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Formal Formulations


Ancient Greece

Plato Portrait Aristotle Portrait

Mr. Form _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Mr. Substance

Between 367 B.C. and 347 B.C., Plato, as the teacher, and Aristotle, as the student, formalized and legitimized the Form and Substance of Reasoning by Analysis. In doing so, they essentially realized a shift of consciousness from a chaotic, mysterious universe to an ordered, predictable world of cause and effect. All of Western Civilization is a corollary to this event.

In 429 B.C., plague killed at least one-third the population of Athens. In turn, the good citizens of Athens lost their fear of their Gods and Goddesses, because

"they judged it to be just the same,
whether they worshipped them or not,
as they saw all alike perishing."

There is a brief chronology of other events which immediately preceded the discussions of Form and Substance. With the memory of the plague clearly in mind, the citizens began to seek a real understanding of how things worked. It was a matter of life and death!

Towards this end, Plato postulated a "World of Ideas", independent of any gods or goddesses. At the time, such independence implied an absolute quality that neither God nor Goddess could change, now or forever.

In later the later years, Aristotle argued on the genesis of Form, and discussed various Categories of Substance. His teachings were highly regarded and inspired much research and understanding after his death in 322 B.C.

Unfortunately, this focus on absolute permanence ultimately lead to 1500 years of paralysis under the dominion of the Vatican. However, even with a price tag of 1500 years, Plato's work must be appreciated as only the first cut at freeing humanity from the arbitrary whims of supernatural forces.


Before Form and Substance

As we now know, Aristotle was "wrong" about a lot of things, but, hey, that was almost 2500 years ago and syllogisms were the hi-tech of the day. To get a flavor for the consciousness of the Form and Substance of Objects, consider the following chronology of events in Ancient Greece, for the 100 years, or so, immediately before Plato and Aristotle held their discussions:

457 B.C.
A 28-year Golden Age begins in Athens as the statesman Pericles studies with the philosopher Anaxagoras, who explains that the universe is composed of infinitesimally small particles, or atoms, containing mixtures of all qualities, and the human mind acts upon masses of these particles to produce visible objects.
440 B.C.
The Greek philosopher Heracleitus at Ephesus in Asia Minor teaches that everything is mutable, "all is flux." Principles are constantly modified through an incontrovertible law of nature that governs the universe in which worlds are alternately being created and destroyed.
Heracleitus is the first to declare that dreams are not journeys into the supernatural but rather retreats into a personal world.
431 B.C.
The idea that the body has four "humors"óblood, bile, black bile, and phlegmóis propounded by the Greek physician Empedocles, whose concept will dominate medical thinking for centuries to come.
430 B.C.
Every natural event has a natural cause, says the Greek philosopher Leucippus.
429 B.C.
Plague kills at least one-third the population of Athens (and possibly two-thirds). The entire city indulges in drunkenness, gluttony, and licentiousness as the citizens lose their fear of the gods and respect for law. "As for the first," the historian Thucydides will write, "they judged it to be just the same whether they worshipped them or not, as they saw all alike perishing; and as for the latter, no one expected to live to be brought to trial for his offenses."
Spared by the plague is the physician Hippocrates the Great (as distinguished from one previous and five future Greek physicians named Hippocrates). He is the first to say that no disease is entirely miraculous or adventitious in origin and that disease is not sent as punishment by the gods.
Hippocrates the Great uses dissection and vivisection of animals to study anatomy and physiology, but he often applies the results of his experiments to human bodies without further evidence. Hippocrates adds to medical terminology such words as chronic, crisis, convalescence, exacerbate, paroxysm, relapse, and resolution.
428 - 388 B.C.
For forty years, a new generation is raised after the plague and Athens is rebuilt.
387 B.C.
Plato establishes The Academy in Athens.


Plato Portrait


427(?)Ė347 B.C.

In 407 B.C. Plato became a pupil and friend of Socrates. In 387 B.C., after living for a time at the Syracuse court, Plato founded the most influential school of the ancient world, The Academy, near Athens, where he taught until his death.

His most famous pupil there was Aristotle. Plato's extant work is in the Form of epistles and dialogues, divided according to the probable order of composition.

The early, or Socratic, dialogues, e.g., the Apology, Meno, and Gorgias, present Socrates in conversations that illustrate his major ideasóthe unity of virtue and knowledge and of virtue and happiness. They also contain Plato's moving account of the last days and death of Socrates.

Plato's goal in dialogues of the middle years, e.g., the Republic, Phaedo, Symposium, and Timaeus, was to show the rational relationship between the soul, the state, and the cosmos.

The later dialogues, e.g., the Laws and Parmenides, contain treatises on law, mathematics, technical philosophic problems, and natural science.

