One of the most controversial debates in philosophy has been over the nature of being. In the Pre-Socratic era the dispute focused on whether change was constant while our human perceptions made static separations so that we could make sense of our environment, or if being exists omnipresently and that our perceptions of diversity in matter are false. Plato tries to solve this dilemma with his theory of an objective reality in a realm different from that which we experience. Aristotle agrees with Socrates except that he believes an object?s true essence cannot exist separated from the object itself. I presume that we can exist with our own identity and inhere to a greater whole simultaneously, however my rationalism does not extend beyond people. Nonetheless, these philosophers all had valid conclusions and their theories compliment each other.
"War is king"1 said Heraclitus. He believes that reality is not composed of a number of things, but is a process of continual creation and destruction. An accurate metaphor for his rationale is a river. It?s location remains basically the same. One can walk away from it, and return with the confidence that it will still be there. However, the exact water that flows through it is never the same. One can?t tell the difference between the water in the river now and the water in the river earlier and yet this transience of matter does not detract from the identity of the river. Heraclitus would say that all of what we experience is like the river, forever changing in a process of erosion and creation.
Heraclitus? successor, Parmenides, believes that Being must exist virtually in the mind. Because nothing cannot be thought without thinking of it as something, there cannot be "nothing"2, all that can exist is Being. If there is only Being it must be indestructible, uncreated, and eternal. If one agrees that Being is , then there can?t be any place where being is not. According Parmenides? purely logical view, all perception of vacuous space is an illusion.
Plato tried to solve this dilemma of ontology with his theory of the forms. "You have before your mind these two orders of things, the visible and the intelligible,"3 he says, which can be compared to opinion and knowledge respectively. In The Republic he uses a line analogy to explain the connection between what we perceive and what really exists. Dividing a line in four unequal parts gives us the four stages of understanding with a state of being on one side of the line corresponding to a state of understanding on the other side of the line. The lowest state of understanding is that of "conjecture" with its object as "images" such as reflections, shadows, or any second hand experience. The next stage is that of "belief" which has as its object as a specific thing, i.e. a rock. Because this type of understanding is grounded in the uncertainties of sense perception, "belief" inheres to the visible realm or opinion.
To progress from opinion to knowledge, a specific thing must be grasped as theory. This third stage is called "understanding" by Plato, with its object as "concepts". Plato believes that theories are themselves images of "forms", which Plato considers to be the purest principles of reality. In this last stage of understanding the "forms" correspond with "pure reason" which comes almost as a divine insight because it has nothing to do with what we experience. Plato?s visible realm is similar to Heraclitus? view of reality while the intelligible realm is similar to Parmenides? view of reality. By posing that all objects are poor reflections of their "forms" and thus never perfect, Plato thought he had resolved the debate of transience and stability.
Plato?s student, Aristotle, had one major disagreement with his teacher though. He believed that a distinction should be drawn between objects, or matter, and their forms, but that these qualities could only be separated rationally4. Aristotle defines form as the essence of an object, without which it could no longer be identified as that object. An object?s matter consists of the qualities that make it unique to that object. He considered matter "the principle of individuation"5. For example, the form of one drop of water is consistent with the form of any drop of water, which is arguably at least to be liquid. Two different drops of water, however, have different matter, which is why