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Aristotle vs Plato | Munk Debates

SEASON TWO - EPISODE #18

Aristotle vs Plato

Be it resolved, Plato, not Aristotle, was Ancient Greece’s greatest philosopher.

Guests
Clifford Orwin
Edith Hall

About this episode

Much of the wisdom that our society today has inherited from ancient Greece draws on the writings and ideas of its two greatest philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. Though contemporaries - Aristotle was Plato’s student - these two giants of Western Thought had radically different views of nature and the human condition, what constituted a good society and the purposes to which we should direct our individual lives. Two millennia later can we now discern which thinker has had the greatest impact on our civilization? And, considering the daunting future humankind faces - from climate change to the rise of thinking machines to genetic manipulation of our bodies - which of these philosophers’ ideas best speak to our present-day reality?

Supporters of Plato say that he, more than any other thinker, articulated the fundamental questions that have guided ethics and politics ever since. He influenced Christianity with his belief in a separate metaphysical reality, and the Enlightenment with his view that the role of a philosopher is to oppose superstition and articulate unpopular truths.

Aristotelians argue that secular, science-based societies of the Western world owe an immense debt to Aristotle’s exploration and exaltation of reason, logic, and an empirical approach to understanding the world around us. Equally important, he was one of the first philosophers to engage in a systematic inquiry into the nature of human happiness. His prescriptions for how to lead a good life have profound connections to our search for personal and collective meaning in the modern world.

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Guests

Clifford Orwin

"Much more than Aristotle, Plato thinks outside the box and encourages us to do the same. Plato is the greatest problematizer in the history of philosophy. He doesn’t provide dogmatic solutions. Nothing is handed to us on a platter, but neither is anything crammed down our throats. He draws us into the conversation, encouraging us to continue it to the best of our abilities."

Clifford Orwin

"Much more than Aristotle, Plato thinks outside the box and encourages us to do the same. Plato is the greatest problematizer in the history of philosophy. He doesn’t provide dogmatic solutions. Nothing is handed to us on a platter, but neither is anything crammed down our throats. He draws us into the conversation, encouraging us to continue it to the best of our abilities."

Clifford Orwin is a Professor of Political Philosophy, Classical Studies and Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, where he has taught for more than twenty-five years and where he currently serves as Chair of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy's program in Political Philosophy and International Affairs.

He earned B.A. in Modern History from Cornell University, where he studied political philosophy with Allan Bloom, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Philosophy from Harvard University under Harvey Mansfield. He has held a Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEH Fellowship. He has been a Fellow at the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, and in 2003 he received the school's Outstanding Teaching Award.

Edith Hall

"Aristotle's entire project was about equipping people to live reality by using the building blocks of philosophical argumentation and of listening to their instincts and their emotions and remodeling themselves to become the best possible version of themselves. It's an engaged human centered ethics rather than one for an elite coterie of people who have got time to sit around navel gazing."

Edith Hall

"Aristotle's entire project was about equipping people to live reality by using the building blocks of philosophical argumentation and of listening to their instincts and their emotions and remodeling themselves to become the best possible version of themselves. It's an engaged human centered ethics rather than one for an elite coterie of people who have got time to sit around navel gazing."

Edith Hall is a British scholar of classics, specialising in ancient Greek literature and cultural history, and Professor in the Department of Classics and Centre for Hellenic Studies at King's College, London.

From 2006 until 2011 she held a Chair at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she founded and directed the Centre for the Reception of Greece and Rome until November 2011. She resigned over a dispute regarding funding for classics after leading a public campaign, which was successful, to prevent cuts to or the closure of the Royal Holloway Classics department.

She also co-founded and is Consultant Director of the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama at Oxford University, Chair of the Gilbert Murray Trust, and Judge on the Stephen Spender Prize for poetry translation. Her prizewinning doctoral thesis was awarded at Oxford. In 2012 she was awarded a Humboldt Research Prize to study ancient Greek theatre in the Black Sea, and in 2014 she was elected to the Academy of Europe.

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