Aristotle. A Perspective
by Dr. Parviz Dehghani
Who was he? Who am I writing about? As far as I know, ‘Aristotle’ is just a name. Whoever was called by that name and what he did is of interest to us. He was an individual from Macedonia whose father wished he would become a physician, perhaps because he was a medical doctor himself. Who knows? Who cares? What matters is what he said and what he did. His students took notes and made it possible for us to have, at least most of his works available today. We hear some people tell us, it is not what they say, but what they do that matters. Well, don’t you think what they say is also identical to what they do? Saying is also doing. Isn’t it? People do a lot of things by saying. They are all doings. However, in the world of pragmatism action is more important than speaking. Aristotle did both, namely, he taught and acted accordingly. In other words, he preached and practiced. Some just do the preaching without acting. Read what is written rather who wrote it, because writing is a doing like what I am doing now. What did he say? What did he teach in the shadow of Plato, his teacher? Plato elevated the Forms or Ideaes to the highest level of transcendence. He pulled them out of the ocean of change and becoming and moved them up to a safer realm of perfection. What perhaps early Christians did to Christ? They made him divine so he would be protected from the Greek naturalism. Jesus was brought to the level of Plotinus’ Being. The Ultimate Reality, of course is way above Being, which is its first manifestation. Wait a minute; I thought this was about Aristotle, not Christ. Yes, we are both right, but once we reach St. Thomas Aquinas, we will realize how close both of these figures have become.
Why was accepting Plato’s Forms so difficult for Aristotle? Why Aristotle had such a hard time understanding what Plato meant by Form or did he? Plato examined the world around him and noticed how imperfect and relative the objects of the world were. The opposite of the word ‘relative’ is ‘absolute’. So, he concluded logically there must be a level of existence where everything is perfect. In this world we cannot have perfection. There is no perfect marriage, childbirth, government, republic, empire, cities, justice, humanity, honesty, politics, generosity, beauty, fairness, morality, knowledge, animals in land and the sea, ethical values, happiness, love, forgiveness, health. Are we perfect men and women? Even our opinions of gods, goddesses, and God are not perfect. Our interpretations of who they are end up in misinterpretations camp. Our children are not perfect either though innocent at birth. Plato was just like one of us. Perhaps he had something in his brain compared to us like Albert Einstein. Naturally, there must be a place in which perfection is a reality. In this chaos of improprieties all around us, we are taught to be moral by our Religions with the promise of going to heaven or come back on a better form due to good karma.
Once Ideae (Form) was transformed to idea for Aristotle, our mind became the house of conceptions corresponding to the objects of the world. While Plato was Intellectual, Aristotle was rational. The Intellect was like Atman for the Hindus, namely, the ray of the sun within us, which is uncreated. Aristotle did not perceive the world through the Intellect. He rather saw the world by reason, which is a descended reality from the Intellect, like the debris falling off an airplane. The power of abstract thinking is part of mathematical way of looking at reality. Plato was Pythagorean mathematician. Abstraction is separation from what we see. Plato observes the world but removed himself from it to let it reveal itself to him. This is like abstract painting. Aristotle in contrast was a biologist who was fascinated by “origin, history, characteristics, and habits of plants and animals.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary) Plato went beyond these into the real origins of what appear as real. Plato had the power of knowing the Reality beyond the appearances. He seems to have known his true Self. He must have known gods and God through his Intellect, what Aristotle was unable to do. Although this humble article is about Aristotle, we cannot write it without discussing Plato’s philosophy. Many philosophers were also mathematicians. Geometry, for instance, gave the Muslim Arabs to stay away from elliptical or oval forms. Circle was the sign of eternity and was very much accepted. Ellipsis produces perspective, which in turn gives us the horizontality of the world. Verticality matters the most among the Islamic thinkers.
The philosophy of Aristotle and Plato can be explained in a nutshell when we look at the symbolism of cross, that is, the vertical aspect represents Plato and the horizontal one depicts the philosophy of Aristotle. Circle portrays Plato and oval demonstrates Aristotle. We are trying not to be biased to either Plato or Aristotle. Finally, they both complement one another like Yin and Yang or matter and form in Aristotle. Plato places the Forms of perfection way above the realm of imperfection. Plato located Being in the immutable level and becoming on the lowest place. Aristotle realized that there was too much gap between the two. He believed the world is not a reflection of those Forms. The reality of those Forms is in the world of objects, though their concepts are in the mind. What Aristotle did was very daring in that he tried to get rid of transcendent realities called Forms and reduced them to concepts in our mind while their reality was in the heart of objects all around us. An important question remains as to what would guarantee the motion and change when there is no immutable Reality like Being? The level of Forms is where Being is. To understand change and becoming, we need constancy. To know the movement of a train, we need the unchanging state of a station. To explain how we walk, we should understand that the ground we walk on is stable. How can Aristotle explain motion when there are no immutable realities? Well, you might say, in response, the concepts of those Forms would give us the changeless realities based on which motion or becoming is defined. The answer to this question is that concepts or ideas are also subject to change as things are becoming. These concepts are not transcendent like Plato’s Forms. These concepts are not universally true and objective. In other words, they are subjective and properties of the mind. When Aristotle talks about an acorn moves to become an oak, he understands that the earth is solid and unchanging so we could see the movement, if we had a camera installed. The soil also changes along with the acorn even though it might appear as if it is not. Plato’s Forms are absolutely changeless. How can he justify the fact that things are constantly changing in the world, if he does not believe in Plato’s Forms? An acorn is growing to become an oak tree. It is potentially