Saturday, October 3, 2015

4 Arguments against the Forms in Plato’s Parmenides and Aristotle’s critical remarks on the Forms

Forms as paradigms

After giving up on his abortive attempt to view the Forms as mere thoughts, Socrates made one more attempt to save the Forms: ‘Above all it appears to me like this (Malista emoige kataphainetai hȏde echein): these Forms (ta men eidê tauta) stand in the nature as paradigms (hȏsper paradeigmata hestanai en têi phusei), the other things (ta de alla) resemble them (toutois eoikenai) and are likenesses of them (kai einai homoiȏmata) and this participation (kai hê methexis hautê) of other things in the Forms (tois allois gignesthai tȏn eidȏn) is nothing other than their becoming a resemblance of them (ouk allê tis ê eikasthênai autois).’ In response, Parmenides asks: ‘Then, if something resembles the Form (Ei oun ti eoiken tȏi eidei), can that Form fail to be similar to that which has come to resemble it (hoion te ekeino to eidos mê homoion einai tȏi eikasthenti), in so far as that became similar to it (kath hoson autȏi aphȏmoiȏthê)? Or is there any way (ê esti tis mêchanê) by which the similar can be similar to not similar (to homoion mê homoiȏi homoion einai)?’ Socrates replies: ‘There isn’t (Ouk esti).’ Parmenides: ‘And that which is similar to similar (To de homoion tȏi homoiȏi), must it not of necessity (ou megalê anankê) participate in the same Form (henos tou autou eidous metechein)?’ Socrates: ‘Necessarily (Anankê).’ Parmenides: ‘That, by participating in which the similar things are similar (Hou d’ an ta homoia metechonta homoia êi), will not that be the Form itself (ouk ekeino estai auto to eidos)?’ Socrates: ‘By all means (Pantapasi men oun).’ Parmenides: ‘So it is not possible for anything (Ouk ara hoion te ti) to be similar to the Form (tȏi eidei homoion einai), nor the Form (oude to eidos) to anything (allȏi); for otherwise (ei de mê), side by side with the Form (para to eidos) another Form will always show itself forth (aei allo anaphanêsetai eidos), and if that were similar to anything (kai an ekeino tȏi homoion êi), another again (heteron au), and thus a new Form will never cease to come to being (kai oudepote pausetai aei kainon eidos gignomenon), if the Form (ean to eidos) becomes similar to that which participates in it (tȏi heautou metechonti homoion gignêtai).’ Socrates: ‘It is very true what you say (Alêthestata legeis).’ Parmenides: ‘So it is not by similarity that other things (ouk ara homoiotêti t’alla) participate in the Forms (tȏn eidȏn metalambanei), but one must look for something else (alla ti allo dei zêtein) by which they participate (hȏi metalambanei).’ Socrates: ‘It seems so (Eoike).’ Parmenides: ‘Do you see then (Horais oun) how great is the difficulty (hosê hê aporia) if someone distinguishes as Forms beings in themselves (ean tis hȏs eidê onta auta kath’ hauta diorizêtai)?’ Socrates: ‘I do indeed (Kai mala). (132c12-133a10)

Aristotle writes in Metaphysics A, 991a19-23: ‘But, further (alla mên), all other things cannot come from the Forms (oud ek tȏn eidȏn esti t’alla) in any of the usual senses of “from” (kat’ outhena tropon tȏn eiȏthotȏn legesthai). And to say that they are patterns (to de legein paradeigmata auta einai) and the other things share in them (kai metechein autȏn t’alla) is to use empty words (kenologein esti) and poetical metaphors (kai metaphoras legein poiêtikas). For what is it that works (ti gar esti to ergazomenon), looking to the Ideas (pros tas ideas apoblepon)?’ (Tr. W. D. Ross)

Ross remarks on Aristotle’s last sentence (l. 991a22): ‘Aristotle ignores the account ([of Plato in] Tim. 28C, 29A) of the Demiurgus as making the world with “the eternal” for his pattern. Even if he were entitled to regard this as “poetical metaphor”, there is still the Reason which is the aitia tês mixeȏs (Phil. 23 D) – though there indeed there is no distinct reference to the Ideas and no use of the notion of a “pattern”.’ (Aristotle, Metaphysics, vol. I, Oxford University Press 1924 (1997), Commentary by W. D. Ross, p. 198-9)

Had Aristotle regarded the creation of the world by the Demiurge in the Timaeus as a poetical metaphor, his misrepresentation of Plato would be very grave indeed. For Plato opens his account of the creation of the world with the words that cannot be dismissed as a poetical metaphor: ‘Now everything that is in the process of becoming (pan de au to gignomenon) must of necessity come into being by some cause (hup’ aitiou tinos ex anankês gignesthai), for without cause nothing can come into being (panti gar adunaton chȏris aitiou genesin schein) … Now the whole heaven (ho dê pas ouranos) – or cosmos (ê kosmos) … we must first enquire concerning it (skepteon d’ oun peri autou prȏton) what has to be enquired at the beginning about anything (hoper hupokeitai peri pantos en archêi dei skopein), whether it was always in existence (poteron ên aei), having no beginning of its becoming (geneseȏs archên echȏn oudemian), or did it come into being (ê gegonen), having begun from some primary cause (ap’ archês tinos arxamenos)? It came into being (gegonen), for it is visible (horatos gar) and tangible (haptos te) and it has a body (kai sȏma echȏn), and all such things (panta de ta toiauta) are perceptible by senses (aisthêta); and sensible things (ta d’ aisthêta), apprehended by opinion and sense perception (doxêi perilêpta met’ aisthêseȏs), have appeared to be in the process of becoming and subjected to being generated (gignomena kai gennêta ephanê). Now that which has come into being must of necessity, we affirm, have come to being by a cause (tȏi d’ au genomenȏi phamen hup’ aitiou tinos anankên einai genesthai).’ (Tim. 28a4-c3)

