Form as Neither Art nor External

I have already, with much frustration, attempted to make sense of the beginning of Lamda 3.  In light of the rest of the remaining parts of the chapter, it strikes me that there is a possibility that Aristotle had some Third Man-ish worries in mind.  But, be that as it may or may not be, there is undeniably an assault on the Theory of the Forms here. 

In conjunction with his opening statement that there must be 1) a subject 2) a form 3) an initial mover, Aristotle says we must next,

“observe that every substance is generated from something which has the same name (“substances” including not only natural but all other products). Things are generated either by art or by nature or by chance or spontaneously. Art is a generative principle in something else; nature is a generative principle in the subject itself (for man begets man); the other causes are privations of these” (1070a4-10 trans. Treddenick) (1).

Aristotle continues on with an explication of form, matter and the hylomorphic compound consisting of form and matter.  Then he notes,

“Moving causes are causes in the sense of preexistent things, but formal causes coexist with their effects. For it is when the man becomes healthy that health exists, and the shape of the bronze sphere comes into being simultaneously with the bronze sphere”  (1070a21-24 trans. Treddenick) (2).

He concludes by referencing his aphoristic “man begets man” from earlier in the chapter and says,

Clearly then there is no need on these grounds for the Ideas to exist; for man begets man, the individual begetting the particular person. And the same is true of the arts, for the art of medicine is the formula of health”  (1070a26-30 trans. Treddenick) (3).

Aristotle it appears, is using nature, form, and account interchangeably in this chapter, for at least one important reason: to emphasize that form is a “generative principle in the subject itself,” and does not arise from outside itself.  This claim is already at odds with Plato’s concept of Form, and “man begets man” is evidently a common sense vindication of how things come to be, from which there is no deviation.  Indeed figs don’t come from thistles.

Plato dismisses Aristotle’s dictum that, “formal causes coexist with their effects,” i.e., they come to be at the same time (ἅμα).  Plato instead maintains that forms precede their effects, and that, returning us to the beginning of the chapter, conflates the form and the initial mover.  Thus, instead of  1) a subject 2) a form 3) an initial mover, there is 1) a subject and 2) a form/initial mover.  If a form is an external force, as it would have to be on Plato’s view, then by Aristotle’s understanding above (“Art is a generative principle in something else”) this would make a form an art.  But Plato’s concept of form is clearly not an art, so either form has some other definition or there are no forms.



Μετὰ ταῦτα ὅτι ἑκάστη ἐκ συνωνύμου γίγνεται οὐσία· τὰ γὰρ φύσει οὐσίαι καὶ τἆλλα· ἢ γὰρ τέχνῃ ἢ φύσει γίγνεται ἢ τύχῃ ἢ τῷ αὐτομάτῳ. ἡ μὲν οὖν τέχνη ἀρχὴ ἐν ἄλλῳ, ἡ δὲ φύσις ἀρχὴ ἐν αὐτῷ (ἄνθρωπος γὰρ ἄνθρωπον γεννᾷ), αἱ δὲ λοιπαὶ αἰτίαι στερήσεις τούτων.

Τὰ μὲν οὖν κινοῦντα αἴτια ὡς προγεγενημένα ὄντα, τὰ δ᾿ ὡς ὁ λόγος ἅμα. ὅτε γὰρ ὑγιαίνει ὁ ἄνθρωπος, τότε καὶ ἡ ὑγίεια ἔστιν, καὶ τὸ σχῆμα τῆς χαλκῆς σφαίρας ἅμα καὶ ἡ χαλκῆ σφαῖρα.

φανερὸν δὴ ὅτι οὐδὲν δεῖ διά γε ταῦτ᾿ εἶναι τὰς ἰδέας· ἄνθρωπος γὰρ ἄνθρωπον γεννᾷ, ὁ καθ᾿ ἕκαστον τὸν τινά. ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν τεχνῶν· ἡ γὰρ ἰατρικὴ τέχνη ὁ λόγος τῆς ὑγιείας ἐστί.

What is the “Nature” of the Philosopher in the Republic?

In Book VI of the Republic a grocery list of the desirable traits to be found in a philosopher are described by Socrates.  The list of virtues is long and encompassing: a love of learning of things that are (485b), no taste for falsehood (485c), a concern with the pleasures of the soul, not the body (485d), being moderate and not a lover of money (485e), not given to petty speech (smikrologia) (486a), believing that death is no great evil (486b), being “just and tame not hard to get along with and savage” (486b), learning easily (486c), has a good memory (486c), has measure and charm (486d).

Equally prominent in this discussion of what the virtues are is the continual emphasis that  Socrates places on nature.  We are left to puzzle about what the definition of “nature” is here, a term frequently and problematically employed in philosophical contexts.  The traits listed above are somehow desirable in the philosopher only if they are present by nature.  However, there is little discussion of what nature is, and what we are left with is a view of nature that consists in little more than whatever inborn proclivities one happens to have, as is exemplified in this statement about a man erotic by nature, “It’s not only likely, my friend, but also entirely necessary that a man who is by nature erotically disposed toward someone care for everything related and akin to his boy” (485c). 