an oak but not actually. It has to reach its actuality. Its form is the oak tree, namely, its formal cause and its matter is its body, which is material cause. Its final cause is in front of the capital building in Washington. Change is happening and the little acorn is becoming an oak. But what is motionless here? Is the form, which needs the matter and vice versa changeless? The answer is ‘NO’. Is this form identical with Plato’s Form ‘NO’? In Plato’s transcendent realm there is only the presence of actuality and no movement. On a larger scale the whole universe is becoming, because of the motionlessness of the Forms of Plato. Once we say their reality is in the objects of the world, it is no longer immutable. Was Jesus God when he was among us? You might disagree with me depending on your faith and different branches of Christianity. It is simply fine. Remember, we are doing philosophy of Religion here not Religion perse. Buddha said the same thing about Atman or our true Self, which was a ray of the sun within each individual and objects. Buddha argued, how can an infinite Reality be in us without going through changes? By the time it is in us, it is finite. How can we bring infinite and finite together without a compromise? After all, infinity and finitude are not proportional. Hegel, the German thinker confronted the same problem. Was Jesus God by the time he was in flesh and was among us 2000 years ago? We would have no choice but deal with a contradiction, like Christ was fully man and fully God, which came out of Nicene Creed in 300 A.D. How did St. Thomas Aquinas bring this with Aristotle’s thought together? Aristotle only believed in form and matter and the former was unlike Plato’s Form. Thus, he had to come up with a Form, which did not need matter and was pure actuality already. A crippled person and a strong deaf-mute man need one another. The former is carried by the latter while the crippled old man can speak and hear for his friend. (Ben Hur, movie) This is where Aristotle is returning to Plato’s Form of Good from the back door. Did Jesus return to God, the father after he was no longer human? We elevated his status, perhaps after the resurrection, to the level of divinity. Aristotle’s pure Form, the unmoved Mover, the uncaused Cause, being God is now on the level of Plato’s highest Form, namely, the Good. Do we see a similarity here? Jesus was in the river of history becoming the oak. Once he was pure actuality, he left his historical body like Buddha and became a body of bliss or heavenly Reality. Given the nature of our mind, which is not purified yet, it is difficult to see how infinite and finite can come together. In the Holy Qur’an God tells His prophet, I am closer to you than your jugular vein. God, if there is a God, is everywhere and nowhere. This dilemma cannot be dealt with Aristotelian logic of either/or. Perhaps, Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher was right when he said Christianity is not about either/or logic. For that matter, all Religions are not subject to this logic. How can you explain God is everywhere and nowhere at the same time and in the same relationship? How can we understand that God is omnipresent? Let us go a little higher to the Ultimate Reality. This Reality is beyond any duality, even existence and non-existence, which means it does not exist. Plato could have gone up to this Reality. However, had he done that, he would have had problem solving the issue of change and motion, because this Reality is beyond God Being. May be the whole of existence is nothing but an illusion?
Being was especially important to Plato. After all Being is the first manifestation of the Ultimate Reality. Being is in the realm of perfection. Being is what it is. “I’m that I’m or I’m who I’m” is a familiar fact in Judaism and the rest of Abrahamic Religions. Because of this Being, everything else in the universe is. With Aristotle being qua being is what he presents us with. This being is not connected to Being in perfection. When God says I am that I am, He is declaring the existence of Being, namely I am. Nothing stands on its own unless it is given existence by Being. Through reflection, Plato’s Being is connected to the beings of the world. I see the reflection of the moon in a pond. The lake is like a mirror reflecting the sun. Reflections are so real as if they are the reality they are reflecting. May be Plato had already reached the point that this world is an illusion. It is the theater of motion pictures. However, it is what Parmenides called it an illusion. When we go beyond every duality, we come to understand the Ultimate Reality. Way above the many Forms, it is the Ultimate Reality in which there is no duality, because it is Oneness. Perhaps that is why Plato’s right hand is pointing to the Oneness of Reality in Raffaello Santi’s painting named, ‘School of Athens.’ Aristotle’s right hand is rather horizontally stretching out with 5 fingers apart, which can be interpreted as the sign of many and multiplicity. Plato’s right hand is vertically directed towards the heaven, namely the sky. Whereas Plato was showing Aristotle the seat of transcendence, his student was directing Plato’s attention towards the world devoid of his Forms. I guess this was the only way Aristotle, the unifier, could bridge the gap between Plato’s two worlds. I am reminded of the way some thinkers after Descartes tried to bring together mind and body substances. Cartesian dualism created these difficulties for great many philosophers. Some argued everything is made of mind and others maintained that everything is made of body. To put it mildly, this was not an achievement. It is possible this is what Aristotle did to unify the two realms. This is all about a world without the vertical aspect of the cross. The world is a reflection of the Forms. “Who so ever has seen me, has seen the father” Christ (not an exact quotation) Does this mean Jesus was like a mirror reflecting God the father? Was he reflecting the sun while he was not the sun? The moon in the pond says, who so ever has seen me, has seen the moon. When the moon is not there in the sky, the reflection of it is absent. With moon everything is possible, namely, with God everything is possible. Without God or moon, the world is not possible. Without Forms or Being, the world is not possible. Bishop Berkeley, the Irish philosopher was a nominalist, that is, he did not believe in Plato’s Forms and regarded Aristotle’s concepts nothing but names. John Locke still argued on behalf of Aristotle that Plato’s Forms are but concepts in our mind. How could Berkeley believe in God while he turned his back to Plato’s Forms? No wonder we ended up with David Hume and his skepticism. Berkeley also denied the existence of a world beyond our mind or our knowledge of it. He believed whatever we think to be the world independent of our mind out there is only another idea or ideas contradicting John Locke. Yes, Berkeley was an idealist