Plato regarded the rational soul as immortal, and he believed in a world soul and a Demiurge, the creator of the physical world.

He argued for the independent reality of Ideas, or Forms, as the immutable archetypes of all temporal phenomena and as the only guarantee of ethical standards and of objective scientific knowledge.

Virtue consists in the harmony of the human soul with the universe of Ideas, which assure order, intelligence, and pattern to a world in constant flux.

Supreme among them is the Idea of the Good as an Analogy to the sun in the physical world. Only the philosopher, who understands the harmony of all parts of the universe with the Idea of the Good, is capable of ruling the just state.

In Plato's various dialogues he touched upon virtually every problem that has occupied subsequent philosophers; his teachings have been among the most influential in the history of Western civilization, and his works are counted among the world's finest literature.


Aristotle Portrait


384-323 B.C.

Aristotle was born in 384 B.C. at Stagira, a Greek colonial village on the Aegean Sea near the Macedonian border. In 367, Aristotle entered the Academy at Athens. At the time, Plato was sixty-one years of age, and began a friendship that lasted for twenty years until Plato's death in 347.

After Plato's death, Aristotle left the Academy and later studied natural history and marine biology for two years on the island of Lesbos until 344. He then returned to the Macedonian court to tutor Alexander The Great from 342 to 339. When Alexander later made his expedition to the East, he appointed men to collect materials and specimens to further Aristotle's scientific research.

In 335 he opened a school, called The Lycaeum, in Athens. The great body of extant Aristotlean treatises probably represent the lectures which Aristotle delivered at The Lycaeum.

In 330 B.C., also addressing the Substance of matter, the atomic theory of the Greek philosopher Democritus says that all matter is composed of tiny atomic particles. Nothing happens through chance or intention, says Democritus; everything happens through cause and of necessity. All change is merely an aggregation or separation of parts, nothing which exists can be reduced to nothing, and nothing can come out of nothing. Democritus distinguished between vertebrate and invertebrate animals, both of which he dissected.

During the anti-Macedonian agitation after Alexander's death in 323, Aristotle fled to Chalcis, where he died a few months later in 322.

In his philosophical system, theory following empirical observation, and logic based on syllogisms, is the essential method of rational inquiry. He profoundly influenced Western thought and his extant writings, largely in the Form of lecture notes made by his students at The Lycaeum, include:

An archive of his complete works is available. Robin Smith of Texas A&M University Philosophy Department is a leading authority on his works.

Aristotle held philosophy to be the discerning, through the use of systematic logic as expressed in syllogisms, of the self-evident, changeless first principles that Form the basis of all knowledge.

He taught that knowledge of a thing requires an inquiry into causality and that the "final cause" ó the purpose or function of the thing ó is primary. The highest good for the individual is the complete exercise of the specifically human function of rationality.

Aristotle's work was lost following the decline of Rome but was reintroduced to the West through the work of Arab and Jewish scholars, becoming the basis of medieval Scholasticism.

Today, on the Web, you can visit the modern day Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.


After Form and Substance

Afterwards, this wave of discovery and rationality propagated throughout the known world and saw that:

323 B.C.
The Museum of Alexandria is founded by Ptolemy, who takes over Egypt. Like Alexander, he has studied under Aristotle, and he will staff the museum with some 100 professors paid by the state.
300 B.C.
Elements by the Greek mathematician Euclid is a 13-volume work that states the principles of geometry for the first time in formal style (see 1500 B.C.). Euclid has founded a school at Alexandria.
275 B.C.
The Museum of Alexandria employs knowledge gained by the Egyptians in the practice of embalming to expand knowledge of anatomy and physiology. The museum's leading medical professor is the Greek Hippocratist Herophilus of Chalcedon, who scorns the traditional fear of dissecting human bodies and who conducts postmortem examinations that enable him to describe the alimentary canal (he gives the duodenum its name), the liver, the spleen, the circulatory system, the eye, the brain tissues, and the genital organs. Herophilus is the first to make a distinction between sensory nerves and motor nerves, and he founds the first school of anatomy.
265 B.C.
The Archimedian screw for raising water is devised by the Greek mathematician Archimedes, 22, who is studying at Alexandria. A native of Syracuse, he says he could move the earth if he had a lever long enough and a fulcrum strong enough ("Give me where to stand and I will move the earth").


syllogism (sÓlĻe-jÓzīem)


  1. Logic. A Form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion; for example,
  2. Reasoning from the general to the specific; deduction.
  3. A subtle or specious piece of reasoning.

[Middle English silogisme, from Old French, from Latin syllogismus, from Greek sullogismos, from sullogizesthai, to infer : sun-, syn- + logizesthai, to count, reckon (from logos, reason).]

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Updated 95/11/04.