Ancient or Classical Philosophy
Bibliography: Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, “Plato” by Leo Strauss and “Aristotle” by Harry V. Jafla, History of Political Philosophy, 1963,1972; Gilbert Ryle, “Plato,” Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1967; Mortimer J. Adler, Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy, 1978; Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 1981; William Plato’s Sophist, 1984; Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness, 1986; Therapy of Desire, 1994; Hans-George Gadamer, The Idea of the Good in Platonic-Aristotelian Philosophy, 1986; Bernard Williams, Theaetetus, 1992; Seth Benardete, S. Cobb, Plato’s Erotic Dialogues, 1993; Stanley Rosen, Plato’s Statesman: The Web of Politics, 1995.; Mary Louise Gill, Parmenides, 1996. Note: The debates between these scholars as to the amount of departure between modern and post-modern philosophy have with the ancients is not one I am competent to judge. I will say, however, that I find the approach Nussbaum, Williams, and Charles Taylor more accurate to what I see in the texts. Further, my suspicion is that people like MacIntyre and Leo Strauss use the ancients to beat up the moderns, somewhat similar to wielding a club, because of their distaste for what is modern. As will become clear in my presentation, modern thought has far more continuity with ancient spirit, as well as depth in itself, than what even the fans of modernism recognize.
What was the secret of the ancients? I suggest that it was a tradition, the tradition of critical discussion. The story of the problem of change is the story of a critical debate, of a rational discussion. The unique phenomenon of critical debate and rational discussion has a close connection with the astonishing freedom and creativeness of Greek philosophy. How can we explain this phenomenon? What we have to explain is the rise of a tradition. It is a tradition that allows or encourages critical discussions between various schools and, more surprisingly still, within the same school. It is a tradition that admits a plurality of doctrines that try to approach the truth by means of critical discussion. It thus leads to the realization that our attempts to see and to find the truth are not final, but open to improvement. Our knowledge, our doctrine, is conjectural. It consists of guesses, of hypotheses, rather than of final and certain truths; and that criticism and critical discussion are our only means of getting nearer to the truth. The tradition created the rational or scientific attitude, and with it our Western civilization, the only civilization based upon science, though of course not upon science alone. In this rationalist tradition, we do not forbid bold changes of doctrine. Such rational discourse encourages innovation, regarding it as success and improvement, as long as the change arises out of the context of a critical discussion of its predecessors.
The chief means of moral education is the telling of stories. Key features of the poems of Homer, for example, involve kinship and household. In heroic society, people are what they do. Courage is important, not simply as a quality of individuals, but as the quality necessary to sustain a household and a community. They vow friendship and fidelity. One central theme of heroic societies is also that death waits for both alike. Life is fragile, people are vulnerable, and it is of the essence of the human situation that they are such. There are powers in the world no one can control. The man who does what he ought moves steadily towards his fate and his death. Defeat and not victory lie at the end. To understand this is itself a virtue. In heroic society, one can exhibit character of the relevant kind in a succession of incidents and the succession itself must exemplify certain patterns. The self in heroic society does not detach itself from any particular standpoint or point of view, to step backwards, view, and judge that standpoint or point of view from the outside. In heroic society, there is no outside except that of the stranger. Moral structure claims, that it embodies a conceptual scheme that has three central inter-related elements. It embodies a conception of what the social role that each individual inhabits requires. It requires a conception of excellences or virtues as those qualities that enable an individual to do what his or her role requires. It requires a conception of the human condition as fragile and vulnerable to destiny and to death.
The intervention of a god in Greek tragedy often signals the disclosure of incoherence in moral standards and vocabulary. We have received a set of virtues, such as friendship, courage, self-restraint, wisdom, and justice. We are dealing with a response to incoherence, a response in each case informed by a different purpose. The common Athenian assumption then is that the virtues have their place within the social context of the city-state. One is to note that humility, thrift and conscientiousness could appear in no Greek list of the virtues. Plato’s account and redefinition of the virtues has its derivation from a complex theory, a theory without which we will be unable to grasp what a virtue is. I emphasized earlier that Plato’s theory links the virtues to the political practice of an ideal rather than actual state. To adopt a stance on the virtues will be to adopt a stance on the narrative character of human life. If one understands a human life as a progress through harms and dangers, moral and physical, the virtues will find their place as those qualities the possession and exercise of which generally tend to success in this enterprise and the vices likewise as qualities that likewise tend to failure. Each human life will embody a story whose shape and form will depend upon what is counted as a harm and danger and upon how success and failure, progress and its opposite, are understood and evaluated.
Plato (430-347BC) developed a philosophy in which the worth and dignity of humanity finds expression. That is why he attracts even modern persons. He makes a heroic attempt to save the lives of human beings by making them immune to luck. As Socrates noted, nothing can harm the good person. Aristotle returned to many of the insights and values of tragedy, as he articulates a conception of practical rationality that will make human beings self-sufficient in an appropriately human way. The dialogue form of Plato makes it difficult for readers to see clearly what choice Plato wants us to make, thus making it difficult to speak confidently of what Plato actually taught. As good as Platonic thought can be, we cannot remain there or go back to it. Modern people have come to a point that makes higher demands upon us. Among the weaknesses of modernism is that it does not want to accept its own greatness, and thus some people even today regard it as enticing to view Plato and Aristotle as the highest points of philosophical reflection. The claims of the struggle of humanity for with and dignity help us to appreciate Plato, while at the same time move beyond him. Modern thinkers do not go back to Plato; they need to experience the needs of thoughtful persons of our own time. Plato upholds the value of philosophy in a total way that we as modern people cannot adopt. He has none of the modest of attitude toward the philosophic enterprise as it stands along with other spheres of knowledge or even toward God. If a modern philosopher took the same approach to philosophy, we would think of the philosopher as missing the mark. In Plato, we can appreciate it because it is distant from us.
In Plato’s time, there was no distinction between philosophical and literary discussion of human practical problems. He identifies epic, lyric, tragic, and comic poetry; the prose scientific or historical treatise, and oratory. One is that there was no such thing as a tradition of the philosophical prose treatise available to Plato as a model. It is also important to bear in mind that people regarded the poets as the most important ethical teachers. At the same time, one can misunderstand Plato if one takes the myths that Plato develops as the core of his thought. Rather, Plato uses myth to entice the reader into the core of his teaching. In Socrates’ view, philosophical books are to philosophizing as tennis manuals are to tennis. They cannot do it; and they are no substitute for the live activity, although they might be, in some circumstances, more or less useful records of some points. They say the same thing to every reader without any regard for the particular characteristics of each reader’s game or for the way that game will vary in response to a particular opponent. As Socrates saw it, philosophy is each person’s committed search for wisdom, where what matters is not just the acceptance of certain conclusions, but also the following out of a certain path to them; not just correct content, but content achieved as the result of real understanding and self-understanding. Books are not this search and do not impart this self-understanding. The Platonic dialogues contain more than a single voice. They present dialogues that did not actually take place. Plato uses the dialogue to explore philosophical questions in vivid and intellectually flexible ways that the philosophical treatise does not allow. The form of dialogue allows Plato not to speak in his own person. Although we can discern times when Plato is writing directly to the reader, that fact encourages us to re-consider the proposition that he always does so. Plato developed, questioned, and changed his theories. Dialogues might fairly claim that they awaken and enliven the soul, arousing it to rational activity rather than lulling it into drugged passivity. They owe this to their kinship with theater. Through its depiction of the dialectical process, the dialogue can show us moral development and change taking place. Plato learned from Socrates turning aside from didactic flatness. The character of Socrates is the real protagonist and the model for our activity as readers and interpreters. A tragic poem cannot be a good teacher of ethical wisdom. Why should a work whose aim is to teach practical wisdom avoid engaging the emotions and feelings? The first and most obvious point is that language that appeals to sense and emotion can distract reason in its pursuit of truth. What we find in middle-period dialogues, then, is theater; but theater purged and purified of theater’s characteristic appeal to powerful emotion, a pure crystalline theater of the intellect. Platonic inquiry uses particular cases as data towards a general account. In Plato’s anti-tragic theater, we see the origin of a distinctive philosophical style, a style that opposes itself to the merely literary and expresses the philosopher’s commitment to intellect as a source of truth. By writing philosophy as drama, Plato calls on every reader to engage actively in the search for truth. Plato lays before us various attitudes that also belong to philosophy, such as curiosity, puzzlement, and intellectual surprise. His characters may be excited, bored, confused, or impressed. They take up all sorts of analogies, metaphors, stories, and models, learning something from them and then throwing them away. They embody processes of inquiry. Thus, they do not merely present Plato’s systematic beliefs. The reader must keep in close touch with the tone of the dialogue, sustaining a sense of what is a joke, what is merely provisional, and what Plato tries out or tries on.
Reading Plato engages us in the philosophical enterprise, in that in our philosophical pursuits, we need to bring into dialogue in our minds the philosophers we read. We need to ask tough questions of those whom we read. In the modern era, the essay or book gives the impression that the reader is passive in learning what the writer has to say. Instead, reading Plato reminds that philosophy is dialogue, conversation, and dialectic. We encounter thoughts with which we find profound disagreement and profound delight. We listen to those emotional responses, exploring with the writer the direction these responses lead us.
At the heart of Plato's philosophy is his theory of Forms, or Ideas. Ultimately, we must understand his view of knowledge, his ethical theory, his psychology, his concept of the state, and his perspective on art in terms of this theory. The central problem with Plato is that things do not share essences, but they do share heaps of overlapping features.
Plato's theory of Forms and his theory of knowledge are so interrelated that we must discuss them together. Influenced by Socrates, Plato was convinced that knowledge is attainable. He was also convinced of two essential characteristics of knowledge. First, knowledge must be certain and infallible. Second, knowledge must have as its object that which is genuinely real as contrasted with that which is an appearance only. Because that which is fully real must be, for Plato, fixed, permanent, and unchanging, he identified the real with the ideal realm of being as opposed to the physical world of becoming. One consequence of this view was Plato's rejection of empiricism, the claim that we derive knowledge from sense experience. He thought that propositions derived from sense experience have, at most, a degree of probability. They are not certain. Furthermore, the objects of sense experience are changeable phenomena of the physical world. Hence, objects of sense experience are not proper objects of knowledge.
The Republic contains Plato's own theory of knowledge, particularly in his discussion of the image of the divided line and the myth of the cave. In the former, Plato distinguishes between two levels of awareness: opinion and knowledge. Claims or assertions about the physical or visible world, including both commonsense observations and the propositions of science, are opinions only. Some of these opinions are well founded; some are not; but none of them counts as genuine knowledge. The higher level of awareness is knowledge, because there reason, rather than sense experience, is involved. Reason, properly used, results in intellectual insights that are certain, and the objects of these rational insights are the abiding universals, the eternal Forms or substances that constitute the real world.
Mathematical entities are a good way to understand the theory of Forms. A circle, for instance, is a plane figure composed of a series of points, all of which are equidistant from a given point. No one has ever actually seen such a figure, however. What people have actually seen are drawn figures that are more or less close approximations of the ideal circle. In fact, when mathematicians define a circle, the points referred to are not spatial points at all; they are logical points. They do not occupy space. Nevertheless, although we could never see the Form of a circle, mathematicians and others do in fact know what a circle is. That they can define a circle is evidence that they know what it is. For Plato, therefore, the Form "circularity" exists, but not in the physical world of space and time. It exists as a changeless object in the world of Forms or Ideas, which we know only by reason. Forms have greater reality than objects in the physical world because of their perfection and stability and because they are models, resemblance to which gives ordinary physical objects whatever reality they have. Circularity, squareness, and triangularity are excellent examples, then, of what Plato meant by Forms. An object existing in the physical world may be called a circle or a square or a triangle only to the extent that it resembles ("participates in" is Plato's phrase) the Form "circularity" or "squareness" or "triangularity."
Plato extended his theory beyond the realm of mathematics. Indeed, he was most interested in its application in the field of social ethics. The theory was his way of explaining how the same universal term can refer to so many particular things or events. We can apply the word justice, for example, to hundreds of particular acts because these acts have something in common, namely, their resemblance to, or participation in, the Form "justice." An individual is human to the extent that he or she resembles or participates in the Form "humanness." If we define "humanness" in terms of being a rational animal, then an individual is human to the extent that he or she is rational. A particular act is courageous or cowardly to the extent that it participates in its Form. An object is beautiful to the extent that it participates in the Idea, or Form, of beauty. Everything in the world of space and time is what it is by virtue of its resemblance to, or participation in, its universal Form. The ability to define the universal term is evidence that one has grasped the Form to which that universal refers.
Plato conceived the Forms as arranged hierarchically; the supreme Form is the Form of the Good, which, like the sun in the myth of the cave, illuminates all the other Ideas. There is a sense in which the Form of the Good represents Plato's movement in the direction of an ultimate principle of explanation. Ultimately, Plato intended the theory of Forms to explain how one comes to know and how things have come to be as they are. In philosophical language, Plato's theory of Forms is both an epistemological (theory of knowledge) and an ontological (theory of being) thesis.
Plato associates the traditional Greek virtues with the class structure of the ideal state. Temperance is the unique virtue of the artisan class; courage is the virtue peculiar to the military class; and wisdom characterizes the rulers. Justice, the fourth virtue, characterizes society as a whole. The just state is one in which each class performs its own function well without infringing on the activities of the other classes.
Plato divides the human soul into three parts: the rational part, the will, and the appetites. The just person is the one in whom the rational element, supported by the will, controls the appetites. An obvious analogy exists here with the threefold class structure of the state, in which the enlightened philosopher-kings, supported by the soldiers, govern the rest of society.
Plato's ethical theory rests on the assumption that virtue is knowledge and one can learn it, which one has to understand in terms of his theory of Forms. The ultimate Form for Plato is the Form of the Good, and knowledge of this Form is the source of guidance in moral decision-making. Plato also argued that to know the good is to do the good. The corollary of this is that anyone who behaves immorally does so out of ignorance. This conclusion follows from Plato's conviction that the moral person is the truly happy person, and because individuals always desire their own happiness, they always desire to do what is moral.
The concept of mimesis (imitation) is important to Plato, Aristotle, and later development of literary theory. In Book of X of The Republic, Plato he uses the term to signify imitation or representation in the sense of copying the objects and circumstances of the world by means of literature and the visual arts. In literature, this implies the attempt to reproduce life as it is. It becomes an imperfect copy of an ideal object or actual state. Although art is mere illusion, it is a dangerous one, because we can mistake its products for reality. The appeal of poetry is to the lower, less rational, part of our nature. It strengthens the lower elements in the mind of at the expense of reason. Comedy makes us laugh, tragedy makes us weep, and poetry in general makes us give in to grief, pity, laughter, lust, anger, and so forth. However, we should control our emotions rather than indulge them. Plato takes up the charge that poetry is a bad moral influence. Dramatic poetry in particular has a bad moral effect on those who hear it, for they soon learn to admire it, and therefore to model themselves on the weaknesses and faults that it represents. Plato too readily discounts the strengthening and invigorating influence that it might exert by its representation of what is good. In the Protagroas, Plato suggests that the indiscriminate admiration for the poets is mere superstition, and that their judgments on conduct and morality are unreliable. This unreliability comes from the fact that poets compose their works due to some natural endowment and under the power of non-rational inspiration.
Plato proposes a stern and beautiful proposal for a self-sufficient human life. He is courageous in self-criticism of his own beliefs. His students had no doubt that he was defending views in works such as Republic and Phaedo. Yet, in the Phaedrus and Symposium, the victory of Socrates is an ambiguous and contested victory. Plato’s elaboration of radical ethical proposals has its source in an acute sense of the problems caused by ungoverned luck in human life. Plato deeply connects the need of human beings for philosophy with their exposure to luck; the elimination of this exposure is a primary task of the philosophical art as he conceives it. Plato can solve these problems by a new kind of expert, one whose knowledge will take practical deliberation beyond the confusion of ordinary practice, fulfilling an aspiration to scientific precision and control already contained within ordinary belief.