and empiricist. Go, figure that out! The house of our ideas is our mind, where rationalists claim our knowledge comes from. On the other hand, he regards himself to be an empiricist. How can you be an idealist and empiricist at the same time and in the same relationship? I guess his defenders have different explanations for his philosophy here. Comes Hume, he killed two birds with one rock. On the one hand, he rejected the claim of rationalists that our knowledge comes from our reason. On the other hand, he concluded that even empiricism is not viable. He argues with Kant, hypothetically, not in reality, that the only way I have knowledge of cause and effect is when I see a tree falling as a result of the wind or fire, or the flood. Kant told him, unless I have a category of causality in my mind, I am unable to experience such an event. Therefore, my knowledge begins with experience but does not come from it. Whatever comes to me as facts are inducers. My reason just makes sense out of them. Kant created a wedding between rationalism and empiricism. Hume gave up on the latter too and called himself a skeptic. Hume did not perceive a connection between cause and effect. What is or are the causes of what happens in the world? Causes are unknown to us. After all we really do not know about the world beyond our mind remembering Berkeley. Now I am left with the facts of this world, which are disconnected. What if God interferes between cause and effect? Hume would say, ‘NO’. There is disconnect between fire and cotton. But Mr. Hume, only a high power like God can stop fire from burning the cotton. Sir, I do not believe in God, Hume would say. We always think a cause is of the same nature as an effect. Hume would say, not necessarily. We can never predict the future based on the present and the past. Just because Napoleon lost the battle against Russian winter does not mean Hitler would too. But nevertheless, Hitler, who did not learn from the past, was defeated, and lost the battle against Russian winter just as Napoleon had done before Hitler. Hume’s skepticism about causality was unfounded. When Al-Ghazali or Gazel (1058-1111), the Persian philosopher, argued that there is no connection on the horizontal level between cause and effect, he maintained that nothing happens without the Divine Cause or intervention, which is vertical. Kant tried to solve the problem by regarding causality as ‘synthetic a priori’ fact and spoke of cause and effect as one of the categories of our mind. Whether or not it has any objectivity, the answer is ‘NO’. It is a pair of colored glasses or binocular through which we observe the world around us. Did Kant believe in the vertical Cause? We do not think so. Kant stayed with Bishop Berkeley and Hume when it comes to the world beyond our mind. He also was not able to prove there is a world independent of our mind. He called this reality ‘Noumenon’ as opposed to ‘phenomenon’ world. Kant’s subjectivism did not allow him to claim there is an objective reality out there. At least Descartes tried to prove the existence of God through whom he could know the world beyond as if he could do that logically! With Kant even this possibility did not exist, because ‘God exists’ was an analytic statement in which existence does not add anything to God. This is like saying all triangles have three angles. The predicate ‘three angles’ is already in the subject ‘all triangles. So, he considered the predicate ‘existence’not necessary in ‘God exists’. He rejected all the proofs of the existence of God given in the past. God became a postulate or an assumption. He brought this postulate in for his philosophy of ethics and believed only God knows the reality of noumenon, which sounds like what Descartes did. He argued that through following morality we are able to know God. Although we have no knowledge of God, at least we can get to know God in the practical science or ethics. It seems we are back with Descartes. Perhaps the answer to Kant had been given by Buddha 2600 years ago in ‘Dhammapada’. In the twin verses—canto I, he taught mind must be purified. Once your consciousness is transparent, then we will realize all external realities are not there. Whatever we experience are images on our consciousness. The assumption that mind was purified and transparent was false to begin with.
There is no duality in the Ultimate Reality. These are all minds play on the ordinary level. “The life of this world is nothing but a game”. Qur’an, not exact quotation.
This is the realm of meritocracy. We have to earn the transparency of our mind. Did Immanuel Kant study Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), Swedish scientist, philosopher, and mystic? (The Random House) Did he ever get out of his town to see this great mystic before he died? The answer is ‘NO’? Kant died in 1804 and never discussed these matters with his contemporary mystic.
Aristotle made Plato’s Forms, mind’s properties. His right hand is stretching forward, which is the sign of a perspective in art. A ring does not give you that, which points to eternity. He rather tilted the ring and got an oval reality, which gave him the horizontal reality of a perspective view. Although trees are on both sides of the road and are separated from other trees on the other side, from our point of view they are standing on both sides of the pathway, they seem very close to each other at the end of the road. In a perspective the appearance of objects is determined by their relative distance and position. (Webster’s New World) This depth represents the world. Aristotle’s hand with fingers separated from one another also indicates the world of multiplicity and many rather than Plato’s Oneness or the sun. Aristotle is telling us that the rays of the sun of Plato, namely, perfection, is in every object in the world. Aristotle called this ‘Atman’ the reality of Plato’s Forms. Aristotle argues that those Forms of Plato, that are many, have their reality in the world. The Form of the Good is One like Being shedding light on the rest of the Forms. Plato’s Forms are many and so are their reflections in the world. The Form of the Good illuminates the Forms and their reflections. You might say perhaps the Good is the Ultimate Reality. However, the Ultimate Reality cannot be named and defined. The Good or Being is immutable so the world could be in motion.
God created the world in 6 days starting from Sunday and on 7 days he rested. He said the world is good as if he was saying, his Being was Good and the world He had created was good. Apparently, he had created many different worlds and this among which this one was exceptionally good. All depends on what He meant by ‘good’. He did not mean ‘perfect’. We say the weather is good today. This does not mean it is perfect. Being was perfect and immutable so the world could become and move. On the 7th day God rested so motion could start. Plato also argued that Being was at rest so the world would be in motion.
