The Dialectic of Essence

The Dialectic of Essence: A Study of Plato's Metaphysics

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    The Dialectic of Essence
    Book Description:

    The Dialectic of Essenceoffers a systematic new account of Plato's metaphysics. Allan Silverman argues that the best way to make sense of the metaphysics as a whole is to examine carefully what Plato says aboutousia(essence) from theMenothrough the middle period dialogues, thePhaedoand theRepublic, and into several late dialogues including theParmenides, theSophist, thePhilebus, and theTimaeus. This book focuses on three fundamental facets of the metaphysics: the theory of Forms; the nature of particulars; and Plato's understanding of the nature of metaphysical inquiry.

    Silverman seeks to show how Plato conceives of "Being" as a unique way in which an essence is related to a Form. Conversely, partaking ("having") is the way in which a material particular is related to its properties: Particulars, thus, in an important sense lack essence. Additionally, the author closely analyzes Plato's idea that the relation between Forms and particulars is mediated by form-copies. Even when some late dialogues provide a richer account of particulars, Silverman maintains that particulars are still denied essence. Indeed, with theTimaeus'sintroduction of the receptacle, there are no particulars of the traditional variety. This book cogently demonstrates that when we understand that Plato's concern with essence lies at the root of his metaphysics, we are better equipped to find our way through the labyrinth of his dialogues and to better appreciate how they form a coherent theory.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2534-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-12)

    How ought one to live? I take this question to be the starting point for Plato’s philosophy, his Platonism. No doubt others before him asked it: Socrates for one. But it is not the mere posing of the question that makes it so special. Rather, it is the manner in which Plato considers it. In his hands it calls for reflection, and reflection of a certain, increasingly systematic variety. Plato thinks that systematic reflection, what he and we call “philosophy,” shows that this question can be answered. Indeed, philosophical reflection reveals that philosophy itself, the practice of philosophizing, is the...

    (pp. 13-27)

    This study of Plato’s metaphysics is inevitably influenced by my views of the topics and debates found in the secondary literature, beginning with Plato’s successors, Speusippus and Aristotle, and ending with the last sixty or so years of in particular Anglo-American scholarship. The central issue, I believe, is separation, the notion that Forms are χωριστóν. It is not clear what separation amounts to in Plato’s philosophy.¹ The conventional wisdom is that Platonic Forms are separate in that they are transcendent universals, in contrast to Aristotelian Forms which are said to be immanent universals. Transcendence is then parsed as the ability...

    (pp. 28-48)

    The division of Plato’s writing into periods reflects our assessment of his literary purposes and philosophical development, as well as any stylistic or historical information we possess. One of the first questions we confront is whether in the early “Socratic” dialogues Plato aims to present the views of Socrates himself or his own views through the mouthpiece of a fictionalized Socrates. In his landmark studies, Vlastos argues that in these dialogues we can find the doctrines of Socrates himself. I agree, though none of the conclusions of the chapter turn on whose doctrines are being expressed.¹ One of the positions...

    (pp. 49-103)

    The early dialogues, with their metaphysics of self-predicating properties, a single predication relation, and a fuzzy divide between apparently simple properties and complex particulars, leave wide room to construct etiologies for the robust metaphysical doctrines that emerge in thePhaedoandRepublic.

    The first section of this chapter will track the argument of thePhaedo. In approaching thePhaedowe should keep in mind that the whole of the argument is designed to secure the conclusion that the soul is indestructible and immortal. The elements of the metaphysical theory subserve that goal. Most have thought that Plato’s argument fails to...

    (pp. 104-136)

    TheRepublicand especially thePhaedoleave the student of Platonic metaphysics with a host of worries. Early on in thePhaedoPlato breaks dramatically from the metaphysics of the Socratic dialogues not only by distinguishing Forms from particulars, but also byseparatingForms from particulars. Forms, insofar as they areby themselves apartfrom particulars, and because they are respectively what they are in their own right or in virtue of themselves, areauta kath auta onta. The Recollection Argument and the Affinity Argument further expand the differences between Forms and particulars. The Forms are the objects of knowledge....

    (pp. 137-181)

    The cardinal tenet of the Theory of Forms is that a Form is the peculiar bearer of itsousia, its essence. Because itsousiais predicable of a given Form, each Form is anauto kath autobeing: it is what it is in its own right. In virtue of possessing an essence, each Formisin a special way; each Form Is itsousia. It is paired in the Second Hypothesis of theParmenideswith another tenet concerning the unity of each Form; each Form must be both a thing that is andonething. An essence is itself...

  11. 6 NOT-BEINGS
    (pp. 182-217)

    The late dialogues do not abandon the Forms of thePhaedoandRepublic. Forms remain what they have always been, the primary bearers ofousia. In virtue of partaking in Being, each Form Is what it is, anauto kath auto on. But there are changes, or advances, in the Theory of Forms. Forms are assigned new tasks, tasks occasioned by a new set of questions addressed in the late dialogues. Many of the questions result from Plato’s increased sensitivity to the nature and structure of metaphysical inquiry and to the nature and structure of language. In theParmenides, the...

    (pp. 218-284)

    In contrast to the middle period works, the later dialogues highlight the power and need for Forms to have properties; they somehow commune with one another. In the earlier works Forms are often said to be simple or unitary in nature, particulars complex or multiform. The simplicity of Forms was not, I suggested, to be taken in the strictest sense. Even in the Socratic dialogues, thePhaedo, and theRepublic, Forms sometimes appeared to stand in relations to other Forms, e.g., the Good. On the other hand, Forms always were regarded as universals, as “ones” over the many particulars, as...

    (pp. 285-298)

    In all the dialogues prior to thePhilebusandTimaeus, a particular isassumedto be complex and material, and it is assumed that a particular is not what it is in its own right. Rather, whatever a particular is, it is in virtue of partaking of a Form. What is it, then, that participates? As we saw at the end of the third chapter, a particular seems to be nothing but a bundle of form-copies, each of which is the property-instance of a particular. There is no principle of unity to these bundles and each of the properties seems...

    (pp. 299-310)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 311-366)
    (pp. 367-378)
    (pp. 379-386)
    (pp. 387-393)