Plato and Aristotle: Crash Course History of Science #3

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“Quiz are you a platonist or an aristotelian. An idealist or an empiricist. Do you you think up neat rules to describe the nuniverse and then try to fit data your theory or do you observe the world and draw conclusions nfrom. What you see do you trust math or your senses.

Before you decide let s take a trip to nurban athens. Circa. 399 bce intro music last week. We met the presocratics despite having by any reasonable standard invented nscience in europe these thinkers are lumped together today as simply not socrates so who was this smarty pants.

Socrates. Didn t have a single clearly formulated nnatural philosophy. He didn t even study nature. He studied politics and morality and prided nhimself on not claiming to know things.

But socrates did two important things he nasked a lot of questions. Which influenced how philosophers went about teaching their nideas and he inspired the two rockstars of classical ngreek philosophy. Socrates. Held that knowledge comes from asking nquestions.

So many questions his name is attached to the socratic method in nwhich you constantly ask questions so that students can steadily break down a big problem ninto. Smaller parts parts they can test hypotheses against it s okay if they realize that a hypothesis nis wrong in fact. It s good it means they re moving away from falsehood the socratic method is an example of negative nhypothesis elimination or proving that something is wrong to narrow down the possibilities nof what might be right. But socrates s biggest legacy might be his nstudent plato and his student s student aristotle.

Both were inspired by socrates s methods nbut. They arrived at some very different conclusions about the world. We. Know a lot about socrates.

Thanks to his students. Chiefly plato. Founded. A physical school.

Called nthe academy. To train athenians in how to think like socrates. Plato wrote down dialogues between socrates nand. Other thinkers.

Including parmenides. He was the eleatic philosopher who believed that nnothing really changes and thus we can t trust our senses. This had a big impact on plato whose best known works include republic in nwhich socrates defines justice and argues for rule by philosopher king instead of democracy and timaeus in which socrates talks about the nature of the universe plato had a big impact on thinking about thinking today. We still use plato s name for a place nof philosophical.


Learning academy to describe the concept of higher education. Nin. General. At the original academy.

Plato emphasized ntraining in how to think properly over the door of the academy was inscribed nthe dictum. Let no one enter. Here. Who is ignorant of geometry.

Plato based his own philosophy on geometrical nlaws. He taught a pythagoras inspired idealism nor. A theory of nature based on perfect abstractions rules of which real world stuff could only ever nbe imperfect examples. So plato had to fit his observations to his ntheory that idealism is one of the reasons.

People nthink of plato as more of a philosopher than a scientist plato built on the work of the presocratic nschools. But he developed a more complete way of looking nat. The natural world than they did and his students took off in search of solutions neven as they changed. His underlying theory.

The only greek. Who wrote more philosophy than nplato. Was plato s own star student and rival aristotle compared to plato s idealistic abstractions aristotle s philosophy makes more common nsense. His ideas are based on empirical evidence nhe observed the world and then came up with a theory that explained it this order of operations is at the heart of nmodern scientific practices.

Aristotle was from macedonia in the north nof greece. But he studied at plato s academy in athens. Nfor twenty years until plato died afterward aristotle took a lucrative gig. Nking.

Philip ii of macedonia hired him as tutor to his son. Alexander and you know this particular alexander. He decided nto conquer the entire earth before age thirty. He ruthlessly conquered nmuch of asia.

Africa and europe. Ruling over more area than anybody. Until. Genghis khan.

Aristotle s influence. On alexander n. The great reminds us that science is always social from the very beginning. Scientists have served nbad heartless dudes aristotle.


A man who literally wrote the book nethics pushed his most famous pupil to invade persia kill barbarians and become na brutal. Warlord after alexander died young aristotle went nback to athens to start his own school. The lyceum the lyceum was pretty different from plato s nacademy because aristotle liked plants and liked to nwalk and talk his school wasn t in a building but a grove of trees outside the city and his school was called the peripatetic nmeaning walkie and thus informal not like the academy. It was during the lyceum years that aristotle nprobably wrote many of his most famous works including metaphysics on the heavens on nthe soul which is actually an amazing book of proto biology meets psychology and his nschool s highly influential set of textbooks on natural philosophy called physics.

How did aristotle answer. Our big questions about physics. Such as what was stuff. And where are we he posited a complete system joining the nelements and the heavens.

This became the basis for european thought nabout the physical world for two thousand years. Let s compare aristotle s system to his nmentor plato s in this week s thoughtbubble for plato. The cosmos was perfect. It had perfect rules that could be studied and all cosmic stuff was made up of atoms nthat were perfect geometric platonic solids .

Each creating one element. Tetrahedrons. Nof fire. Cubes of earth octahedrons of air icosahedrons of water and dodecahedrons as nthe shape of the whole universe like a giant celestial set of d d dice.

