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In te rn a ti o na l Jo u rn a l o f Ph i lo so p h ic a l S t ud i es Vol . 9 (1 ) , 4 7 – 6 1 ;
Anti-Realist Interpretations of Plato: Paul Natorp
The paper considers Paul Natorp’s Kantian reading of Plato’s theory of ideas, as developed in his monumental work, Platos Ideenlehre, eine Einführung in den Idealismus (1903, 1921). Central to Natrop’s reading are, I argue, the following two claims: (1) Plato’s ideas are laws, not things; and (2) Plato’s theory of ideas in the rst instance a theory about the possibility and nature of thought – in particular cognitive and indeed scienti c or explanatory thought – and only as a consequence is it a theory about the nature of reality. Natrop thus argues that Plato’s theory of ideas is at its heart a transcendental theory, and that Plato’s metaphysics is built on this basis. The paper considers these claims – and their textual basis in Plato – in some detail, and attempts an initial evaluation of their plausibility as a reading of Plato. I am on the whole sympathetic to Natorp’s reading, though a proper assessment goes beyond the present paper. The wider interest of this idealist or anti-realist reading of Plato ought to be obvious, especially in view of the commonly accepted assumption these days that both Plato and Aristotle, and indeed the Greeks in general, took realism entirely for granted (see e.g. M. Burnyeat). Natorp argues that this is true of Aristotle, but quite untrue of Plato. But he is quite clear that the idealism he ascribes to Plato is not Berkeleyan or metaphysical idealism, but a certain kind of transcendental or epistemological idealism. Natorp, however, is no uncritical follower of Kant, and the version of trascendental idealism that he ascribes to Plato is, I argue, very different from Kant’s. Keywords : Natorp, Kant, Neokantianism, transcendental idealism, metaphysics
G &F r a n c is
In a well-known paper, Myles Burnyeat argued for the ‘non-existence of idealism in antiquity’, idealism in the sense of the ontological thesis that ‘all there is is mind and the contents of mind’.2 This is Berkeleyan idealism, which may be absent from Greek philosophy. But is the same true of Kantian idealism, the epistemological thesis that ‘reason has insight only
International Journal of Philosophical Studies ISSN 0967–2559 print 1466–4542 online © 2001 Taylor & Francis Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/09672550010012147
7 The insight is Kant’s anti-realism and the transcendental turn. Moreover.4 It is such epistemological varieties of idealism that Nagel rejects when he claims that the ‘world is not dependent on our view of it.5 Is such a debate between epistemological realism and idealism at all present in Greek philosophy? In the monumental work Plato’s Theory of Ideas (1903 and 1921) 6 the Neokantian philosopher Paul Natorp identi ed a debate between epistemological realism and idealism at the heart of Greek philosophy. Natorp is unconcerned to resist what Burnyeat describes as the ‘standing temptation for philosophers to nd anticipations of their own views in the great thinkers of the past’ (p. the key elements in Plato’s epistemology. both in the degree to which it likens Plato’s epistemology to Kant’s and in the opposition it claims between Plato and Aristotle. which he dedicated to Hermann Cohen. in spite of or precisely because it is extreme. not knowledge 48 . mistaken understanding of Platonic essences or ideas. But I think that Natorp’s reading of Plato. between Plato and Aristotle. which Natorp sums up as follows: Any relation at all to an object. Berkeley’s idealism is hardly a live option.I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES into that which it produces after a plan of its own’ and that ‘objects must conform to our knowledge’?3 Is this kind of idealism. for objects must conform to knowledge. mentor and colleague at Marburg. originates purely in knowledge. Himself a convinced Kantian. 2 Natorp’s Reading of Kant. but how at the same time he thinks that this requires one or two radical ‘corrections’ of Kant. as substances. But epistemological idealism. and the different contemporary varieties are arguably traceable to Kant. he argued. Natorp’s position is undoubtedly extreme. especially Plato. 3). and its Origin in Hermann Cohen In the 1912 paper ‘Kant and the Marburg School’. or any other view: the direction of dependence is the reverse’. viz. directly opposed to Aristotle’s epistemological realism. serves as an excellent stimulus and occasion to consider whether and how epistemological idealism or antirealism is present in Greek philosophy. He argued that Plato’s philosophy is a species of epistemological idealism. But it used to be discussed. associated with Kant’s Copernican revolution in epistemology. Natorp recounts how his aim has been to develop what he considers Kant’s fundamental insight. is very much alive. his friend. perhaps it is assumed that there is no idealism of either kind in Greek philosophy. according to the law of knowledge. he thought that Aristotle’s realist interpretation of Plato is responsible for the traditional but. and I think that it is worthwhile to take up. commonly known as anti-realism. equally absent from Greek philosophy? The question is not much discussed today. and few would want to deny ontological realism. any concept of an object. hence also of a subject.
