Tutorial on Plato and Aristotle on the Form of the Good

Source Texts.•Plato, Republic, VI, 506d3-509c1.•Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, I.6, 1096a25-34; 1096b33-1097a13.Introduction.What is most at issue in this tutorial is whether or not knowledge of Plato’s Forms—specifically Plato’s Form of the Good—is “practical.”  In other words, it ismostly about whether or not knowledge of the Form of the Good is necessary in order for you to live a happy life.  Aristotle thinks that having such knowledge is notnecessary.  This is an important criticism, and it is one that continues to reverberate among modern academics and students.  (After all, one mightwell wonder, even if Forms did exist, how would my knowledge of them in any way help me live a good life; help society solve its most pressing problems of rampant injustice; help prevent future problems for humanity at large?  How can knowledge of Formseliminate racism and other forms of discrimination,unite divided people, eliminate poverty, starvation, and conflict?)Aristotleis the first to raise this sort of objectionagainst Plato, though he does not always issue the challenge as one specific to socialillslike I have above.In fact, Aristotle does not even believe in Forms!  But even if they didexist, Aristotle thinks, knowledge of them is notnecessary in order to live a good life—not even knowledge of the Form of the Good!  The two very brief passages listed above include both Aristotle’s reasons for his skepticism, as well as information as to how Plato might have replied to Aristotle’s criticism. Of course, Aristotle’s views are formulated afterPlato’s death, so Plato never had to face his objection.  Still, there may well be enough in Plato’s work to enable us to craft a response on his behalf.As you know, even Socrates—the historical figure that precedes Plato—maintainsthat knowledge of the Good is necessary for living a good life. But when Socrates says this, he is only talking about those things and actions that are in fact beneficial for us, regardless of how or whythose things got to be beneficial for us. But Platobegins to explain the how and the why of such things with his theory of the Forms that we have been discussing for several weeks. For Plato, part of what is known when one has knowledge of the Good, is the Formof the Good. Saying that the Good is a thing—an entity
PL210: Ancient Greek PhilosophyTutorial No. 3: Pand A on the Form of the Good, SP212(albeit a non-physical one)—is a position explicitly taken by Plato, and not necessarily by Socrates.The first questions (QR) are about Plato’s remarks comparing the Form of the Good to the sun. Here, you will find out from him how he thinks about the Form’s role in explaining the world we have, as well as what having knowledge of the Form has to do with living a happy life.The next questions (QN) are about Aristotle’s main objections to Plato’s views, specifically where those concern Plato’s Form of the Good.  First, there are arguments against the existenceof Plato’s Form of the Good; and then there is an argument against Plato’s view that knowing about itis required for living a good (happy) life.Questions.(Answer all questions.)QR.(i) The underlying strategy of the passage from Plato’s Republic,VI, is to explain the Form of the Good by means of analogy. For this question, you will need to addressthe following matter: On the basis of what Plato says in the Republic passage (506d3-509c1), pluseverything else you know about Plato from our class discussions and other readings, why is it critical that we have knowledge of the Form of the Good in order to live a happy life? In answering and explaining your answer, you will need to be sure to explain how Plato’s Sun Analogy is supposed to work in getting us to understand what the Form of the Good is, as well as be sure to explain the philosophical significance of the jaw-dropping 508d9-e1 (“So that what gives truth to the things known and the power to know to the knower is the form of the good,” repeated, in a way, at 509b7-8: “Therefore, you should also say that not only do the objects of knowledgeowe their being known to the good, but their being is also due to it”).QN.(i)In the Nicomachean Ethics(EN), I.6.1096a25-29, ff., Aristotle presents an argument against the existence of Plato’s Form of the Good. What is Aristotle’s point when he says that ‘good’ is spoken of in as many ways as ‘being’? How will that point help establish that the Form of the Good does not exist?(ii) At 1096b33-1097a13, Aristotle embarks upon another argument about the Form of the Good, though, as you will see, it is not necessarily an argument that is against the Form’s existence. Also: He imagines along the way an objection to his argument and then replies to the objection. Present each of (a) his argument, (b) the objection, and (c) his reply. What do you think of Aristotle’s overall position?QD.Has Aristotle successfully addressed Plato’s position about the Form of the Good from the Republicpassagediscussed in QR, or not? Explain.

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