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Renaissance, Plato, Aristotle, Forms

  1. Jun 18, 2010 #1

    I'm not a philosophy student, so please keep your reply simple. I was reading Wikipedia article on Renaissance where I wasn't able to understand some of the statements.


    Renaissance philosophy was the period of the history of philosophy in Europe that falls roughly between the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment. It includes the 15th century; some scholars extend it to as early as the 1350s or as late as the 16th century or early 17th century, overlapping the Reformation and the early modern era. Among the distinctive elements of Renaissance philosophy are the revival (renaissance means "rebirth") of classical civilization and learning; a partial return to the authority of Plato over Aristotle, who had come to dominate later medieval philosophy; and, among some philosophers, enthusiasm for the occult and Hermeticism.

    Please help me with the bold statement in the text above.

    I have also read a article on Plato's Forms. What are these Forms? Was Plato suggesting some kind of supernatural being such as God - they had many gods, Romans and Greeks?

    Thanks, in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 18, 2010 #2
    Seems pretty self-explanatory to me. Aristotle's writing was more influencial than Plato's before the renaissance. Bear in mind, most people, even during the renaissance were illiterate.
    Plato thought that there existed a 'perfect realm of ideas', and our everyday life was an imperfect reflection of this.

    As such, he believed there existed a perfect 'chair'.... on which all chair-like objects were based.
  4. Jun 18, 2010 #3


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    I usually interpret this as such: We have an idea of a chair which is independent on any particular chair in the material world. This idea is "inspired" by experience, but is not constituted by it. Our idea of a chair is the perfect form, which is reflected by our experience of particular chairs.
  5. Jun 18, 2010 #4
    Hi Joe

    Actually I wanted to know why Aristotle's writings had more influence than of Plato's. They returned to Plato's authority that would translate they found something more important there in Plato's works. Perhaps, church athorities were more happy with Plato.

    Best wishes
  6. Jun 18, 2010 #5
    Just for historical accuracy, Aristotle's teachings were incorporated into the philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church in the early middle ages. It became heresy to deny it. I'm not sure if Plato ever had any official recognition by the Church. In a very general sense, Aristotle was concerned with the details of the world of our direct experience and painstaking classification. Plato was much more concerned with the abstract and considered the world of direct experience as a messy distraction from the ideal world of numbers and pure forms. I suppose Plato's philosophy was more friendly to the increasing use of mathematics in the natural sciences during and after the Reformation. If that's the case however, I can't see how Plato would have been embraced by the Church. Do you have any references on the Roman Church's position on Plato?

    EDIT: Another reason for Aristotle's considerable influence is the fact that Alexander the Great was a student of his. Alex of course conquered a vast empire and founded the great library at Alexandria, Egypt. This was the repository of Hellenistic knowledge which eventually reached Christian Europe by way of the Arabic Caliphates. If it hadn't been for Alex and the Arabs, we might not have ever heard of Aristotle.

    Last edited: Jun 18, 2010
  7. Jun 18, 2010 #6


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    Adding to that, I think a difference is that Platonism in the Renaissance was very much related to a new humanism, which had trouble co-existing with the Church, despite its patronage of the arts, and with a popular religious back-lash.

    Cosimo Medici of Florence encouraged the revival of neoplatonism, re-founding a Platonic Academy at a time that admired the Ancients and were rediscovering much of their work. Ficino was installed as head at the beginning, and translated Plato, and wrote about immortality of the human soul as well as reviving ancient astrology which left him suspected by the Church, even though immortality of souls eventually became dogma.

    He was followed by his student, Pico della Mirandola who, although being a friend of the one-time popular, extremely religious, anti-humanist, (anti-artist, anti-renaissance) Savonarola, and although writing mainly of neoplatonism, but also attempting to unite this with various religions and with Aristotle, and not being particularly humanist, wrote a major humanist work about “The Dignity of Man” and other significant works. Although he retracted a lot of it at the behest of the Church, he remained convinced of his work. Despite this, he was poisoned presumably at the request of the anti-Savonarola Medici.
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2010
  8. Jun 18, 2010 #7


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    In fact Plato's ideas became intimately woven in as the central theological theory of Christianity (check neo-platonism) early on in the story. Then later Aristotle, with his more practical bent and clarification of logic, became the main guy for the monks - the scientists of their day.

    But Plato and Aristotle were never poles apart anyway. So there were no huge conflicts in picking what you liked from both.

    Another factor in all this was indeed the simple availability of texts. The monks had only a few. The Renaissance was in part sparked by a flood of recovered Greek texts arriving by way of the east.

    In fact, it was the discovery of Greek atomism that was a real driver of the Enlightenment - the shift towards a mechanical conception of nature. It is what inspired Galileo, Newton, Descartes, Boyle, etc.

    And this in turn - by stressing the material basis to reality - created its own backlash in people jumping towards rationalistic and romantic responses.

    If atomism challenged Church orthodoxy, or people's belief in souls and spirits, then Plato was one of the handy philosophers who had said the realm of mind, of form, was in fact different.

    What Aristotle actually said, and what Plato actually said, has been abused and reinterpreted so many times that it has all become quite caricatured. Read the originals.

    Aristotle and Plato brought the Greek search for the fundamental metaphysical dichotomies to its highest pitch in identifying the most general dichotomy of substance~form.

    Anything that is real must have these two aspects to their being. They must be made of some local stuff (substance). And they must have some global coherent organisation (form). So there is the material from which things are constructed, and the patterns of constraint that shape them.

    Plato recognised the need for both in the Timeaus - there was both chora (formless substance) as well as form (pure design).

    Aristotle did a better job of making a connection with his theory of hylomorphic form.

    Atomism of course did away with half this dichotomy - form became an emergent property and so not "real" in the sense that substance was.

    The church, the romantics, and the idealist philosophers, didn't like this so tried to jump to the other side, saying the realm of form or mind was in fact the truely real, and that of matter or substance just a sickly, passing, shadow.

    The breaking of things in this fashion into two opposed camps is why modern human thought is so deeply confused. You see the results of this schizophrenia in virtually every post in this forum, or anywhere else such matters are discussed.

    So there are four metaphysical options that have been created.

    1) Do you believe that reality is fundamentally material?

    2) Do you believe that reality is fundamentally immaterial - that is we all exist in the mind of god, etc?

    3) Do you believe that reality is fundamentally dualistic - so that there are two species of what is fundamental, matter and mind for instance, but there is no causal link, or that linkage is a complete mystery?

    4) Or do you believe that reality is fundamentally dichotomistic - it developed by separating and interacting, so that substance and form are just the local and global views of the same thing?

    The fourth is the option that is the correct solution of course :smile:.
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