Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Aristotle on Plato in Metaphysics A and Λ, and the strange case of the Phaedrus

In Metaphysics A Aristotle proposes four original causes of things: 1) the substance or the essence (tên ousian kai to ti ên einai), i.e. the formal cause, 2) the matter or substratum (tên hulên kai to hupokeimenon), i.e. the material cause, 3) the source of the movement (hothen hê archê tês kinêseȏs), i.e. the efficient or moving cause, 4) the purpose and the good (to hou heneka kai t’agathon), that is the final cause, which is opposed (antikeimenên) to the third cause, for it is the end (telos gar) of all generation and movement (geneseȏs kai kinêseȏs pasês) (983a24-32). Aristotle says that ‘it is clear (phaneron) that Plato has used only two causes (duoin aitiain monon kechrêtai), that of the essence (têi te tou ti esti) and the material cause (kai têi kata tên hulên), for the Forms (ta gar eidê) are the causes of the essence (tou ti estin aitia) of all other things (tois allois), and the One is the cause of the essence of the Forms (tois d’ eidesi to hen); and it is evident what the underlying matter is (kai tis hê hulê hê hupokeimenê), of which the Forms (kath’ hês ta eidê men) are predicated (legetai) in the case of sensible things (epi tȏn aisthêtȏn) and the One in the case of the Forms (to d’ hen en tois eidesi), viz. that this is a dyad (hoti hautê duas esti), the great and the small (to mega kai to mikron). Further (eti de), he has assigned the cause of good and of evil (tên tou eu kai tou kakȏs aitian) to the elements (tois stoicheiois), one to each of the two (hekaterois hekateran).’ (988a7-15, tr. Ross). [Ross notes on 988a14: ‘The origin of good is distinctly ascribed to limit in Plato Philebus 25 E – 26 B.’]

W. D. Ross notes: ‘Aristotle ignores various suggestions of an efficient cause in Plato – the self-moving soul of Phaedrus 245C, D, Laws 891-899, the demiurge of Sophist 265 B-D and of Timaeus 28C ff., the aitia tês mixeȏs (‘cause of the mixture’) of Philebus 23d, 26 E- 27 B, and various suggestions of a final cause – the ultimate good or hou charin (‘for the sake of what’) Philebus 20 D, 53 E, the object of the creator’s purpose in Timaeus 29 D ff., and in Laws 903 C. He doubtless thinks Plato’s treatment of these causes inadequate, but that does not justify him in speaking as if Plato had ignored them completely.’ (Ross’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, op. cit. pp. 176-7)

Since Ross believes that Plato wrote all books of the Metaphysics after the death of Plato, he cannot but accuse Aristotle of misrepresenting Plato. On the dating that I have proposed – Aristotle wrote Metaphysics A after Plato went to Sicily in 361 BC and before he returned to Athens in 360 BC – the matter appears to be very different. According to the currently accepted dating of Plato’s dialogues, those mentioned by Ross followed his Sicilian adventure, so that Plato’s attempts to do justice to the efficient and the final cause may be viewed as his response to Aristotle’s criticism.

Does this mean that I should recant my dating of the Phaedrus as Plato’s first dialogue? (For my dating of the Phaedrus see The Lost Plato on my website www.juliustomin.org, especially Ch. 2 ‘A critical review of doctrinal arguments for and against the late dating of the Phaedrus’, Ch. 3 ‘Stylometric arguments for and against the late dating of the Phaedrus’, and Ch. 4 ‘The dating of the Phaedrus: Ancient Sources’.) No, it does not, for on the testimony of Metaphysics Λ, the Phaedran view of the soul as the first principle of motion that was not created was not held by Plato Aristotle knew; it must have been discarded by Plato himself as a youthful aberration. In Metaphysics Λ Aristotle writes that ‘Plato can’t say (oude Platȏni hoion te legein) that “that which moves itself” (to auto heauto kinoun) is the primary cause (archên einai), which he sometimes views as such (hên oietai eniote), for the soul is later and coeval with heavens (husteron gar kai hama ouranȏi hê psuchê), according to his account (hȏs phêsin)’ (1071b37-1072a3). The expression to auto heauto kinoun is used by Plato in the Phaedrus, where it figures as the definition of the soul (245e7-246a1) and the first principle of motion (kinêseȏs archê to auto hauto kinoun, 245d7). Aristotle’s quoting it clearly indicates that he had the Phaedrus in front of his mind when he wrote the given passage. In the Laws 891-899, to which Ross refers, Plato uses the expression ‘motion that moves itself’ (kinêsin autên heautên kinousan, 894c4-5, 895b1, 896a1-2, which is equivalent to the Phaedran to auto heauto kinoun but is verbally different. The nearest Plato in the Laws approximates to the Phaedran expression is at 896a3: to heauto kinein ‘to move itself’.

There is a major difference between the Phaedrus and the Laws. In the Phaedrus Plato defines the soul, ‘that which moves itself’ as a first principle, which cannot come into being (archê de agenêton), for anything that comes to be must come to be from the first principle (ex archês gar anangkê pan to gignomenon gignesthai), whereas the first principle cannot come to be from anything whatsoever (autên de mêd’ ex henos, 245d1). In the Laws Plato emphatically insists that the soul, that is ‘motion that moves itself’, is a created cause, genomenên 895b4, 896b3, c1; he describes the creation of the soul in Timaeus 41d.

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