Plato s theory of the heavens stated that nthe wandering stars that is the planets followed a path of uniform circular motion. You see the wandering stars must move in perfect circles nsince the cosmos is orderly ah. But nthis one is moving backwards plato s students could see that mars for none seemed to jump backwards showing retrograde motion. Plato didn t really have an explanation.

European. Astronomers would spend the next ntwo thousand years meticulously trying to solve this problem. They d end up learning. A lot in the process.

How did aristotle build on plato s system naristotle s cosmology was abstract too but attempted to make sense of observations nabout. The world. He crossed those same four elements. Plus na new anti void.

One called ther with four physical sensations. Hot and cold. Dry and nwet and used these to explain everything earth was the heaviest element. So it was nthe center of the cosmos water was lighter than earth.

So the oceans nrested on top of the earth. So far. So good air s natural state. Is above water.


That also checks out fire sat on top of air. Which is a little nweird. But it does go up i guess and way out beyond these four terrestrial nspheres out past the moon spun. The stars acting.

According to their nature. As therial nor perfect circle moving objects and nowhere anywhere in this theory. Was na void nature abhors. A vacuum in aristotle s cosmos.

All of the elements nwere actively trying to get back to their natural states. Why did flames rise they were just trying to get back to the fiery ncelestial realm above the air thanks thought bubble from the presocratics to plato to aristotle nwe. ve ended up with a bunch of spheres inside of spheres each with a natural tendency. This confirmed the average bronze age farmer s nexperience and ours the earth seems to stand still water sits on earth air isn t very heavy aristotle recognized that elements didn t nalways exist in their pure forms.

A tree for example was a combination of nearth water and air roots go down into the earth and branches up into the air. His theory. Also worked for comparisons. Why does a book fall faster than a piece of npaper because it has more earth in it aristotle could even explain natural phenomenon.

Why does rain fall from the sky to the ground. Why do volcanoes shoot fire up. Obviously. This isn t how i think gravity nworks.

But it s a way of explaining. It that made sense to the ancient greeks. Where plato saw a world of ideal shapes. Aristotle nhad.

A theory that acknowledged that we re all kind of a hot mess things are naturally jumbled up. But always ntrying to get back to their essential place living. Things naristotle also loved looking at living things. And he looked closely.

He noticed for example that the octopus ncan change color. Which is awesome. And that male octopi have a special arm called na hectocotylus. Which is something you should google because it s weird and gross.

But also kind nof awesome and it wasn t confirmed by scientists until nthe 1800s aristotle thus trusted that knowledge proceeded nfrom the experience of the senses in works. Such as history of animals among nothers. He wrote down observations like these about all kinds of organisms. He also tried to classify the world in an norderly system giving rise to taxonomy when he attempted to answer the question what nis life the taxonomy he created relied on a system of souls plants have a vegetative soul responsible nfor.


Reproduction and growth animals have a vegetative and a sensitive nor animal soul responsible for mobility and sensation and humans. And only humans have a vegetative na sensitive and a rational soul capable of thought and reflection. This led aristotle to further theorize that nall things can be placed on a line from simplest slash least soulful to highest slash. Most soulful on one end.

He placed plants. Then worms nand. So on these low animals. Bore their offspring cold ndry and in thick eggs.

The higher animals made warm and wet babies. So of course at the other end of the line naristotle placed men meaning not humans. But dudes according nto him cold maternal blood produced inferior humans aka girls while hot paternal semen nproduced boys aristotle was maybe not someone we d nwant to elect as our philosopher king today. But aristotle s system of classification nagain.

Seemed to confirm his classical and medieval readers daily experiences his proto biological ideas stuck around in nvarious forms. Until darwin getting lumped under the heading of the great chain of being that nall creatures on earth stand somewhere on a ladder of perfection up toward god you may have already guessed that this concept nhas been particularly troublesome when it comes to scientific racism. But that s a story for later the creepier effects of some his ideas aside aristotle had an answer for everything for the most part these were based in observation nand conformed to common sense. His answers were able to explain how the world nworked.

Most of the time and not only did aristotle come up with a ncomplete theory of everything he wrote it down. He was a prolific author and a significant npercentage of his texts have survived thanks to our arabian scholars. Then again plato s transcendental ideas nabout the cosmos even if wrong in their particulars inspired centuries of scholars nto think about the universe as having underlying laws ones that hold regardless of what our nsenses can show us so are you a platonist or an aristotelian or taking a page from socrates is that a ntrick question next time. We ll follow alexander.

The maybe not so great nto india to witness the rise of the maurya dynasty set the earth spinning on its axis nand found a science of life crash course history of science. Is filmed nin. The dr. Cheryl c.

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And it s made with the help of all nthis. Nice people and our animation team is thought cafe crash course is a complexly production. If you wanna keep imagining the world complexly nwith us you can check out some of our other channels like scishow nature league and nthe financial diet and if you d like to keep crash course nfree for everybody forever you can support the series at patreon. A crowdfunding platform nthat allows you to support the content.

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