The agreements Plato and Aristotle have about the forms.

Both Plato and Aristotle agree that form is eternal (in the sense of being neither created or destroyed); that it is the principle of knowledge; that it is a certain principle of mobile things, although things as mobile are not intelligible; both agree that form is a divine principle and a source of goodness and beauty; both also agree that the forms of sensible things are of something, and in this sense they can be classed as relatives. If we consider form only as a certain cause, both agree that the cause of something has that something more than the effect.

The differences between Plato and Aristotle are often better cast as differences of emphasis: Plato stresses the exteriority of form, and so stresses form as it exists in the first cause of all things- which is known to us last; Aristotle stresses form as a principle of mobile beings, and therefore emphasises form as it is first known to us.

I don’t say this to deny a disagreement between Aristotle and Plato, but the disagreement is in fact very specific and technical. Aristotle insists primarily on two points: that an extrinsic form cannot always be said univocally of its inferiors (“good” cannot be said univocally of a good day and a good taste and a good man…etc) and that an extrinsic form is not a sufficient principle of mobile being. One wonders of Plato wouldn’t simply accept both of these points outright. I doubt that his aim in the dialogues is to articulate the theory in such an exact and technical way, as opposed to drawing attention to the majesty and mystery of form in a more vivid way than Aristotle does in his surviving texts.

Plato and the prison of the body

Plato describes the soul as trapped in the body. If this is taken to mean that the body is only accidental to man, it can be disproved any number of ways. If it is taken to express the essential weakness of the soul that it manifest both in that it is, and needed to be joined to a body, then it is expressing an important truth. The soul is chained to the body in the sense that so long as it animates the body it must suffer along with it too- not only can we not reason all the time, we in fact very rarely can do so- and when we do we rarely do so well. We are dependent on sensation to know, and sensation is easy to deceive, and does not have access to purely intelligible things: we spend a third of our life in sleep, and most of our first decade unable to reason at all- we can be rendered completly unable to reason by any number of diseases and injuries: strokes, alzhiemers, head traumas, anaerobic conditions, etc. We can loose our focus easily when caught in the throes of any disease, conflict, trauma, concern, duty, boredom, mental illness, spiritual crisis, etc. We can loose our higher senses with relative ease: eyes are delicate and fragile, hearing fades. The neurons we rely on to reason in our present state so often dull with time that we coined the word “senility”. This all justifies Plato calling the body a prison.

On knowing St. Thomas and Aristotle

Before discussing any divine attribute, we must account for why we hold that God exists at all. Since any intellectually honest discussion of God’s existence has to include the proofs of St. Thomas and Aristotle (whether we agree with them or not) we must make sure we can account for what St. Thomas and Aristotle mean by motion, causality, contingency and necessity, degrees of perfection, and acting for an end.

Even if one disagreed with St. Thomas’ proofs, to omit them or to brush them off in a haphazard way is as bad as doing the same thing to Newtonian physics in a modern physics course. Even if we see Newton as superceded, we need to study him anyway (and it’s false to see everything in newtonian physics as being destroyed, anyway- the law of inertia, calculus, the eliptical shape of orbits, and the metrical account of the subject matter along with the unit measurements for force, power, work, torque, acceleration, mass time etc. are all just as accepted as they used to be).

The Divine Simplicity

St. Thomas, having proved that God exists, next denies God is composite. Because he is not composed, he is therefore simple. If we want to understand the divine simplicity as St. Thomas explains it, it doesn’t make much sense to talk about the divine simplicity until we have agreed to a proof for God’s existence, and agreed to what is essential to a “composite”.

Sometimes, arguments against the divine simplicity are treated dialectically and hypothetically: i.e. given that God is X, is he simple? These arguments are fine, but very often they do not seek what it is per se to be a composite, a question which involves us essentially in the old disputes about matter and form, being and becoming, potency and act, essence and existence: along with nature, motion, and causes. All of these old distinctions are also essential to understanding the divine existence, but too often this is forgotten due to St. Thomas’ summary- style proofs for God’s existence- which all presuppose a great deal of prior knowledge of ancient physics and logic.

