Steel Cage Death Match: Plato vs Aristotle in The Arena of Truth

Plato (428-328 BC) and Platonic Idealism

"Truth" lays in an abstract "Ideal".  We can apply the fundamental principles of mathematical proofs (logic) to locate to the True form of these transcendent truths or Ideals

The natural world we perceive through our senses (see, hear, touch etc.) reveals only a fallen, shadow, incomplete versions of this Ideal Truth.

The true "Forms" of natural things or of concepts exist in the way that mathematical truths or forms exist.

Thus attempting to understand the Truth of things by examining the natural world is not only folly, but likely dangerously misleading.

Thus philosophical contemplation (thinking logically) -- rather than observation -- is the road toward Truth.

All the other arts, including poetry and argumentation, only confuse us more, tricking us into believing false visions of Truth (example: we mistake what we see on the television for reality; a cunning lawyer can trick a stupid jury into believing the guilty innocent).

In a nutshell: Plato's mystical Idealism will be adopted by subsequent generations of Christians to explain the nature of God.


Augustine (354-430 AD) and Neo-Platonism

Augustine reconciles Aristotle’s view with Medieval Christian theology.

Along with other Neo-Platonists, Augustine will translate and transmit Plato's concept of Truth and its relationship to the natural world into Christian terms: this world is a shadow, fallen version of God's eternal Truths, and the pursuit of knowledge has damned humanity (see Genesis 3).  (Similarly, other Jewish and Muslim scholars will transmit Platonic Idealism into Judaism and Islam, both before and after Augustine).

Aristotle (384-322 BC) and Analytic Empiricism

We can apply the fundamental principles of mathematical proofs to locate to the True form of nature in natural things:

Through the systematic observation and analysis (breaking down and classification) of the natural world, in combination with rigorous logic, we can make "True" statements about the natural world and understand:

1) The nature of essences (what something is)

2) The nature of causes (why things occur)

Unlike Plato, Aristotle also believes that the other arts are very useful for helping us understand things. 

In a nutshell:
Aristotle's in-depth treatment of the correct methodology for achieving these types of understanding created what we would now call "science" or the "scientific method".

Aquinas  (1225-1274) and Medieval Scholasticism
Aquinas reconciles Aristotle’s view with Medieval Christian theology.

His argument:
a) God created an ordered natural world. God also created man's ability to use reason.  Therefore:

b) Rational philosophy (Aristotelian analytical method) is a valid compliment to theology; God created man's intellect and will, thus, celebrating and developing human freedom, intellect and will would promote God's will. 

c) If God created an ordered, natural world, man could and should apply reason to understand the natural world, thereby better understanding and celebrating the will of God as manifest in his creation.

Raphael's 1510, Renaissance painting, The School of Athens, (Scuola di Atene) represents the relationship between the two philosophers' perspectives:  note Plato (center left) pointing to the heavens and Aristotle (center right) pointing in front of himself, into the natural world.