Plotinus (205? – 270?), Egyptian Roman thinker and the founder of Neo-Platonism (The Random House) taught that Being and becoming or Parmenides and Heraclitus, are the focal reality of what Plato was all about. However, Plotinus seems to have gone where Plato did not go or did and we do not know. He argued that the Ultimate Reality was at the summit of this pyramid. It was above even Being, which was its first manifestation. This Reality, like Brahman in Hinduism, was beyond any duality, even rest and motion. If Plotinus were right in the structure of his hierarchy, then the whole universe would be an illusion. Did Aristotle ever think that way? It is very much possible Plato himself had thought of this possibility, being familiar with Hindu thoughts. Plato knew about reincarnation via of Egypt. Apparently Hindu philosophy had reached Egypt in North Africa thousands of years ago. It is very unlikely he and Pythagoras before him had come up with this fascinating thought all by themselves. Plotinus at one time showed interest in going on an expedition to eastern countries for ancient wisdom.
Aristotle diverted our attention from the transcendent and perfection of infinite Reality of Plato’s Forms to our mind. Biblically Plato’s Forms are in the realm of spirit. Being a biologist, Aristotle’s field of concentration was earth. Very much like ‘Yin and Yang’ they are, that is, Spirit and earth complimentary, yin being mother earth and yang being the father. The horizontal aspect of the cross is the sign of earth and the vertical aspect is the sign of Spirit. Whereas Aristotle dealt with what he saw in nature, Plato ascended to the realm of perfection. If Aristotle saw a woman and said she was beautiful, Plato would not deny this reality. However, he would also imagine what she would have been if she had perfect beauty. The earthly wine makes you drunk. But the perfect wine served in paradise makes you intoxicated with the beauty of the world beyond where we live. (Qur’an) When Aristotle talked about human character in his virtue ethics as being a matter of being and not action, Plato spoke of human character as possessing all the Forms in their perfection and just being as people are, was not enough. Kant was about ‘action’ when it came to ethics. Aristotle was concerned about who we are morally. Plato did not think this was sufficient. The higher we move up the Jacob’s ladder, the more intensified our being becomes. Existing alone is not enough. Being alive does not make you enlightened. The light of our existence becomes brighter as we move vertically towards the end of the last rung. The closer we get to the sun or the source of light, the deeper we become. This is the wine served in Paradise, which is not intoxicating like the wine here on earth. This wine is named ‘Sharaaban tahuran’, which means pure wine in the Holy Qur’an. May be the consecrated wine served at Eucharist, the wine Jesus offered his followers, was meant to alchemically become this pure wine or blood in their bodies. The nature of the wine changes into the blood of Jesus. While Aristotle saw the wine grapes, Plato was wondering what kind of wine would be to match perfection. This olive tree is as it is, but is it perfect? Is there anything wrong in thinking this way? The answer is, not really. When you keep an eye on perfection, then the world is not so desirable. I would not attach myself to this world to suffer later. Is not this what Buddha said 2600 years ago? When there’s not perfect justice, don’t we wish for a perfect justice? Surrounded by injustice all the time, we long for perfect justice, don’t we? This world is imperfect as it is, and Aristotle is rejecting Plato’s Forms believing their reality is in the objects experienced by us. When there are no Forms, then how can we talk about their reality? The Atman or the ray of the sun is within us according to the Hindus. Atman and Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, are connected. But in Aristotle’s philosophy there is no Ultimate Reality, there is no Being, and there are no Forms. Reflections of the moon are in the pond without the moon in the sky. Does this make sense? The reflections of the sun are in the ocean without the sun. Does this make any sense? This act of reductionism by Aristotle had its effect on the Western philosophy. Even though Aristotle came up with pure Form, which was the actuality in and of itself, it did not create major ripples in the philosophical communities. An oak is pure actuality and does not need to become one as a result of the growth of an acorn. Here oak tree is already what it is. It was not an acorn so it would become one. It is in its perfection, of course as an analogy. Otherwise, we all know that oak trees of this world are not perfect and have been acorns before. Here Aristotle has no choice but admit Plato’s Forms make sense. According to Plato this oak tree has its Form of perfection and it is transcendent and unchanging. The oak tree is a whole in which all other oak trees in this world participate. Is there a perfect acorn? Of course, according to Plato everything is in its actuality in the realm of Forms though Aristotle is the one who introduced the idea of potentiality and actuality. Finally, for Plato movement and change are illusions, as the Hindus believed thousands of years ago before him. They called it ‘Maya’ or a false phenomena or appearances existing between our world and the one beyond. Aristotle simply cannot come up with an argument for the existence of motion. When he says an acorn grows and become an oak tree, on what logical basis does he rely on? Once the world was created in 6 days and God rested on the 7th day, it is only then that the world goes into motion. Where is Aristotle’s contrast here? For Plato, initially, it is the immutability of Being that makes it possible for the world to be in the state of becoming. I guess finally Aristotle realized without a pure actuality or Form, he could not define the change in the world. When Plato could say the world is but an illusion, Aristotle was unable to make such a statement. Plato’s philosophy could be a bridge between East and West but not Aristotle’s. No wonder why Plotinus wanted to travel to Asia searching for the wisdom Rome or the world of those days was unable to offer him. No wonder why Neo-Platonism was in competition with Christianity at one time heading by Plotinus while Christian church fathers were debating over the Holy Trinity in the same century, namely, 300 A.D. No wonder, the great British- American thinker like Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) once said, the whole of Western philosophy has been nothing but footnotes to Plato’s thoughts. (Not an exact quotation) Andalusian Muslim Arab community shunned and excommunicated Averroes (1126-98), who was one of the most faithful commentators of Aristotle’s works. When a young mystic by the name of ibn Arabi visited this old philosopher, only then perhaps did he realize what Aristotle had missed by rejecting Plato’s Forms. Plato, I believe, was a mystic and a thinker. Aristotle was a brilliant philosopher and logician but could not grasp the essence of Plato’s thoughts at some point in his studies with him. Even