This explanation of nature is further corroborated by the foreshadowing of the philosopher first seen in Book II.  There, Socrates and Glaucon agreed that they were looking for a chimerical kind of guardian, one who is, “at the same time gentle and great-spirited.  Surely a gentle nature is opposed to a spirited one”  (375c).  When they deliberate further upon this discovery, Socrates and Glaucon despair, since the combination of two opposed traits would appear to be a contradiction.  However, soon Socrates realizes that, “You know, of course, that by nature the disposition of noble dogs is to be as gentle as can be with their familiars and people they know and the opposite with those they don’t know”  (373d).  The explication of this “noble dog,” analogous to the philosopher, is telling, because it will inform us not only about Plato’s conception of nature here, but by extension the nature of the philosopher.  Socrates explanation of the dog’s behavior is not in terms of training, but something rather more inborn: “When it sees someone it doesn’t know, it’s angry, although it never had any bad experience with him.  And when it sees someone it knows, it greets him warmly, even if it never had a good experience with him”  (376a).  Thus it is not by training that the dog has learned to embody a composite of two opposed traits, for this would be impossible.  Furthermore, as Socrates analysis makes clear, the dog’s nature makes it immune to any training by experience which it could have undergone.  It is friendly to its owner by nature, and hateful to strangers by nature despite any exposure intentional or unintentional which could train the dog to behave in exactly the opposite way.  Thus when we are told that the philosopher is to hold certain traits by nature, this is to say that he should be possessed of these traits from birth, which manifest themselves in a disposition that easily expresses them.

Note: All translations from Allan Bloom, The Republic of Plato.

If Images are Inferior, Why is the Allegory of the Cave an Image?

The Platonic vocabulary is often skeptical and even antagonistic toward the uses of images.  This denigration is attributed to the mutability of images, so that we could really apply this criticism to anything that changes, which would apply to all of the visible world.  Among many other places in the Republic, Socrates makes the distinction clear by explaining how what we think about determines the very certainty of that thought:   

Well then, consider that the truth of the soul is thus: Whenever truth and what is shine upon something, the mind attaches to this, it intellects and knows and appears to have intelligence.  But whenever it attaches to that which is mixed with obscurity, that which comes to be and passes away, it has opinions and sees dimly, changing opinions here and there, and seems not to have intelligence (Republic 508d3-8). (1)

These two sides of opinion and knowledge, perishability and persistence, are, as Socrates will shortly explain, the sensible and intelligible realms.  Socrates says there are two kinds of objects of the sensible realm, shadows, appearances and reflections, but then also those things of which these are the shadows, appearances and reflections.  It is obvious that these mere reflections are inferior to the objects which they represent: animals, people, etc.  It goes without saying, moreover, that everything in the sensible realm is inferior to anything in the intelligible realm.

Now here is the part I take particular interest in.  Socrates says that all of the shadows, appearances and reflections in the sensible realm are images (τὰς εἰκόνας) of other things in the sensible realm.  Because of this, they obviously have the least substantive mode of existence, and along with this, the lowest level of cognitive certainty.  Yet image-language is precisely what Socrates employs, and is his own self-characterization of what he does, in the allegory of the cave.  He tells us at the beginning of Book VII, as he is about to explain the cave allegory, “make an image [ἀπείκασον] of our nature in such a condition concerning education and lack of education” (514a1-2). (2) (3)

The question arises then, why are we using an image to describe a program of education the goal of which is to lead one away from images?  This is especially curious because it comes right before Socrates exposition of philosophical education, beginning with arithmetic.  Perhaps the allegory of the cave is a necessary propaedeutic before one begins— not to undertake such an education— but to even understand its purport and goal.  Or perhaps because the uninitiated reader has not yet taken the first step to a philosophical education, he must be accommodated where he is at, in this case at the lowly level of understanding mere images, so that he can be taken where he needs to go.             


(1) οὕτω τοίνυν καὶ τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς ὧδε νόει· ὅταν μὲν οὗ καταλάμπει ἀλήθειά τε καὶ τὸ ὄν, εἰς τοῦτο ἀπερείσηται, ἐνόησέν τε καὶ ἔγνω αὐτὸ καὶ νοῦν ἔχειν φαίνεται· ὅταν δὲ εἰς τὸ τῷ σκότῳ κεκραμένον, τὸ γιγνόμενόν τε καὶ ἀπολλύμενον, δοξάζει τε καὶ ἀμβλυώττει ἄνω καὶ κάτω τὰς δόξας μεταβάλλον, καὶ ἔοικεν αὖ νοῦν οὐκ ἔχοντι.

(2) ἀπείκασον τοιούτῳ πάθει τὴν ἡμετέραν φύσιν παιδείας τε πέρι καὶ ἀπαιδευσίας.

(3) Similarly in Book VI Socrates explicitly states that the ship of state metaphor, wherein the pilot is the true philosopher, gazing outside of the ship to guide the craft, is an image [εἰκών] (487e5).