a logical theory. or a xed number of categories. What does follow from the rejection of Kant’s separation between sensibility and understanding is the rejection of the possibility of purely subjective non-conceptual content: ‘there is no such thing as the absolutely subjective content’. It is. Natorp takes conscious leave from Kant in two important respects. and vital for the viability of Kant’s epistemology.11 Whether Natorp is right that a (partially) causal analysis of knowledge implies wanting to explain knowledge ‘from outside’. in this broad sense. that the fundamental contents of mind are non-conceptual data directly accessible to consciousness. Natorp denies that there is a xed number of functions of thought or judgment. outside the conceptual contents of knowledge. is compatible with the speci c forms of thought 49 .e. is a dif cult question.10 He wants to dissociate Kant’s idealism both from the metaphysical claim that all there is is mind and its contents and from the view. a theory of intentionality – or conceptual thought and intentionality. which he calls ‘psychological’. Secondly. to which he remains committed and without which the nature of thought would not be determinable a priori. as is whether this desire was Kant’s. it means to let knowledge originate in an apparently transcendent causal relation.8 This is a theory of how object-directed thought is possible.A N TI. But this is to revert to metaphysics.9 Natorp sees a stark contrast between this epistemological reading of Kant’s transcendental idealism and metaphysical or psychological readings. Rather. those belonging to sensibility and those belonging to understanding. in direct parting from Kant.13 In this way Natorp can accommodate the possibility of conceiving of space in terms other than Euclidean. which is strictly incompatible with the transcendental method. is incompatible with anti-realism and the transcendental turn: This [separation] really means wanting to construct knowledge from outside – though in fact no standpoint is given or thinkable outside knowledge. the rejection of the separation between sensibility and understanding allows Natorp to argue that it is thinking itself that lays down the representations of space and time as requirements for knowledge. hence these have the status of hypotheses. an epistemological theory or. if a lawlike relation between the two is to become at all intelligible. as Natorp prefers. he argues. he argues that the unitary nature of thought. and are as such revisable.12 Further. First. which he rejects. Such a separation of sensibility (causal receptivity) and understanding (conceptual spontaneity). he rejects Kant’s analysis of conceptual knowledge into two distinct elements.R EA L IS T IN TER P R E TATI O N S O F PL AT O : PAU L NATO R P to objects. i.
but not in reality]. i. of an object of knowledge. (p. There is hardly 50 .e.e. It is the denial of a possible separation between sensibility and understanding that explains why both Cohen and Natorp have little interest in and patience with Kant’s notion of things in themselves. sensation [the element in knowledge belonging to sensibility] is not a fully developed and independently existing psychological process. that he believed in a separable non-conceptual and purely causally explicable element in knowledge: In Kant. both form and content are determinations of appearance. rather. however thin. Nowhere is there any mention of real objects which subjectivity is supposed to encounter and receive impressions of. things considered in abstraction from the a priori conditions for our knowledge of things.e. What positive epistemological role is left for things in themselves? Only. suppose we set aside Kant’s version of this notion which refers to non-empirical things such as God and the immortal soul. arguably: to be the cause of our empirical knowledge. it is an initial step in intuition [conceived as conceptual] and it can be isolated only scienti cally [i. 42) Even more boldly. For. in analysis. in Kants Theorie der Erfahrung (1871). 14 This emphasis on the revisability and open-endedness of thought is central in Natorp.e. (p. 15 Cohen denies that Kant separated sensibility from understanding.I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES being capable of inde nite development and revision. i. i. even if logically possible. since Kant thinks that such non-empirical entities. are strictly and in principle unknowable to us. 44) Now. Form is not so much to be identi ed with our subjectivity. We may set aside this as irrelevant to Kant’s positive account of our knowledge. denying that it is possible to separate sensibility and understanding ultimately implies denying any positive epistemological role to Kant’s notion of things in themselves. such that content [Materie] would correspond to it as object. Natorp’s reading of Kant grew out of Hermann Cohen’s. and it is striking that he thinks it compatible with the transcendental method. an anti-realist method in epistemology combined with a largely a priori approach to the fundamental nature of thought and knowledge. But this we can do only if we can separate the a priori contribution to our knowledge originating in us from the contribution to our knowledge originating causally in things. But evidently they can have this role only if it is possible to abstract from the a priori conditions of our knowledge while still retaining some notion. rather.