though he was forced to come up with the idea of the pure Form of actuality, his influence on Western philosophy, especially through Catholicism was undeniable. Thomas Aquinas was intellectually in debt to Islamic philosophers such as Avicenna, Al- Ghazali, and Averroes. Gradually ‘being’ that comes at the end of every object like “the apple in my hand is fresh” began giving way to thing itself. Objects became more important than their beings. Being worried about materialism, Bishop Berkeley refuted Aristotle’s form and matter. A Christmas presents are now more significant than their beings. And guess who delivers them? Of course, Santa Claus, who else? Averroism had become mainstream philosophical life blood of the Western world. Al- Ghazali’s attack on rationalism was not taken seriously by Averroes. With Catholicism, Aristotle’s thoughts began spreading in Europe until Protestant Reformation when Plato’s philosophy became a force to reckon with. The connection between John Locke, the British thinker and Aristotle was a defining moment in the history of Western thought. The former was a physician whereas the latter was a biologist. However, Locke seems to have identified himself with Aristotle and could also become a friend of a modern rationalist like Rene Descartes, who was catholic and indirectly Aristotelian. Conceptualism of Aristotle and Locke was vehemently attacked by Bishop Berkeley. However, this did not mean Berkeley accepted Plato’s transcendent Forms. He in reality killed two birds with a rock. He got rid of both Plato and Aristotle in one shot. But nevertheless, the effect of Aristotle’s philosophy was still felt with our Bishop manifested in his idealism though being an empiricist. By idealism here we do not mean Plato’s Ideas or Forms. David Hume later rejected both rationalism and empiricism and became skeptic. Once Kant’s subjectivism showed on the set, we were back with Aristotle, of course without his virtue ethics. Although Kant made use of Aristotelian logic of either/or and let it run all over his ethics, as if morality were science, he got away from the balance between two extremes of the opposites like ‘courage’ being between cowardliness and rashness, example given by Aristotle. Kant also seems to shy away from the natural law of Aristotle. The camera of your mind projects films on the screen of the world we have constructed for ourselves. From the Ultimate Reality’s point of view, the whole of being is but an illusion. From Plato’s perspective our mind is a divider. To experience Reality, we ought to go beyond the dualism imposed upon us by our mind. From the point view of Spirit, there is no Adam to be divided between Spirit of God and earth. Plato survived in the West such that Martin Heidegger said in the middle 20th century, we have forgotten being. He wanted to become a Jesuit priest. Jesuits, who were members of the Society of Jesus, were appointed to defend Catholicism against Protestantism. It is ironic that Heidegger spoke of being as if he had come from a protestant background. He felt there was a necessity to discuss being again. This copula is the ‘is’ connecting a predicate to subject. In the statement, ‘God is great’ the copula ‘is’ links predicate ‘great’ to subject ‘God’. Remember the first manifestation of the Ultimate Reality is Being and Being can be interpreted as God. According to Immanuel Kant when we say ‘God is’ or ‘God exists’ this is an analytic statement, namely, the predicate is already in the subject God. Immanuel Kant had rejected the proofs for the existence of God put forward by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Anselm. God became a postulate for Kant’s practical science, that is, ethics. This God has the knowledge of the noumenon realm to which we have no access, because of the limitation of our pure reason. By being ethical we can have the knowledge of God. Let us give Kant the benefit of a doubt. After all, the word ‘God’ is a title. It is the title of God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. What are we achieving by proving a title, is a good question to ask? But if we go higher to the Ultimate Reality, we do not have to worry about proving the existence of God, because the Ultimate Reality is beyond being and non-being, existence and non-existence and any duality. It does not even exist. Therefore, we do not have to prove its existence. “It is hidden but always present. I do not know who gave birth to it. It is older than God.” (Lao-tzu, ‘TAO TE CH’ING’, chapter 4) Here Lao is not concerned about age. He is rather referring to the fact that God could be the creation of our own imagination, perception, and opinion. Whatever is named and defined is limited in our mind. Aristotle gave great importance to our mind but not purified mind. We cannot even conceive of the Ultimate Reality. We are unable to form an idea of it because it has no attributes like God. The undivided silence is the only way we can feel its presence that is here and nowhere. Kant cannot turn it into a postulate or assumption. Islamic philosopher could call it ‘SAMAD’, which means nothing can be added to it and nothing can be subtracted from it. It was never born, and it never gave birth. It is unique and there is none like it. It is ONE. It is impossible to reach it through moral precepts. These prepare us to get closer to that Reality. Past, present, and future are devoid of meaning for that Reality. Time becomes important reality when we are dealing with God. He is the one who created everything in 6 days and on the 7th day he rested. Time becomes an issue here. It becomes subject to interpretation. But with the Ultimate Reality we do not have these complications. With Plato and later Plotinus, we do not seem to have any problems to discuss Being and what Heidegger was asking for. However, with Aristotle’s conceptualism we are bound to confront difficulties. We are trying to make this assessment as unbiased as possible towards Aristotle. By refuting Plato’s Forms, Aristotle directed our sources of knowledge to our mind. He severed the umbilical cord of transcendence. Plato’s Forms are no longer ‘Ideaes’ but ideas. This descending action was no longer representing the firm cross consisting of a vertical and horizontal realities. The former pointed to Plato’s realm of perfection and the latter Aristotle’s realm of the mind. The cross started collapsing such that the horizontal part to which Jesus’ hands where nailed and the vertical part became one as it fell to the ground. Here the two parts became one. Plato pulled us all from the world of opinions to the level of pure knowledge. Here by cross we are referring both to the sacred symbol of samsara and the crucifixion of Christ. By the word ‘Samsara’ we mean “moving about continuously: the chain of births and deaths. (Dhammapada, Trans by H. Kaviratna, glossary) Cross is an ancient sacred symbol in Jainism in India. The whole fabric of the universe is said to have been woven like a carpet with vertical threads and horizontal ones. Once Aristotle removed the vertical element of Plato’s Forms from the equation, he was left with Atman without Brahman in Hinduism. Thomas Aquinas tried to fill the gap by Christianizing Aristotle