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Of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, who is generally considered the better philosopher? My apologies if too up for debate for any philosopher to have ever answered, as I can only find the answers of poets

Aristotle was the first accurate critic and truest judge — nay, the greatest philosopher the world ever had; for he noted the vices of all knowledges, in all creatures, and out of many men's perfections in a science he formed still one Art. Ben Jonson, The works of Ben Jonson, Vol. 9 (1816), p. 240

I don't mean to ask whose ideas are more current (Socratic irony?) or of contemporary interest (Plato has more to say?), but which of these Greek philosophers are considered to have better mastered the art, especially in terms of how it is practiced today?

I'm only asking cos a professor was talking about Aristotle with total reverence, and I wondered if that was generally the case.

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  • @Richard Is whether they were right or wrong really relevant to their status. Given that they were essentially starting from nothing, it would surely be akin to an act of prophecy if they were right about anything
    – nwr
    Jan 20 '19 at 0:27
  • Mastered the art of what? Of thinking? Of making attractive speeches? Of posing interesting questions? Or of giving likable answers to them?
    – rus9384
    Jan 20 '19 at 0:30
  • @NickR a man is holding a gun to your head. He tells you... I have a mathematical problem.. you are allowed one phone call.. if you solve it you live.. otherwise.. you're sleeping with the fishes, capiche? Who do you call.. Pythagoras... Or a 22 year old maths graduate with a 1st from Oxford? Pythagoras was a genius.. but he never even considered that the square root of -1 might be useful. We learn about the ancients because it's 101. We are God's compared to them. Not because we're more intelligent.. because we have more giants on who's shoulders to stand.
    – Richard
    Jan 20 '19 at 0:37
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    @NickR but the three above.. were not in the same league as Pythagoras. There just weren't that many authors around at the time.. so they sold a lot. I mean imagine if all you had to read was Harry potter... Shudders
    – Richard
    Jan 20 '19 at 0:41
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    In antiquity, there were Academic (=Platonic) and Peripatetic (=Aristotelian) philosophers, and each would contend that their founder is the best. Socrates was so important that Hellenistic schools of philosophy tried to somehow link their founders to him (e.g. the Antisthenes > Diogenes link), and Crates' claim to fame (in the anecdote of how Zeno became his student) was being similar to Socrates.
    – b a
    Jan 20 '19 at 2:39
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It's impossible to answer in any objective way. Consider that that the only record of what we have of Socrates philosophy is that reported by Plato; moreover, Aristotle came after Plato, so he had the chance of critiquing Platos philosophy, whereas of course, Plato had no such chance.

Here's one view: Simone Weil rated Plato over Aristotle, as she rated ethics and spirituality over science and materialism and one ought to remind oneself here that though she was no scientist, she admired science and geometry in particular. This, no doubt, was also due to Platos influence as well as that of her brother Andre Weil, the mathematician - and who, preferred Indian philosophy to Greek - in particular, the Bhagavad Gita.

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I think that it is a three way tie; that it to say, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle each made significant contributions to Philosophy and related disciplines.

Socrates, appears to have been the first Westerner to have invented-(or at least pioneered), the art of public debate and epistemological inquiry-(the famous, "Socratic Method"). His student Plato, was a prolific and voluminous Writer whereby he produced numerous "Dialogues"-(with Socrates as the Protagonist) on a variety of topics. In a way, Plato, was the West's first Political Theorist-(i.e. "The Republic" and "The Laws"). Socrates had an informal school and Plato was his best pupil. However, Plato, was probably the first Westerner to have founded an "Academy"-(the most prestigious College in the Ancient West); and his best pupil, was Aristotle.

Of the three Philosophers, Aristotle, is arguably, the most influential and perhaps the most erudite. The sheer volume and diversity of Aristotle's works is encyclopedic in scope. Topics, such as Logic, Rhetoric, his Biological/Natural treatises, his early works on Psychology, Metaphysics and Cosmology, Physics-(well, he wasn't too swift in this area), Environmental Science/Meteorology, Literature/ Poetry, Ethics and Politics, were topics that were covered by Aristotle within a 20-25 year period. Aristotle also founded his own School called, The Lyceum and had also tutored Alexander The Great.