and 78–9 Republic V. Natorp thinks. and only as a consequence are they laws of nature and reality. is the theory of ideas. (p.e. 50) Natorp thus defends two central theses: (1) Plato’s ideas. Plato’s ideas are primarily laws of thought and knowledge. In Natorp’s favoured formulation.R EA L IS T IN TER P R E TATI O N S O F PL AT O : PAU L NATO R P any room for this notion in their reconstruction of Kant. but laws.A N TI. not things. This also allows Natorp to argue for a smoother development from the early to the middle and later dialogues. but Plato is guilty of this move. This is a decisive break from Aristotle’s interpretation. they may be laws of nature or reality but with no essential reference to thinking and knowledge. Socrates.g. quite generally. Still. whether immanent or transcendent. are laws. But Natorp argues that this is the primary function of Plato’s ideas: to account for thinking and knowledge. Plato thinks that being is constituted by thinking: It is. But Natorp argues that Plato never rei ed essences. and that the separation between objects of perception and objects of thought that undoubtedly occurs after the early dialogues (e. Aristotle’s interpretation is responsible for the tendency to distinguish sharply between Platonic ideas and Socratic essences. We may be able to grasp such laws through thinking. 3 Natorp’s Two Central Theses about Plato The centre of Plato’s philosophy. But objects of thought and objects of perception are not two separable sets of objects. 476–80 and Theaetetus 184–7) is epistemological. while Cohen wants to exculpate Kant from separating sensibility and understanding and from assigning a positive epistemological role to things in themselves. in Phaedo 74. which conceives of Platonic ideas as substances. presumably the Plato of the middle dialogues (see Metaphysics A6. not ontological. Such separation means that essences cannot be known perceptually – in this sense they are objects of thought and not perception. presumably the Socrates of the early dialogues. So far the connection with epistemological anti-realism is not apparent. and (2) Plato’s ideas 51 . but without their function being speci cally logical or epistemological. the essences sought in the earlier Socratic dialogues. the law. the central elements of his epistemology. Natorp argues that Platonic ideas are not substances at all. the unity of thinking – the eidos or idea – that constitutes objects (t e kn ). But Natorp argues that Plato’s ideas are laws. According to Aristotle. not things. But now I turn to Natorp’s Kantian reading of Plato. Natorp thinks that we need to submit Kant to important revision and correction on these scores. Even if Plato’s ideas are laws and not things. substances separate from perceptible things. did not separate or reify essences. i. 987b).