in the absence of Plato’s Forms. However, Christianity is only a Religion just as Judaism and Islam. They are not philosophical systems even though there was a time when Religions and philosophies were together. They were bifurcated at one time. There were times when prophets were philosophers and vice versa. Nonetheless, in case of Thomas Aquinas being Aristotelian on the one hand and a devote Christian on the other hand; he had no choice but adjust the situation such that he could benefit from the philosophy of a great mind while he was keeping his Religion. He tried to fill in the gap without appeal to Plato’s Forms. Being a follower of the natural law as Aristotle, Thomas said, there is nothing in the Intellect that is not already in the senses. This great saint was talking about the necessity of both rationalism and empiricism. God has revealed Himself both in the Bible and nature. Kant tried to bring rationalism and empiricism without the presence of Religion. We repeat, for Kant God was a postulate or assumption, because the statement ‘God exists’ is analytic not synthetic. The predicate ‘existence’ is already in the subject God like ‘all bachelors are unmarried people’. The predicate ‘unmarried people’ is already in subject ‘all bachelors’. When Thomas argues that there is nothing in the Intellect that is not in the senses, he means our Intellect is as natural as the world of nature, which is the definition of the natural law and its relation to man. We are part of nature and nature is part of us. By the Intellect he meant the Reality in us, which is different from Kant’s pure reason. The Intellect here is like the Atman, the uncreated Reality within us. In Hinduism, Atman and Brahman are like the sun and its rays. Atman is in the realm of many and multiplicity, that is, it is in each one of us, whereas Brahman is One and is beyond any duality. The rays of the sun are within the objects of the universe though Brahman is absolute Oneness. There is nothing in the Atman within me that is not in the senses or the objects of sense perceptions. By the time we get to Descartes, the Intellect of Aquinas had changed to pure reason of the age of enlightenment, on which Kant had to put a limit. The unlimited reason is the same Intellect Thomas had talked about. This Intellect is spelled with capital ‘I’ and it is not a lower-case letter. According to the natural law, we and nature are one. We ought to purify our mind in order to recognize this uncreated Reality within us. When Aristotle spoke of either/or logic, he was talking about the structure of our mind and how it works. After all, he is the one who organized logic, not created it. He never mentioned about purifying our mind. Nevertheless, he managed to come up with what he called ‘pure Form’ or actuality, which is his own word. He had to find a way to get out of Plato’s cave with all its images on the front wall. He had to find a way to transcendence. He was still known as the one who had rejected Plato’s Forms. Unfortunately, the jinni had gotten out of the bottle and landed in the intellectual communities of the Western world. Thus, this idea of how we can know about the world independent of our mind became a major issue for philosophers like Descartes, all the way to Immanuel Kant. For Plato, through purifying our mind we can reach the highest sources of knowledge and perfection, namely the realm of Forms. We climb up the Jacob’s ladder and get to where there is not partition between this world and the world outside of our mind. Unfortunately, it was a little too late for Aristotle to do that though he acknowledged the presence of the realm of pure actuality and motionless. Now you know why Heidegger said we have forgotten Being or better we have forgotten God. This was century 20th when more than 100 million people perished in the world.
Knowing the noumenon world is not possible by dying or dreaming. We ought to do something, here and now. Why is Plato’s philosophy, though not perfect still makes more sense than Aristotle’s? Now we know why Plato did not consider Aristotle as his successor. But this sounds a little naïve to think that way. Don’t you think so? Maybe he had predicted what was going to happen to the future of philosophy in the Western world, had he chosen him to head the academy. However, Plato also knew Aristotle could have opened his own school, which he did any way. Little did he know or perhaps he knew that Aristotle’s influence was bound to be felt all through the Western intellectual hemisphere for a long time? Pythagoras and Plato had a connection to the Eastern world, namely India through their belief in reincarnation. This connection did not exist for Aristotle. Aristotle was from Macedonia, which is in the neighborhood of Greece. He was the teacher of Alexander the Great, the one who conquered Persia all the way to India. This great conqueror died at an early age and left Aristotle with no patronage. Aristotle who was teaching at Lyceum, his own school, left Greece and returned to Macedonia and died there after a few years. When Christmas gifts are about worldly materials, others have the teachings of Jesus packed in those boxes. This way the being between the subject and the object becomes important not the other way around. The ‘is’ at the end of an object becomes significant not the object. Being does not decay to become the garage sales materials. “All things are born of being. Being is born of non-being”. (Tao Te Ching, chapter 40) Fortune cookies are presented to us after we finish our meals in most of Chinese restaurants or before. I have not seen them in Chinese buffets I have visited. Perhaps we are to pick them up ourselves. We open them up and see some printed words of wisdom. Sometimes there are sayings of Confucius. However, on the back of this little piece of papers there are numbers, which can be used for lotto games. The sayings of wisdom are for your vertical life and the numbers for our horizontal one. Who is Santa Claus? Santa Claus represents St. Nicholas. Centuries ago, he lived in today’s Turkey. What we see every year at Christmas time, however, is “a fat, white bearded, jolly old man in a red suit” (Webster’s New World…) who manufactures and distributes gifts among children regardless of whether they have been behaving good or not. Kant’s hypothetical imperative, that is, ‘if/then’ reality, is forgotten. But Santa does not seem to bother with that fact anymore as he used to. Children these days decide what they should get. In a commercial, a little kid caught Santa, who had managed to pass through the chimney and remained clean, leaving presents at the bottom of the tree. The kid took a picture of Santa while he was bending over, and his back was showing with his pants a bit down. When Santa realized what was going on, he fixed his pants, but it was too late, because the picture was already taken, and it was on the child’s cell phone. He demanded to have a brand-new car like the one parked in front of the house. This was the first time Santa was being black mailed. He tells Santa, either that car or your picture we will be all over the world. Well, “One irregularity deserves another” as a great metaphysician said in the 20th century.