Now it is very likely that some of his Aristotle's works were a mixture of original lectures, as well as the ancient equivalent of Graduate school research papers. Unfortunately, nearly all of Aristotle's written works are lost and his surviving works were lectures that have been meticulously compiled-(and edited) over the centuries. Nevertheless, Aristotle-(and his likely team of Graduate level students), produced, within a 20-25 year period, some of the most influential and studied works of Western Civilization-(and World History).

While I have written complimentary things about Aristotle-(minus "The Physics"), the three all stars of Greek and Ancient Western Philosophy, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, are essentially tied for having made significant contributions to Western Thought. Each of these Philosophers were equally impressive and unique in their own way.

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Arguably, without Plato, there's no Aristotle, and without Socrates, there's no Plato, so Socrates is the most seminal philosopher by that logic. On the hand, from Aristotle's point of view, the whole point of the progression was to lead to him and his work, and he's certainly the philosopher who had the most direct, dramatic, and sustained impact on the world --his writings were foundational for everything from the Roman Empire to the Renaissances in both the Islamic and Christian worlds. With that said, Plato's work is timeless and universal in a way that just isn't true of Aristotle (all that we have of Socrates comes through Plato), so there's also an argument to make in his favor.

You'll still find passionate people (like your professor) to argue on one or the other side between the Platonic and Aristotelian camps, which have marked a major divide in Western philosophy for over 2000 years. The reason the question lacks a definitive answer, even after all this time, is because the three men were doing very different kinds of work. Each one exemplifies an essential phase of philosophy. Socrates was a skeptic --his doubts and questions led to the development of Plato's mystical philosophy, and that in turn created the blueprint for Aristotle's pragmatic system-building.

Aristotle's work was the most important in its own time and place, but it hasn't weathered the millennia all that well. It's a relic of the past now. On the other hand Plato's mystical revelations are as groundbreaking today as they ever were. And Socrates' troublesome questions continue to create new philosophies and new philosophers every day. Which one is the best philosopher depends on what you're looking for. For you it might be Socrates or Aristotle, but if you want my answer, it's Plato.

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I really recommend episodes 4-6 of Vervaeke's Awakening From The Meaning Crisis, on those three.

Popper slated Plato, spending half of 'Enemies of the Open Society' on him, half on Marx. Discussed more here: Assuming you agree with Popper, is there anything valuable in Plato's thinking?

I'd say the impact of Plato on Christianity was not good, and involved a turning away from Aristotle's pursuit of evidence, once Plato's work reached medieval Europe. But, Plato had almost no lasting impact on Islam (apart from Ismailism), but it hardly became more science-friendly, at least after the Islamic Golden Age. Following Vervaeke, I'd say he was able to combine the templates, of Socrates and Pythagoras, to create the first institute of higher learning in the Western World. To do that, he had to be less radical than Socrates, less cult-mystic than Pythagoras, but needed a bit of both.

It is thought all of Aristotle's work intended for publication, more than 150 books, are lost - we only have teaching & lecture notes. Aristotle wrote voluminously on matters of science, and many of his ideas chime with modern thinkers like critiquing Plato's theory of forms, and the tripartite organisation of supervening souls (his use of higher soul is much more like mind). But, he was authoritatively wrong about some things, like buoyancy, and men & women having different numbers of teeth. Scholars being confident enough to say Aristotle was wrong, about anything, is considered one of the hallmarks of the Renaissance.

Socrates more than anyone defined philosophy, a restless relentless pursuer of truth, and martyr to that pursuit. But he neither created an institution, nor as far as we know wrote books. But for his illustrious students, he might like Diogenes only be remembered by inspirational anecdotes.

I'd say there's no doubt Aristotle was the thinker more in tune with modern ideas. He is my favourite. But Socrates defined being a philosopher, a role which India & China did not develop in the same way. And Plato created an institution that could teach children of the wealthy, and pursue new thinking, allowing a new continuity of learning.

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  • Can you elaborate what era/thinkers you are talking about when you say "the impact of Plato on Christianity was not good"? The influence of Aristotle helped create the Scholastic era of thought with little scientific innovation (perhaps due to the centrality of 'common-sense' verbal explanations in Aristotle), while the Renaissance had renewed interest in Plato, and I think there's some influence from Plato/Plotinus on early scientific thinkers like Galileo and Kepler who saw "the book of nature" as written in mathematics.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 3 at 19:43

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