The merchant, physician, and other community leaders insist that they share the task of nurturing human beings. People possess logos, which opens up human nature to the physical and social world. Human needs together with reason produce techne, which in turn multiplies the needs and the power of reason.
The fundamental metaphysical and epistemological insight of Plato is that many important notions are of things having features in a way independent of one’s own perspective and of the circumstances surrounding the objects about which we make the judgment as they appear to introspection. Aristotle first observed, however, that Plato was wrong to think that one can construe the properties we ascribe to perceptible physical objects as independent of viewpoint, time, and circumstance. Many judgments of our introspection relate to time, relate to observers, and relate to circumstance. Further, the notions we employ and the properties they express depend for their identity on other notions and properties. His theory of forms tends toward a strict atomism. Later, he accepts some sort of essential interrelation among forms that has epistemological significance in that knowledge of one form depends on others, especially the Good.
My approach in the following material is to discuss in chronological arrangement what I consider the primary dialogues of Plato, remembering that scholars of Plato simply do not know the order in anything other than a general way.
The dialogues that contain the most accurate presentation of the historical Socrates would include Hippias Minor, Charmides, Laches, Protagoras, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Ion, Lysis, Euthydemus, Menexenus, Hippias Major, Republic Book One. The dialogues tend to be short. They tend to end with questions unanswered and without positive results, consistent with the claim of Socrates that he has no knowledge. The Socratic dialogues are amusing, bantering, extroverted, optimistic and mischievous in tone. The Socratic dialogues are almost exclusively ethical in content, concerned with individual ethics and individual education, care of the soul both for oneself of and for the young. Socrates shows little interest in immortality of the soul. The Apology seems almost agnostic about it. Virtue is an expertise like any other expertise. Socrates evidently thinks of this expertise as intellectual, and as involving the ability to give an account, to explain to others, and to teach them, it is not just a matter of knowing how. It does not involve any training of the emotions independent of the understanding to be reached by discussion. Socrates is unlikely to have granted that there could be any education that is not routed via the intellect. We may reasonably identify this teaching with bringing people to understand how it can be that case that p. These dialogues treat arithmetic and geometry as just ordinary expertises like any other, such as cobblery and boxing. Socrates apparently believed in the unity of virtue. A person will be brave if and only if temperate, wise, just, and pious, temperate if and ony if brave, wise, just, and pious, and so forth. We also find an intellectualist theory of desire. All desires are desires for whatever is best for me in the circumstances in which I am. Virtuous people differ from the vicious not in their motivations but in their intellect. In particular circumstances, the good person correctly chooses virtuous activity as a means to his or her real good, and the bad person mistakenly chooses pleasurable activity as a means to his or her real good. All desires to do something are rational desires, in that they always automatically adjust to the beliefs of the agent about what is the best means to their ultimate end. Rational desires adjust to the beliefs of the agent. Te only way to influence my conduct is to change my opinion as to what is best. The basis of this adjustability of desire to belief is that desire is toward whatever is best. If anyone errs, it is due to ignorance. Knowledge and understanding enable one to avoid the kind of wavering to which a person without knowledge is subject.
In Plato’s Protagoras, Socrates argues that human social life will make decisive progress only when we have developed a new techne, one that assimilates practical deliberation to counting, weighing, and measuring. The motivation of Socrates’ proposal is the inability of the Protagorean “art” to solve pressing problems with which both thinkers are concerned. The dialogue as a whole is a complex reflection about the relationship of sciences to problems, techne to tuche (luck). The dialogue is about the way in which science saves us and transforms us, helps us attain out ends and reshapes the ends themselves. Techne means craft, art and science; closely associated with wisdom and knowledge; a deliberate application of human intelligence to some part of the world, yielding some control over tuche. Techne concerns itself with the management of need and with prediction and control concerning future contingencies. The person who lives by techne does not come to each new experience without foresight of resource. He possesses some sort of systematic grasp, some way of ordering the subject matter, that will take him to the new situation well prepared, removed from blind dependence on what happens. Aristotle said techne has features to universality, teachability, precision, and concern with explanation.) Hippocrates views his relationship to Protagoras as analogous to that of patient to doctor. He and Socrates now agree that therapy of the soul is analogous to the doctor’s therapy of the body. Just as one goes to a doctor for physical healing, so the proper end of philosophy is the healing of the soul. Socrates warns Hippocrates of the need for the circumspection before he turns over his soul to an alleged expert for cure. Since the treatment will change the soul for better or worse, it is important to ask questions about the doctor’s knowledge and the healing it promises. We notice the vulnerability of these people to luck through their attachment to vulnerable objects and activities. The love affair with Alcibiades may go well or badly; this is not in Socrates’ control. Insofar as he attaches importance to a pursuit and an object that are not in his grasp or even readily manipulable, he puts his own life at the mercy of luck. He does not know or control his future. Further, the values pursued by these people are plural. They see no way of rendering them commensurable or of avoiding serious conflicts among them. Finally, we see the power of passion and need to derail practical planning. Socrates’ pursuit of Alcibades has often eclipsed all his other pursuits; the friend is more interested in love affairs than in anything else; the erotic and disorderly personality of Alcibades dominates the scene. Those are the diseases. The correct techne of practical choice would seem to be the one that could cure them. The contrast is between living at the mercy of tuche and living a life made safer or more controlled by techne. Techne seeks mastery of contingency. Universality and explanation yield control over the future in virtue of their orderly grasp of the past. Teaching enables past work to yield future progress; precision yields consistent accuracy, the minimization of failure. A person who says that practical reasoning should become a techne is likely, then, to be demanding a systematization and unification of practice that will yield accounts and some sort of orderly grasp. He will want principles that one can teach and explanations of how one produces desired results. He will want to eliminate some of the chanciness from human social life. Socrates claims to have enabled us to see our deep and pressing need for an ethical science of measurement. I want to suggest that one can understand both the adoption of the hedonistic promises and the vagueness surrounding this strategy in the light of Socrates’ goal of finding the right sort of practical techne, one that will do what the arts of Protagoras could not. We will be saved only by something that will assimilate deliberation to weighing and measuring; this requires a unit of measure, some external end about which we can all agree, and which can render all alternatives commensurable. Pleasure enters the argument as an attractive candidate for this role. Socrates adopts it because of the science it promises, rather than for its own intrinsic plausibility. He concludes that hedonism is deeply defective. It is only with the aid of the hedonistic assumption that Socrates is able to reach conclusions that he clearly claims as his own. Ethical science is continuous with ordinary belief in that it fulfills an ideal of rationality embodied in ordinary belief; thus, there is a natural transition from ordinary belief to scientific practice. An ethical science of measurement will save our lives. If we accept his diagnosis of our problems and their urgency, and agree that we want to save our lives, it may occur to us that Plato gives us, in Socrates’ argument, an advertisement for its premises. What Socrates gets us to see is the connection between the enabling role played by our belief in an incommensurable plurality of values in getting the problem going and the way we ordinarily see things. Socrates offers us a radical proposal for the transformation of our lives. This science of measurement will enter into and reshape the nature and attachments of the being who receives it. It is now not surprising that he tells us little about the intuitive acceptability of his proposed end. It may not be something that one can properly assess from our ordinary viewpoint. From our ordinary viewpoint, things do look plural and incommensurable. However, this viewpoint is sick. We want, and know we need, the viewpoint of science. Now we understand why love and fear drop out when the premises come in. If we really accept these premises, love and fear, as we know them, do drop out. Here is another benefit of the science: it restructures our attachments so that they are far less fragile, even taken singly. By the end of the dialogue, everyone rejects Protagoras’s “The human being is the measure of all things”, in favor of the Socratic, “All things are knowledge.” Protagoras agreed to let Socratic rationality judge the issue and Socratic rationality insists that the intuitions of the ordinary person are unreliable. Ordinary intuitions and attachments cannot carry the day. The dialogue asks us to become suspicious of our own Protagorean evaluation and to look, in ourselves or in another, for a way of seeing, intellectually pure and precise.
In the Meno, Plato puts forward a debater’s teaser about investigations of any sort. If someone does not know something, how can the inquiry succeed? The person will not recognize whether he or she has been looking for. Alternatively, if the person had known what he or she was looking for, why would he or she look for it? The conclusion of this sophistical argument, if accepted, would show that it is never any use trying to find out anything. Neither thinking nor any other kind of investigation could possibly achieve its aim. Socrates rejects this conclusion and argues for a positive doctrine about inquiry, thought and knowledge, the doctrine or reminiscence or recollection. The argument of Socrates proves only that what we gain knowledge about is already in some sense in us. The composition of the poet, the invention of a new joke, and so on, already has such compositions within us. They possessed the intelligence and the equipment to compose new poems, make new jokes, or invent new inventions. What the poet possessed was the talent or ability, plus the vocabulary and the prosody, to compose new poems. That the solution was in the person in any other way Socrates does not prove by his argument, which amounts to having one’s memory refreshed, without any answer to the resultant question. How did it ever get into us, even in some previous life? Yet, it cost Plato and Aristotle much intellectual effort to separate out the notion of ability, capacity, and skill from the notions of performance, application and exercise. Toward the end of the Meno, Socrates reminds Meno that in many daily affairs correct opinion serves us just as well as knowledge. This opposition of knowledge to opinion is of great importance. Plato gives much of Theaetetus to the discussion.
The Symposium is about passionate erotic love. Socratic knowledge of the good, attained through pure intellect operating apart from the senses, yields universal truths, and, in practical choice, universal rules. The lover’s understanding, attained through the supple interaction of sense, emotion, and intellect yields particular truths and particular judgments. Socratic knowledge itself is not simply propositional knowledge. Eros is intolerable. People need to get above it and away from it. Eros is not possessive or acquiring; it is creative and productive. The proper metaphor for Eros is that of giving birth in a beautiful manner. The life of giving birth in beauty or the path of Eros is that of a person who is pregnant in soul and gives birth to what is fitting for the soul, namely, good sense and virtue. Good sense suggests managing households and cities. The lover immediately engages in many conversations and seeks education and to educate. The ideal lover engages with the world, practicing the virtues of ordinary life, ordering cities and households and engaging in useful conversations. The object of the love is not out of this world.
Are we to assume that Plato in the last period of his writing rejected the erotic rhetoric of his teacher, and with it the doctrine of the Ideas as the objects of philosophical Eros, in favor of new and more powerful technical elaborations of discoveries introduced but not perfected by Socrates? Further, the stranger reduces the clarity and distinctness of mathematics to an absurdity and opens himself to the obscurities of mythical discourse. The stranger anticipates Nietzsche’s famous characterization of the human being as the not yet fully constructed animal, without forgetting that to be partially constructed is already to possess a nature. Underneath the pious rhetoric of the stranger is a clear perception of the tragedy of human n existence, which does not cease to be tragic simply because it becomes a comedy. Erotic playfulness becomes an irrelevant diversion to the serious business of technical expertise. The stranger appears to come increasingly close to Socratic doctrine until, at the close of the work, one can scarcely distinguish between the contents of their speeches. Could the Statesman be an elaborate Platonic joke? The joke is on those who lack the wit to appreciate Plato’s elegance or the playful seriousness that is required to penetrate the initially tedious details of the Statesman in order to enter the presence of its enigmatic author. The stranger is a Platonic anticipation of certain aspects of the Cartesian attempt to master nature by techne, suggesting that traditional accounts of the difference between ancient and modern thought are oversimplifications. Plato at least experimented with the conception of politics as the technical application of techne to the task of defending human beings the hazards of nature. In so doing, he discovered the problem of constructivism.
The Phaedrus could be a reflection on how one should undertake the journey of life and the role of relationships and conversations with others in that journey. The questions with which Socrates opens the dialogue can lead us to ask where we are and where we are heading and where we should go and how we should get on. The dialogue concludes with an emphasis on the importance of friendship and an exhortation to take the next step. Socrates suggests that one can use myths as metaphors to illuminate issues about life in this world. Truth in the myth does not require some sort of literal description of the content of this or any other world. Socrates can acknowledge that these stories are human creations and their significance lies in what they can show us about our world and our lives without seeing this as undermining their truth. The fact that Plato makes this way of understanding mythical logos explicit in the Phaedrus is one of its most interesting features. It opens the question of Plato’s understanding of the mythopoetic function of logos in a context where elaborate poetic metaphors play a central role in the text.
The Phaedrus displays a new view of the role of feeling, emotion, and particular love in the good life. Plato explores this change of view inside the dialogue itself. Plato embodies important features of his own earlier view in the first two speeches, and then recants and criticizes those speeches. The recantation is a serious recantation of something that Plato has seriously endorsed. The prevailing opinion that finds the two early speeches degraded and disgusting has failed to appreciate their force. This work is an apology for Eros and poetic writing. Plato has a deep understanding of erotic motivation and its power. The Phaedrus is a work in which he works out a more complex view of these motivations and accepts some of them as good. He admits that he has been blind to something and, conceived oppositions too starkly. He seeks, through recantation and self-critical argument, to get back his sight. Phaedrus is a dialogue about madness or possession. The mad person is one who is in the sway of inner forces that eclipse or transform the calculations and valuations of pure intellect. The pre-Phaedrus dialogues attack madness as a simple evil. The denial of all cognitive value to the non-intellectual elements is not surprising. We must look to the demonstration that follows to find out what the value of madness is and what elements of the previous view the dialogue recants. Three points emerge. First, the non-intellectual elements are necessary sources of motivational energy. Second, the non-intellectual elements have an important guiding role to play in our aspiration towards understanding. The fact that the continuing good health of intellect requires the nourishment of the non-intellectual parts would not show that these could or should ever steer or guide intellect. However, Plato’s contrast between madness and sophrosune (sound mind) is a contrast between passion-ruled and intellect-ruled states. He is clearly claiming that certain sorts of essential and high insights come to us only through the guidance of the passions. Socrates’ story of the growth of the soul’s wings shows us what lies behind this claim. The non-intellectual elements have a keen natural responsiveness to beauty, especially when Plato presents beauty through the sense of sight. The role of emotion and appetite as guides is motivational. They move the whole person towards the good. Yet, emotion is also cognitive, since they give the whole person information as to where goodness and beauty are, searching out and selecting the beautiful objects. They have in themselves, well trained, a sense of value. We advance towards understanding by pursuing and attending to our complex appetitive and emotional responses to the beautiful. It would not be accessible to intellect alone. The picture of moral cognitive development in the middle dialogues is one of a progressive detachment of intellect from the other parts of the personality. The developing soul of the Phaedrus is in a very different state. Complex and impure, throbbing with ferment in every part, fevered and in constant motion, it depends for its growth on just three impure aspects of its condition. In order to move towards beauty, this soul must be open and receptive. This account achieves viewing human sexuality as something much more complicated and deep, more aspiring, than the middle dialogues had suggested. Further, it views the intellect as something more sexual than they had allowed, more bound up with receptive and motion. The erotic appetite is now not a blind urge for the replenishment of intercourse. It is responsive to beauty and serves as a guide as to where true beauty will be found. Intellectual activity emerges here as something different in structure from the pure and stable contemplation of the Republic. As the philosopher reaches out here towards recollection and truth, his mental aspiration has an internal structure closely akin to that of the lover’s sexual yearnings and fulfillments. The account of the growth of the wings uses unmistakably sexual metaphors to characterize the receptivity and growth of the entire soul. Intellect, no longer separated from the other parts, searches for truth in a way that would not meet the elements of the middle dialogues for purity and stability. Third, the passions, and the actions inspired by them, are intrinsically valuable components of the best human life. So far, we might believe that Plato has revised only his view of motivation and education, not his view of the best life. However, the Phaedrus gives the passions, and the state of madness, much more than a merely instrumental role. Plato shows himself ready to judge questions about the best life from the point of view of the interests, needs, and limits of the being in question. One finds the best life for a human being not by abstracting from the peculiarities of our complex nature, but by exploring that nature and the way of life that it constitutes. This best human life is unstable; always prey to conflict. They risk, in the exclusivity of their attachment to a mutable object, the deep grief of departure, alteration, and death. Let us return to the four indictments of the passions that Plato offers and see how he has recanted. First, although some appetites are blind animal forces reaching out for their objects without discernment, this picture now becomes too simple and in particular committed slander against Eros. Second, although the appetites need management, now they also need nourishment. Third, the passions now have a cognitive function rather than being sources of distortion, and indeed their information proves necessary for the best insight. Fourth, the intellectual element is no longer sufficient in discerning truth, for such discernment requires the whole personality. Therefore, we find a different conception of the person, where we find emotions of wonder and awe, a careful concern for the other’s separate needs and aspirations. Each discovers more about his or her own aims as he or she sees them reflected in another soul. Neither imposes on the other a vision already fixed. Each elicits from his or her own soul a deeper beauty.