Santa ought to leave boxes of gifts with the words of Jesus in them. After all he is the symbol of what St. Nicholas did long time ago. He fed the poor and was not manufacturer of toys for children and should leave this job to ‘toys are us. The star of the movie ‘home alone’ sued his parents for mismanaging his assets. Wow! How much this kid must have learned by playing his role in the movie? I understand this is only a folklore or what we have believed to be true as part of our Christmas tradition. Nonetheless, we could perhaps change the attitude of people away from worldly material things to the Spirit of this great Holyday.
Aristotle knew, to make sense of motion, he had to have a constant reality but not necessarily on the microcosm level. Of course, the bank of a river is constant while river is running. He was thinking of the whole universe and tried to see things on the macrocosm realm. However, this has to be on the Spiritual world transcendence like Plato’s Forms. He then came up with the idea that there must be a Form, which does not need matter to become actualized. This is what he called pure Form, which is pure actuality.
As long as we are attached to the things and objects of the world minus their existence, we are stuck in this realm of struggle and suffering.
In the final analysis, we the parents are those who purchase the presents while giving Santa the credit. We lie to our children in the process and take them to church where our pastor is teaching about transparency and truthfulness in our everyday life. Do we see a contradiction here? The empty boxes around a Christmas tree, which are put in front of a building, have more meaning than the full ones, because being is nothing, which is filling the vacuum inside of the boxes. “The Tao is like a bellow: it is empty yet infinitely capable. The more you use it, the more it produces; the more you talk of it, the less you understand. (Tao Te Ching, chapter 5) No thief would go after those boxes put in the public, because they are empty. We as parents might get ridiculed by some of our children, but not all. Ka’bah, the biggest present box or the house of God was full of idols before the prophet of Islam emptied it. This gift was given to Adam.
We ought to keep these boxes empty or like fortune cookies fill them up with the messages of wisdom of Christ. Instead of fast food we should teach our youngsters about meditating on void, emptiness, and nothingness. “The Tao is like a well: used but never used up. It is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities.” (Tao Te Ching, chapter4) Aristotle realized this fact; I am afraid, a little too late.
Compared to Kant’s ethics of action, Aristotle’s virtue ethics is a lot closer to the reality of the natural law than the former one. Aristotle’s either/or logic works for science but not for ethics. Emmanuel Kant being fascinated by science of his day, which was Newtonian physics, tried to make use of Aristotle’s either/or logic in his ethics of action, something Aristotle never did. For example, Aristotle said when it comes to ‘courage’, do not be rash, and do not be coward. Take the middle path or golden mean and be courageous. This is not a geographic middle. This is rather about keeping a balance between the two extremes. This is about walking on a tight rope. If you do not keep your balance, you are bound to fall either way. Thanks to the presence of harness, the rope walkers could fall to their death. Our moral problems are not clear cut to be measured by either/or logic. Kant’s action ethics, however, operated on a scientific plat form. You either lie or do not. There is no gray area in this black and white project, which in our language we call ‘white lie’. What does color have to do with this, beats me? For Aristotle consequences and results still mattered. For Kant, however, results cannot be trusted. In his hypothetical imperative, where ‘if/then’ is the formula, consequences play a great role. The results are unknown. Can we predict the future with hypothetical imperative? No, we cannot. Hitler invaded Russia without realizing what had happened to Napoleon. Even Romans would not challenge Russian winter. Hitler lost the war and came back having thousands of his soldiers killed in the battlefield. Results are shaky and not based on a firm foundation. Kant was a non- consequentialist thinker. The word ‘consequentiality’ is mentioned in our dictionaries, not what we just had above. Either way, he did not believe results could give us knowledge. Do not get me wrong please. I do not mean he denied the fact that our actions have consequences. For instance, do not eat from the fruits of that tree. This is very much like the Ten Commandments. This is like Kant’s categorical imperative. If you do it, then you will die. This latter part is an example of hypothetical imperative. Of course, Adam and Eve had never died to know what it was. So, warning them about death did not make much sense. You will be punished if you disobey. They had never been punished for any wrongdoing. So, what did they know about it? Adam and Eve were not punished by death. However, they along the serpent were thrown out of the Garden of Eden. Perhaps instead of the moon, our planet should have been called the abode of death. Good turned into death as a result of disobedience. If you get the knowledge of good and evil by eating the fruit, you will be bound to destroy the good world by your morality, thus our environmental problems. “When man interferes with the Tao, the sky becomes filthy, the earth becomes depleted, the equilibrium crumbles, and creatures become extinct.” (Tao Te Ching, chapter 39) Hypothetical imperative here proved Kant right. May be one day our planet will become like the moon, or place of death.
