Study Guide

Aristotle Influences

Plato's Phaedo

We've already established that I went far beyond my teacher with my ideas. But that doesn't mean I didn't learn anything at all from the dude. The truth is that Plato's dialogues had a huge influence on my thinking, even if it was usually a matter of their stimulating me to say exactly the opposite of whatever he claimed.

But one dialogue that had some positively good stuff in it was the Phaedo; I'll admit I read it very closely. My favorite part? Where he introduces the notion of teleology, of course! Plato says that just as you explain a person's actions by referring to the goal that individual is trying to achieve, so it is with events in the natural world.

That's how I interpreted what he was saying, anyhow. It's true that Plato mixes it all up with crazy talk about his beloved forms. But buried within all that gibberish is the teleological principle that was central to my whole philosophical system. Props to the Plat-ster for coming up with that idea.

The Milesians

The term "Milesians" refers to Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, the 6th-century BCE philosophers from the town of Miletus. In my view, these guys are all to be understood as materialists. Each one tries to explain the world in terms of a single material principle—water, "the boundless," or air.

Okay, it's a little primitive as an approach—I know that. But it made me realize that one way to explain a phenomenon is by referring to the stuff out of which it is made. This then became the basis of my (quite insightful) idea of the material cause.

The Pythagoreans

These followers of Pythagoras believed that numbers are the basis of everything in the world. Now only a wacko bird—or Plato, which is pretty much the same thing—could take that idea seriously. But I realized that this approach suggested another way of explaining phenomena: the Pythagoreans were saying you could explain something by referring to the basic pattern which it exemplifies.

This is the type of explanation that I call the formal cause. It's the principle we use whenever we identify a bunch of objects as all having the same shape—as when we say these are all triangles. It's also the principle we use when we identify a group of animals as all of the same species.

So the Pythagoreans were a tad cray cray. But in their own way, they helped contribute to my glorious philosophical system (if only accidentally). For that they should be very proud.

Parmenides

Here we are descending still deeper into the dark pit of insanity. This guy tries to deny the existence of change altogether! That ball rolling across the street, the leaves falling off the trees, that old guy walking across the street—all just an illusion as far as old Parmenides is concerned. Can you believe this was the key idea of one of the world's most important philosophers?

But I show, once again, that there can be benefit gained by studying and refuting insane ideas. Parmenides, it seems, thinks there are two possibilities: (1) what is comes to be from what is not (which appears to be impossible) or (2) what is comes to be from what is (also impossible, since it already is). Therefore, he imagines, change is impossible.

Now what's wrong with this picture? In my Physics, I show that Parmenides' "paradox" results from not looking carefully enough at what is going on. In fact, a case of change is not a matter of the absolute coming into being of a thing. Instead, it always involves a modification of an underlying subject, a subject which has one of its forms replaced by its privation or vice versa.

For example, a man becomes musical: all that is happening is that a subject (the man) takes on a contrary property—i.e., he goes from having the property of non-musicality to that of musicality. Nothing paradoxical about that, right?

Still, I wouldn't have come up with that brilliant analysis without Parmenides' error to respond to. Once more we can thank one of my predecessors for contributing, however unwittingly, to the advancement of Knowledge.