Model Essay Plato and Aristotle

August 14, 2018
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‘Episteme comes from reason, not doxa.’ Discuss (34/40 Grade A)

This essay title wouldn’t appear int his form in the exam, as the technical vocabulary episteme and doxa are not in the specification H573. However it is good to practise questions which contain extra technical vocabulary to get you used to using this vocabulary. So I ahve included it here as a question to consider – an it’s a good, A grade answer. For further essays go to our Model Essays book available int he shop – all answers heavily marked by our experts to justify the grade given. PB

Plato, a Greek philosopher, believed that episteme, true knowledge, came from reason. He believed doxa came from experiencing the world, which he believed in fact gave humans the true knowledge they seek. His student, Aristotle believed doxa was the first step in gaining true knowledge as it existed in the physical world. Through Plato’s theory of the FORMs, I believe episteme comes from reason, and this is how we gain true knowledge.

This is an excellent introduction showing the different points of view on the question about the origin of knowledge. The candidate identifies that Plato favoured reason while Aristotle argued from experience. The candidate has also shown what the line of reasoning will be in this essay: the Platonic thesis. The essay should therefore argue towards that rationalist perspective and conclude likewise.

Plato’s main theory is that of the World of FORMs.  Plato states that the World of FORMs is recognisable by humans as our souls transmigrated. Before reincarnating, our souls were able to recognise the true FORMs before we forgot them in our earthly bodies. Plato describes the World of FORMs as unchangeable. This is backed up by philosopher Parmenides who says “The world is unchangeable”. Plato states we can experience the examples of the FORMs in our earthly bodies. Those who do not understand the FORMs however will say there are different types of tree. Plato condemns this type of thinking and says we in fact recognise the examples of the perfect FORM of tree-ness. In the allegory of the cave, the free prisoner symbolises the attainment of true knowledge by recognising the true FORMs when escaping the cave. The shadows watched by the other prisoners is not the true reality, however they believe this is true reality as this is what they experienced. This illustrates that Plato’s ideas of attaining true knowledge through the FORMs and not by the examples we see in the temporal world. Therefore, episteme comes from reason.

The candidate has reviewed Plato’s perspective by commenting upon his approach to FORMs, how we perceive FORMs in the temporal world and how it is reflected in Plato’s Cave allegory. Given the time constraints of an essay, only 40 minutes, it is impossible to detail everything, so the candidate must sacrifice great depth to cover all points. Here the candidate has shown an understanding of the FORMs, the cave and influences on Plato. The candidate then links back to the question by showing that this approach shows that episteme comes from reason.

Aristotle challenges Plato’s theory however by presenting the ‘Third Man’ theory. Because the FORM of ‘man’ is a man itself, surely there must be a FORM for the FORM of a man.  This challenges Plato’s theory, as it demonstrates infinite regression. Aristotle challenges his teacher further by stating that the World of FORMs cannot be proved as it relies on reincarnation. The World of FORMs is not in the temporal world meaning there is no empirical proof of it. Aristotle’s challenges show that not only is true knowledge gained by doxa, but episteme does not come from reason.

The candidate has attempted to undermine Plato by presenting the Third Man Fallacy which has been done fairly well, though some additional explanation would be better. The challenge from the evidence for reincarnation could be better emphasised. The candidate has missed the challenge that Plato’s argument implies a FORM for everything, even one-legged-pirates. This reductio ad absurdum is a good challenge to use against Plato.

However, it should be noted that Plato’s theory only applies to abstract notions such as love, justice and maths are the true FORMs, not necessarily physical object. Aristotle questions if there are FORMs for everything such as a sick dog or a three-legged cat. Plato however is supported by Pythagoras. Pythagoras’ theorem states abstract notions such as maths do not exist in the temporal world but in fact there is a perfect FORM of it in the world of FORMs. He also states that all things are static and unchanging, suggesting that the World of FORMs and the FORMs are perfect and eternal. Plato is also supported by Heraclitus who says that “You can never step in the same river twice” and the world is constantly in flux. This signifies that humans cannot experience the world the same way twice, indicating that true knowledge is eternal e.g. maths cannot come from experience. From the support of philosophers and examples, episteme comes from reason.