e. hence predication.e. which it assumes there is. that there are no states of affairs in reality.e. The distinction between existential and predicative being is often called for in considering uses of the verb einai. 4 Natorp’s Thesis that Being. The dependence is epistemological or logical. The formulation in terms of constitution may suggest ontological dependence – being is constituted by thinking in the way water is made up of molecules – but this is precisely what Natorp does not intend.g. e. the particulars and their properties which together constitute states of affairs. The question that such a view addresses is not whether there is an external world. things. The view that Natorp ascribes to Plato is. but whether there is something that this world is like independently of thinking. is Constituted by Thinking Plato. 71). the controversy between Quine and Armstrong on the status of states of affairs. hence the claim is not that things are mind-dependent. (p. It is plausible to think that in claiming here (Theaetetus 185–6) that only judgment and not perception can attain being. The claim is rather that what is judged to be the case is in a certain sense minddependent. viz. not perception. then. 16 Natorp’s clari cation (in the above quotation) avoids the Kantian terminology of constitution and it makes good sense of a particular passage in Plato (Theaetetus 184–7). Natorp provides valuable clari cation of the dependence in pointing out that by being he means not existence or what exists. i. thinks that being is constituted by thinking. except by reference to thinking. but ‘predicative being’ (‘das Sein der Prädikation’. the unity of determination. but that this world is made up of states of affairs. The opposite view. some kind of dependence of being on thinking is asserted. things. 103) It follows that the dependence of being on thinking is not existential or ontological: the being that depends on thinking is not what exists. and can the view be formulated without the Kantian jargon? Clearly. as always in Plato’s stricter and more philosophical use: the positing in thought.I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES are primarily laws of thought and knowledge and only derivatively laws of being – being is in this sense constituted by thinking. i. what is judged to be true or to be the case: ‘Being’ means here [in the claim of Theaetetus 184–7 that only judgment. Natorp argues. especially philosophical uses. But what view does this ascribe to Plato. p. According to Plato. not ontological. can attain being]. which Natorp ascribes to Aristotle. A comparable modern controversy would not be that between Berkeley and Descartes on the status of objects but. i. 52 . is not that there is an external world. independently of thinking..
Natorp assumes that thinking in Plato is essentially the activity of thinking subjects. Natorp’s notion of positing something in thought . This would make the notion of the thinking of thinkers the source of the notion of a subject-less or impersonal thinking. which he should have done. or Sophist 263–4. And his notion of unity of determination is an attempt. Natorp’s sharp distinction between thinking and reality is questionable. Such logical structure is only introduced through thinking and predication.e. the logical structure of states of affairs. Natorp would no doubt reply that in making thinking a principle of reality. But if thinking is itself a principle of reality. But there are other passages where Plato conceives of thinking as subject-less or impersonal. Plato may think that the thinking of thinkers can grasp reality because reality is in itself intel53 . even if we grant that Plato’s ideas are primarily elements in the account of thinking and knowledge. In this way the priority between being in thinking is reversed. is thus best understood as the view that there is no logical or predicative structure in reality independently of thinking. it is his less than balanced use of texts that especially lend themselves to an anti-realist reading to draw a broader anti-realist picture of Plato. The problem concerns the status of thinking in Plato. number) as precisely concepts involved in all judging and as accounting for the possibility of judging. This reading ts such passages as Theaetetus 184–7 and 189–90. pp. which the Laws refers back to. What Kant called the Copernican revolution in epistemology is. intelligible to thinkers engaging in reasoning about statements and judging statements to be true. as something like a general principle of intelligence or reason in nature.A N TI. being primarily in the sense of what is the case. I think felicitous. judgmental or propositional thinking to which predicative structure is essential. and the concept of psuché in Phaedrus 245–6. is strictly faithful to Plato’s account of judgment as the act of thought of asserting a statement (cf. VIII–IX). The epistemological anti-realism that Natorp ascribes to Plato. at understanding the common concepts (koina) introduced in Theaetetus 185a–c (being. If there is a textual problem in Natorp’s approach. Natorp’s seemingly sweeping Kantian readings of Plato are on the whole sensitive to individual texts.e. thinkers: the activity of reasoning about statements and judging statements to be true. despite its Kantian ring. i. i. In this sense thinking. This is true especially of the concept of nous in Laws 895 ff. summed up in the slogan that being is constituted by thinking..R EA L IS T IN TER P R E TATI O N S O F PL AT O : PAU L NATO R P Plato means primarily attaining what is the case. i. Theaetetus 189e–190a). can be read in the same way. ‘native’ to Plato (‘urwüchsig’. is prior to being. in Natorp’s words. However. ‘autochthon’.e. sameness and difference. likeness and unlikeness. For if thinking is itself an element in reality. But I suspect that Natorp did not take this issue very seriously. Plato is merely asserting that reality is intelligible. I think that there is a problem with Natorp’s anti-realist reading.
