Part 7

Plato's Philosophy

by Aristotle Icon

None of the early philosophers who speak about ‘principle’ and ‘cause’ mentioned any principle except those which have been distinguished in our work on nature.

But all evidently have some inkling of them, though only vaguely.

Some speak of the first principle as matter, whether they suppose one or more first principles, and whether they suppose this to be a body or to be incorporeal.

For example:

  • Plato spoke of the big and the small
  • The Italians spoke of the infinite
  • Empedocles spoke of fire, earth, water, and air
  • Anaxagoras of the infinity of things composed of similar parts. These, then, have all had a notion of this kind of cause, and so have all who speak of air or fire or water, or something denser than fire and rarer than air; for some have said the prime element is of this kind.

These thinkers grasped this cause only. But others have mentioned the source of movement as a principle, e.g. those who make friendship and strife, or reason, or love.

No one has expressed The Essence distinctly.

  • It is hinted at chiefly by those who believe in the Forms.

The believers in the Forms do not suppose that:

  • the Forms are the matter of sensible things
  • The One is the matter of the Forms
  • the Forms are the source of movement
    • They say instead that the Forms are causes rather of immobility and of being at rest.

Instead, they believe that:

  • the Forms as the essence of every other thing
  • The One is the essence of the Forms.

They assert that actions, changes, and movements take place for the sake of The One, which causes them in a certain way, not in the way which it is its nature to be a cause.

They classify the causes of reason or friendship as ‘goods’.

  • They say that the movements of reason or friendship started from these ‘goods’.
  • They do not assign anything that exists or came into being for the sake of these.

The believers of The One say that The One or the existent is ’the good’ and that it is the cause of substance.

Therefore, they both say and do not say the good is a cause.

  • For they do not call it a cause qua good but only incidentally.

They cannot pitch on another cause. They seem to testify that we have determined rightly both how many and of what sort the causes are.

Besides, when the causes are being looked for, either all 4 must be sought or they must be sought in one of these 4 ways.


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