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Empiricism - Aristotle , the First Empiricist

Updated on August 11, 2010

Empiricism - Aristotle , The First Empiricist

It's difficult to say who is the first empiricist in history, but Aristotle is a good candidate(384-22 BCE). Aristotle and his teacher, Plato(384-22 BCE), was two of the greatest philosophers of antiquity. Plato was a rationalist, not an empiricist. He thought the visible world, the world which is reported by the senses, is not completely real and therefor not an object of knowledge at all.

First of all, this is because material things are in constant flux, they never stay the same. A river always looks the same, but there is always new water flowing through it. Second, material things are subject to different perspectives and perceptions. I may find seafood delicious, while someone else may find it repulsive. Finally, visible things are never perfect. Forms drawn in the sand are not perfect geometrical shapes. Plato argued that in these cases, the only genuine knowledge we have is not something visible , but something intelligible , something we know not by looking but by thinking . What we call ideas or forms are purely intelligible objects. They are nonperspectival, rational, fully real, and outside of space and time. Plato thus concluded that true knowledge is knowledge of forms, not of visible things.

Aristotle did not reject this theory of intelligible forms outright, but he insisted that they were not separately existing, timeless entities. Instead, he argued, they were an offshoot of material things, which can be known through sensory experience. He said that we gain knowledge by being affected by what he called the sensible form of things. For Aristotle this meant that our soul takes on formal aspects of these things itself. Some understood this as meaning that when you look at a green field, your soul literally turns green. Others thought that it means there is just some correspondence between your soul and the object, and that your soul doesn't actually come to resemble it. Unlike Plato, Aristotle believed that what the senses reported was(more or less) the ultimate test of reality and that the visible world is the real world.

To sum up - According to Plato, knowledge is not based on sense experience, but on rational apprehension of invisible forms. Aristotle rejected Plato's theory, insisting that knowledge is based on sensory experience.

Perception: Old woman or young girl?

Source: The Bedside Baccalaureate

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      robert page 5 years ago

      Hey do you suppose i could get some bibliographical info so i can cite this properly in my paper? Thank you

    • Your Knowledge profile image

      Your Knowledge 7 years ago

      Thanks Nick. Im more with Plato's thinking, but i think they were both extraordinary thinkers. Ill look into the idealism ;)

    • nick247 profile image

      nick247 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Nice, simple explanation. I wrote my dissertation on Aristotle, he still amazes me with how forward-thinking he was at the time. Following on from this, perhaps a hub on idealism might be in order?