It is the summer months. The sun is shining, yet it is not too hot. I see a beautiful orange tree and decided to eat a fruit off it. It tastes delicious. The entire day has been perfect and the experience has been relaxing and enjoyable. However, how do I know that the day is perfect? How can I be certain that what is surrounding me is real? Are they real because my senses have made it so based on appearances? These questions all fall under the metaphysics branch of philosophy, which seeks information on the abstract ideals that are beyond the physical world, and it also falls under epistemology. This branch is concerned with defining the theory of knowledge.
According to Plato, the world around us is ridden with biased perceptions. Plato believes in a dualistic view of the world. One realm is called the Becoming, where everything in the world is taken in through our senses. “This Becoming reality is taken in through our senses, and it is impossible to develop any genuine knowledge of it because we can merely describe its changing nature as it appears to us”. This world is what we take in through sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing which would make it seem like it would hold validity in the discussion of the nature of reality. However, Plato describes how this is incorrect due to the fact that in Becoming, everything is changing and nothing has permanence. It is a world of opinions and biased perceptions. For instance, if a handful of people witnessed the same event, they would each have very different thoughts about the experience. It is factual that everyone could have differing opinions even if they are experiencing the same thing. What I may think is enjoyable could be the complete opposite for somebody else. While this world is subject to bias, the world of Being holds more value. In the world of Being, there are universal truths. It is a realm that is “eternal, unchanging, and knowable through the faculty of reason”. Plato speculates that in this realm, everything is true in its matter and we are incapable of having biased opinions. The soul has moved on to seek perfection and absolute truth.
While Plato supported the dualistic view, his student, Aristotle, objected it. Aristotle believed that “the net result of this division would be to devalue the world of experience as something ‘less real’ and unworthy of serious, systematic study”. For Aristotle, the world made up from our sense is the true nature of reality. All of the things we are able to take in through sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing are what give us the absolute knowledge of reality. There is no supernatural world where our souls drift off to. “For Aristotle, there is no separate, supernatural reality”. Everything we need to know about the world is right in front us and we must delve deeper and explore what the physical world has to offer. Aristotle fears that Plato’s dualistic view deters humans from gaining any sort of knowledge from the physical world around us. He rejects all of the previous metaphysical beliefs such as the soul moving on after the body has died to this eternal world where all knowledge must only be “recollected”. The factual evidence surrounds us and it is that evidence that humans must use to describe the nature of reality.
Though Plato’s argument is valid, based upon the fact that if our opinions of the world are biased and always changing, then we cannot truly understand the nature of reality, it does lack in soundness. Therefore, we should not take his argument at face-value. Plato makes the huge assumption that since the world around us has no factual foundation, then we must seek it in the eternal life. How can that be proven? He has no evidence that proves this theory, it is just a personal belief. That, in and of itself, is a biased perception so would that not be what we as humans should avoid? If biased conceptions are what are keeping us back from true knowledge, then there is no reason why we should take his argument seriously. Plato has no proof to support his claim of this eternal life, therefore we have to assume that it is just his personal belief. He also assumes that all humans possess an innate knowledge of the world that we acquired in a past life and it only has to be recollected. Again, that would be correct if we knew that reincarnation and the after-life were real. There is no way of knowing that humans possessed these universal truths because we do not have this memory of a life before the one we are living currently. It is only a speculation, an assumption, and it provides a hindrance in Plato’s argument. Aristotle, on the other hand, discredited the idea of this eternal world. He provides both a valid and sound argument when he states that the answers to the world lay in what is in front of us. Since the things in front of us, that possess matter, are what can be physically perceived then the knowledge of reality does not have to be achieved in this abstract world of eternity. Aristotle says “although we can separate ‘morality’ and ‘living things’ intellectually, they cannot be separated in reality”. In other words, morality and living things cannot exist without the other. They are not independent states where one can be carried into an immaterial world that possesses ultimate reality. Every knowledge that can be conceived of the world is tangible and organized by our senses. While this is more fathomable than an invisible realm, the complete disregard of it is even an assumption. Once again, while there is no evidence supporting this claim, there is also no evidence disproving it either. Aristotle also makes the assumption that we have a soul based upon the fact that each of our organs has a purpose for the sake of the soul. How do we know that humans possess souls? And if they do, how can we be certain that the matter and organs that composite a human being are only there to serve said soul?
Plato’s claim that the physical world is made up of biased opinions is one that I find myself agreeing with. For instance, this beautiful day that I encountered is only a matter of my personal opinion. To me a perfect day consists of ninety-degree weather with no cloud in the sky. However, there is without a doubt someone in the world who disagrees with this reasoning. Someone could have the belief that the perfect day consists of four feet of snow with a high temperature of thirty degrees. These conceptions are only a matter of biases, so how can we be certain that our senses are real? Or if the day is really the way I experience it to be when there are so many others who can disagree? Though I do agree that our conceptions of the world are too biased to hold actual value, I find myself disagreeing with Plato that there is an eternal realm of universal truth and that all knowledge only has to be recollected from previous lives. What is the universal truth? Surely since there are so many differing opinions then it is safe to say that the universal truth does not really exist. Also, how can I be sure that I possess this innate knowledge? To Plato, I can only recollect this knowledge if asked about it so does that mean I must wait until someone asks the right question? How can I know I possess this knowledge if I cannot remember my previous life and if there is no proof of eternal life?
There really is no way of knowing until the time comes. On the other hand, if I had experienced the day with Aristotle, he would be certain that the appearances I am experiencing are reality. The beautiful day and the delicious fruit are personal to me and they are a part of my reality. To some extent, I do believe that the senses I experience are my reality, but the keyword is my. I do not think it can be a universal reality to everyone though. There are so many differing opinions in the world, so how is what I’m experiencing anything but subjective? The perfect day to me is being outside on a sunny day but a perfect day for others could be sitting inside while a thunderstorm rages on outside. The orange to me could taste sweet and tangy, but to others it could taste too sour and tart. The world that we experience through our senses is extremely personal to us so I find myself disagreeing with Aristotle, though his argument is something tangible that we can understand rather than immaterial and superstitious.
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