10 May 2006

Something to Imitate

"Aristotle dissected fish with Plato's ideas in his mind." --A.N. Whitehead.

An article by Kyle Fraser in a spirited on-line philosophical journal has got me, at least, wondering whether Aristotle's God doesn't make fish with Plato's ideas in his mind (or, better: whether a fish doesn't imitate Aristotle's God, because God has an idea of that fish).

I had presumed that the notion of 'ideas in the mind of God', which one finds in Aquinas and before him Augustine, is an inheritance from Plato: it is how monotheism preserves, in its way, Platonic Forms. In a monotheism which posits a Creator, the Forms cannot be eternal, free-standing paradigms, but rather must be reconstrued as eternal thoughts which serve as models for creation and providence--since there is no eternal being but God.

Yet Fraser mounts a strong argument that Aristotle's First Cause is meant to be a first formal as well as final and agent cause, through God's realizing, in his activity of thought, the formal reality of each species. When Aristotle says that the form of a sensible substance is separable only in thought--Fraser maintains--he is not supposing that it would be ultimately satisfactory, from the point of view of first philosophy, to say that these are separable in human thought alone. Rather, the stable, objective existence of species and genera in the world of change requires the eternal, separated existence of the corresponding forms in God.

Have you noticed various comments in the central books of the Metaphysics that seem to make best sense on the supposition that Aristotle intends to move the argument in the direction that Fraser indicates? I have. Hence I'm tempted to think that Fraser may just be right. But, for my part, the topic requires fuller investigation.