having earlier argued that perception suffers from relativity (74b–c). Natorp’s sharp opposition between thinking and being may fundamentally distort Plato. because he thinks that perception as such cannot attain predicative being. to ‘render determinate what is in itself indeterminate’ (‘die Bestimmung des in sich Unbestimmten’. it cannot judge what is the case. 110) is worth taking up. This would be to argue for a no-priority view. This would be to revert to realism. but Plato does appear to think that they are connected. which Natorp pays less attention to. whether truly or falsely. He thinks that perception is insuf cient for knowledge. e. viz. and Natorp’s appeal to the Philebus and Parmenides for a similar view (p. Plato. This characterization is so far neutral with regard to the ontological status of ideas. relative to the perceiver or the context. thought in contrast to perception. . viz. what is sensible is purely indeterminate. and Primarily Laws of Thought and Knowledge The motivation behind Plato’s theory of ideas. i. reality as perceived. 5 Natorp’s Thesis that Plato’s Ideas are Laws. and by its own resources purely indeterminable. Natorp argues. p. All determination is rather the achievement of thought. while knowledge is free from such relativity (cf. . that perception is relative. not ontological: ideas are objects of thought. Phaedo 74b–c. Certainly a sharp distinction between judgmental or propositional thinking on the one hand and non-propositional perception on the other is advocated in Theaetetus 184–7. Plato introduces objects of thought because he thinks that perception is insuf cient for knowledge. . rather than conversely.I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES ligible. Republic V 476–80).g. 207). Natorp argues. however. It is in this sense that Natorp understands Plato’s ideas as laws of thought and knowledge. Or Plato may think that there is a structural identity but no direction of priority between the two kinds of thinking. not Things. Thus in Phaedo 99e. Plato assumes that we must choose between studying things directly perceptually and studying things through statements or propositions: 54 .e. (p. and judgment is required for knowledge: Setting aside the function of concepts. in Natorp’s other favourite formulation. 110) The function of Plato’s ideas is thus. is primarily epistemological. The relation between the two reasons for thinking that perception is insuf cient for knowledge – the appeal to the relativity of perception and the appeal to the non-propositionality of perception – is less than clear. offers a further reason why perception is insuf cient for knowledge. So far Natorp’s reading seems to me correct.
and now (in 99d) the two ways are contrasted: the attempt to grasp realities or facts (p òÀçm át á or šòçá) directly as given. 99e just quoted). i. i.A N TI. which. that there is no corresponding logical structure in reality – the logical structure of states of affairs – except by reference to thinking? Natorp thinks that the inference is licensed. but only in thinking. given in sense perceptions. seems to offer crucial support for an anti-realist reading. be given to cognition via sense perception and via further processes originating in sense perception.R EA L IS T IN TER P R E TATI O N S O F PL AT O : PAU L NATO R P I was afraid I might be completely blinded in my soul. that perception as such is not propositional. which is the dogmatic way of traditional natural science and which left Plato ‘blinded’ (99e. Commenting on Phaedo 99–100 (esp. and he ascribes it to Plato. and study in them the truth of the things that are.e. viz. Later. (p.e. 386) 55 . the view that there is no corresponding logical structure in reality except by reference to thinking. the view that there is no propositional structure in perception but only in thinking. he writes: Already in 97b just two ‘ways of proceeding’ were mentioned. 153) Notable in this otherwise intriguing reading of ‘the second journey’ (äåàôåòï÷ ðìïù ~÷. which we may simply call the critical way. see also 96c). 99c9–d1) is Natorp’s association of perceptual antirealism. opposed to critical or epistemological idealism] is that objects must. 11: ‘Aristotle and Plato’). (Phaedo 99e2–6) But why cannot we do both at once: search for truth in statements but do so directly and perceptually? Plato must be assuming what he elsewhere (Theaetetus 184–7) explicitly argues for. So I thought I should take refuge in statements (logoi). with epistemological anti-realism in general. that it does not as such have the content that statements have. and the novel. by looking at objects with my eyes and trying to lay hold of them with each of my senses. essentially and fundamentally. if anything at all is to be made out about objects with genuinely objective validity. But is Natorp right to infer from the claim that there is no propositional structure in perception. viz. logical way. like Theaetetus 184–7.e. in a chapter addressed to clarifying the very distinction between epistemological realism and anti-realism (ch. (p. Natorp defends the equivalent association of epistemological realism with perceptual realism: The opposed view [i.