The candidate managed to refer back to the reductio ad absurdum challenge in the response to Aristotle’s challenge. This is a very good response identifying that Plato’s theory only works with abstraction notions rather than everyday things.

Aristotle’s approach to attaining knowledge by experience challenges Plato, however. Aristotle emphasised the value of studying the physical world and this approach is empirical. His theory of the four causes also question Plato’s theory. Aristotle believed that everything is related to having four causes. This included matter, form, their efficient cause and their final cause; telos. An example of this is a wax stamp the matter if the wax stamp is the stamp itself while the form is what it is made of. The actuality of the wax stamp is what actually, physically it is, and the potentiality is what it could become, in this case a seal for a letter. This reason illustrates that all things have a purpose and the potentiality of it is effect. Aristotle’s four causes perhaps shows that experiencing the world and observing it with and empirical approach will improve it. Therefore, episteme does in fact come from experience.

The candidate has overviewed Aristotle’s theory of causes, and given particular attention to matter and form. The wax stamp is an excellent example to use. It is always a good idea to use the scholars’ own examples. Another would be the bronze statue showing bronze matter, in the statue form, created by the sculptor with the purpose of honouring the gods. The link back to the question might have been better emphasised: that we know the world through this empirical approach rather than from the armchair.

In response to this, Aristotle’s mistakes questions if his observations are true. A better way of stating this would be ‘Aristotle’s errors in observation bring into question the reliability of empiricism as a source of knowledge.’ He stated that women are deformed and have fewer teeth than men and in this time, society as patriarchal. Aristotle also states that people who aren’t smart were born to be slaves. He believed that they are unable to control themselves and should be enslaved which we would not accept as truthful.

This should be rounded up and a mid-conclusion should be drawn, then linked back to the question as the next part of the paragraph is on a different aspect of the response to Aristotle.

Democritus, a Greek philosopher believed that if a rock was continuously cut into to, a piece would be so tiny that it could no longer be divided. He called this a-toms and believed they were eternal. A-toms in atoms however was a failure as atoms can be divided into protons, neutrons and electrons. This shows that experience just gives changing opinion and episteme comes from reason, further supported by the change in physics from Newtonian mechanics to Quantum physics.

This is an excellent challenge against Aristotle as it shows that reason established what empiricism never managed to achieve, an understanding of the theory of non-divisibles. This conclusive point should be made clear and linked back to the question.

Plato’s theory of the FORMs shows that the attainment of true knowledge does in fact comes from episteme as experiencing and observing the world can result to changing opinion. The World of FORMs illustrates that everything we experience now is primarily not the true reality and only our souls can experience the World of FORMs. Aristotle’s statement of observing the world to gain knowledge is questionable as we can “never step in the same river twice” meaning the word cannot be experienced the same way, therefore people’s knowledge may be different, therefore episteme comes from reason.

Overall: 34/40 Grade A

The candidate has shown how the reasoning and responses to the challenges of the essay have come to the point where Plato’s perspective is the more believable. The use of supporting scholars throughout have helped to draw that conclusion so it is unsurprising, though validly done, that this conclusion is drawn.

AO1 13/16

The candidate has shown a very good breadth and some good depth of knowledge. The use of additional scholars is an excellent way of showing a wider understanding of the topic and the context of the theories. Some additional depth in Plato’s theory of FORMs and Aristotle’s Causes might have been worth investing.

Further, the candidate showed a good nuanced selection of knowledge concerning additional scholars and Aristotle’s weaknesses.

AO2 21/24

The candidate challenges Plato and then responds to the challenges very well. All challenges are resolved so that the conclusion is expected, but balanced. All arguments are developed well and justified with evidence and scholarly opinion which is excellent.

The line of reasoning begins in the introduction and continues all the way through to the conclusion. This is exactly what should appear in an essay. The thesis statement in the introduction should sign-post where the essay will go and it should all come to a final conclusion validly argued and demonstrated in what has been presented.


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