Aristotle’s ethics has been with us for more than two thousand years keeping the natural law alive to this day, especially through the Catholic Church whose great religious hero was only St. Thomas Aquinas. Let us now try and see if we could by past what studies of Aristotle academically teach us. I am about to look at Aristotle in a different way.
Aristotle may have dismissed Plato’s Forms and their perfections, and he may have renounced their transcendence. But nevertheless, it is possible what he refuted was what people around him thought of Plato’s Forms. People misunderstand just as they did in the case of Christ and before him, other prophets, and great figures like Buddha. After him was the prophet of Islam who remained misunderstood for many centuries, perhaps even now? Deep down Aristotle knew what his teacher and Socrates were referring to when they spoke of those Forms and life we lived before we entered this world. He knew Plato talked about the fact that in this world we are struggling and suffering through opinions, whether our own or other’s. Opinion is not knowledge. Pure knowledge is where the good is shedding light on other Forms. Just because you renounce something does not mean you do not believe in its reality. Aristotle discarded People’s notions of Plato’s Forms. Socrates went around Athens asking people’s opinions about what had happened and what was happening to Athens. He called himself a gad fly who was to examine the half dead body of the horse of Athens. Socrates said, people He had spoken to think they know but they do not. I am regarded the wisest by the oracle, but I am not. My wisdom is that I know this much that I do not know. Aristotle learned that from Socrates, the teacher of his teacher. He repudiated how people interpreted Plato’s philosophy of Forms. I personally believe Aristotle was trying to explain Plato’s thoughts so there would not be any room for ambiguities. Prior to Aristotle going back to centuries ago, Buddha born in 2600 years ago had to do away with gods and goddesses, caste system, the authority of the Vedas, and many other things, because it was exceedingly difficult to control people’s minds, which are muddy and need to be clear. People’s minds are by and large cloudy. To have the sun pierce through the clouds, their minds ought to be purified. Aristotle’s own ideas were misinterpreted let alone his teacher Plato. While Karl Marx was still living, he was misinterpreted in his presence. They lived in the realm of opinions where there was the presence an elephant in the room. In two different movies I see an elephant keeping company with these two individuals, one young and one older, a little girl in one movie and a young man in another. Those elephants are not in dark rooms of the circuses. They are not traveling for shows any longer. They are walking with their friends wherever those two visits. Those who have reached the true and pure knowledge can see the elephants as they are being exhibited in the public. These elephants are lost in the Yonkers of our mind, because of people’s opinions. Great prophets and minds showed people the elephants and still did not have faith to believe them. Moses performed many miracles, and his own people did not believe them and instead worshiped the golden calf. The same thing happened to Jesus and 600 years later to the prophet of Islam. Elephants are out and they are no longer trained for the entertainment of people in the circuses. Thousands of them, however, are being slaughtered in different parts of the world for the profits coming out of their tusks. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were aware of the elephants in the dark rooms. Once they are freed and are out of Plato’s cave, they get to see the sunshine. Aristotle must have had hard time convincing people around him, even his own students that false perceptions can destroy us. Aristotle could not have possibly discarded Plato’s Forms of perfection being as brilliant as he was in comparison to other Plato’s students. You might disagree with me saying that this is not the case at all. I could not disagree with you. Nevertheless, think about the possibility of misjudging certain events occurring all around you. We are ready to judge people. We jump on the bandwagon and send people to jails. Thanks to the miracle of DNA, many of those accused have been freed after 25 or even 30 years of being in jails. The evidence is presented to the juries and depending on how convinced they are, they decide whether that individual should go to jail or not. The book and later the movie, ‘To kill a mockingbird’ by Harper Lee is perhaps the best way to explain what happens when we have only opinions, which are based on the given evidence by the prosecutor to the juries. Let us not forget that jury system is still the best we have, even though there are difficulties with it. It is run on majority rule decisions, which has been debated for thousands of years whether it is the right way to know which sides is a winner in this game. Yes, majority decides who will be the next president. Majority decides as to whether abortion is an act of murder or not in the Supreme Court. Sometimes majority is right and sometimes it is wrong. Judges, not justices, express their opinions hoping they are deciding based on fairness and justice. I believe Supreme Court judges should not be called Justices. Justice is a term, which can be used as one of Plato’s Forms. Plato’s Forms are perfect, but Judges are not perfect. They also use their opinions when it comes to deciding in the courts. Just like Buddha, Aristotle did not trust people’s opinions about Plato’s Forms. He thought to himself what if I am myself interpreted the wrong way? I am accused of having renounced my teacher’s philosophy. In the court of law, I am guilty although I indeed tried to elucidate what my teacher taught me for 20 years. Plato did not want me to succeed him in the academy; mainly because I was a good teacher and would do a lot better out there in Athens than be stuck with running this university. Besides, he did not want me to be a follower. He rather wanted me to open my own university. He wanted me to be the head not a replacement. Why would I ignore Plato’s Forms and later come up with my pure Form and actuality? I knew Plato was right in establishing a solid level of perfection based on which he could explain the world of change and becoming. Aristotle would say, his form, which needs matter, is only a reflection of Plato’s Form, because it needs matter and matter needs it. An acorn needs matter to become an oak tree. An acorn is potentially an oak but not actually. The GPS in my car needs the car to get there. The rider needs the horse to get to his destination.
Aristotle is said to have single handedly shaped the map of the Western intellectual history. However, without Socrates and Plato there would never have been an Aristotle. Once Socrates and Plato are consolidated, we can dare say that the whole of Western civilization has been standing on the shoulders of Plato and Aristotle.