An Introduction to the Topic
In regards to the modes of metaphysical thought opposed to the Scholastic understanding—that is, the understanding of the Roman Catholic Church—there is none more worthy of consideration and dialectics than Platonism (for, as Aristotle points out in his Metaphysics, the pre-Socratic modes—Atomism, Pythagoreanism, etc—all fail in either self-contradiction, lack of solid proofs, and/or lack of proper treatment in regards to things). So, then, let us examine the arguments for the existence of the Platonic Forms, and refute them (and, in doing so, provide minor proofs of the validity of Scholastic metaphysics).
Arguments For the Forms
The “One Over Many” Argument
- Between things we see that there is that which is common.
- Moreover, we see that of things there are classes to which they belong.
- Further, it is evident that none of these things as individuals perfectly manifest that which is common amongst itself and the like.
- Yet, we know of these manifested things in perfection.
- Therefore, these things of perfection must exist in/of themselves, and that which is of these participates in these without themselves becoming that which they participate in, otherwise they would manifest such in a perfect manner, being that which they ought to only participate in.
- We call these abstract perfections, in which things participate, the Forms.
The “Objects of Science” Argument
- A science is that which systematically treats a thing or things of a specific class.
- The object of a science is therefore a thing.
- Some sciences treat that which abstract.
- Moreover, the sciences treat generals, not particulars (although the sciences of generals is applied to particulars of which the generals are in regards to).
- Thus, given that the objects of the sciences are either abstract or general, and that the sciences treat of things, the abstract and the general are things in/of themselves.
- We call these these abstracts and generals the Forms.
Arguments Against the Forms
The “Perfect Insofar as It is of Itself” Argument (Contra “One Over Many” Argument)
- Every particular has a nature which, although derived in part from generals, is only of itself in a unique manner, and such is the result of the unique substance of the thing (and such is admitted throughout The Republic, as an implication to the existence of justice within the surmised utopia, ie each doing what is in his/her nature to do).
- The fulfilment of nature is perfection.
- Nature is the derivative of substance—that is to say, that which has a nature has such because of what it is, ie its substance, and therefore nature arises from substance.
- Thus, given that perfection is the fulfilment of nature, and that nature belongs to the particular, the commons which are found amongst things are by nature not perfect in and of themselves—nor could they be—but perfect insofar as the commons are in accordance with the nature of each particular having a common. That is to say, the perfection of the common is necessarily in line with the perfection of the particular possessor of the common.
- Therefore, commons do not exist in and of themselves, but contingently upon the substance of that which possesses them, each allowing for more so-called perfect or less so-called perfect expressions depending on the nature of each particular.
- Further, upon recognizing these degrees of the commons, we, then, surmise both higher and lower degrees of them, resulting in our concept of their so-called perfection, ie their highest possible degree of expression.
- Thus, points three and four of the argument in question do not stand.
- Therefore, the Forms do not exist—commons do not exist in and of themselves.
- Note: This conclusion is in agreement with the Scholastic view; things possess their own attributes as individuals in accordance with their nature as afforded by their substances (which may be like or unalike), not by participating in the Form of an attribute.
The “Generals from Particulars” Argument (Contra “Objects of Science” Argument)
- Not all things which exist subsist—that is to say, not all technically real things have a substance, eg common attributes (see above argument).
- Moreover, the sciences treat general principles derived directly from commons, and (as demonstrated in the argument above) commons are contingent upon particulars.
- Thus, the sciences study particulars insofar as they share commonality.
- Therefore, in the sense with regard to the immediate contingency of being, the true objects of every science are the particulars whose commonality is being treated by them.
- Therefore, the “Objects of Science” argument shows only that the particulars of which its generals and abstracts are contingent upon subsist.
- Note: This conclusion illustrates the mode of logic of which Plato tends most heavily to employ in his philosophy—that is, inductive reasoning, or using general principles and commonalities to arrive at judgments regarding particulars. This stands opposed to Aristotle’s attachment to deductive reasoning, or the using of particulars to discover generals and commonalities.
So, then, it is apparent that Plato was mistaken in his belief in the Forms; meanwhile, Aristotle was correct in his view that common attributes are contained within particulars themselves—and this is the stance of the Scholastics.