The Republic shows us why Socrates was accused and why there was good reason to accuse him. Socrates engages in philosophical discourse with civil society, thereby demonstrating that philosophy has a positive benefit to the city. In expressing the relation of philosophy to the state, he expresses its relation to the actual, human world. His engaging rational discourse to discover truth is a challenge for us as modern readers, many of whom have lost confidence in such discourse. His argument is that justice pays. The goodness of human life depends heavily on our having a close connection with something eminently worthwhile that lies outside of us. To live well one must be in the right psychological condition, and that condition consists in receptivity to the valuable objects that exist independently of oneself. If one is oblivious to these objects and devotes oneself about all to the acquisition of power, or the accumulation of wealth, or the satisfaction of erotic appetites, then one will not only become a danger to others but one will fail to achieve one’s own good.
The Republic, Plato's major political work, is concerned with the question of justice and therefore with the questions "what is a just state" and "who is a just individual?" He proposed full communism as the only way to have a just state. This meant abolishing private property and sharing family responsibilities. Socrates expects ridicule. He even considers incest a live option. He makes an absurd proposal for the ideal state. The ideal state, according to Plato, is composed of three classes. The merchant class maintains the economic structure of the state. The military class meets security needs, and the philosopher-kings provide political leadership. An educational process that begins at birth determines a particular person’s class and proceeds until that person has reached the maximum level of education compatible with interest and ability. Although the ideal city trains women and men equally, given his view of the natural superiority of men, women would not make into the ruling class of philosophers. Those who complete the entire educational process become philosopher-kings. They are the ones whose minds have been so developed that they are able to grasp the Forms and, therefore, to make the wisest decisions. Indeed, Plato structures his ideal educational system to produce philosopher-kings. The three classes correspond to the responsibility of the state for nourishing the body, defending the city, and have rulers who have the common good in mind. They also suggest an elite corps of philosophers who, in order to get the warrior class to make the sacrifices needed, would need the noble lie (myth or poetry) to persuade them to act in that way. In contrast, the Enlightenment believed that wisdom could find broad access as people interact with each other freely. The Enlightenment agreed with the importance of encouraging merchants and defending the country. However, the Enlightenment disagreed that rulers would have the common good in mind. In fact, it assumed that rulers would have their self-interest in mind. For that reason, they formed a vision of government that limited the power of the state in such a way that power resided nowhere. They also hoped that, although one person would not have wisdom enough for civilization, the collective wisdom of people through their involvement in representative democracy would lead to the common good. They valued pluralism and tolerance in the public sphere because they had confidence that such freedom would lead to the common good. The same principle held good for economic life – people pursuing that which they believe would lead to the fullness of their lives would lead to the good of all. The pluralism and tolerance of modern society is very different from the dominance of philosophers that Socrates envisioned. Part of the comedy that the Republic represents is that, while Socrates spent so much time dealing with the city, its ugliness in contrast to the soul becomes apparent. The soul is of ultimate concern to the philosopher, and yet the philosopher rules the city, whose primary concern is with the body.
The myth of the cave describes individuals chained deep within the recesses of a cave. Bound so that vision is restricted, they cannot see one another. The only thing visible is the wall of the cave upon which appear shadows cast by models or statues of animals and objects that pass before a brightly burning fire. Breaking free, one of the individuals escapes from the cave into the light of day. With the aid of the sun, that person sees for the first time the real world and returns to the cave with the message that the only things they have seen heretofore are shadows and appearances and that the real world awaits them if they are willing to struggle free of their bonds. The shadowy environment of the cave symbolizes for Plato the physical world of appearances. Escape into the sun-filled setting outside the cave symbolizes the transition to the real world, the world of full and perfect being, the world of Forms, which is the proper object of knowledge. This myth suggests that the only way to bring fullness of human life is to have contact with that which transcends everyday life. The Enlightenment offered the counter myth that we need to bring light to the cave and transform human life within the cave. It is rather clear that the Enlightenment was right in this analysis.
In the Republic, Plato continues his assault on the goodness of the ordinary. Ordinary people, when asked what seems fine to them, will name many activities that the philosopher’s argument will judge worthless. Most people, if asked what is worthwhile, will praise the content of their own lives. From what position does this eye see well? Moreover, what is the nature of the obstacles to its true vision? The Republic argues that the best life for a human being in the life of the philosopher, a life devoted to learning and the contemplation of truth. The Republic also argues that the best life is a life ruled by reason, in which reason, evaluates, ranks, and orders alternative pursuits. The conception of rule by reason articulated in the fourth book of the dialogue is a purely formal conception that does not attempt to specify the content of the life that reason plans and orders. All that is required there is that the agent harmonize his or her soul, order his or her life plan, in accordance with some orderly conception of the good. The central example of pure or genuine enjoying is the intellectual activity of the philosopher. Socrates’ praise of this activity gives us insight into the features that are constitutive or intrinsic value. He stresses purity, stability, and truth. His theory of value supports the life of the philosopher as against a life devoted primarily to need relative pursuits. He proposes asceticism for the philosopher. One had better closely scrutinize any theory of value that has as its consequences a plan of life that is so remote from what a normal human being normally pursues and values. How does he throw away so much ordinary value? From what perspective or standpoint is it that all our eating and drinking look as valueless as scratching an itch? One thing is very clear: this standpoint is nothing like that of the ordinary human being. Plato readily grants that most people do ascribe intrinsic value to the bodily pleasures and to the states that are their objects. This is a delusion, resulting from the deficiency of the perspective from which they make their judgments. It is only from the point of view of the real above in nature, that is, from the viewpoint of the philosopher, who can stand apart from human needs and limitations, that society will make an appropriate judgment about the value of activities. He attempts to elucidate this point of view. The philosopher must first be an ascetic, dissociating him or her self from the body’s needs. It is from the viewpoint of one who no longer sees his characteristic human needs as genuine parts of himself that Plato rejects the associated activities as valueless, selecting others as intrinsically good. This may seem grossly unfair. Surely, one might wish to argue, one must assess the pursuits of a species from within the ways of life and the standing needs of that sort of creature. Once we realize how severe an obstacle desire is to true judgment we are, as Plato sees it, led inexorably to the conclusion that adequate judgments can be made only by getting free and clear of appetitive influence altogether. Each pleasure or pain to which we attend is like a river that binds the soul to a dangerous source of delusion and impurity. Plato assumes that no reflective person wishes to be the dupe and slave of his appetites. The only solution seems to be to get ourselves to a point at which we have no pressing human needs at all. We can then survey all the alternative activities coolly, clearly, without pain or distraction, using pure reason itself by itself, so that eating and love-making do eventually look, to our soul’s eye, like nothing more interesting than the grazing and copulating of cattle. No merely human being is ever good measure of anything. It is not a good basis for an ethical theory. Only the perfect will be good measure of value for the ideal city, for only from the undistracted viewpoint of perfection can one see truth. Plato’s standpoint of perfection is not immediately available to any creature who wishes to assume it. Plato suggests a long and difficult affair to learn to detach ourselves from our human needs and interests, or to get to a point at which we can do so at will. Therefore, if Plato were really committed to a model of rational evaluation utilizing such a standpoint, we would expect him to provide us with a model of education to accompany it. Plato excludes the representation of several of the human emotions most frequently treated by poetic art; grief, passionate love, fear. Plato rules out these emotions by an argument that assumes that standpoint of perfection and asks, from this standpoint, about their value. For the true hero, Socrates argues, or for the good, it is not appropriate to grieve deeply for the death of a mere mortal. In this appeal to what befits the god, Socrates both uses a standpoint of perfection to determine an aesthetic and moral value and constructs from the young citizens, in speech, a representation of that standpoint as a moral ideal. We should imitate beings that are completely without merely human needs and interests, in order to cultivate our own potential for objective rationality. Therefore, our literature should depict those beings and their deliberations. The best life will be a life maximally devoted to contemplative, scientific, and aesthetic pursuits, in which all other activities have a merely instrumental value at best. It is important to stress at this point that the activities chosen by the philosopher are supposed to be valuable intrinsically, not because the philosopher chooses them. His pursuits are good because his choice responds to value, not because he judges from the appropriate standpoint. The political life of the philosopher can count as intrinsically valuable because it realizes and contemplates stability and harmony in the city. In part, the superior harmony of the philosopher’s life results directly from this reduction in the number of his or her commitments. The city will not exactly eliminate either ownership or the family. It will spread these around in common among members of the city. There is no city and family conflict if the whole city simply is the family, and thus other kinds of family ties unknown to it. There is no conflict between what is my own and what belongs to the city, if citizens hold all property in common. These strategies chosen to minimize conflict enhance the stability of single pursuits. In pursuing this kind of city, Plato has not yet perceived the importance of preserving and nurturing individuality within the context of community. Personal property is a possession that belongs to me as a certain person, and in which my person as such comes into reality. Plato excludes it for that reason. He cannot explain how in the development of industries there can be incentive toward creative activity. People who have creative energy depend upon their capacity for holding property. Plato thinks that strife, division, hatred, and avarice will come with elimination of private property. We might imagine this in a general way. However, I suspect it more reasonable to suggest that the care we give to that which we own expresses our subjective freedom in a way that human society needs for its advancement. Plato abolishes the family, thereby removing yet another domain where individuality can become actual. Socrates introduces the division of labor as the basis of the city. In order to limit the unending progress of techne and rational desire, one must effect the regulation of politics by philosophy. The regulation of techne is obviously impossible when philosophy is itself defined as a techne rather than as the love of wisdom. Yet, the connection that each being has with the feelings of his or her own body cannot be generalized or spread around as can other things formerly one’s own. The sensations of this piece of flesh have a connection with me that is altogether different from the connection I have with that other piece of flesh over there. Plato must still show us, ordinary as we are, that this ideal of rational valuing and this standpoint of perfection are worthwhile goals for a human being to pursue. He must give us some reason to want to attain his ideal, or to think that it is one to whose pursuit we are already in some way committed. We might object that the external god’s eye perspective is neither attractive nor important. It may not be available. Any objectivity about value that is worth talking about, perhaps any about which it is even possible to talk, must be found within the human point of view and not by attempting, vainly, to depart from it. Plato has dealt with such objections. He believed that he could show us that much that is valued in the internal human viewpoint on the world is a source of intolerable pain for a rational being. We are motivated to seek true, stable, value because we cannot live with the pain and instability of our empirical lives. From within our human lives, for the moment, their pain, we have a deep and positive natural desire to get at something greater than the merely human. What the imaginary objector does, Plato would say, is to simplify and flatten human moral psychology by omitting a longing that is in tension with many of the other things that we are and do. If he is right about the complexity of our nature, when we simplify and flatten Plato’s arguments, we are at the same time avoiding part of our own psychological complexity. Plato would say that to cease to see and feel these things would be to cease to be human.
One wonders if The Republic is a comedy of the absurd to highlight the impossibility of the ideal. We may need to read it dialectically, relating these utopian demands in each instance to their opposite, in order to find, somewhere in between, what Plato really meant. Plato does not mean the institutions of this model city to embody ideas for reform. Rather, they should make truly bad conditions and the dangers for the continued existence of a city visible as contrary. Thus, Plato intends the total elimination of the family to display the ruinous role of family politics, nepotism, and the idea of dynastic power in the democracy of Athens. It uncovers something, and not only the obvious fact that no city would let philosophers govern it. The paradox of the philosopher-king gives us the positive insight that both aiming at the good and knowing reality pertain to the political actions of the true diplomat as well as to the true theoretical life. What makes a political system a good one is not the consent of the governed. A good political community must be one that promotes the well-being of all the citizens. If the citizens fail to understand where their good lies, then it is the proper task of political leaders to educate them.
Laws is a practical program, possibly for adoption by Dionysius the Younger. It has little interest except for historians of the period. This work is largely devoid of the theory of forms. It devotes itself to a discursive and painstaking account of the formation and administration of a practical utopia, Magnesia. The Philosopher-Kings vanish without trace. The only vestige of rule based on metaphysical or theoretical insight of a more than ordinary kind is the supremacy of the Nocturnal Council, composed of gentleman farmers, intelligent and educated, but hardly philosophers. The state is administered under an extensive and detailed corpus of constitutional, civil, and criminal law, some of it of dizzying complexity. The absence of metaphysical underpinning from a description of a political structure does not show that the underpinning does not exist. The political structures are hierarchical and authoritarian. Plato may intend this work as a practical work intended for consumption by non-philosophers, without dwelling on the metaphysics, which he keeps in the background. The evidence from his work Statesman suggests that Plato had a concern to ground political knowledge in knowledge of the relevant forms. When Plato wrote Laws he was in his seventies. The search for the nature of virtue was still unfinished business. He set out a blueprint for a second-best ideal state. He wanted to keep open lines of communication between the academy and political leaders. At the end of his life, he maintained his commitment to virtue and human happiness, the core business of philosophy.
In the Phaedo, Plato offers an ontology of concepts. A general idea or concept according to this new doctrine, is immutable, timeless, one over many, intellectually apprehensible and capable of precise definition at the end of a piece of pure ratiocination because it is an independently existing real thing or entity. The human mind or soul can get into non-sensible contact with the ideal and eternal objects of the transcendent world. We are ephemerally at home here, but we are also lastingly at home these. He proves the immortality of the soul by our ability to apprehend the everlasting concept objects that Plato often calls the Forms. The motivation for this theory appears to be the defense of mathematics and dialectics as sciences. The natural sciences had clear objects of study. The abstractions of math and philosophy did not seem to have any objects of study. He separated the concept world from the natural world. He renounces causal and mechanical explanations; for what he thought was important were answers to teleological questions. Thus, he preferred asking what for and to what purpose. In this way, Socrates explains why he focused on philosophy rather than natural science.
In the Sophist and Parmenides, he argues as forcibly as Aristotle does against that very separateness of his concept objects, which had seemed needed for the scientific primacy of conceptual inquiries.
In Parmenides, Part I, Plato deploys the young Socrates’ arguments for, and the arguments of old Parmenides against the theory of Forms. The arguments of Parmenides are the arguments of Plato. Plato no longer needs the theory of forms to vindicate dialectic against contempt and suppression. He no longer needs the theory of forms to represent genuine science against the unstable pretensions of the natural scientists. The Academy of the late Plato is the Academy of the young Aristotle. Both breathe the same air.
Parmenides reverses the characteristic role of Socrates and his interlocutor. Socrates advocates a position, and Parmenides subjects the position to cross-examination. The dialogue explores an issue for which the historical Parmenides was famous. His argument implies that reality consists of just one thing. Parmenides famously argued that the only path to truth is that “it is and cannot be.” We want to know what subject he is talking about when he says “it” is. We also want to know what he means when he says it “is.” He could mean that the subject of his inquiry must exist. He challenges the evidence of our senses, which reports a plurality of changing things. The Platonist rejects the position of Parmenides. Each form, though distinguished from others by its own proper character, shares with all forms the formal or ideal properties of the being Parmenides identifies. Each is ungenerated and indestructible, unchanging, intelligible, and uniform. Each form is a stable entity with a unique nature. The controlling issue of the dialogue is the oneness attributed to forms. In Part I Parmenides will repeatedly show that despite the conviction of Socrates that each form is one, it is after all many. One lesson of Part I is that oneness itself is slippery. What do we mean when we say that something is one? Do we mean that it is a single thing? Do we mean that it is a whole composed of parts? What is oneness itself? Do we mean that it is a whole composed of parts? Therefore, Plato chooses Parmenides as the main speaker because he will use themes of the historical Parmenides in his investigation of forms. What mattered for Plato was the apparent contradiction that Zeno exposes: that the same things are both F and not-F, like and unlike. Socrates introduces his theory of forms to resolve the contradiction. The challenge Socrates presents to Parmenides is to show that the difficulty Zeno displayed in the case of visible things one can also display in the case of forms. Socrates asserts that forms are what they are by themselves and do not admit their opposites. He ends his speech by challenging Zeno and Parmenides to show that this is not the case. Parmenides takes up this challenge in Part II. Before he does so, he questions the presentation of Socrates. First, what forms are there? Second, what is the nature of the relation between physical objects and forms known as participation? Third, on what grounds does Socrates regard each form as one, and are those grounds viable? Parmenides demonstrates that the forms are not one, but many. Parmenides concludes by suggesting that no relation exists between physical objects and forms. Entities in each group relate only to other entities in their group. However, if we in our realm do not relate to forms and they in their realm do not relate to humans, what import can they have for us? If forms exist but do not relate to us, they do not explain anything. They do not ground our knowledge, since we have no access to them. Why posit forms at all? By the end of Part I, forms do not relate to us, or we to them. Therefore, they are not responsible for the characters of things have in our perceptible realm. The relations that perceptible things have to other things in our realm determine perceptible things. Humans have access only to things within the human world. Humans cannot appeal to forms to explain judgments about the human world or relations among things within it. Instead, humans must be satisfied with appearances. The analogy of the cave at least had a way out of the cave. The world at the close of Part I does not. Our only access to the objects is through the shadows. We have no fixed criteria by which to explain our judgments, and even if such criteria existed, they would be irrelevant, since Parmenides has removed any causal link between forms and appearances. This world is intrinsically unstable.
Part II of Parmenides is incredibly difficult. Some of the arguments contain blatant fallacies. A natural response is to consider it a waste of time. However, at the end of Part II Plato says that this exercise will give the student a full view of the truth. The second part of the dialogue has an important message, though we must work hard to see it. Part II contains some invalid arguments, and many of the valid arguments rely on false premises. Although Plato probably made some mistakes, most of the errors seem quite deliberate. Part II highlights conflicts by means of antinomies and exposes errors based on invalid reasoning or misconceptions. It challenges us as readers to notice what has gone wrong and challenge the argument that leads to such an absurd conclusion. Deduction shows that if we consider the one in isolation from everything else, it is nothing at all. Deduction 2 shows that if we consider the one in its relations to everything else, it is everything indiscriminately. Deductions 3 and 4 both consider consequences for the others, starting from the hypothesis that one is. Deduction 3 produces some constructive results by assuming that the one is altogether one and that the others somehow partake of it. Deduction 4 destroys this conclusion by suggesting that if the one is altogether one and in no way many, the others cannot partake of it. If the others were to partake of the one, they would fragment it into many. It has us imagine a situation in which the one exists but does not relate to other things. Deduction 5 shows how not to understand the negative hypothesis that “one is not.” If we assume that the one is not by partaking of being in relation to not being, the one must have infinite shares of being, even not to be. Deduction 6 shows that if the one really is not, it is nothing at all. Deductions 7 and 8 considered consequences for the others, on the hypothesis that one is not. Deduction 7 has us imagine what other things would be like if there were no oneness. The world is lively and varied, a world that exhibits a rich assortment of appearances. This world has no lasting objects, since the masses we catch sight of dissolve before our eyes. However, the world is, with things appearing to have various properties through their interactions with each other. Deduction 8 helps us discover that this world is an illusion. The masses we thought we saw are not there after all. This world requires the one in order for the world to appear. Even the appearances have vanished: nothing exists. This absurd conclusion is the result of denying the existence of the One and forms. Despite the difficulties, forms must exist. Without forms, we will have nowhere to turn our thought and destroy the possibility of dialogue, conversation, and dialectic. Parmenides suggests that the only way toward a full view of truth is to propose a hypothesis, consider relations such as one and many, being and not being, like and unlike, motion and rest, generation and destruction. One must then repeat the process through the perspective of the opposite. The repetition helps one grasp the underlying principles that ground the solution. The lesson is forms or some stable objects exist if any world is to be at all. Did the conclusions along the way rely on false assumptions? The key issue is the assumption of Socrates in Part I that the one cannot be both one and many. This is the false assumption that ultimately leads to the conclusion in Deduction 8. The assumption of Socrates is false, and it must be false because we have a world that needs explanation. How can the one be one, even though other things partake of it, and it partakes of others things? Must the one participate of being even to be itself? We must find another way to explain participation or find a better way to understand the function of being as a bond. Plato continues this discussion in Sophist, Timaeus, and Philebus.
The Timaeus is in large part a synoptic digest of contemporary Italian and Sicilian natural science. It claims nothing higher than probability for its descriptions. The study of nature is pastime. It suggests that we have knowledge only of Forms, while opinion is the realm of the world. Plato briefly stated and championed the theory of forms. The case for the theory rests on the antithesis between knowledge or reason and true opinion. Plato makes this distinction to derive from the differences between the timeless and immutable objects of knowledge and the short-lived objects of sense-given opinion. The Academy used the Timaeus as a basic textbook of natural science and Plato wrote it for this end.
Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman are a trilogy of dialogues that show Socrates formulating his conception of philosophy as he prepares the defense for his trial. The description of Socrates as a midwife in Theaetetus is one of the most famous that Plato ever made. The midwife description is a method of education that is at the same time a method of doing philosophy. It seems like an especially appropriate image for philosophy, as opposed to geometry or cobbling. The procedure of philosophy should be a discussion in which Socratic questioning engages with one’s own personal conception of things.
Theaetetus has a central question: What is knowledge? The results are negative, even thought we make advances in our understanding of what knowledge is even as we dispose of various theories through dialogue. The proposed answers speak to important pre-conceptions. They help to identify theoretical problems that we must face in any later discussion of knowledge. We must assume that the dialogue is trying to get some doctrine across to us, as opposed to making us think about the issues. Readers must contribute more and more as the dialogue proceeds. Our task in Part One is to find the meaning in the text and follow the argument to a satisfactory conclusion. In Part Two we must respond to the meaning in the text by overcoming the problems and paradoxes that it leaves unresolved in Part three, the task is nothing less than to create from the text a meaning that will solve the problem of knowledge. Each part discusses three different suggestions for what knowledge is. First, that it is perception, second that it is true judgment, and third, that it is true judgment together with an account. A critique of Plato at this point is that no definition captures the various applications of a word. In trying to understand game, machine, honest, or natural, we shall not get far by looking for the kind of neat formula that universally applies. Why should we expect one for knowledge? However, we may question whether Plato is really looking for such a formula in this dialogue.
Socrates constructs a theory based on the idea that knowledge is perception. He begins with the statement of Protagoras that humanity is the measure of all things, by which he takes that individuals are the measure of the things that for them as individuals. Thus, if one person finds the wind cold and another finds it warm, the right thing to say is that is that the wind is cold for one and warm for the other. Neither person can be wrong. It is wrong to imply that there is any such thing as the state of the wind. From this, we make an easy step to say that statements of immediate experience can report everything that really happens. Everything that is, is so for some individual. Individuals exist only as participants in these perceptual encounters. Understood in this way, the teaching turns out to be a version of the theory associated with Heraclites. Everything is in flux; nothing is anything without qualification. The central problem of Part One is to decide the sense in which these three things do come to the same thing. In the course of reaching this conclusion, Socrates questions the basis on which people conventionally suppose that some of their experiences had better tell them how things really are than others do. He even asks how one can tell whether one is awake or dreaming, a skeptical question that bothered Descartes as well. One of the primary problems with Protagorean theory is that someone who thinks it false cannot be wrong, in that someone’s perception of falsity cannot be wrong. Socrates points out that any claim to be able to do such a thing involves predictions, and a prediction about future Protagorean certainties cannot itself be a Protagorean certainty. No one possesses a criterion within oneself of what will be, even of what will be for oneself. Protagoras destroys his own claims to be wise than others. By removing any realm for expertise, he removes one of the most important applications of the notion of knowledge. The fact that we can increase our knowledge suggests further problems with Protagoras. Further, Socrates points out that we gain knowledge through the senses rather than by the senses. Knowledge requires non-sensory concepts. Knowledge requires total participation, and not just individual senses like hearing, seeing, touch, and so on.
Part Two considers knowledge as true judgment. The problem is that we may have a true belief about a certain matter, but it may be sheer luck that one’s belief is true. He uses the example of a jury that may make a true judgment without exact knowledge of the events, although we unclear if the reason is that jury does not have time to consider the cases or whether they were not there and did not see. Socrates has a discussion of whether we can make false judgments. He uses a well-known image of wax block as an example of memory making and impression within us that we might sometimes make mistakes in perception when something appears like a previous impression. The Aviary is an example of our knowledge and possibility of making wrong judgments about number. Plato appears concerned with the puzzle of identity mistakes as he made the discovery that knowledge is necessary for error to happen. Earlier, Plato assimilated error to ignorance. He now saw that one could not make an error without possessing knowledge. I can make a mistake about something only if I know it, know something about it, or know enough about it for my false belief to be a belief about that thing. This led him to ask questions about what one needed to know in order to make mistakes, and this led to questions of identity.
Part Three considers whether knowledge is true judgment with an account. Socrates considers the relationship between parts and wholes. Socrates wonders whether we can have an account by enumerating the parts in that how would one know one had enumerated all of them. Further, we would need some knowledge of the whole in order to have knowledge of its parts.
The Sophist concerns itself with being and nonbeing as well as true and false speech. If everything is just what it is and nothing else, it is impossible for there to b e any speech, either true or false, for speech is impossible unless something can be put together with something else. The condition for speech are the same as the conditions for nonbeing, and we can have speech if there is always falsehood or being if there is never truth. Parmenides must and cannot be right. The Eleatic stranger leads us to believe that inasmuch as logos comes to be through the weaving together of kinds, the problem of nonbeing has been solved. However, he goes on to characterize logos, insofar as one can say it is true or false, as the weaving together of verb and noun without every showing how these two kinds of logos relate to one another. The stranger says that he has failed to solve the problem of nonbeing, and the dialogue proves that being is no less baffling. Even his own logos will be as far as it goes adequate for both. He implies that no single logos can be adequate for both unless it is indifferent to that difference.
At the beginning of the Sophist, Socrates asserts that the sophist and the statesman are each an apparition of the real philosopher, while the stranger says that the sophist, the statesman, and the philosopher are separate. To be means to be something, even though it does not mean to be countable. We can have no arithmetic of being. The analysis of nonbeing must be an analysis of the non-arithmetical basis of division. It must be an analysis of appearance at the same time that it is an analysis of the stranger’s practice of dichotomy. The name of this double analysis is the other. The problem confronting this dialogue Theaetus initiates and to which Statesman responds.
The stranger calls the illness of soul wickedness or moral vice, and the ugliness of soul ignorance. Morality is the health, truth the beauty of soul. Noble sophistry is what doctors do, removing the impediments to the proper acquisition of knowledge, making the soul healthy and not beautiful. The ugliness of soul establishes shame. Shame brings about the beauty of self-knowledge, which in turn embeds itself in ignorance. The principle of nonbeing is to be the cause of perplexity. It is the ground of thinking. He eventually considers being as power rather than being as countable, thereby approaching being as potentiality, even while it denies potentiality. It is such a powerful definition because it seems to preserve our ordinary understanding. The soul in its cognitive doing must set the ideas in motion. However, simply because one loves something does not alter it, however much the lover might believe that the beloved is duty-bound to change. Therefore, the fact that one knows the ideas would not involve their alteration. If thinking is the greatest degree of the power to make, and body the lowest degree of the power to be affected, the tension between a comprehensive and a precise account of being would seem to be resolved. Being is on a sliding scale. The higher beings need the lower; the lowest in its total passivity needs at least one agent power. Nevertheless, the comprehensive definition of being as power does not allow any being to be something. Dialectics is the science of conjunction and disjunction. It examines which classes are consonant with which classes, and which do not receive each other. It examines whether some classes are connecting elements through everything, and whether in the case of divisions there are other causes of division through wholes. No art or science ever considers itself in its partiality, for this would be to look at itself from outside itself, which it could only do if it employed its principles outside the domain to which it applies. However, since it cannot acknowledge scientifically the limitations of its domain, it necessarily enlarges its domain whenever it pretends to examine itself. Being is the name for what we do not know. It is in that which people always seek, but one could not seek it unless it in some way it confronted us and already disclosed itself to us. The name of being in its partial disclosure is the stranger. Being is a question that looks like an answer. To say that being is something is not to give a complete answer but to pose the further question as to what something is. The form of the question “What is?” is always the same, but Parmenides, who first discovered the question, seems to have mistaken this sameness of form for the answer, about which nothing further could be said. If there was total communism, Parmenides would be right, but then one could ask no question, let alone answered. Partial communism is already implicit in our asking questions. So the question of being in both the Theaetetus and the Sophist was bound up with and came to light with the question of soul, for to raise the question of being is to raise the question of questioning: What is that which makes questioning possible? Reasoning and knowledge become weaving together, fitting things together, with the assumption that not fitting things together means falsehood.
The Statesman discusses briefly what interests us politically, and it discovers at length what holds no interest for philosophy. Its central theme is the relation between sound judgment (phronesis) and techne. The issue is not simply what constitutes the appropriate method for the analysis of political knowledge, but also the extent to which the application of techne to human experience is an act of production rather than discovery. The stranger applies techne to the task of defining politics as the art by which human beings produce artifacts, in particular the artifact of the city, in order to protect themselves against a hostile nature. Another central theme is the possibility of philosophical rule phronesis unencumbered by law. His account of political construction is both pious and conventional. We need politics because of the friendly and hostile nature of human beings. It is an applied or practical and productive theory. The stranger uses diaeresis in such a way as to blur the distinction between the discovery and the construction of formal elements. Diaeresis evolves into the construction of construction. In this sense, the Statesman presents with a striking anticipation of the modern problematic of theory and practice. The Eleatic Stranger exhibits the Platonic madness by arguing that phronesis could rule only if it were omnipotent. Since this is impossible, phronesis must submit to legislation and thus to the productive art of the statesman, who combine the theoretician and the productive technician. The stranger is a man of techne in a way that Socrates is not. In Plato, the distinction is between theoretical (Gnostic) arts and practical and productive arts and between arithmetic and logistics on the one hand and architecture on the other. If politics is a productive art, then the city and its citizens are artifacts. The Statesman underlines the artifact status of the city by the paradigm of weaving. The art of the weaver produces clothing to defend the body against the rigors of nature. Nature appears divided against itself and human existence is the locus of this division. The diverse human natures are the raw materials out of which the city is constructed. It is not the human being but the citizen who is a work of art. The stranger suggests the politics needs myth to supplement conceptual analysis. The image of weaving suggests producing, cleaning, and repairing are three distinct types of the nurturing of clothing, where as the various aspects of weaving are subclasses of production. The art of the statesman will be some sort of internal as well as external rule. Theory and practice weave together. Politics must understand human nature as well as human technical capacity. The statesman bridges the separation of theory from practice. Politics must also know how to command, which involves tools for commanding as well as sound judgment. Weaving as a model suggests that every synthesis or production of those articulations within the continuous web of human experience that are pertinent to the particular intention of the analysis. Since politics and diaeresis are both productive arts, the fundamental distinction between theory and practical production exists as an artifact of human judgment. Human beings do not produce themselves; nor are their experiences pure construction. Nature produces human beings; one discovers and acquires the structure of intelligibility rather than produced. What we produce is the particular articulation of the structure. The political art is directed to the soul through the instrumentality of the body. The philosopher is concerned with the whole and so with the body, but from the standpoint of the soul. The diplomat is concerned with the soul, but from the standpoint of the body. We are right to approach the art of politics via the body, but in the last analysis, we cannot understand this art except based on an understanding of the soul. The diplomat must understand the soul from the standpoint of the city, and this is an inadequate understanding of the soul. In order to understand the city we must be outside or beyond both. The diplomat cannot understand politics; only the philosopher can do that.
Even the digressions of the Eleatic stranger both go on too long and still fall short, or they end before he has said enough to justify his digressing the first place. We cannot reasonably doubt that the stranger must have intended the most obvious errors, repetitions, and confusions. They are themselves part of the teaching. The Statesman looks as if it is condemning political philosophy in the presence of its founder. However, the theme is not political philosophy, but political science. The Statesman shows that one must know political philosophy almost entirely through misconceptions. Plato does not stay at the level of dreams in his treatment of politics, but the shadow of the dream is discernible everywhere in that treatment. Aristotle, by contrast, writes more in the light of common sense when it comes to political life. The stranger proposes to find the two kinds of science, of which one is political science, and the other every other science. He convinces Young Socrates that political science is as theoretical as arithmetic. A science that is fully known without its ever being exercised is proved a theoretical science because in its being exercised it relies on something nonscientific. Political science is against the grain of both politics and science, even if it comes the closest philosophy can to the Socratic identity of virtue and knowledge. Political philosophy is necessarily a latecomer to both the city and philosopher. Plato means the discovery of political science to be exemplary for the dialectical science, whose theme is the highest and greatest of the beings. However, political science cannot be exemplary unless one brings it together with things alien to it, although we may make a case that those alien things are already present in political science and make it the only natural paradigm for dialectics. Part One examines the conditions that would make political life unnecessary. Part Two argues that the city understands itself of necessity in light of what would, if realized, make the city dispensable. The law is a sign of this necessary misunderstanding. The stranger vindicates the city over against the city; he vindicates both Athens and Socrates.
What happened to Plato around 365 BC? Behind the character Socrates in those early dialogues lies an extraordinary personality, whose sheer intellect and character virtually swamped the personality of the young Plato. Around the age of 40 the opposite personality of Plato emerged, with some intellectual help from the Pythagorean mathematical philosophers. He began to assert such matters in his writings. He discovered that merely human life was more complicated, but also richer or better, than he had imagined. The truly blessed life involves the proper cultivation of both activity and passivity, working in harmony and mutuality.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) rejected the concept of knowledge rooted only in perception. Rather, all knowledge is taught to us, and all knowledge requires the reasoning process. He recognizes that pure perception does not exist without the reasoning process. Scientific knowledge advances by empirical observation and rational demonstration. Knowledge is a dialectical process, constantly seeking a middle term between opposites. Contrary to Plato, he affirmed the importance of observation of sensory objects, as well as the use of the senses, as an important part of our gaining of knowledge. Yet, that could not be enough. The reasoning process included these initial acts of perception, and could logically lead to genuine knowledge. He also rejected the idea that knowledge must be clear, certain, and not subject to change. He agreed that knowledge is universal and of the real. He had to find a way of giving reality permanence to the universal without re-introducing the Form of Plato. Plato regarded the Forms as the causes of things being or becoming what they are or become. Aristotle needed a new doctrine of causation and new source of change and of motion. Theoretical knowledge meant first philosophy, physics and mathematics. It meant knowledge for its own sake. Practical knowledge meant ethics, politics, and a number of other activities. It meant knowledge pursued for the sake of action or production.
The heart of logic was the syllogism. His treatment of syllogistic argument provided the basis of the teaching of traditional formal logic until the beginning of the 20th century. He takes the conclusion to a practical syllogism to be a particular kind of action. Isolated expressions signify substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, condition, action, or passivity. These categories were referred to quite frequently elsewhere, but neither the order nor the number was precisely fixed. Certain pervasive terms are recognized as able to run through all the categories, terms such as one, being, same, and other. In what he would not have considered as mutually exclusive, he classifies grammatical distinctions, the things words signify (things), and logical entities. The categories were the way Aristotle departed from the Forms of Plato. The result is a philosophy less utopian than Plato’s, and more willing to take account of, and to reshape, the opinions of ordinary people.
The proportional analogy, or analogy of relationship, is found in Metaphysics Lambda 4. The point of his argument is that things that exist do not share any common substance or idea but only an analogous structure in their movement from privation to form or potentiality to actuality. Each carries out this movement in a way peculiar to it and different from others. The eye is actualized in seeing. The ear is actualized in hearing. He opposes the singularity of the good as taught by Plato with this exposition. The issue in practical philosophy becomes the proper function or activity in which human beings find their fulfillment, and any idea of the good in itself, should it exist all, is irrelevant. Later scholastic theology added attributive analogy. We say that a thing is white or is larger than something else, and so on. Before we can say any of these things we must be able to say what it is. When we do that, we are not merely articulating a structural parallel, but rather a structural convergence on the ultimate sense of is in being or substance. Aristotle never carries this argument over to our saying “is good,” and for the most part he argues that when we say a flautist is good or a soldier is good, we are speaking of a proportional analogy, an analogy of relationship. The best of and for all things is the good in which the actualization of the individual goods culminates. Good does not exist independently, but is always characteristic of this thing. In Plato, good is an abstract concept similar to that of mathematical abstractions like point, line, and so on.
Primary substances are particular entities, while secondary substances are species and genera to which individual entities belong. The categories were also the way Aristotle rejected Parmenides, who seemed to make change, diversity and predication impossible. Aristotle sought reality in a substrate behind the elements, a substrate to which varying qualities could attach. Substance is its power to be the recipient of contrary qualifications, while it alone has no opposite. Substance does not come into existence or pass out of existence either as matter or as form. What comes into existence is a concrete object combining matter and form. Their previous existence was only potential. The genesis of a new substance involves the passage from potential to actual existence for both matter and form in a new concrete object. The cause of change requires a correct analysis of the process of change itself and the identification of the source or sources of the change. Those causes are matter, form, efficient cause, and final cause. Three causes of motion are nature, force, and free will. However, even a self-moved mover requires external sources of motion. In order to avoid an infinite regress, he posits an unmoved mover that is one, eternal, and nonmaterial. The teleological character of his physical theories has brought much censure upon his head. It has tended to seem a natural but dangerous doctrine in biological studies and wholly wrong in the study of inanimate nature. Normally, however, his teleology is not a doctrine of any over-all pattern of purpose in the universe. Nor does he intend to show how natural objects may serve purposes outside themselves. Rather, teleology is a matter of internal finality, a doctrine that the end of each object is to be itself. He roots it in his equation of final cause with formal cause. The study of the end or purpose of a thing is the study of its form, and to the extent that a modern scientist is concerned with the formal and universal elements in nature, he follows Aristotle’s approach.
The question of substance was always the basic question in philosophy, in that the question, “What is being” becomes “What is substance?” Substance is always the individual thing, and as such is the subject of attributes in all the categories. The search for substance is the search for what is, as distinct from what “is something.” If a thing does not exist, it cannot be anything. Substance exists alone, is prior to definition, and is prior for knowledge. Substance involves a discussion of essence, the universal, the genus, and the substrate. The essence of a thing will be its final cause; it is the form. The essence of a thing consists in the form that it has achieved or actually realized. These are opposed to potentiality.
The aim of Aristotle was to save the appearances and their truth. He promises to rehabilitate the discredited measure or standard of tragic and Protagorean anthropocentrism. He promises to do with his philosophical work in a place from which Plato and Parmenides had spent their careers contriving an exit. He insists that he will find his truth inside what we say, see, and believe, rather than far from the beaten path of human beings, as Plato would have it. He insists that good philosophy makes one operate within these limits. The phenomena to which Aristotle would direct us is the data of human experience and, both sense data and linguistic usage. The philosopher must set down the relevant appearances. Then, the philosopher must set out the puzzles or dilemmas with which they confront us. The phenomena present us with a confused array, often with direct contradiction. They reflect our disagreements and ambivalences. The first step must be to bring conflicting opinions to surface and set them out clearly, marshaling the considerations for and against each side, showing clearly how the adoption of a certain position on one issue would affect our positions to others. Without this serious attempt to describe the puzzles, the philosopher is likely to accept too quickly a solution that disguises or avoids the problem. The philosopher must then bring the argument back to the phenomena and show that our account does preserve the phenomena as true. The principles or procedures he uses suggest that what is universally believed is not to be entirely discarded and that nothing we have to be using in order to argue or inquire can get thrown out. This leads to the question of first principles. For Aristotle, we grasp them and use them already, inside our experience. His enunciation of first principles is an attempt to understand principles we already use. We become habituated intellectually, by which he means the sensitive awareness, produced by education and experience, of the fundamental role this principle plays in all our practices, all our discourse. The disagreement with Plato is that when he refers to The Good or The White is not referring to anything, much less communicating anything to us. He has a kind of realism, hospitable to truth, to necessity, and to a full-blooded notion of objectivity. It insists that truth is one for all thinking, language-using beings. This realism articulates carefully the limits within which any realism must live. Talk of the eternal or immortal are important because they are important for our world. The attempt of Plato to find a vantage point outside the appearances is futile because such a vantage point is unavailable and destructive because the glory of the promised goal makes the humanly possible work look boring and cheap. Plato encourages us to neglect the study of ethics, politics, biology and physical science in our world in order to escape the cave and move into the sunlight. If it is a universal human desire to grasp the world and make it comprehensible to reason, then it seems clear that oversimplification and reduction will be deep and ever-present dangers. In seeking to be at home, we may easily become strangers to our home as we experience it. In our anxiety to control and grasp the uncontrolled by techne, we may all too easily become distant from the lives that we originally wished to control. We become strangers to some aspect of the life we live and the language we use as we adopt simple pictures of the world: hedonism, materialism, mechanism, and so on. Someone who does not want to return to phenomena is one who is not at peace with his or her humanity.
Human beings are the only living creatures who has experience of the good and bad, the just and unjust, and the other ethical concepts with which this study deals. Only the human being has the capacity to express these conceptions in speech. Humans alone among creatures are both reasonable and lacking in individual self-sufficiency. The ability to use the name of justice is based on experiences of need and scarcity that a godlike being would not share. That data for an inquiry into our conception of F can come only from peoples whose ways of life are similar to ours with respect to those conditions that gave rise to our use of the term F.
When we understand the causes of action, it permits us to see our neediness in relation to the world that is at the very heart of our ethical value. He does this by broadening the matter to an account of movement and action in the animal kingdom as a whole. He wanted to link the study of human beings with a comprehensive inquiry into the functioning of living beings in general. The failure to make this link is a failure to preserve deeply shared appearances concerning our links with other forms of life. The point is that the combination of vulnerability and activity provides a good basis for our practices of praising those who deserve praise and blaming those who do wrong. Serious ethical assessments require the capability for intellectual causality; the quickest way to speak of a human being as beyond the pale of ethical assessment is to say that person does things the way an animal does. Certain very high standards must be met in order to justify the most serious of our ethical judgments of persons. Yet, Aristotle also insists on the ethical relevance of the different distinction that involve persons not fully responsible for their actions. The main job of politics is to educate children in such a way that they will become capable of leading good lives according to their own choice, this result would be very unfortunate. He retains his simple theory as well as his complex theory. He can present a plausible and interesting answer to these questions. The simple theory tells us that we begin the educational process not with a creature who is simply there to be causally affected and manipulated, but with a creature that responds selectively to its world through cognition and desire. We explain these movements by the person’s own view of things, the person’s own reaching out for things as the person views them. Praise and blame are from the beginning not just pushes, but appropriate modes of communication to an intelligent creature who acts in accordance with its own view of the good. They are attempts to persuade that creature to modify, actively, its view of the good, to reach out for objects that are more appropriate. A study of our beliefs about desire reveals its intentionality and selectivity. We can also say that the practices of education and exhortation in which we engage would be unintelligible if desire were purely mindless.
Aristotle insisted that there is no deliberating about ultimate valued ends. To deliberate about the appropriateness of an end is to subordinate it to some other end, and this is by hypothesis infeasible in the case of an ultimate end, goal or value. This teaching is not correct. It overlooks the fact that ends can be related to each other in appropriate and relevant ways that are different from subordination. We can deliberate about an end not only on the basis of whether its adoption and pursuit facilitate the realization of some other superior end, but also on the basis of its coordination, by asking how well it fits into the overall economy of other, associated ends. We can ask about the extent to which their conjoint adoption allows for mutual adjustment and supportiveness.
A science of the good in general is meaningless for practical philosophy. Practical philosophy is not knowledge of the right thing to do in a given situation, in the way that mathematical and scientific knowledge is. Practical philosophy is not a theoretical science in the modern sense, in which we might apply a theory to practice in natural science. Practical philosophy is more like knowledge of cures, and accordingly, Aristotle often draws comparisons with this kind of knowledge. Any talk of the application of theory to practice would presuppose a separation between the theory Aristotle imparts in such an ethical pragmatics and lived practice. Such a separation does not exist here. The ideal of an objective theory, neutral in regard to all the interest at stake in any practical application of it, is neither Platonic nor Aristotelian. The theoretical doctrine that he presents as practical philosophy has to be of use in practice. Practical philosophy is useful in the way it is useful for an archer to pick out a definite pint on the target at which to take aim. This way he will score a better hit. This can only mean that one is better able to keep one’s aim fixed in the right direction when one can set one’s sights on a specially targeted point instead of on a larger object. The theoretical instruction that can be given in practical philosophy puts in one’s hands no rules that one could follow in order to hit what is right in accordance with an art. After all, taking aim does not constitute by any means the whole of archery. One has to have learned how to handle the bow, and whoever wishes to profit from practical philosophy must be trained for it in the right way. Only then is practical philosophy of use in decision making. It assists our concrete, practical ability to size things up insofar as it makes it easier to recognize in what direction we must look and to what things we must pay attention. One does not rely on the theoretical generalities of practical philosophy in the way that one relies on a rule. As a modern question, what is the existential status of moral rules, and how can we be said to know them when we apply them? Aristotle is at pains to show that the methodological models of the mathematical sciences and technology are misplaced here. For the being of the rule or ethical principle is not like that of the being of something that is always apart from its instance and toward which the latter may be said to strive, even while nevertheless always falling short. Rules in ethics have their reality only in the tradition of their applications, instances, or interpretations. Each of these is an accretion of reality. This understanding of the reality of ethical rules requires that we revise our conception of how we know them. We do not know them as we know the clear and distinct mathematical realities. We know them only in a limited way from within the tradition of their applications, in which we always already find ourselves under way. Consequently, the same measure of exactitude is not to be expected here as in the mathematical sciences and technology. Indeed, this kind of rigor would be disastrous. Understanding moral principles is not being a stickler for the rules. Judicious discretion is faithfulness to the tradition, adjusts to the particularities of the given case. Practical philosophy cannot guarantee that one will hit the target in a specific case.
Aristotle thought that intellectual pleasures are primary. This line of thinking is deeply problematic. Rationality does not demand that we seek satisfaction in reason alone and view the pleasure of reason as solely and uniquely genuine. Reason can and does acknowledge the need for diversity and variation. It recognizes the importance of activities that call for little exercise of reason. The importance of a balance of varied goods within a complex economy of values is something that reason itself emphasizes. To insist that rational satisfaction rather than mere pleasure is the pivot of genuine happiness does not mean that commonplace pleasures have no legitimate place in a truly happy life.
An Aristotelian account of what is involved in understanding human behavior involves an in eliminable reference to such items. Hence, it is not surprising that any attempt to understand human behavior in terms of mechanical explanation must conflict with Aristotelianism. Fact becomes value-free, is becomes a stranger to ought and explanation, as well as evaluation, changes its character because of this divorce between is and ought.
Ethical theorizing proceeds by way of a reflective dialogue between the intuitions and beliefs of the interlocutor and a series of complex ethical conceptions, presented for exploration. Most people, when asked to generalize, make claims that are false to the complexity and the content of their actual beliefs. They need to learn what they really think. When, through work on the alternatives and through dialogue with one another, they have arrived at a harmonious adjustment of their beliefs, both singly and in community with one another, this will be the ethical truth, on the Aristotelian understanding of truth; a truth that is anthropocentric, but not relativistic. The greatest obstacles to communal agreement are deficiencies in judgment and reflection. If we are each led singly through the best procedures of practical choice, we will turn out to agree on the most important matters, in ethics as in science.
We dwell in one realm only, the realm of nature, and that all of our powers, including moral reflection, are worldly and in need of worldly goods for their flourishing. Connections between being well-fed and being free, between bodily integrity and moral functioning, are all directly and clearly drawn in such a theory. By acknowledging these vulnerabilities and their connections to valuable functioning, we gain incentives the Stoics never fully give us for promoting the appropriate distribution and redistribution of material goods, so that all citizens have enough.
Aristotle gives an account of the virtues that decisively constitutes the classical tradition as a tradition of moral thought. What does the good for humanity turn out to be? Blessedness, happiness, prosperity. It is the state of being well and doing well. The virtues are precisely those qualities the possession of which will enable an individual to achieve blessedness and the lack of which will frustrate movement toward that telos. Aristotle’s belief in the unity of the virtues is one of the few parts of his oral philosophy that he inherits directly from Plato.
We ask and answer our question about the good life within appearances. Ethical reflection is fully anthropocentric. The goal of ethical reflection is practical. Therefore, the life of which we write must be within our capabilities. Further, it must be a life that, as we deliberate, we can choose. It must be a plan of life that we survive in such a life. A human being must be able to live this life. Good and valuable things may not be so relatively to all imaginable ways and conditions of life. The good of some genuine values may be relative to context and no less good for that fact. The values that constitute a good human life are plural and incomparable. A perception of particular cases takes precedence over general rules and accounts. For any given piece of deliberation, it must be about something, which is itself not up for question in that particular piece of deliberation. However, within the piece of deliberation, I can ask both for means to that end and for a further specification of the end. This conception demands comparability. Something can be an end in itself and at the same time be a valued constituent in a larger or more inclusive end. This particularity of ethical life leads to vulnerability. The rules and universal principles are guidelines or rules of thumb. They summarize particular decisions, useful for purposes of economy and aids in identifying the salient features of the particular case. In deciding to work with such principles, we would be acknowledging that people whom we revere as people of practical wisdom have judged choices of this sort appropriate. Principles are descriptive summaries of good judgments valid only to the extent to which the correctly describe such judgments. They are normative only insofar as they transmit in economical form the normative force of the good concrete decisions of the wise person and because we wish for various reasons to be guided by that person’s choices. The simplicity of such principles aides in teaching and guiding functions, as well as make it less correct as a summary of complex choices. This view allows for the contingent features of the case at hand to be authoritative over principle. It keeps us in a significant sense at the mercy of luck. A new, unexpected, or even idiosyncratic feature can cause us to revise the rule. This theory has room for surprise, room for both the cognitive insecurity and human vulnerability. In this sense, ethical principles are non-technical and non-scientific. Practical wisdom uses rules only as summaries and guides. It must be flexible, ready for surprise, prepared to see, resourceful as improvisation. The crucial prerequisite for practical wisdom is a long experience of life that yields an ability to understand and grasp the salient features, the practical meaning, of the concrete particulars. The person of practical wisdom is a person of good character; a person who has internalized through early training certain ethical values and a cert conception of the good human life. He or she will focus upon friendship, justice, courage, moderation, and generosity. The character of people and their value commitments are what that person is; personal continuity requires a high degree of continuity in the general nature of these commitments. This continuous basis goes a long way towards explaining what that person can and will see in the new situation: an occasion for courage, for generous giving, and for justice. This conception is open to revision even at the highest level. This revision may come from the perceptions embodied in new experience. The general conception is not inclusive of everything that is of relevance. The particular case would not be intelligible without the guiding and sorting power of the principles.
Emotion and passion have an essential motivational role to play in human excellence. A model of rationality that suppressed or neglected these elements would starve the soul of nourishment essential for living well. Emotions are selective and responsive to training, and therefore play a constructive role in moral motivation, impelling persons toward more appropriate objects in keeping with their evolving conception of the appropriate. They are well equipped to do well by us. Beyond motivation, we can recognize and cultivate emotional states so that they will be good guides for reason in the situation of choice. Choice is an ability that is on the borderline between the intellectual and the passionate. Further still, emotion has full intrinsic value in the best human life. Moderation is appropriate choice with respect to bodily pleasure and pain. It is not compatible with practical wisdom to seek to minimize the appetites or unduly to dissociate oneself from their claim. Appropriate eating, drinking, and sexual activity has intrinsic value, because of the way in which they satisfy contingent needs. To be needy is an appropriate thing for a human being to be. We are not self-sufficient creatures. The perception that is the most valuable manifestation of our practical rationality is a complex response of the entire personality, an appropriate acknowledgement of the features of the situation on which action is to be based, a recognition of the particular. It has non-intellectual components.
Good activity is vulnerable to circumstances. Calamities that are temporary or partial diminish the best human life for that person. A stable good life, based upon steady character and consisting in activity according to the excellences of character and intellect, is vulnerable. Excellence based upon goodness of character makes the good life tolerably stable in the face of the world. However, this stability has limits. A gap exists between being good and living well. Uncontrolled happenings can step into this gap, impeding the good state of character from finding its proper fulfillment in action. In certain cases of circumstantial constraint, the good person may act in deficient or even shameful ways, doing things that he or she would never have done but for the conflict situation. They act as well as they can. Yet, they will do something bad they would not have chosen. Circumstances of life can impede character itself. Especially at risk are those virtues that require openness or guilelessness rather than self-defensiveness, trust in other people and in the world rather than self-protecting suspiciousness. Virtues like love and friendship require trust in the loved person. Generosity is incompatible with continual suspicion that the world is about to take one’s necessary goods away. Greatness of soul requires high hope and expectation. Even courage requires confidence that some good can come from such action. Human excellence requires some external resources and conditions. Membership in a political community has a necessary instrumental role in the development of good character, for habituation is the most decisive factor in becoming good. If the political regime is itself evil, habituation of good becomes incredibly difficult. Civic activity and the presence of good political surroundings prove instrumentally necessary for the development and maintenance of good character. Favorable political conditions are required instrumentally for people to act well according to excellence. Participation in a well-functioning political community is a necessary condition for the development and exercise of the individual’s other excellences. The political participation of the citizen is an intrinsic good or end, without which a human life, though flourishing with respect to other excellences, will be incomplete. The citizen has a claim to office, even if he or she yields this claim to another. For a political community to deprive individuals of the chance for office diminishes the good life for that citizen.
Aristotle’s account of practical reasoning is in essentials surely right. Practical reasoning has four essential elements. First, the wants and goals of the agent presupposed by but not expressed in, his or her reasoning. Second, the major premise, an assertion to the effect that doing or having or seeking such-and-such is the type of thing that is good for or needed by a so-and-so. Third, the minor premise wherein the agent, relying on a perceptual judgment, asserts that this is an instance or occasion of the requisite kind. The conclusion is the action. Hence, any adequate teleological account must provide us with some clear and defensible account of the telos. Any adequate generally Aristotelian account must supply a teleological account that can replace Aristotle’s’ metaphysical biology.
Almost all of us feel a regular need to persuade someone of something, to defend our actions, and to organize our thoughts so that others will understand our point of view. Aristotle’s Rhetoric is a way to deal with this reality in the reasonably freed city of Athens. Rhetoric is the energy inherent in emotion and thought, transmitted through a system of signs, including language, to others to influence their decisions or actions. Aristotle identifies three occasions of civic rhetoric. One is deliberation about the future action in the best interests of a state. Political and ethical topics fall under this type of speech situation. The goal of ethical action is a full human life. Constituent parts of such a life are good birth, numerous and good friendships, good children, a good old age, the virtues of body, reputation, honor, good luck, and virtue. Since deliberative rhetoric aims at what is beneficial, a speaker needs to grasp the topics of the good, which is whatever is chosen for its own sake. Good things include happiness, virtues of the soul, virtues of the body, wealth, friends, honor, the ability to speak and act, natural talent, knowledge, and so on. Two is speeches of prosecution or defense in a court of law seeking to determine the just resolution of actions to have been taken in the past. Three is speeches that do not call for any immediate action by the audience, but characteristically praise or blame some person or thing, often on a ceremonial occasion such as public funeral or holiday. In all three settings, speakers seek to persuade or influence action or belief and thus to impose their own ideas or values on others. A speaker presents a trustworthy character by showing practical wisdom, virtue, and good will. Emotions should be considered in terms of what the state of mind is of the person who feels a particular emotion, about whom the emotion is felt, and for what reason. He supplies propositions for creating or modifying each emotion.
Poetry has its place in life, and is therefore an object worthy of philosophical study.
Poetics is a study of the poetic kinds: epic, dramatic and lyrical poetry. Aristotle is not outdated in this complex, challenging theory, except for the breadth of its foundations. Those foundations include a careful analysis of human action, speech, and thought, and many aspects of his wider philosophy. He has much to offer that is timely about literature and its relation to life. He responds to Plato by arguing that poetry can be of philosophical value without being philosophy and of educational value without being education. He rejects Plato’s view that poets compose under inspiration rather than by the use of reason. Since poets use reason for their composition, they contain truths from which we can learn. Aristotle discusses mimesis under the heads of the objects of poetic imitation. It discusses the types of men and activities that are imitated or represented, and the manner of imitation that differentiates the three poetic kinds. It explains the origins and development of poetry. Poetry is mimesis or representation of reality, but a useful one from which we can learn. The nature of representation is that it is an intellectual process. We identify what is represented because it has some features of the actual object. Imitation of ugly things is capable of possessing beauty. He agrees that poetry excites the emotions. In doing so, it releases emotions, and hence has the effect of reducing them. In its concern with universal truths, the poetic treatment of a subject is more valuable than a historical treatment, since history has a concern only with facts. He argues that poetry is something more philosophical and more worthy of serious attention than history. The most important part is the discussion of tragic drama. The parts of drama include plot, character, diction, thought, spectacle, and song. Pity and terror are painful emotions in themselves, but much depends on why we feel them. To experience them in real life is genuinely painful, while to experience them in tragedy is proper. If the plot is correctly structured, it will arouse in the audience the correct emotional response. It the action is badly structured, it will arouse the wrong emotional response, such as shock or revulsion. In the Ethics, he argues that we should feel correct emotion towards the right object, at the right time, to the proper degree and so on. There are things about which it is right to feel anger, pity, or terror. Such correct emotional reactions as proper compassion, justified anger, and the right degree of courage can affect decision or moral choice. Too much fear leads to cowardice, while too little will lead to being foolhardy. One of the main factors in the building of good character is to develop a settled disposition to feel emotion correctly, since this will lead to good decisions. We become good by habitually doing good; by feeling emotions appropriately we become habituated to having the right emotional responses that are the mean between extremes. These emotions help us make the correct decisions, so that we come closer to where virtue lies, and become virtuous in character. Poetry offers a way in which we can learn these responses without the hazardous process of undergoing in actuality the experiences represented in poetry. By responding emotionally to the representation, we can learn to develop the correct emotional responses. Poetry has an educational and moral function as it helps to form character. Catharsis, then, combines education and entertainment. He puts forward views of his own, studies the methods of the great poets and drawing conclusions from them, and lays down and defines a critical terminology. He gives an answer to the critique that Plato offered of poetry. Correct imitation is in itself a source of pleasure. He also discusses the important concept of organic unity. He notes that the beautiful, whether a living creature or an object made up of various parts, must have those parts properly ordered. An epic will be like a single complete organism. The comparison of a literary work with that of a living organism is important in that Aristotle does not describe organic unity as a formal, dead, mechanical kind of unity. The notion of a living organism, when related to literature, implies growth and vigor in that literature. He also discusses the relationship between plot and character in drama. Character is subordinated to action because it is the product of action. Character develops in particular directions by the nature of our actions from our earliest days. Our tendency of character can be manifested only in action. Similarly, in drama, character in its full and proper sense can be manifested only in action, and must play a subordinate part to plot. By catharsis, he mans that emotions as pity and fear he means their restoration to the right proportions, to the desirable mean that is the basis of his discussion of human qualities in the Ethics. The theory of Aristotle becomes a rather subtle and sophisticated answer to Plato.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS (1224/1225-1274) was life devoted to the pursuit and defense of truth, a life permeated and motivated by a deep spirituality. He began, not with a pre-conceived notion of reality, but with the existent world, and made enquiries of it. He is objective, in that he reflects upon sense experience. He tried to weave all of human knowledge and unite them in one body of knowledge, all under the various departments of knowledge led by the church. God created the universe so that it has purpose in all its parts. Everyone is to seek God, there being two ways to do that. First, one seeks God through revelation or faith. The second was through reason. Certain things one can accept only by faith, such as the trinity, incarnation, creation. Other things one can establish through reason, such as God's existence. Since there was only one source of truth, there can be no conflict between revelation and reason. If there is, it is the result if faulty reasoning. He believed in glorifying God by relating all knowledge to God's divine plan. His use of Aristotle was significant in that it was the most powerful and comprehensive intellectual synthesis known in the world at the time.
His views are a re-thinking of Aristotle, with influences from Stoicism, Neo-Platonism, Augustinianism, and Boethianism. He sought a middle way. Thus, he did not just adopt this philosopher, but filtered it through his own Christian tradition. For Aristotle, being and essence are identical in each particular instance. In Aquinas, there is an explicit claim that in all creatures there is a real distinction between a think and its being. Being and essence (quiddity), were known by different intellectual acts. The real distinction between essence and existence is the fundamental truth of Christian philosophy in that it distinguishes between God and creatures. Likewise, the five ways for demonstrating the existence of God lacks a framework within Aristotelian thought. Aristotle in his ethical works insists on the fundamental importance of this cultural habituation for shaping one’s practical philosophy. Through this habituation, one originally acquires the starting points or first principles of moral philosophy. The rest of one’s oral thinking proceeds from those culturally instilled first principles. Even outside the realm of practical philosophy, Aristotle seems to recognize clearly the need for correct upbringing from one’s earliest years. The notion of the essential dependence of philosophy upon historical circumstances appears to be just as Aristotelian as it is postmodern, and any comparison of the thought of Aristotle with that of Aquinas should consider that dependence. With Aquinas, his Christian habituation and attitude inevitably make a profound difference in one’s philosophical thinking. It has prompted the query, “How could a Christian philosophize as though he or she had never heard of Christianity?” The Christian habituation toward them influences the selection of topics and the thrusts of interest, and in full accord with postmodern hermeneutic norms has to be taken into account in interpreting their philosophical meaning. Let us turn to the concept of being to compare them. Everything encountered in our perception is being. If it happens to be a metal, a plant, an animal, or a person, it is a substance. If it is a color, a size, or a relation, it is an accident and requires a substance in which it inheres. If it is right there before our eyes, it is actual. If it is to come into being in the future, it is still something potential and requires efficient causality to make to actual. If it undergoes change, it is temporal and is composed of matter that changes form one form to another. Aristotle shows no distinction between thing and being. For Aquinas, the sublime truth of Christianity was that it knew being in God, “I am who I am.” The primary instance of being was God. God continued to be thoroughly remote from other things. No creature could have being as its nature. They differ in that the same intellectual activity does not grasp what a thing is and that it is. The result is that knowing what a thing is will never give knowledge of its existence. The effect in epistemology is that we make a separation in being through judgment. We gain understanding of essence or nature through conceptualization, while we understand existence through judgment. They also differ in methodology. The philosophical thought of Aquinas proceeds strictly from the external sensible things that everyone knows regardless of religious belief. It uses only naturally evident starting points or premises for its demonstrative procedures. The whole problem lies in how it can isolate these starting points in a way that was not available to Aristotle, and yet in a manner that leaves them grounded solidly in external reality and not in an linguistic or historical habituation. External things remain epistemologically prior, and thus both Aristotle and Aquinas differ from modern philosophy that focuses on the epistemologically prior experiences of sensations, ideas, or linguistic and historical formation. Aquinas came to approach sensible things from an existential viewpoint grasped through judgment. He looked upon being as the proper name and nature of a creative and provident God. This approach to external sensible things prompted the philosophical search for the way in which people knew these sensible things through human cognition. From the viewpoint of their nature, people knew them through simple apprehension or conceptualization. From the viewpoint of their being, people grasped them through judgment. This was not something that was divinely revealed, but something available to unaided human reason. However, prior to Aquinas nobody had approached sensible things in just that way. He viewed existence to be the actuality of essence, the actuality of all actualities and the perfection of all perfections. This purely philosophical development did not look to any revealed source for its notions of essence, existence, and their relations to each other. It looked only at sensible things. It saw that people knew their natures and universalized through conceptualization, while people grasped their existence in each instance through judgment. From these aspects as known in sensible things, it reasoned in its own distinctive way to the infinitely perfect being that was the cause of all other existence. Aristotle saw finite form as the highest actuality in sensible things; Aquinas saw existence as that actuality. Once one sets aside the Cartesian origin of philosophy in ideas, it is not difficult to see how things can be epistemologically prior to both thought and language, with sensible things themselves as the ground on which the differences between the philosophy of Aristotle and the philosophy of Aquinas are to be judged.
Aquinas also had a relationship to Islamic and Jewish thinkers, especially Moses Maimonides, a Jew, and Ibn Sina Avicenna, a Muslim, and Ibn Rushd Averroes, another Muslim. In Avicenna, the matter of distinguishing existing from essence is primary. Aristotle bequeathed this issue to posterity: the relationship of existing individuals to their intelligible natures or rationes. Aristotle meant substance to be exemplified paradigmatically by existing individuals, yet equally clear that what makes something to be what it is, its essence or secondary substance, comprises what is knowable about it. It is fair to say that the Metaphysics left this as an aporia. Islamic philosophy made a radical distinction between necessary and contingent existence: between the existence of God and that of the created world. Aquinas removed existing from Aristotelian categories, proposing that philosophers understand it be in terms of the master analogy of actuality and potentiality.
In Metaphysics, no science can demonstrate the existence of its own subject. The person studying metaphysics can study God as the cause or principle of what does fall under being as being. Aquinas distinguishes between the philosophical science, which studies God indirectly as the cause of that which falls under its subject, and another kind of theology that has God as its subject and depends on belief in divine revelation for its principles. Even so, no real conflict between faith and reason or between faith and philosophy can exist, since both have God as their source. Metaphysics does not depend on matter in order to exist or for one to understand it. Being as being enjoyed a kind of freedom from matter.
This leads him to the analogy of being. What kind of unity must characterize the notion of being if it applies to every being and to the differences that obtain between beings? He predicates Being analogically rather than purely univocally or equivocally. The problem of analogy arises at two levels. On the one hand, one may address it at the level of beings insofar as one discovers them through sense experience and fall under being as being or being in general, the subject of metaphysics. However, one may also address this issue the vertical or transcendental level. On this level one is concerned with explaining how being and like names may be meaningfully applied to different kinds of substance. One predicates something univocally when it remains the same in name and intelligible content or definition. This way one predicates the name animal of a human being and of a donkey. One predicates something equivocally of different things when the name remains the same but its meaning differs in different applications. In this way, one may use the name dog of a barking creature and of a heavenly body. Finally, one may predicate something analogically of different things that differ in definition but that one relevantly relates to the same thing.
Aquinas distinguishes different causal orders that may ground analogical predication. Frequently Aquinas makes the point that the intelligible content corresponding to an analogical term is partly the same and partly diverse in its various analogical usages. Aquinas grounds his theory of analogical predication on sameness and difference that obtain in reality. He distinguishes between the analogy of many to one and the analogy of one to another. He accepts the reality of different levels of being and hence of different kinds of substances within the created universe, the hierarchy of being. He must also defend analogical rather than univocal predication of being of different individual substances that fall within the same species.
He closely relates his analogy of being with a metaphysics of participation, which is also the heart of the problem of the one and the many. How can there by many beings and yet each of which is different from every other? When something receives particularly that which belongs to another universally, the former participates in the latter. If a given subject possesses a particular quality or characteristic only partially rather than totally, the subject participates in the quality or characteristic. Aquinas distinguishes a number of different ways in which participation may occur. However, other things participate in existence, but existence does not itself participate in anything else. If something is to be the subject of an accident, it must participate in existence. It must exist. Participation of a being in existence is real and leads to a real distinction between the participating subject and that in which it participates. If a subject is to exist, it must first participate in existence.
Participation of beings in existence most naturally falls under Aquinas’s third major type, that whereby an effect participates in a cause. Created or caused entities or natures participate in existence in three ways: existence in general, God, and participating in the act of being that the existing creature intrinsically realizes. He draws a very close connection between the metaphysics of participation and his view that there is real composition of nature or essence and act of being. His theory of real composition of essence and existence in beings other than God is a necessary condition for and a part of his metaphysics of participation.
In terms of essence and existence, he concludes that an intelligence is form plus existence and that it receives its existence from the first being that is existence alone. The act-potency composition of separate intelligences suggests that want receives something from another is in potency with respect to what it receives and that which it receives is present in it as its act. The quiddity or form that is in an intelligence is in potency to the existence it receives from God, and that its existence is received as act. Potency and act, essence and existence, are present in intelligences, even though intelligences lack matter and form.
The argument for the existence of God itself uses as its point of departure the otherness of essence and existence in all beings including intelligences other than God. Many individual beings exist because each one of them participates in existence in general. No one of them is identical with it or exhausts it. If particular entities share in existence in limited fashion, this is because in each of them there is an essence principle that limits the existence it receives. Each receiving and limiting essence principle enters into real composition with the act of being it receives. He had a much-contested view that prime matter is pure potentiality. He also had a much-contested view that only one substantial form in each substance, including human beings. In terms of the existence of God, he is convinced that philosophical argumentation can prove that God exists. He also denies that the existence of God is self-evident to us in this life. One can establish it only by reasoning from effect to cause. Certain things in this world move other things. Whatever moves has something else that moves it. He concludes that nothing can be mover and moved at the same time or move itself. Therefore, another moves whatever is moved. One must grant the existence of some first mover that nothing else moves, which we call God. It is also impossible for something to be the efficient cause of itself, so the first efficient cause is God. Since everything is capable of not existing, there must be a necessary being, which we call God. Since there are gradations of good, true, nobility, we must grant that something is the cause of existence, goodness, and the perfection for all other beings, which we call God. Since all things tend toward their end, some intelligence must order them to their end, and this we call God. We can know that God is, and what God is not, but not what God is. Human beings cannot have quidditative knowledge of God, either because of philosophical investigation or as based on divine revelation.
How can we know the being that transcends sense experience? This is metaphysics, the attempt to explain the many experiences we have. His views are based on Aristotle, Metaphysics. St. Thomas believed in the via negativa, the negative way. This prevented him from having too much confidence in the power of human reason to penetrate the divine essence. Rather, only God's existence can be known by reason. Predicates, positive statements about who God is, are denied because the word falls short in describing God's perfection. God cannot be physical, no matter or form (simplicity), infinite and perfect, immutable, eternal, one. The positive way cannot represent God perfectly. This is where the use of language is important. He makes a distinction between what is, its essence, and that a being is, the act of being. The latter does not suggest the necessity of materiality. There are transcendentals like thing, something, one, true (intelligible meaning), good, and beautiful. Univocal use means precisely the same sense. In this sense, all language falls short. Equivocal use means an entirely and completely different sense. This would not be true of human language about God, unless agnosticism would be accepted. Analogical use suggests a half-way point between God and human beings. Individuals know through their five sense first, and must apply their limited language to God, recognizing that anything said about God in this way falls short of who God really is. This is based upon the concept of resemblance. It is this relation, this likeness to God, which allows human beings to speak about God at all. He believed one could demonstrate divine intelligence and divine free will. Individuals perceive God's perfection only in pieces. That knowledge is imperfect and inadequate, but it is not false. For St. Thomas, the most adequate name for God is the one given to Moses, "He who is."
He discusses the relationship between faith and knowledge. Faith is motivated by the object of faith, but not sufficiently to accept it as true. The will is needed to bring one to faith. Knowledge has a clear vision of the object, not needing a direct influence from the will. Philosophy moves from prior knowledge, or present experience, to new knowledge by a way of reduction to basic principles.
Philosophy makes use of the natural light of reason, while the theologian accepts principles on authority, on faith, only what is revealed. The philosopher begins with experience and argues by reason to God. The theologian begins with what is known by God in revelation. Philosophy is directed to the knowledge of God, and thus revelation is morally necessary, given the fact that God is the goal to which humanity is directed. The supernatural end of the individual is directed toward the eternal, while the natural end can be explored by the philosopher. The supernatural end cannot be discerned by the philosopher. That end is the beatific vision of God. However, through the use of natural powers a limited natural happiness in this life can be discovered without the benefit of faith or revelation. Most people will need to accept on faith what the philosopher can demonstrate rationally. Thus, it is possible for a truth to both believed on the basis of an authority and at the same time be demonstrated as true on the basis of reason. It was the bold adoption of Aristotle as a model which made St. Thomas an innovator of his day. He wanted to show that Averroes did not have a corner on the market of interpreting Aristotle. Yet, he often expressed himself on themes consistent with Augustine while using Aristotelian categories.
Concerning the principles of created things, he adopts a common-sense standpoint. The human mind comes to know in dependence on sense experienced. Reflection on these objects, however, at once leads the mind to form a distinction in the objects themselves. All such natural objects change in terms of place, size, color & shape, and generation or corruption. Human experience distinguishes between substance and accident, and between the different kinds of accidents. Then there is the difference between matter and form, the later making anything the class of created things which it is. The first act of any individual thing is that which makes it a specific class and determines essence. Matter and form must be considered together, the principle of individuation. This is the Aristotelian doctrine of hylomorphic composition, which is contrary to the Augustinian doctrine of the separation of form and matter. In this view, change proceeds from a certain rhythm. Finite being has being because it exists. Existence is that in virtue of which substance is called a being. It exists necessarily, essence is actualized by existence. He did not distinguish essence and existence in that the former could exist without the latter. Existence for finite beings determines the essence. As an aside, he accepted the Aristotelian notion of absolute space and time. He also accepted the Eudoxian astronomy of his day, placing earth at the center, while being open to new ways of understanding data.
God's existence is not known through direct intuition, but through reflection. He rejected the ontological or a priori proof of God's existence given by St. Anselm. The distinction between the ideal and real is not seriously enough considered in this proof. This means God's existence must be proved a posteriori, through an examination of God's effects. He argues from certain facts in the world which lead him to believe God exists. Thus, the world of the five senses do not contain within themselves sufficient ontological explanation for their existence. The first proof is that from motion, used by Aristotle. As an infinite series is impossible, we come in the end to an unmoved mover, a first mover, which we naturally understand to be God. The second proof is from the order or series of efficient causes. Nothing can be the cause of itself, and since it is impossible to have an infinite series of causes, there must be an efficient cause, which we call God. The third proof is that the finite world has some things existing and some things perishing, making all things contingent. There must be a necessary being, not contingent on other beings, which brought all other contingent beings into existence. A note about the infinite series. He is not concerned with time, but with ontology. Logically, there cannot be infinite series, whereas in time there could be. The fourth proof is based upon the degrees of perfection in this world. There is a hierarchy of being. What is the supreme goodness, truth, and beauty, must be the cause of such values in this life. The argument is Platonic in origin and presupposes the idea of participation in being. This is what we call God. The fifth proof is teleological. Everything that exists has a purpose. This does not happen by chance, but is the result of intention. Therefore, there exists an intelligent being, by whom all natural things are directed to an end. In this way, St. Thomas attempted to show how God can be known in God's works.
In terms of creation, all finite things must proceed from God through creation. Every part of creation has a real relation to God, is dependent upon God for existence. God did not create out of necessity. But then, why did God create? God created in order to diffuse goodness. However, he did not believe it was possible to demonstrate that creation at a moment in time was possible to prove. This was known only through revelation. It is possible that God could have created a different kind of world. Why this one? Evil is the privation of goodness or perfection, though it does really exist. It is important in view of what it lacks. God did not will the evils in this world. Yet, God willed the world in which the evils which God "foresaw" would occur. God was willing to put up with the evil in the world which occurred through human choice in order achieve a greater good, that of human beings who would freely give to God their love. Human beings are free. Yet, what is necessary in terms of what God foresaw, is contingent from the human perspective.
In his view of human nature, he was influenced by Aristotle, On the Soul, Augustine, John of Damascus, and the Bible. In terms of the individual, St. Thomas stresses the unity of the human being. Body and soul belong together, not only reasoning and understanding, but also sensing. This union cannot be the result of sin, as Origen thought. There are different faculties of the soul. The vegetative faculty is that of nutrition, growth, and reproduction. The sensitive faculty is the five senses plus imagination. The rational faculty is the active and passive intellect and the will, and has as its object sense experience. The mind has the ability to abstract universal meanings and grasping them in the use of the intellect. People have will, and necessarily desire to be happy. People will what is good, though not necessarily the will of God. Free will implies rationality. Reason is not instinct. Choice concerns the means to the final end of human choice, which is happiness. Between intellect and will, he considered the intellect the more noble faculty of the soul. It is the intellectual and volitional aspects of humanity which make humanity different from animals. Is the closeness of the relation between soul and body incompatible with personal immortality?
In terms of the philosophy of mind, he divides physical life into animate and inanimate life. He relates animate life to the soul, and thus trees and cats have souls, though they are not spiritual beings. The soul of a plant is merely nutritive, the soul of a non-human animal is nutritive and sensory, and the human being has a soul involving nutritive, sensory, and rationality. Through intellect the human being can have cognition of the natures of all bodies, and any faculty that can have cognition of certain things cannot have any of those things in its own nature. He defines a human being as a rational animal. He defines an animal as a living, sensitive, corporeal being. However, his theory of subsistence threatens to leave the human being identified with the human soul, looking like an incorporeal, subsistent entity that is temporality and rather casually associated with a body. He thinks of sensuality as the inclination to seek the suitable and flee the harmful and the inclination to resist and overcome whatever deters one’s access to the suitable or promotes the harmful. The important issue is the manner and extent of the rational faculties’ control of sensuality. Rational animals necessarily seek happiness. He affirms emphatically that human beings are free to make choices. His mature view appears as a version of compatibilism.
In terms of the process of knowing, he believed the mind was a tabula rasa, there are no innate ideas, and that the mind focused upon sense experience. Knowledge is limited to sense experience and the intellectual understanding of it. Internal sensations through the five senses create impressions by which objects are known directly. The higher functions of understanding, reasoning, and judging have universal meanings arising out of sense experience. There could be no direct knowledge of a spiritual being. This means that metaphysical knowledge is impossible. However, St. Thomas avoided this conclusion by saying that intellect is moving toward being, not toward particular beings. This presupposes the activity of the human intellect. The passive intellect receives sense data, while the active intellect moves toward immaterial being in sensible being.
In terms of his theory of knowledge, he builds his epistemology based on metaphysics and psychology. In cognition, first, he needs a metaphysical account of the two relate: the human soul and the object of human cognition. Here he draws primarily on his Aristotelian hylomorphism. On the one hand, the soul is the substantial form of the body, that by virtue of which human beings are substances with a characteristic form of life or set of potentialities that distinguishes them as a species. The objects of cognition, on the other hand, are primarily the particular corporeal substances to which we have access through sense perception. A cognizer is assimilated to an object of cognition when the form that is particularized in that object, such as a stone, comes to exist in the cognizer’s soul. Second, he sees himself as needed to account for the soul’s capacity for being assimilated to objects in this way. A sensory cognitive power gives them cognitive access to the particular corporeal substances and accidents that inhabit the external world. They must have intellective cognitive powers by virtue of which they are able to transform the enmattered, particularized forms existing in sensible objects into intelligible species. This much of the psychological story of cognition provides a rudimentary account of how we can be cognitively assimilated to the simple elements of reality, substances and their accidents. The soul must not only possess the forms of the simple elements of reality but also manipulate them to form complexes isomorphic with reality in subject and predicate propositions. Intellect is the power by virtue of which we can be assimilated in this way to reality, and by virtue of intellect’s activity of understanding we can both grasp the natures of things and use tem as constituents of propositions. Human beings are also able to acquire cognition of new things by reasoning discursively based on things already cognized. By virtue of its distinct activity of reasoning, intellect enables us to infer certain propositions from other propositions. His epistemology breaks naturally into two parts, one dealing with the prior, data gathering stage of the process, and one dealing with its latter, inferential stage. He develops his account of the inferential stage as a part of his logic. The intellective power is self-reflexive with respect to its activities. Intellect can take its own judgment. Creatures with intellect have the capacity not only for being cognitively conformed to reality but also for considering whether or not its cognitions in fact conform to reality. In terms of knowledge, the intellective power is self-reflexive with respect to its activities. The intellect can take its own activities including, its acts of cognition, as objects of thought and judgment. A creature with intellect has the capacity not only for being cognitively conformed to reality but also for considering whether or not its cognitions in fact conform to reality. With scientia and inferential justification, scientia is knowledge paradigmatically because complete and certain cognition of the truth of a given proposition constitutes impeccable justification, a kind and degree of justification that guarantees the propositions truth. He has an Aristotelian analysis of a theory of demonstration: the proper object of scientia is the conclusion of a demonstrative syllogism. If the justification characteristic of scientia is derivative, what is the nature eof the justification from which it derives. In terms of scientia and foundationalism, propositions that are known by virtue of themselves are epistemic first principles, the foundations of scientia. The first proceeds by attacking rival accounts of justification, concluding that inferential justification is possible only if there is non-inferential justification. The opposing view suggests that all epistemic justification is inferential and one can be inferentially justified in holding a proposition only if one is justified in holding some other propositions. Aquinas calls circular demonstration. According to this view, the regress of inferential justification can be infinite without being vicious if it circles back on itself. Scientia requires foundations. The propositions that constitute scientia’s foundations immediate propositions. Propositions are immediate by virtue of expressing what might be called metaphysically immediate relationships or facts, the relationships that hold between natures and their essential constituents. This metaphysical picture allows us to see the kind of objectivist requirement he incorporates into the theory of demonstration. When he claims that the first principles of demonstration must be immediate and indemonstrable, he is claiming that they must express metaphysically immediate propositions and not just propositions that are epistemically basic and unprovable for some particular epistemic subject. The structure of demonstration is isomorphic with the metaphysical structure of reality: immediate, indemonstrable propositions express metaphysically immediate facts, whereas mediate, demonstrable propositions express metaphysically mediate facts. Moreover, because fully developed demonstrations are isomorphic with reality, the premises in a demonstration can be thought of as giving the cause of the conclusion. This metaphysical picture explains how immediate propositions express metaphysical foundations and how they fill the role of epistemic foundations. First, by virtue of being predications in which the predicate belongs to the account of the subject, they are essential predications and universally and necessarily true. Second, such that when w are acquainted with them, we cannot fail to see their necessity. We cannot conceive of the falsity of those propositions. Non-inferential justification consists in one’s being directly aware of the immediate facts that ground a propositions necessary truth. He describes them as cognized or known by virtue of themselves. He might better have said that they are cognizable or knowable by virtue of themselves since he holds that a proposition’s being immediate is no guarantee that it will be known by any human being. They are proper objects of non-derivative knowledge. However, their actually being known by virtue of themselves requires hat one by acquainted with the facts expressed by those propositions, which requires that one conceive the terms of those propositions. It seems that he supposes that we have phenomenological evidence for the existence of non-inferential justification of this sort this implicit phenomenological appeal constitutes grounds for his foundationalism that are independent of his rejection of rival epistemological theories. These first principles will be mmediate, universal, and necessary, and with respect to the demonstrative conclusions they entail, they will be epistemically prior, and express facts that are both metaphysically prior and explanatory. In qualifying and extending scientia, Aquinas can admit that paradigmatic scientia can be attained only in a priori disciplines such as logic or geometry, while allowing that we an correctly be said to have scientia with respect to many other sorts of propositions. He makes room for secondary scientia in two ways. First, as corporeal creatures, human beings have cognitive access to the world through the bodily senses. Human cognition must start from and rely on sense perception; we acquire propositions about sensible objects first and find them psychologically easiest to assent to. Propositions about particular sensible objects are sometimes better known t us even though by nature or considered in themselves they are not better known. They can constitute immediate propositions for us and function as epistemic first principles grounding what is for us scientia. Second, he holds that because of their particularity and materiality, the objects of natural science, corporeal substances in the realm of nature, admit of contingency. He allows that we can have scientia with respect to them to the extent that we can render them universal. He holds that the paradigm of justification, attainable in certain purely formal, a priori disciplines, guarantees the truth of cognition by virtue of grounding it in the universality and necessity of the objects cognized and the infallibility of our access to them. However, he allows kinds and degrees of justification that only approximate that necessity and infallibility. It is a mistake to suppose that his epistemology is coextensive with his account of scientia, but he does take strict scientia, as he conceives of it, as the paradigm of epistemic justification and the model by which other sorts of justification are to be understood and against which they are to be measured. In that sense, the account of scientia is not merely a part of this theory of knowledge, but is cornerstone. As to difficult first principles, he denies that the fact that many have rejected some proposition shows that the proposition cannot be known by virtue of itself. He claims to be justifies in holding T by virtue of condition. He recognizes a sort of justification acquired from dialectical or probable reasoning. Dialectical reasoning is distinguished by its producing conclusions that are not certain but merely probable. In terms of cognition of real natures, he discusses our cognitive relations to these entities, entities he things of as the logically simple elements out of which complex propositional knowledge is built. His answer to the genetic question of how we come to have cognition of first principles is that we have certain cognitive powers that make it possible for us to have cognition of the natures or quiddities of things, the universals that are the constituents of categorical propositions. We might think of the puzzle as drawing our attention to an epistemological gap between human cognizers dependent on sense perception and cognition of universals. Aquinas presents his theory of intellective abstraction as the solution. The sources of universal cognition are partly extrinsic and partly intrinsic to the soul. His empiricism identifies an external source. Cognition of universals, originates from sense perception, and so from the external world of material particulars. However, he acknowledges that something is required on the side of the soul, a cognitive capacity that manipulates sensory data to produce intelligible universals. We cognize the universal real natures that constitute the subject and predicate of epistemic first principles when we possess actually intelligible species or forms abstracted by this mechanism from the material conditions that render them merely potentially intelligible. In terms of epistemological optimism, a modern person recognizes that Aquinas rarely addresses skeptical worries. If asked what justifies him in thinking our faculties reliable, he would surely reply not by claiming that his belief in our cognitive reliability is itself caused by a reliable belief-forming mechanism but by pointing us to his philosophical theology and its foundationalist arguments for the existence of a good creator of human cognizers and by appealing to cases in which we have certain and infallible cognition of truth. Aquinas’s apparent confidence that skepticism is false may well derive from his certainty that global skepticism is false. Aquinas may suppose that given this certification of the intellect’s ability to grasp truth in particular cases, we are justified in supposing that our cognitive faculties generally give us access to reality, at least in the absence of compelling reasons for thinking otherwise. The direct guarantee we do have for some gives us good reason to trust others. Human beings are limited cognitive beings with restricted access to reality. He acknowledges that what they can know about the structure of nature and the realm of immaterial beings is incomplete in both depth and breadth.
In terms of morality, he believed the moral law did not depend solely upon revelation. The divine will for humanity logically presupposes the idea of human nature, and thus what is moral can be known through reason, without explicit thought about God. Natural law suggests a sufficient knowledge of what is morally right. "Good should be done and sought after; evil should be avoided." The natural inclination is toward self-preservation, reproduction, and the use of reason toward universal goods, are all natural and good, provided they are reasonably pursued. The focus is on the reasonableness of one's behavior as fulfilling the ultimate purpose of happiness and the vision of God. This is the path of perfection. Conscience is not a special moral sense, but the best practical judgment concerning a specific moral problem. In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle argues that people act for an end of happiness. This is an activity directed toward the attainment of the highest and noblest good, which is contemplation. This is not in the religious sense, but in the philosophical sense of having contemplation on truth, goodness, and beauty. His ethics was eudaemonistic, teleological, and intellectualist. Though St. Thomas followed Aristotle closely, the only acts that fall within the moral sphere are free acts. The teleological emphasis dominates. Rationally controlled activities must be directed to some good, and judge good or bad in terms of attainment and means to that end. Happiness is not found in any created thing, like power or sensible pleasure, but found only in God. It is the natural desire of humanity to attain the vision of God. At this point, he departs from Aristotle and speaks much like St. Augustine. He follows in Aristotle in suggesting that moral intellectual virtues are habits, by which people live rightly. It is reason which gives orders and imposes obligation. For Aristotle, virtuous people are independent, while for St. Thomas they are dependent in that they express their utter dependence upon God.
Moral theory derives from reflection on actions performed by human agents. This truism calls attention to the priority of moral action over moral theory. Since human persons engaged in acting are aware of what they are doing and why, the distinction between theory and action is not one between knowledge and non-knowledge, between knowing and willing, but rather a between two kinds of practical knowledge. Human action is for the sake of an end. Each human act aims at some good as its end, a property arising from reason and will. The action is the action it is because of the objective the agent has in mind in performing it. We can also speak of some further end, until we reach the first or ultimate end. Aristotle based this observation upon human government, suggesting that wise government has the common good as its end. Further, happiness is the ultimate end of human life. With Aquinas, the notion of human good is implicit in any human action. People make mistakes about is good for them, and thus happiness consists in the attainment of that which truly realizes the supreme good. Aristotle suggested that if we want to know whether something good or not, we ask what its function is. Virtue becomes anything performing its function well. What characterizes the human agent is rational activity, and the virtue jof that activity makes the human agent good. Virtue is that which makes the one having it good and renders the activity good. Virtue ensures a steady love of the good and involves will essentially, good being the object and love being the act of the will. The good for a human being consists of a plurality of moral and intellectual virtues. The moral virtues enable one to order the goods of the sensory appetite to te comprehensive good of the agent. Human beings have an inclination to preserve themselves in existence, to make, to have young, to care for the young, to reason, know, converse, and live together in society. These are natural inclinations. We can pursue such goods well or badly, which is the foundation of moral discourse. The moral order consists of putting our minds to the pursuit of the objects of natural inclinations, such that we pursue them well, that is, toward our comprehensive good. Natural law is a theory about moral reasoning. Natural law is the theory that there are certain truths about what we ought and ought not do known per se. Every human agent has conscious or unconscious access to natural law. Do good and avoid evil is a principle any human agent will recognize. We make such natural law judgments with only slight consideration. In the same way, lying, stealing, seducing the spouse of another is contrary to reasonable, human order of our lives. Human happiness is an imperfect realization of the notion of ultimate end. We can have imperfect and perfect realization of ultimate end. Moral theology presupposes natural law about the human good.
Aquinas made a significant contribution to social theory for this period. Aristotle believed the State satisfied the needs of humanity. St. Thomas did not. He believed God instituted the State and necessary to the plan of God. It was therefore good. Human beings are not isolated individuals who can attend happiness alone. Rather, they need relation to others to accomplish that end. Thus, human society is natural to humanity. In the same way, government is natural to society. It would tend to disintegrate without it. This meant the state was not the result of sin, which Augustine tended to say, nor the result of egoism. The laws of the State must be in accord with natural law, or they are a perversion of law. Each state made up classes, each having special functions: 1) daily labor provided by peasants and artisans, 2) war provided by nobles, 3) justice was provided by the ruler, and 4) prayer and sacraments by the clergy. Those who do not do their functions are rebelling against God. Those who perform their functions fulfill their duty in the world. Since the end of humanity is beyond this life, the church plays an important role in being indirectly exerting power over the state.
Aquinas broadens Aristotle’s notion to argue that humanity is by nature a political and social animal who uses reason and speech to cooperate in building political communities that respond to the needs of the group and of the individuals who compose it. The political community will be a union of free people under the direction of a ruler, who aims at the promotion of the common good. Government has a positive role and moral justification. The autonomy of the temporal rule is not absolute. Based on the Neo-platonic notion the great chain of being, he supposed that monarchy was the best form of government and had divine sanction. At the same time, he endorsed popular participation in government, based upon acquaintance of republican institutions in the Italian city-states. Such participation was through corporate groups, and thus not directly by individuals through voting and majority rule under a constitution. He suggests women have use for procreation only. Further, women are naturally subject to men because men have a greater capacity for reason. In terms of natural law, he suggest that reason has the capacity to perceive what is good for human beings by following the order of our natural inclinations, such as self-preservation, family life and bringing up children, and the goals of knowing God and living in society. Knowledge of the natural law is rational knowledge that is based on our perception of natural goals or inclinations that are naturally apprehended by reason as good. Aquinas combines disparate elements in Aristotle to arrive at this theory of natural law. He ascribes prudence as a virtue by which human beings choose the right means for the attainment of ends that are identified by practical reason. Equity is the power of the ruler to depart from the letter of the law when its literal application would violate its spirit. Deliberate abortion of the fetus is equivalent to murder, but only after quickening or ensoulment. Abortion before then was a sin, but it was not murder. He also systematized the conditions of the just war theory. One needed declaration by the ruler who had the duty to defend the common wealth, a just cause such as self-defense, and a right intention. One intends only the defense of one’s own life, but not the killing that may inevitably result, and that only the minimally necessary force may be used.
In terms of the relation between theology and philosophy, theologians have the right jto own philosophical truths, a right to correct philosophical errors, and a right to re-direct philosophical motivation. Theology strengthens philosophical reflection and improves philosophical discoveries. Christian theology done well ought to speak more an better things about matters of concern to philosophy than the philosophers themselves can say. If a Christian theology cannot do ths, Aquinas would not count it theology done well.
It was in the 20th century that the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas were introduced into the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church. 589:1 says priests are to follow the teachings of Aquinas and 1366:2 encourages professors to use his principles. However, this does not mean there are no rivals. Scotism and Ockhamism have been strong rivals.