Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Stroll to Remember- Part 1

“Far from being “dead white males. Plato and Aristotle have been powering the living heart of Western culture from ancient Greece to today. Their influence extends from science and philosophy and literature, to our social life and most cherished political institutions and not just in the West but increasingly in the rest of the world too (Herman).” Taking this stroll through western civilization has been quite the challenge. Philosophy is not my filed of expertise and until now I thought the two of us never intertwined. In order to begin the understanding of Philosophy and how it has played a role in my life, I had to gain a better understanding of Plato and Aristotle and their views about The Myth of the Cave. Everything still is not crystal clear because these two had different views about different things, I will attempt to make some understanding of my 2016 summer stroll!

As a student of Socrates, Aristotle’s teacher and one of the most influential philosophers of all time Plato was an ancient Greek philosopher who helped lay the foundations of Western Philosophy. His writings examined equality, beauty and justice and also discussed aesthetics, theology, cosmology, political philosophy, epistemology and the philosophy of language. He founded the Academy in Athens which was one of the first institutions of higher learning in the Western world. After becoming Socrates’s close associate, he dedicated his life to the question of virtue and the formation of a noble character. Some his works include The Apology of Socrates, Protagoras, Hippias Major and Minor and his most famous work being The Republic. “In his most famous work, The Republic Plato represents his most fundamental idea that man is destined by his creator to find a path from the dark cave of material existence to the light of a higher, purer, and more spiritual truth. It’s when we rise above the merely human, Plato insisted, and entered the realm of “the everlasting and immortal and changeless” that we achieve wisdom (Herman).”  Plato saw the outside world, which the cave's inhabitants glimpsed only in a second-hand way, as the timeless realm of Forms, where genuine reality resides. The shadows on the wall represent the world we see around us, which we assume to be real, but which in fact is a mere imitation of the real thing. Two points were interesting to me while trying to understand the Plato’s concept. The first was establishing the definition of real how is it measured. Is it true that everything that is real must be quantifiable?

The statement that everything real must in principle be quantifiable is an interesting one. I must say that I find myself on both sides of the fence. I agree with it because when applying these terms to my personal life it makes sense. For example, I know that my mother’s love for me is “real”. This is measured by my experiences with her. She not only tells me this daily but she her actions show it. I can call my mother any time, day or night, and she will be there. If I need advice, prayer, someone to talk to, mercy funds added into my checking account she’s there to meet the need. Even growing up, her providing a roof over my head, clean clothes, food to eat and even dance tuition for dance camp, these actions are quantifiable to me.

 My question is what is real and what is not?  Who is answering the question? According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of real is “actually existing or happening: not imaginary” To quantify something that means “to find or calculate the quantity or amount of something”. If you asked me if success is real, I’d say yes. My success would be measured upon my education. For example, I was the first in my family to graduate high school, graduate college receiving a bachelor’s degree and working on a master’s degree. Obviously I know that there are other scenarios that fit the question better such as how much money will you have in bank after working a 40 hour work week making $20 an hour. That is very easy to define as real and quantifiable; however, what is the definition of real and who is answering the question?

The next philosopher I examined was Aristotle. Aristotle was also an influential figure in Western Philosophy. Aristotle was the first to create a comprehensive system of philosophy. He made contributions to biology, botany, ethics, agriculture, dance and theater to name a few. He was a student of Plato and a teacher to Alexander the Great. Aristotle also made great contributions to the field of Ethics. Aristotle broke away from the teaching of his teacher when the two had different views about ideal forms. He created the first medical school which became famous to Greece. He was a prominent figure at the Lyceum where he taught while walking around the temple naming it a peripatetic school. In comparison to Plato’s view about The Myth of the Cave, Aristotle argued that “there is no cave; only a world made of things and facts. “ The fact is our starting point” he once said and that insight permeated his thinking on everything, from science to politics and drama (Herman).”  

“Plato and Aristotle formed an integral part of an educated Roman’s mental equipment; they were tools for thinking analytically and making rations decisions. It is no too far-fetched to say that is is the Romans who permanently etched Plato and Aristotle into the grain of Western civilization just as they made them the governing intellects of their empire. (Herman).” Plato and Aristotle agreed on many things, despite their differences. The introduction explains this by saying “One gave a view of reality as multiform and constantly evolving; the other, as eternal and One. One told us we have to learn to deal with things as they are, including each other. The other said we need to think about how things out to be, including ourselves and our society (Herman).” Another example that proves their differences is when Aristotle asked how do you fit into the world that already exists and Plato asked why does the world exists at all. They both clashed bitterly over how men should be governed along with other disagreements; however, chapter 5 states “They both stressed the importance of reason as our guide for understanding and shaping the world. Both believed that our physical world is shaped by certain eternal forms that are more real than matter. The difference was that Plato’s Forms existed outside matter, whereas Aristotle’s forms were unrealizable without it (Herman).” Just from doing a surface background check on two of the most influential philosophers I discovered that I philosophy has played a role in my life many ways.  


  1. Are our most profoundly-felt realities, like a mother's unconditional love, really quantifiable? That seems like a limiting term, in this context. Don't we rather want to say that such love is boundless, uncontained by any tidy scheme of accounting? But maybe, Plato would say, I just don't value numbers enough. In any event you're right, the crucial questions are still: real according to whom, and by what definition?

    I'm not sure Plato and Aristotle play so direct a role in our lives, though the bifurcating poles of their conversation are still with us: one world or two, naturalism or mysticism, etc. But philosophy definitely plays a role in all our lives, as my pal James said: "I know that you, ladies and gentlemen, have a philosophy, each and all of you, and that the most interesting and important thing about you is the way in which it determines the perspective in your several worlds..."

  2. Thank you Angel for your thoughts. I so understand "Philosophy is not my field of expertise and until now I thought the two of us never intertwined." I marvel at how much I have learned this semester and how much more I have to learn. Compared to Dean and Cody, I seem like a novice except I'm a much older novice who has experienced some life changing moments and much more time to reflect on life. I know this was mentioned in class and I would love to transport Plato and Aristotle to our time and then give them all of the knowledge that has transpired since their time and ask them to reflect on how they would edit their writings with this new knowledge. That would make for some very interesting discussions and reading.

    1. Check out Rebecca Goldstein's virtual time machine in "Plato at the Googleplex," wherein the old boy ages pretty well. If you read it and have thoughts to share, please do.

  3. I'm also the first in my family to go to college and additionally go to Graduate School. I really enjoyed your comparison of philosopher's and how philosophy has contributed to your life. Sounds like you are pondering dreaded existentialism.

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  5. http://static.existentialcomics.com/comics/philosopherUnderTheBed.png

  6. What is real and what is not is a prevailing topic of discussion in hip hop. Careers are defined by their realness. Look at the rap battles of our time for proof.

  7. I had a hard time understanding the content of this course early on as well. I thin my uundergrad degree in hit=story helped me a bit as I am accustomed to researching old dead White guys.