’s philosophical and scientific work, unparalleled for its extent and variety, was practically a vast encyclopedia of all the knowledge at that time as well as the most profound system of philosophical thought in all the ancient world. The noted Aristotle scholar W. D. Ross had this to say of the Stagirite: “Aristotle fixed the main outlines of the classification of the sciences in the form which they still retain, and carried most of the sciences to a further point than they had hitherto reached ; in some of them, such as logic, he may fairly claim to have had no predecessor, and for centuries no worthy successor.”41[41]


As was said Plato and Aristotle’s philosophies are very different. The famous Goethe, commenting upon the famous theme of Raphael’s magnificent fresco The School of Athens, gives us a comparison between the two master philosophers: “Plato seems to behave as a spirit descended from heaven, who was chosen to dwell a space on earth. He hardly attempts to know the world. He has already formed an idea of it, and his chief desire is to communicate to mankind, which stands in such need of them, the truths which he has brought with him and delights to impart. If he penetrates to the depth of things, it is to fill them with his own soul, not to analyze them. Without intermission and with the burning ardour of his spirit, he aspires to rise and regain the heavenly abode from which he came down. The aim of all his discourse is to awaken in his hearers the notion of a single eternal being, of the good, of truth, of beauty. His method and words seem to melt, to dissolve into vapour, whatever scientific facts he has managed to borrow from the earth. Aristotle’s attitude towards the world is, on the other hand, entirely human. He behaves like an architect in charge of a building. Since he is on earth, on earth he must work and build. He makes certain of the nature of the ground, but only to the depth of his foundations. Whatever lies beyond to the center of the earth does not concern him. He gives his edifice an ample foundation, seeks his materials in every direction, sorts them, and builds gradually. He therefore rises like a regular pyramid, whereas Plato ascends rapidly heavenward like an obelisk or a sharp tongue of flame. Thus have these two men, representing qualities equally precious and rarely found together, divided mankind, so to speak, between them.”42[42]


Aristotle wrote many works, many of which have been lost to us, but still a substantial body of writings remain. He wrote on many philosophical and scientific topics. Instead of the dialogue method which his master Plato constantly used, he preferred the philosophical treatise as the definitive model for his works. Let us treat briefly of his logic, his metaphysics, his physics, his psychology, his ethics or moral philosophy, and his political philosophy. 1. Logic. Aristotle is in fact the inventor of logic. In the field of reasoning he proposed two methods: induction and deduction. He is also the inventor of the syllogism ; 2. Metaphysics. Aristotle believed that science was superior to spontaneous knowledge or to common experience because science was knowledge through causes. In his work, the Metaphysics, he treats of the first principles and ultimate causes of all reality. The first fundamental truth of all reality is the principle of non-contradiction. As to the essential constitution of things the Stagirite refutes the Platonic Theory of Ideas for, in his opinion, the theory does not explain the essences of things, nor the becoming, nor their rapport with the Ideas, nor in what way the human mind can have a knowledge of them. So, where does Aristotle turn to? To reality itself which is constituted of substances and accidents and the constitutive elements of matter and form. Matter and form exist only together ; as regards the substance, the form confers its specific characteristics while the matter confers its individual characteristics. Through an analysis of change in the world Aristotle discovers the theory of act and potency. It is potency that renders becoming or change possible ; 3. Physics. Physics is the study of nature, that is, of corporeal beings in movment or motion. The fundamental principle of all change or motion is that all that is in motion is moved by another. Becoming is matter’s passage from one form to another, something which happens in space and time ; 4. Psychology. Aristotle is held to be the founder of psychology. Man is a rational animal, a substantial unity of body (matter) and soul (form). The soul is defined as the first act of an organic physical body. Man is different from the plants and the animals because he possesses a rational soul. There are three functions of the human soul: vegetative, sensitive, and rational. Human knowledge is initially had though sensitive knowledge, and from this knowledge we can proceed to intellective knowledge. The Stagirite firmly rejected the pre-existence of the soul as well as innate ideas. The mind is a blank slate before its starts knowing initially from the senses ; 5. Ethics or moral philosophy. The ultimate end of man, according to Aristotle, is happiness. We attain happiness through the virtuous life ; and 6. Political philosophy. The State has a natural, not a conventional end. The goal of the State is to facilitate the full realization of man’s capacities. He recognizes three just forms of government, monarchy, aristocracy, and “polity,” and three unjust forms of government, namely, tyranny, oligarchy, and “democracy” (or mob rule).


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