Plato introduces the cosmic paradigm as follows: ‘In the likeness of what living being did the composer composed the world (tini tȏn zȏiȏn auton es homoiotêta ho synistas sunestêken)? … of that of which all other living beings are parts both individually and as kinds (hou d’ an estin t’alla zȏia kath’ hen kai kata genê moria); let us state that the world is most similar to that (toutȏi pantȏn homoiotaton auton einai tithȏmen). For that contains in itself all intelligible beings (ta gar dê noêta zȏia panta ekeino en heautȏi perilabon echei), just as this world (kathaper hode ho kosmos) contains us and all other creatures that are composed so as to be visible (hêmas hosa te alla thremmata sunestêken horata). For the God, intending to make this world as similar as possible to the fairest and most perfect of intelligible beings (tȏi gar tȏn nooumenȏn kallistȏi kai kata panta teleȏi malista auton ho theos homoiȏsai boulêtheis), composed one visible living being comprehending within itself all other living beings that are kindred by nature (panth’ hosa autou kata phusin sungenê zȏia entos echon autou sunestêse). (30c3-31a1)

Plato then conceives the paradigm so as to preclude the infinite regress, Aristotle’s ‘third man’ argument: ‘Was it right when we said that there is one world (poteron oun orthȏs hena ouranon proseirêkamen), or would it be more correct to say that they are many and infinite (ê pollous kai apeirous legein ên orthoteron)? One (hena), if it is constructed according to the paradigm (eiper kata to paradeigma dedêmiourgêmenos estai). For that which encompasses all intelligible living beings (to gar periechon panta hoposa noêta zȏia [i. e. the Forms, cf. Soph. 248e-249a]) can never be a second one side by side another (meth’ heterou deuteron ouk an pot’ eiê); for there would have to be again another living being respecting both of them (palin gar an heteron einai to peri ekeinȏ deoi zȏion), of which they would be a part (hou meros an eitên ekeinȏ), and this world would be more truly said to resemble not them, but that which encompassed them (kai ouk an eti ekeinoin all’ ekeinȏi tȏi periechonti tod’ an aphomoiȏmenon legoito orthoteron). In order then that this world might be like the perfect living being in respect of solitariness (hina oun tode kata tên monȏsin homoion êi tȏi pantelei zȏiȏi), for this reason the creator did not make two or an infinite number of worlds (dia tauta oute duo out’ apeirous epoiêsen ho poiȏn kosmous); but being one, begotten one, this heaven came into being and will be (all’ heis hode monogenês ouranos gegonȏs estin kai et estai).’ (31a2-b3)

In the post of Oct. 16, 2014 ‘A note on the 3rd book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics’ I argued that Plato wrote the Parmenides prior to his 3rd travel to Sicily and that Aristotle wrote the 1st book of the Metaphysics after Plato left Athens and before he returned from Sicily. That dating exonerates Aristotle from an incomprehensible misrepresentation of Plato, in which the traditional dating of these two works has implicated him.

In Metaphysics A Aristotle writes: ‘In the Phaedo (en de tȏi Phaidȏni) the case is stated in this way (houtȏ legetai) – that the Forms are causes both of being and of becoming (hȏs kai tou einai kai tou gignesthai aitia ta eidê estin); yet when the Forms exist (kaitoi tȏn eidȏn ontȏn), still the things that share in them do not come into being (homȏs ou gignetai ta metechonta), unless there is something to originate movement (an mê êi to kinêson).’ (991b3-5, tr. W. D. Ross)

Indeed, in the Phaedo Socrates maintains that to answer  the difficulty raised by Cebes ‘on the whole it is necessary to work out the cause of generation and corruption’ (holȏs gar dei peri geneseȏs kai phthoras tên aitian diapragmateuesthai, 95e9-96a1)’, but the only cause that Socrates comes up with are the Forms: ‘I’m going to set about showing to you (erchomai dê epicheirȏn soi epideixasthai) the kind of cause (tês aitias to eidos) I’ve been dealing with (ho pepragmateumai); and I’ll go back to those much discussed entities (kai eimi palin ep’ ekeina ta poluthrulêta), and start from them (kai archomai ap’ ekeinȏn), positing (hupothemenos) that a beautiful, itself by itself, is something (einai ti kalon auto kath’ hauto), and so are a good and a large and all the rest (kai agathon kai mega kai t’alla panta).’ (100b3-7)

Earlier on in Met. A Aristotle maintains that ‘those who posit the Forms (hoi ta eidê tithentes, 988a35-b1) say that these are causes rather of immobility and of being at rest (akinêsias gar aitia mallon kai tou en erêmiai einai phasi, 988b3-4). In the Phaedo, prior to Cebes’ last objection that compelled Socrates ‘to work out the cause of generation and corruption’, Socrates derived the immortality of the soul from its similarity and its being akin to the Forms the being of which never changes and is eternally in the same state (aei kata t’auta echon, 79a9).

When Aristotle wrote the 1st book of the Metaphysics, he had in front of his eyes the Phaedo, not the Timaeus.

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