The question. since Aristotle’s account of perception. 100a3–9) I would agree that Aristotle’s realism about states of affairs. it seems natural to think that realism. Since Plato rejects a perceptual and causal account of our grasp of states of affairs.17 that from perception there comes memory .e. e. i. . 385). And from experience . II 5). the inference seems plausible – for how could knowledge be derived from being except causally? But I think that Natorp is right that this general characterization of realism is too unclear to settle its own implications decisively (p. about how we grasp that something is the case. as the reception of the form of an object without its matter (De Anima. It seems a moot question whether realism about states of affairs really requires. his epistemology is in one sense anti-realist. experience. The question is whether Plato’s rejection of perceptual realism is associated with the rejection of realism about states of affairs. . . If we bear in mind Natorp’s characterization of realism as the view that ‘knowledge is derived from being [being in the sense of states of affairs. Since Plato rejects a causal account of the knowledge of what is the case. (Posterior Analytics B 19. not things]’ (p. .e. . In other words. as Natorp thinks. is rather what is involved in rejecting realism in this sense.g.e. i. . i. Natorp’s assumption here is that realism about states of affairs.I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES This refers to Aristotle’s view. can be understood as a causal account of direct apprehension of states of affairs.e. perception being simply whatever causal mechanism the causal account of knowledge appeals to. requires a causal account of objective knowledge about states of affairs. rejecting a causal account of our knowledge of what is the case. . in the sense of the epistemological priority of reality over mind. His appeal to Aristotle is helpful. of what things are like and in this sense of their form. i. In this way Natorp defends the view that realism requires perceptual realism. i. But what 56 . the view that reality consists of states of affairs quite independently of thinking. At any rate. But a causal account of objective knowledge is a perceptual account. is associated with perceptual realism. a causal account of our apprehension of what is the case. is developed through a causal account of our knowledge of what is the case. . explanatory knowledge [ÛðéóôÜíè]. 385). and from memory . the view that reality – as such and without reference to thinking – consists of particulars and their properties.e. he must reject that reality consists of states of affairs independently of thinking. it seems to me. . Natorp thinks that the priority of reality over mind that characterizes epistemological realism requires a causal account of objective knowledge. explicitly directed against Plato’s Phaedo.
where certain very general concepts (the koina) seem to be introduced speci cally as conditions of judgment. Natorp thinks. Natorp emphasizes such passages as Theaetetus 185ff. is a Copernican revolution in epistemology.18 Natorp’s claim that Plato’s most general ideas perform a similar function to Kant’s categories makes plausible sense of such passages. This seems too quick. I earlier referred to Laws 895 ff.R EA L IS T IN TER P R E TATI O N S O F PL AT O : PAU L NATO R P does this involve? Natorp is quick to conclude that it involves a reversal of epistemological priority between knowledge and being: the one view [Plato’s] is that being is derived from knowledge. on the other hand. which also refers back to Phaedrus 245–6.. (p. hence being [predicative being] is the expression in general of such combination. he construes these as categories in the Kantian sense. a statement is a combination. or the claim in Sophist 259–60 that the most general kinds (the megista genê ) and their ability to combine is a condition for the possibility of statements (logoi) and the search for knowledge (philosophia ). This means that being can be articulated only through the fundamental kinds of combination. 385) So the alternative to Aristotle’s causal realism about states of affairs.e. (p. Plato may think that a subject-less kind of thinking is part of being and that there is a structural identity but no priority between. There is room for Plato to deny a causal account of objectivity. is itself a subject-less principle of reality. 292) But other passages suggest that thinking or reason. hence predication (the categories). the thinking that we engage in as thinking subjects. as conditions for stating and judging: In general.A N TI. without therefore reversing the priority. hence rather than being distinguishable from the reality which is reasoned or judged about. Commenting on Sophist 259–60 and on the megista gené . It would be a dif cult but worthwhile task to examine which way Plato’s rejection of a causal account of the objectivity of thinking and knowledge tends: towards the view that thinking is epistemologically prior to being or towards a no-priority view associated with a subject-less conception of thinking. the other [Aristotle’s] that knowledge is derived from being. and hence to deny that being is epistemologically unqualiedly prior to knowledge and thinking. however. on the one hand. which in turn provide the basis for all speci c predications and make such predications possible. for this view. Perhaps 57 . reality and the subject-less thinking that is part of reality and.. i. rather than being the activity of thinkers that consists in reasoning and judging.