Two meanings of “substance” or “what is” (ousia) UPDATED

Aristotle calls substance what is neither in nor said of a subject. He does not deny that the parts of a body, say the hand or foot, have a certain substantiality, only that in the Categories he is considering “in” apart from the way parts are in a whole (and so parts need not be seen as being “in” a subject. Neither is any material part said of a subject: as in “man is a foot”).

And so there is a double account of substance: according to the material parts of the whole, and according to the account given in the Categories (there is also a formal part, but that doesn’t concern the discussion here). The distinction of material parts in the whole is the principle of measurement, and so it forms the basis of the modern sciences. This is the root of the difference between the modern sciences and ancient/ medieval sciences: the one sees substance as a metrical entity, the other does not. Both have a certain claim to be substance or ousia, i.e. what is without qualification.

To say

What is it to say something? To ask the question is, of course, to be saying something already: we ask something by saying it. We also say single words and clauses, commands, wishes, propositions. Whatever is it to say something has to account for all of these- either by some single account common to them all, or by placing them in some order according to a principle.

Definition and Socrates

It’s striking to notice how difficult it is to form definitions, especially since we only need to answer two questions: what kind of thing is it, and how is it different from all others of that kind? it is all too easy to dismiss a definition as a mere triviality- for when definitions are found, they usually strike us as simply ordinary. They are, after all, simply “what the thing is”.

Socrates knew better than to dismiss definition as a triviality. His whole method was ordered to discovering definitions- and if a definition could not be found, the goal was to get as close to it as possible. To struggle in this way shows the first thing that Socrates meant when he spoke of philosophy.

Subject and object

Descartes popularized the later Scholastic distinction between subject and object, and along with it popularized the fundamental conundrum of modern thought: the “problem of objectivity”. The distinction causes error, not because it is false, but when it is taken as primary. To distinguish between subject an object is fine, but it is not the primary distinction: which is between what is and what is not; the possible and the impossible. To ask “how do we know that there is an object, and not merely a subject? How can we tell the difference?” is to presuppose that this distinction is primary, and therefore we seek to account for one side of the distinction in relation to the other half. If we deny the primacy of this distinction, the need to explain the object by the subject disappears: both subject and object can be seen as modes of being, with distinct modes of confirmation or evidence.

When we see the subject and object as differing orders of existence, we are better able to explain the distinction between subject and object, for we explain it not in the sense that one seeks to derive the object from the subject, but in the sense that the subject, taken as a knower, is a principle of the true; and the subject, taken as one who wills, is a principle of the good. For goodness consists in the order of the will and being (by “being” we include the very will that is willing, and in this sense the object of the will transcends the distinction between subject and object- even qua will) and truth consists in the order of intellect and being (and so it is transcendent in the same way that will is- moreover, both objects contain eachother secundum rem, though they differ according to a distinction of reason: that is, a ficticious distinction). From this order of truth, we can derive the order of object, which is any other in the mind- even the mind itself. Object in this sense is a mode of “otherness” with is based on being as distinct.

Formal sign

A thing known by means of a concept is known through a sign, and yet we do not know the thing less immediately than if we were to know the thing in itself, without the sign.

Persuasion part IV

To establish that I can know something that cannot be otherwise, it is sufficient that I know such a thing. To establish that I cannot know such a thing, it would not suffice to lack awareness of it.

But at any rate, it is impossible for me to prove to you that we can know what cannot be otherwise: any proof for it would rest on you already knowing such a thing already. One reason for this (not the proper reason, but an essential one) is that knowing what cannot be otherwise belongs to intellectual virtue, and a part of virtue can only be verified by the posessor of the virtue. Just as the ultimate measure of moral virtue is whether we take pleasure in doing actions that are pleasant in themselves, so too the one measure of intellectual virtues is the extent to which we are completely persuaded of what is completely persuasive in itself, and less persuaded of what is less persuasive in itself. But persuasion is simply an interior awareness, in the same way that pleasure is.

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