Plato and Aristotle from Raphael's School of Athens
Plato and Aristotle in Raphael's "School of Athens"

Plato and Aristotle
All of Western thought, Alfred North Whitehead once contended, is merely "a footnote to Plato and Aristotle." Throughout his writings (mostly in History in English Words), Barfield comments on both of these Greek philosophers, sometimes considered individually:

On Plato:

  • As in the Mysteries, so at the heart of early Greek philosophy lay two fundamental assumptions. One was that an inner meaning lay behind external phenomena. Out of this Plato's lucid mind brought to the surface of Europe's consciousness the stupendous conception that all matter is but an imperfect copy of spiritual "types" or "ideas"--eternal principles which, so far from being abstractions, are the only real Beings, which were in their place before matter came into existence, and which will remain after it has passed away. The other assumption concerned the attainment by man of immortality. The two were complementary. Just as it was only the immortal part of man which could get into touch with the eternal secret behind the changing forms of Nature, so also it was only by striving to contemplate that eternal that man could develop the eternal part of himself and put on incorruption. There remained the question of how to rise from the contemplation of the transient to the contemplation of the eternal, and, for answer, Plato and Socrates evolved that other great conception--perhaps even more far-reaching in its historical effects--that love for a sensual and temporal object is capable of gradual metamorphosis into love for the invisible and eternal. (HEW 103)
  • Today idea does not mean to us quite what it did to Plato; but tracing the whole history of the word, we can see how it was Plato who, by his creative use of these four letters, began to make it possible for us to get outside of our thoughts and look at them, to separate our "ideas" about things from the things themselves. (HEW 102)
  • It is not only in the New Testament and the Prayer Book, in the Divine Comedy, Shakespeare's Sonnets, and all great Romantic poetry that the results of [Plato's] thinking [concerning the nature of love] are to be seen. Through the Church and the poets to the dramatist and the novelist, and through them to the common people--there is no soulful drawing-room ballad, no cinema-plot, no day-dream novelette or genteel text on the wall of a cottage parlor through which, every time the hackneyed world is brought into play, the authentic spirit of Plato does not peep for a moment forlornly out upon us. (HEW 104-105)
On Aristotle:
  • To Aristotle's imagination, the two worlds, outer and inner, met and came into contact in quite a new way. The mind was, as it were, put at the absolute disposal of matter; it ceased to brood on what arose from within, and turned its attention outward. The result of this was, of course, an enormous increase in the amount of knowledge concerning the material processes of the outer world. But that was not the first result. For, curiously enough, the first result was a pronounced hardening and sharpening of the mind's own outlines. Struggling to fit herself, as into a glove, to the processes of cause and effect observed in physical phenomena, the mind became suddenly conscious of its own shape. She was astonished and delighted. She had discovered logic. (HEW 105)
At other times considered together:
  • While Plato had concentrated his intellectual effort on mapping out what we should now call the "inner" world of human consciousness; starting from the point of view of ancient tradition and myth, and working outward; relating his thoughts to one another in accordance, as it were, with their own inherent qualities; and deducing the sense-world from the spiritual world; Aristotle turned to the acquisition of knowledge about the outer world of matter and energy--that is to say, that part of the world which can be apprehended by the five senses and the brain. The two philosophers were alike in their emphasis on the importance of cultivating immortality--or rather of "immortaling" (for they used a special verb which we have lost), but otherwise there were few resemblances indeed. To Plato, the soul of the universe had seemed inseparable from his own soul, and natural phenomena such as the revolutions of the planets had interested him rather as tangible, outward pictures of the life within the soul. To Aristotle the world outside himself was interesting more for its own sake. Plato had looked up to "Ideas"--real Beings with an existence of their own, which stood behind physical phenomena rather than within them. Aristotle deliberately attacked this doctrine maintaining that the Ideas were immanent; they could not have existed before visible Nature, nor could they have any being apart from it; and they could only be arrived at, he said, by investigating Nature itself. When Aristotle laid down his pen after the Metaphysics, the word idea had taken a long step toward its present meaning. (HEW 105)
  • In Raphael's fresco of the School of Athens in the Vatican, the two figures of Plato and Aristotle stand side by side, the one with raised hand pointing upwards to the heavens, the other pointing earthward down a flight of steps. If, in imagination, we take our stand between the two, we can, indeed look forward, through the thinking which found expression in Aristotle, to the collective representations of the Western world which were to take their course, though the so-called dark and middle ages, down to the scientific revolution and beyond. While though the other, through the star-and-space-involved thinking of Plato, we may peer backward into the collective representations of the East and of the past. (SA 104)
See in particular "Thinking and Thought" (RCA 47-66), "Philosophy and Religion" (HEW 96-117).