In Process and Reality, Alfred North Whitehead famously states:

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. I do not mean the systematic scheme of thought which scholars have doubtfully extracted from his writings. I allude to the wealth of general ideas scattered through them. His personal endowments, his wide opportunities for experience at a great period of civilization, his inheritance of an intellectual tradition not yet stiffened by excessive systematization, have made his writings an inexhaustible mine of suggestion.

It is my understanding that the core of Plato's philosophy is his theory of Forms (or Ideas).

Aristotle rejected Plato's theory of Forms (but not the notion of form itself).

American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler, in reference to Whitehead's footnotes comment, once quipped that most of those footnotes were written by Aristotle. (Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind, Macmillan, (1998), 72.)

Briefly, and to what extent, is Adler right; that is, if Whitehead's comment is on target, to what extent did Aristotle provide the footnotes to Plato's philosophical theories?

1 Answer 1


Plato’s contributions to philosophy also deal with his political philosophy (The Republic), and contain some speculations about the soul and its existence separated from the body, see Plato.

IMO Whiteheads’s comment is on target.

Aristotle, the most famous student of Plato, created some “footnotes” to Plato, e.g., Aristotle's objection to Plato's theory of forms. But Aristotle developed some new ideas, not contained in Platos works, see e.g., Aristotle's books "Physics", "Metaphysics", and "Nicomachean Ethics".

Until today, later philosophers provide further “footnotes” (in the sense of Whitehead) to the original ideas of Plato and of Aristotle. But the same can also be said about "footnotes" to Kant or to a few other philosophers.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .