On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms
Fine (Gail)
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

Oxford Scholarship Online Book Abstract

  1. Gail Fine's On Ideas is a study of Book I of Aristotle's short essay Peri Idēon, in which Aristotle presents a systematic account of a series of five arguments for the existence of Platonic forms along with a series of objections to each of these arguments.
  2. Fine's aim in this book is to explore these arguments and the objections that Aristotle makes with a view to determining the extent to which
    1. the arguments express premises to which Plato himself is committed and
    2. the objections express criticisms to which Plato is vulnerable.
  3. The Peri Idēon provides a more precise characterization of the theory of forms than is to be found in any of Plato's dialogues. Nevertheless, Fine takes Plato's middle dialogues to be the target, and so she does not discuss Platonists apart from Plato, nor does she discuss the unwritten dialogues.
  4. Fine's study thus examines whether the account of the theory of forms of the Peri Idēon is one that can be fairly ascribed to Plato, and she is also interested in what the Peri Idēon tells us about Aristotle's understanding of Plato. However, the study is not simply historical: the Peri Idēon may well be regarded as the original locus of the debate over the nature of universals1, and a major focus of Fine's book concerns such perennial philosophical questions as: ‘Can universals2 exist uninstantiated?’ and ‘How are universals3 related to particulars?’.
  5. The first chapter consists of the Greek text and Fine's translation of the Peri Idēon; the remainder of the book is an extensive discussion of the five arguments that Aristotle presents for the existence of forms, and of the objections that he makes to these arguments, including the celebrated Third Man argument.
  6. Fine points to a dilemma facing the interpreter of the Peri Idēon: either Plato is vulnerable to Aristotle's objections, and the theory of forms must be abandoned as a flawed ontology or Plato is not vulnerable to Aristotle's objections, and therefore Aristotle misinterprets Plato.
  7. Fine argues that this dilemma is not exhaustive; rather, if we understand Aristotle's philosophical style and interpretative strategy, we may hold at once that Plato is not vulnerable and yet refrain from accusing Aristotle of misinterpretation. The question of Aristotle's interpretation of Plato, and the extent to which his criticisms in the Peri Idēon are successful, is therefore a very complex issue.



"Fine (Gail) - On Ideas - Preface"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, 1993



"Fine (Gail) - Aristotle - On Ideas - Text and Translation"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 1


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    The fragments of the Peri Idēon are preserved in the Greek commentator Alexander's commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics. In Ch. 1, Fine offers the Greek text, followed by her translation, of Book I of the Peri Idēon, which is the focus of the study. Fine uses the recensio vulgata (OAC) of Alexander's commentary, but also includes relevant portions of the recensio altera (LF). Fine does not offer a new edition of the Greek text; she uses mainly Dieter Harlfinger's critical edition (in W. Leszl, Il ‘De Ideis’ di Aristotele, Florence 1975), but also M. Hayduck's edition (Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca, 1891). Apart from Book I of the Peri Idēon, Fine includes some of Alexander's remarks on the fragments and also Eudemus's version of the Third Man Argument.



"Fine (Gail) - On Ideas - Introduction"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 2


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    Fine begins by delineating precisely what is at issue in such questions as ‘Are forms universals1 or particulars?’. Fine argues that Plato's forms are not meanings, as they would be on a semantic conception of universals2; and neither are they particulars: rather Plato, like Aristotle, has a realist conception of universals3. They both conceive universals4 as explanatory properties of things, and both agree that such universals5 are the basic object of knowledge: however, for Plato the forms are self-predicative and separate, while Aristotle denies this of his universals6. Fine lists the five arguments for the existence of forms that Aristotle sets out in the Peri Idēon and divides them into the ‘less accurate’ and the ‘more accurate’ arguments. Fine concludes with some remarks on Aristotle as a critic of Plato, in which she argues that, on a proper understanding of Aristotle's argumentative strategy, it is possible to deny that Plato's theory of forms is vulnerable to Aristotle's criticisms, while also denying that Aristotle is guilty of misinterpretation.



"Fine (Gail) - Evidence, Provenance, and Chronology"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 3


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    Fine considers the authenticity of the Peri Idēon, the accuracy of Alexander's record of the Peri Idēon, the target of the Peri Idēon, and finally the date of its composition, relative to Plato's and Aristotle's careers. Fine argues that Aristotle wrote an essay called Peri Idēon, and that Alexander reliably reports portions of this essay. The target of the Peri Idēon and what Fine will focus upon is Plato, and, in particular, the group of dialogues known as the middle dialogues, rather than other Platonists, or the unwritten doctrines. Fine suggests, tentatively, that the Peri Idēon was written while Aristotle was still a member of the Academy, and therefore written before some of Plato's late dialogues, such as Sophist, and Timaeus, but probably after the Parmenides and Theaetetus.



"Fine (Gail) - Platonic Questions"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 4


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    Fine examines Platonic and Socratic forms, and discusses the features they have in common and the differences between them. For Aristotle, there is a radical distinction between Socratic and Platonic forms: e.g. on Aristotle's view, since Plato's forms are separate, they are not just universals1, but also particulars, whereas Socratic forms are close to Aristotle's conception of universals2. Fine argues that Plato's forms and Socratic forms are the same entities; rather than making a break with Socratic forms, Plato attempts to develop them in such a way as to make them plausible and defendable. Socrates and Plato, Fine argues, are in agreement on certain basic points, such as that forms are universals3, or properties, and that they are self-predicating; when they differ, it is usually on some aspect that Socrates has no opinion, such as the separation, perfection, and non-sensibility of the forms.



"Fine (Gail) - The Arguments from the Sciences: Forms and Knowledge"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 5


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    Fine begins the examination of the Peri Idēon's arguments for the existence of forms. The first argument, the Arguments from the Sciences, is a group of three arguments, according to which the existence of the Sciences, or the branches of knowledge, requires the existence of forms. The Arguments from the Sciences are the only arguments that try to establish forms on the basis of an appeal to considerations about knowledge. On Fine's interpretation, the central thread of these arguments is that, since the nature of F-ness cannot be explained with reference to particular Fs, hence there must be forms as the basic objects of knowledge. The arguments are valid, insofar as they establish that there must be non-sensible universals1; but Aristotle objects that they are invalid as arguments for the existence of forms—the universals2 they establish are not necessarily separate, perfect paradigms.



"Fine (Gail) - Forms of Artefacts"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 6


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    Aristotle's second objection to the Arguments from the Sciences is that, if it proved the existence of forms, then it would commit one to admitting forms of artefacts; and this is a conclusion undesired by Platonism. Fine raises a difficulty, in that Plato in fact often appears to countenance forms of artefacts; in this chapter, she considers Aristotle's objection and Plato's understanding of the forms of artefacts. Fine argues that, although Plato does countenance forms of artefacts, such forms do not have the features that are associated (by Aristotle, at least) with Platonic forms, strictly speaking. Indeed, Plato himself denies that artefact forms are perfect, separate, or non-sensible. Regarding the objection, then, Fine concludes that it is reasonable, because Aristotle is justified in claiming that the Arguments from the Sciences lead to the existence of artefact forms, and it is a result that Plato may not welcome.



"Fine (Gail) - Plato and the Arguments from the Sciences"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 7


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    Fine has argued that Aristotle's objections are good against the Arguments from the Sciences, if forms are understood as non-sensible, everlasting, separate, and perfect paradigms. In this chapter, however, Fine argues that Plato would accept some, but not all, of the premisses of the Arguments from the Sciences. Drawing upon Republic 5, Fine identifies narrow compresence of opposites as a salient feature of a more general sort of imperfection that Plato relies upon to establish the existence of forms. This ‘imperfection argument’ (i.e. if a group of things are each imperfectly F, then they are F in virtue of a perfect form of F) does not imply separate or everlasting forms, as Aristotle thinks it does. However, Fine argues that this is not a misinterpretation by Aristotle of Plato; rather, it is indicative of Aristotle's general interpretative strategy, i.e. not to give opponents premisses that they do not formulate precisely.



"Fine (Gail) - The One Over Many Argument: Forms and Predication"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 8


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    The one over many argument is that there are separated, everlasting forms corresponding to every general term truly predicated of groups of things. Aristotle's objections are that (1) if successful, then it would prove too many forms, including forms of negations, which is absurd on his and the Platonists’ view; and (2) it is not a valid argument for forms. In this chapter, Fine examines the One over Many Argument and Aristotle's objections; in particular, she attempts to trace the Argument to the dialogues, and considers whether Plato is committed to the existence of forms of negations. Fine argues that Aristotle is right to say that the Argument is invalid, and to deny that the argument implies separation; but she does not think that Plato is vulnerable to the objection that forms are posited for every property name, and furthermore she denies that Plato countenances negative forms. Again, however, Fine argues that Aristotle is not misinterpreting Plato; rather, his strategy is to focus attention on Plato's failure to spell out his views in detail and with clarity.



"Fine (Gail) - The Object of Thought Argument: Forms and Thought"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 9


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    The Object of Thought Argument is that forms must exist to explain the possibility of thought; Aristotle's two objections are familiar— (1) if the argument works, it proves too many including the wrong sort, of forms, in this case, perishable and fictional entities; but (2) if the argument doesn’t work, it is invalid. Fine agrees that the argument is invalid, but after examining passages from a number of dialogues, in particular, the Theaetetus, Sophist, and Parmenides, she concludes that Plato is not committed to this argument. Indeed, the question of the possibility of thought only becomes an issue in the late, and not in the middle, dialogues. Fine argues that, while Plato does accept some of its claims, Plato is not committed to the Object of Thought Argument, nor does he not accept or rely upon a referential theory of meaning that such commitment may have entailed. Aristotle nevertheless does not misinterpret Plato, because, as Fine argues, Aristotle's strategy is to draw out implications that are available from certain passages in the dialogues in which Plato fails to the necessary distinctions—on this occasion, between different uses of ‘is’ and different sense of nous.



"Fine (Gail) - The Argument from Relatives"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 10


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    Fine begins to examine the so-called ‘More Accurate’ arguments, beginning with the Argument from Relatives. The Argument from Relatives is important for two reasons; it is the only argument that follows Plato in distinguishing between predicates like ‘equal’ and those like ‘man’; and it is the only argument that Aristotle ascribes to the Platonists, apart from the Metaphysics I passages that mention some kind of change. Fine has already argued that when Aristotle says that Plato introduced forms because of change, we should, if possible, take him to mean that Plato introduced forms not because of succession but because of compresence. The notion of homonymy is crucial to the Argument from Relatives, because the argument takes various properties, e.g. the notion of ‘equal’, to be non-homonymous or synonymous; but for epistemological and metaphysical reasons, and not for semantic reasons. Fine also argues that, while the Argument from Relatives takes forms to be self-predicative paradigms, this does not mean that the forms are particulars; the argument can be taken to conceive forms as properties, i.e. universals1.



"Fine (Gail) - Completeness and Compresence: Owen on the Argument from Relatives"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 11


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    Fine's account of the Argument from Relatives differs very much from that of G.E.L. Owen's account in his ‘A proof in the Peri Idēon’. In this chapter, Fine explores in more detail Owen's account, and the points on which they disagree. Fine argues that the Argument from Relatives assumes that the possibility of knowledge requires non-homonymous properties, and that Plato shares the assumption that F-ness can only be explained if there is some one thing F that is the same in all cases. Fine's conclusion reinforces that of Ch. 10, i.e. that neither Plato nor the Argument from Relatives posit forms for semantic reasons.



"Fine (Gail) - Kath' hauto and pros ti"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 12


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    Fine sets down some of the groundwork for understanding the first of Aristotle's three objections to the Argument from Relatives, which with the other two objections will be discussed in the following chapter. Aristotle's first objection is that Argument from Relatives produces forms of relatives (pros ti), which are not possible, because forms are substances and hence must exist in themselves (kath’hauto). To assess this objection, it is necessary to first get clear on the key terms kath’hauto (in themselves) and pros ti (relatives); Fine defends Alexander's reading of these terms, according to which Aristotle uses kath’hauto for a feature, special to substances, and pros ti for a category of relatives. She also challenges the cogency of G.E.L. Owen's claim that the distinction is an Academic one centred around completeness and incompleteness of, or in the use of, predicates. Fine argues that this is not the case, and draws on Diogenes Laertius and Sextus Empiricus in defending her claim that kath’hauto and pros ti do not signal any distinction between the complete and incomplete use of predicates, and that there was no such Academic distinction.



"Fine (Gail) - Aristotle's Objections to the Argument from Relatives"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 13


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    Aristotle initially raises three objections to the Argument from Relatives; Fine points to a fourth objection that Aristotle raises later in the text, and she examines all four in this chapter. Aristotle's first objection, of which Ch. 12 is a preliminary discussion, is that no substance is a relative; the second so that there is a conflict between self-predication and uniqueness; the third is that the Argument from Relatives establishes two forms of the unequal; and the fourth is that all forms are relatives. Fine argues that these objections are natural and valid, but that Plato is not necessarily committed to the Argument from Relatives. This raises a familiar difficulty concerning Aristotle's interpretation of Plato; again Fine argues that while Plato may not intend the conclusions that Aristotle objects to, Aristotle does not misinterpret Plato, rather he simply reads him literally.



"Fine (Gail) - The Accurate One Over Many Argument"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 14


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    Fine argues that this One over Many Argument is different from the one already discussed in Ch. 10. It differs in that it is a valid argument for the existence of forms and also in that the premises lead to the Third Man Argument; neither point is true of the earlier One over Many Argument. In fact, Fine argues, if the distinctions between the two One over Many Arguments are not properly clarified, then one would have difficulty in understanding the logic of the Third Man Argument. This is because, whereas the Accurate One over Many argument posits some one thing, F, over groups of F things, and not just sensible particulars, the earlier One over Many argument posits some one thing, F, over groups of sensible particulars only. The Accurate One over Many argument is therefore a more generalized version of the earlier One over Many argument; this difference is crucial to the Third Man Argument.



"Fine (Gail) - Third Man Arguments"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 15


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    The Third Man Argument is a regress argument that purports to show that if there is even one form of F, then there are infinitely many forms of F. That a regress can be identified is in itself an objection to the theory of forms because forms ought to be unique; and a regress would destroy the possibility of knowledge. Apart from the one in the Peri Idēon, there are at least three other versions of the Third Man Argument; two in Plato's Parmenides, and one recorded by Eudemus. In this chapter, Fine explores the logic of and interconnections between the four regress arguments; she argues that the four arguments share the same premises (i.e. self-predication, the one over many assumption, and a non-identity assumption), and draw the same inference from these premises, i.e. that if there is one form of F, then there are infinitely many forms of F. Furthermore, each argument conceives the forms as properties (in particular Aristotle's and Eudemus’ versions); hence Fine argues that, logically, they are the same argument.


COMMENT: Includes notes; filed with Chapter 16 (Photocopy filed in "Various - Papers on Greek Philosophy Box")



"Fine (Gail) - Is Plato Vulnerable to the Third Man Argument?"

Source: Fine - On Ideas - Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms, Chapter 16


Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract
    If Plato is committed to the premises of the Third Man Argument, he is vulnerable to the Third Man Argument. Fine has argued that Plato is committed to self-predication (in a broad sense); hence, if he is not vulnerable to the Third Man Argument, he must not be committed to either one or the other of the non-identity assumption and the one over many assumption. Fine argues that since Plato rejects both of these assumptions, in the senses necessary to carry the regress argument, he is not vulnerable to the Third Man Argument. Plato records the argument in the Parmenides, Fine argues, in order to stress the importance of clarifying the sort of self-predication, non-identity, and one over many assumptions that are compatible with a theory of forms. Finally, Fine once again explains that this reading does not mean that Aristotle's interpretation of Plato in the Peri Idēon is mistaken; and we can understand how this is so once we grasp Aristotle's argumentative strategy.


COMMENT: Includes notes; filed with Chapter 15 (Photocopy filed in "Various - Papers on Greek Philosophy Box")



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