A causal account – like Aristotle’s – of our cognitive grasp of what is the case is an account that allows us to grasp what is the case without relying on explanations of why it is the case.I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES the most ambiguous source of this view is the Philebus. Objects are not so much given. I put down as true whatever things seem to me to accord with it. a good way of conceiving of the issue between epistemological realism and antirealism. . (Phaedo 100a3–7) But this issue of whether objects and what they are like can be grasped directly or can be grasped only within a science is. it is always a problem and never a datum.e. The search for explanations.g. (p. II 8. 89b29. Still. 386) Natorp characterizes this scienti c task as essentially revisable and open-ended (‘science consists in the unlimited advance of a method’ 58 .. . I put down as not true. 315) – provides direct support for the view that thinking and knowledge is epistemologically prior to being. comes in only after we’ve established what is the case (Posterior Analytics. i. 93a17.. 93b32). and whatever do not. The contrast between Aristotle and Plato on this issue is memorably summed up by Natorp as the contrast between the view that objects and what they are like is something directly accessible in knowledge and the view that the grasp of objects and what they are like is an epistemological and scienti c task or problem: Critical idealism [‘der Kritizismus’] emphasizes that the object of knowledge is merely an x. II 10. I think. as the principle of determinate and intelligible being. Philebus 28d9). Natorp assumes that the account of being in the Philebus. can instead be understood without essential reference to the reasoning and thinking of thinkers. . e. or at least without involving the view that the reasoning and thinking of thinkers is epistemologically prior to the subject-less reason or thought that is part of being. as set as a task. But Plato’s notion of reason and thought here (nous kai phrone ¯sis. I think that Natorp is right that Plato’s rejection of a causal account of the objectivity of thinking and knowledge has anti-realist implications – even if he gives a too extreme and Kantian account of these. II 1. . Aristotle thinks. as the unity of peras and apeiria – which Natorp unsurprisingly translates as the unity of ‘determination and indeterminateness’ (p. This stands in sharp contrast to Plato’s view that an adequate explanation is the only criterion of knowledge: Hypothesizing on each occasion the statement [here: the explanatory hypothesis] I judge strongest.
