PAPERS IN PROGRESS (CLICK ON TITLE FOR ABSTRACT. FOR DRAFT, PLEASE EMAIL ME)
Towards the Forms
Despite the importance that Forms play in the epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics of Plato’s so-called ‘middle dialogues,’ scholars have long noted an absence of sustained argument in those dialogues for the existence of Forms. However, in Metaphysics 13.4, Aristotle claims (echoing something he says in 1.6) that ‘supporters of the Ideal theory’ (i.e. philosophers who accept the existence of Forms), and he certainly has Plato in mind, were first led to this position because they were convinced by something like the following argument: since epistêmê cannot be had of ‘flowing things’ (ta reonta) and perceptibles ( ta aisthêhta) always flow, there must be natures beyond (para) perceptibles if epistêmê is to be of something (paraphrasing 1078b14-17). These natures beyond the perceptibles are what Plato calls ‘Forms.’ This paper reconstructs the line of reasoning Aristotle here attributes to Plato. Like any long train of philosophical reasoning there will be many ‘stops’ at which various thinkers will want to get off, but I aim to show that staying with Plato all the way to the end can be well motivated. Moreover, by seeing where the key ‘stops’ are on Plato’s train of reasoning, we can better understand Plato’s relation to other philosophers.
Misnomers in Plato’s Cratylus
In this paper I argue that much of the scholarship over Plato’s Cratylus suffers from a fundamental confusion about the topic of the dialogue. Many interpreters take the debate between so-called ‘conventionalists’ (represented by Hermocrates) and ‘anti-conventionalists’ or ‘naturalists’ (represented by Socrates, ostensibly on behalf of Cratylus) to concern the issue of reference: that is, what makes it the case that a name (or a word more generally) refers to something? On this understanding, conventionalism is the view that reference is secured only by convention and anti-conventionalism is the view that reference is somehow secured by a ‘fit’ between word and object. I argue, instead, that the question is whether, of all the words that succeed in referring to an object, anything other than convention, such as that object's nature, can make some of those names inappropriate. One way of understanding this question is as asking whether some names are what we now call 'misnomers.' For example, when we say that the name ‘koala bear’ is a misnomer, this is because koala bears are not bears. In order for a word to be a misnomer, however, it must succeed in referring to the thing of which it is a misnomer. Thus, on my interpretation, conventionalists hold that nothing about the nature of, say, koala bears makes it inappropriate to use the name ‘koala bear’ to refer to the animals in the trees of Australia. Naturalists, on the other hand, deny this. I argue that this interpretation makes much better sense of the dialogue as a whole: first, it explains why naturalism is taken so seriously (intuitively, it is something about the nature of koala bears that makes the name 'koala bear' inappropriate); second, we can understand why Socrates accepts naturalism for derivative names but conventionalism for primary names; lastly, it explains why Socrates engages in a long discussion of etymology: the discussion serves as a kind of abductive argument that names are, in fact, appropriate or inappropriate in part because they do or do not reveal the natures of their referents (but not because they do or do not refer).
Aristotle on the Distinction Between Weak and Impetuous Akrasia
According to Aristotle, akrasia is a state of character in which a person tends, in certain situations, to act contrary to decision. In Nicomachean Ethics VII.7, however, Aristotle distinguishes two kinds of akrasia: weakness (astheneia) and impetuosity (propeteia). This distinction is confusing since impetuous akratics are said to act on passion because they have not deliberated. Given that decisions depend on deliberation, how are we to understand the impetuous akratics’ psychology? If they have not deliberated, doesn’t that entail that they don’t act against a decision? And, if they don’t act against decision, doesn’t that entail that they do not act akratically? Aristotle’s characterization of impetuous akrasia, then, seems to present us with a dilemma: either impetuous ‘akratics’ are not really akratic or Aristotle does not have a unified account of akrasia. In this paper I examine, and reject, the two main solutions to this problem that have been presented in recent literature. I then present a novel solution that allows us to attribute a unified conception of akrasia to Aristotle. On my interpretation, Aristotle is concerned with our practice of devising strategies to help us live up to our decisions, which is a common and widespread psychological phenomenon that would have been odd for him to ignore.