Plato and Aristotle Worlds’ Analysis
The Platonic method of philosophizing can be described as the method of modeling the properties of existing beings on the abstractions of the human intellect. In other words, it is the method of thinking that being takes its characteristics as being from what it reveals of itself in the state of being thought. It is important to distinguish Platonism from the contrasting viewpoint of Aristotle or the adaptation made of it by later philosophers. Plato and Aristotle embodied the two fundamentally different ways of regarding the world and of doing philosophy that characterize thinkers in the whole course of Western philosophy. It is therefore illuminating to set theories of worlds into this thematic and historical context.
Plato’s perspective calls into question the whole spectrum of supposed possible worlds, from radically plural real worlds to the world as a combination of earlier effects that took place before something definite was occurring. One is faced with the deliberate choice of philosophic first principles, not with demonstrations proceeding from commonly acknowledged or even tacitly presupposed principles. What is more, there can be no knockdown argument for such a choice, only reasons for thinking it better than its alternatives.
“Join the genuine modal realists; or forsake genuine and ersatz worlds alike” (Aquinas 45). Aristotle’s modal realism turns out to be itself a reduction rather than a reason, and so it is necessary to set it aside with all its variants, ersatz or otherwise. Philosophers are free to lay down their own sets of principles, but once it is done, they no longer think as they wish. These first principles are chosen not only for their initial plausibility, but most importantly because they appear to make more intelligible sense of experience than do their opposites. According to Plato, consonance with experience is the final criterion for accepting or rejecting any world’s purpose standpoint. He argues that worlds are never refuted, they are only abandoned, either by reason of the mutual incoherence of their principles or because they are inadequate to account for experience as we find it. The identification underlies Plato’s indexical theory of what it means to be actual, so that the inhabitants of other worlds, who are just as definite (and apparently just as active) as we, are supposed to have as much right to call their worlds actual as we do ours. All possible worlds are as real as our own, differing only in their spatio-temporal locus; they do not differ in their manner of existing.
As Bergson put it: “One must admit that a possible world is as definite and complex as the corresponding actual one. This, I hold, reduces the distinction between possible and actual to nullity” (27). What is more, Plato’s original conviction that things could be otherwise becomes the conviction that there are other ways things could have been. Because we can conceive of other ways, those other ways are assumed to be constitutive of extra-mental reality.
Again, potentiality (or range of possibility inherent within given actuality) becomes possibilities, discrete, definite, conceivable patterns of being. Aristotle’s dynamic, as a manner of existing, has been replaced by an assemblage of conceivable patterns. Plato passes from potentiality to patterns. However, such notion or view renders impossible Aristotle’s solution to the dilemma of becoming, for it denies any intrinsic distinction as ways of existing between being actually and being potentially. Aristotle conceives that the way the letters appearing in his book causally depend upon the keystrokes of his word processor is just that if he had touched different keys in the world, different characters would have appeared. Thus the causal power of actuality has passed into counterfactual patterns of possibility. These possibilities are not only purely conjectural, they even presuppose the causal power that they are meant to define. This interpretation can account for why Aristotle rejects materialism as well as Platonic dualism of the worlds in as much as it “requires that psychic states differ from corporeal states, while requiring that psychic states be realized in appropriate matter” (Quine 82). However, such theory leaves unresolved the crucial issue of psychic causation. Many, if not most, modern theorists embrace a version of epiphenomenalism according to which psychic states supervene on material states but play no causal role on their own.
The implication that the psychological realm of the world is determined entirely from the bottom up makes Plato’s view attractive to modern philosophers, because it suggests a way in which we can have a complete physical explanation of world’s existence and still evade the thorny objections raised by dualists. However, as we have seen, Aristotle maintains that worlds are real efficient causes, even on the level of plant psychology. These causal claims cannot be reconciled with an epiphenomenalist interpretation. His views are in contrast with the Plato’s persuasions of the dubious representation of different worlds, which, inevitably, can claim the same right for existence. However, it is extremely difficult to conclude whether Aristotle’s theory is completely in conflict with the Plato’s conviction due to the depicted earlier Aristotle’s belief in the materialistic aspect of the form and soul in general.
Bergson, Henry. “The Possible and the Real, in 77he Creative Mind”. Totowa, New Jersey: Littlefleld, 1991- reprinted edition.
Aquinas, Thomas. “Commentary on Aristotle’s De Interpretatione”, in Aquinas: Selected Philosophical Writings, trans. Timothy McDermott Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Quine, W.V.O. “From a Logical Point of View”. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.