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Socrates, Plato, Aristotle
Key ideas
Socrates (470 – 399 BCE)
• concerned with ETHICS
• The truth about how to live a good
moral life: what is goodness, justice,
• An action is right if it promotes our true
• True pleasure is attained through ethical
• Universal definition of justice
• Observe laws & limits to lead a good life
• Dialogues – role of ignorant questioner
to show experts their own ignorance
• Care for the soul: gaining wisdom is key
to a virtuous life & saving the soul
• Knowing what is good = doing what is
The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David
The Death of Socrates by
Jacques-Louis David
In this painting, Socrates (470–399 B.C.), un-coerced and
unshackled, freely prepares to die by drinking poisonous hemlock.
• The philosopher is condemned to die by the Athenian
democracy for promoting skepticism and impiety; the
Athenians were nervous about offending the gods (after
losing to Sparta in the Peloponnesian War). Rather than
flee the city, Socrates accepts his unjust punishment and
sacrifices himself on abstract principle.
Nevertheless, Socrates shows nobility and selfcontrol in the face of death. (Thoughts, Books
and Philosophy; J H Bowden)
• Socrates calmly sits upright with his finger
extended in the air, exuding authority,
responsibility, and intellect
• Surrounding him are his students, most of them
acting emotionally. The only students in control
of themselves are Plato, seated resigned and
unhappy at the end of the bed, and Crito, who
has his hand on Socrates’ leg attempting to
persuade him rationally not to die until the very
Plato (428 – 347 BCE)
Knowledge through reason, the intellect – not the senses.
Knowledge of reality & how we perceive it: what is whiteness,
roundness, treeness? (Metaphysics – meaning and reality)
Theory of Forms / Ideas:
world of the senses / change / illusion / appearance / imperfect
vs the authentic world / ideas / unchangeable / spiritual / eternal
The Republic – Allegory of the Cave
What is spiritual truly exists; the soul – no changeability. Plato
distrusted the senses
Dualism - Body & soul in conflict; body imprisons soul
Ethics – seek truth, goodness, beauty: focus on ‘upward’ journey
to the spiritual realm
Image courtesy
Name Plato (Πλάτων)
Birth c. 428–427 BC, Athens
Death c. 348–347 BC, Athens
School/tradition Platonism
Rhetoric, Art, Literature,
Main interests Epistemology, Justice, Virtue, Politics,
Education, Family, Militarism
Notable ideas Platonic realism
Socrates, Homer, Hesiod,
Aristophanes, Aesop, Protagoras,
Parmenides, Pythagoras, Heraclitus,
Aristotle, Neoplatonism, Cicero,
Plutarch, Stoicism, Anselm, Descartes,
Hobbes, Leibniz, Mill, Schopenhauer,
Nietzsche, Heidegger, Arendt,
Gadamer and countless other western
philosophers and theologians
Plato asks the young girl in Sophie’s World (by Jostein Gaarder) to think about the
following 4 questions, thereby engaging in philosophy
•Think over how a baker can bake 50 absolutely identical biscuits
• Ask yourself why all horses are the same
• Decide whether you think that [the human person] has an immortal soul
• Say whether men and women are equally sensible
Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE)
Interested in scientific proof & principle of cause & effect
Whiteness, treeness, justice etc exist – called these ‘forms’
Form and matter: recognises the essence of something &
its physical manifestation: what makes me unique + the
physical characteristics I exhibit. Both need each other.
Form = what makes something what it is: whiteness,
treeness, it is unchanging; matter = individual, particular,
concrete, it changes.
Knowledge begins with the senses. 2 ways of knowing:
through the senses first + then through the intellect.
We must use our senses as well as our intellect.
Seasons: senses tell us there is change. Intellect tells us
why. Within change there is stability and a foundation for
scientific thought / principles
Image courtesy of