Aristotle vs Plato - Comparison & Difference

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      Aristotle was a disciple of Plato, but he disagreed with some of Plato's contentions. The Poetics is quite correctly considered to be a covert answer to Plato's charges against poetry. Plato had declared poetry to be the mother of lies: Aristotle set out to prove that it was not so. At the same time, while the originality of Aristotle cannot be denied, his debt to Plato has also to be acknowledged. Indeed Aristotle takes several hints from his master, elaborates them and modified them to create his own theories.

Similarities Between Plato and Aristotle

      Firstly, both Greek thinkers considered poetry to be an imitative art. Secondly, they agreed that poetry arouses emotions; thirdly, that poetry produces pleasure; and fourthly, that poetry has an effect on the human personality. They also looked at poetry from a utilitarian perspective.

Differences Between Plato and Aristotle

      One may wonder how there can be any differences between Plato and Aristotle when in so many basic things they agree. But in fact, they differed widely in their conclusions because they differed greatly in their approach and objectives. In all the views listed above, Plato made conclusions derogatory to poetry while Aristotle defended it.

1. Plato was an idealist who set out re-shape human life, while Aristotle was a realist trying to reorganize human knowledge. Plato believed the idea to be real and the phenomenal world to be a shadow of idea and therefore, unreal. But Aristotle believed in the world of senses as being real. He believed that the physical world should form the basis of any scientific study. He moves from the real to the ideal, from the particular to the general.

2. Plato and Aristotle were different by temperament on account of one being an idealist and the other a realist. Aristotle preferred observation and analysis, the tools of the scientist by which he could arrive at conclusions.

3. Coming after Plato, and possessing a scientific mind, Aristotle is more comprehensive and systematic than his master. He has a passion for "classification".

Aristotle's Answer to Plato on Poetry

      Though Plato used the word "imitation" for poetry, he did so in a derogatory sense. Aristotle, too considered poetry as imitation, but interpreted it as a "creative" process, Plato considered imitation as mere mimicry. Aristotle widens its scope and insists that it can never be mere mimicry but has to possess the basic essence of Truth. Thus a poet is greater than a philosopher or historian, for he creates Something new by imitating reality. And, within reality, there are also emotions.

      While Plato compared poetry with painting, Aristotle compares it to music. It is thus that Aristotle successfully refutes Plato's charge of poetry imitating mere externalities; for like music, poetry captures the soul, or essence of experience, internal as well as external.

      Plato considered poetry to be a copy of natures as it is; Aristotle gives it the scope of being Concerned with what ought to be" or what can be". Thus poetry idealizes the reality.

      Plato condemns the very fact that poetry arouses emotions. He considered these emotions to be bad for humanity and hence, to be curbed if not avoided. Aristotle, however, insists that these emotions should find expression - a saner view than Plato's.

      Plato regarded poetry to have a bad influence morally, intellectually and emotionally. But Aristotle proves that in all these respects, poetry is to be praised for its good and healthy influence. His theory of Catharisis tries to show that the effect of poetry can be healthy.


      Plato and Aristotle thus differed widely in their views. Though their basic premises were similar, they arrived at opposite conclusions because their methods and objectives were different. Aristotle proceeded from things to ideas, while Plato went from ideas to things. Aristotle was scientific; Plato was metaphysical. It is this basic difference that forms the background to their views on poetry.

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