Philosophers of Ancient Greece: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle

Plato and Aristotle

Socrates, Aristotle and Plato’s philosophies all attempt to solve different existential questions.

Imagine wondering about the existence of a flute that had been carved out of a wooden branch. Socrates would ask a series of questions to determine what caused the flute to be made. Plato would figure out the instrument’s nature by examining the tree the branch came from. Aristotle would speak to the person who carved the flute. Each of the philosophers refined the ideas of their predecessor.


Socrates spent most of his time showing how questions should be asked so that concepts can be understood with the least amount of fallacy. He realized that existence is like the pursuit of knowledge because the ultimate truth comes from the starting point of the knowledge.

Socrates attempted to define the intangible natures of concepts like knowledge. He believed that no one can really know anything with absolute certainty. He invented the Socratic method. In the Socratic method questions are asked to detect fallacy in thinking in an effort to properly define existence.

Socrates’ definition of existence included the idea that action conforms to thought. He concluded that one must know one’s own starting points in order to continue to a higher plane of thought.


Plato used Socrates’ methods to observe the world around him and deduced that everything was made of metaphysical forms. He saw our reality as a shadow reflection of these true forms.

Plato’s attempts to define matter created his theory of forms. He believed that everything that we encounter is based in unchanging metaphysical forms. Only the forms are truly real, and knowledge itself is acquired by understanding the forms.

To Plato, existence is a result of the forms. A chair exists because of the “chair form”. Anger exists because of the “anger form.” He was obsessed with categorizing reality. He once said, “A line can divide existence. Above the line is knowledge, below it is opinion. To be is know. The more you know the better you are.”

Plato also had strong views on love. He felt that love is a form that binds together all other forms and makes everything beautiful. The only way to know the forms is to develop a higher type of love.


Aristotle’s theory of existence is a synthesis of Socrates and Plato’s views on the subject. Aristotle categorized Plato’s forms from the general to the specific, but he did not see the forms as the cause of existence.

Nothing can create itself, so the forms could not be the cause of form. Aristotle went back to the Socratic notion that everything has a genesis. Aristotle saw the origination of the existence of forms as perfect, thus all creation is striving to recreate that perfection of form. He felt that substance is the material form of it’s metaphysical cause, or essence, and that all substance should strive to the full potential of its essence.

There are some echos of both Plato and Socrates in Aristotle’s attempts to define the cause of matter. Aristotle believed that everything is made of both matter and form. Aristotle’s method was determining causation. He asked; What is it? What is it made of?, Who made it?, Why was it made? He used this to categorize what was the same and what was different about things. He concluded that forms affect matter in this order; General, Specific, Unique.

Aristotle refuted Plato’s Theory of Form with his ‘Third Man’ and other theories, but the forms were still an integral part of his philosophy. In Aristotle’s Third Man Theory he claims that an observer of a form would create another form composed of the observations of form. The observation of the observation of the original form would create another form, making an impossibility of never-ending observation chains. As an ending note, Aristotle’s ‘Third Man’ argument would not have been possible without the use of the Socratic method.