e. . And it is in general the rejection of the primacy of substance that characterizes Plato’s own thought and its fundamental opposition to Aristotle: According to Plato.oating laws could not operate. 421) that explains his resistence to Plato’s purely nomological analysis of causation. (pp. the causal operation of one singular object on another. 421–2) Natorp’s association of the question of whether objects and what they are like can be grasped directly or only within a science with the question 59 . once again.e. and that empirical objects are.R EA L IS T IN TER P R E TATI O N S O F PL AT O : PAU L NATO R P – ‘Wissenschaft .A N TI. insists that causes are things. i. on the grounds that Aristotle thinks that objects are the ultimate source of causation: Aristotle. in contrast to Plato. those states of affairs directly given in perception which all explanation in the end refers back to. viz. is ‘above’ being. . By contrast. such free. . 416) This is how Natorp understands Aristotle’s familiar charge that Plato ignored ef cient causation. the law of logic [i. Aristotle’s unquestioned assumption that ‘nothing which is not substance can be prior to (i. besteht . im unbeschränkten Fortgang eines Verfahrens’. 401) By reducing things to laws Plato can thus respond to Aristotle’s charge that the basis of all causation is ef cient causation. – p. . the causal operation of one singular object on another. being unintelligible to his intellect.e. the laws discovered through the search for explanations and explanatory knowledge – through a science.e. This is the principle of idealism. more fundamental than) substance’ (p.e. 221). Natorp ascribes to Aristotle the view that objects are the ultimate source of laws. Aristotelian epistemology. substance]. Natorp associates the question of whether objects and what they are like can be grasped directly or only within a science with the question of whether reality consists of objects or it consists of laws. Natorp argues. and that if laws were not based in things. (p. Did Aristotle hear nothing of this? It must have escaped his hearing. Plato thinks that ‘causes are laws. of the logic of predication] is prior to (concrete) being [i. 416). Finally. from a scienti c point of view. seems to imply the possession of unrevisable starting-points. (p. the relations introduced in scienti c laws]. analyzed into an in nite plurality of relations [i. not things’ (p. by contrast. It is.
the ultimate subjects of predication. objects will ultimately be analysable in terms of laws. what de nitions ultimately de ne is objects or kinds of objects.g. hence perceptually. as opposed to a predicate-expression. i. Such speci c laws of nature. Natorp goes a step further and seeks in Plato the view that the ultimate source of science and of the laws 60 . This is especially so if the contrast between realism and anti-realism is understood in Natorp’s less pronouncedly Kantian ways.e. and (c) whether reality consists of objects or it consists of laws. Plato’s criterion of a true judgment is an adequately explained judgment. would ultimately be expressed in arithmetical formulae. Of course. 80) It follows. a man or a horse – a this such or ôïäb ôé. 160) But if. in addition to this predicative analysis of objects. the objects of de nition] are nothing but ‘predicates in possible judgments’. It is familiar that.I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES of whether reality consists of objects or laws may seem surprising. e. However. i. Plato thinks that what is de ned is a predicate or what is designated by a predicate: Plato is as well aware as Kant that concepts [Natorp is here thinking of speci c Platonic ideas. (p. But it is well prepared by Natorp through the question of what de nitions. de ne. Natorp argues. the apeiron of the Philebus. (p.g. as a committed Kantian. 6 Conclusion I think that there is much to be said for considering the contrast between Aristotle’s and Plato’s epistemology and metaphysics as a contrast between realism and anti-realism. (b) whether objects and what they are like can be grasped directly or only within a science.e. that objects. the central elements in both Plato’s and Aristotle’s epistemology. But. through the questions: (a) whether our grasp of what is the case can be accounted causally. according to Aristotle. ultimate subjects of predication are as such indeterminate and all determination belongs to predication: But what are the ultimate subjects? They are as such nothing but empty place-holders [leere Stellen – of predication or determination]. are analysable in terms of judgments. Natorp argues. The linguistic expression of what is de ned is thus a subject-expression and an expression that cannot be negated. the concept of a law here is not that of the laws of thought in general. and if explanation is through laws. but the concept of speci c laws discovered by applying the laws of thought to something by itself indeterminate. as Natorp understands Plato’s latest thought. e.
in his Entity and Identity and Other Essays (Oxford: Clarendon Press. and the translations provided here of individual passages are my own. 232–43. 1986). or with the extent to which he contrasts Plato and Aristotle. in Kemp Smith’s translation. 202.. p. No English translation exists. Here ‘idealism’ is to be understood as Kantian or transcendental idealism. Trinity College. and especially to John Dillon. But I hope to have made a case for thinking that while Berkeley’s ontological idealism may be absent from Greek philosophy. from which I am quoting (Hamburg: Meiner. David Charles. pp. 1997). See the rst pages of ‘Kant und die Marburger Schule’ – Kant Studien 17 (1912). the thinking and knowledge of thinking subjects. p. B xiii and xvi.. F. for providing the occasion for working on this aspect of the reception of Plato – the Neokantian reception. This seems to me a step too far. 108–9. I suspect that Natorp’s sharp and characteristically Kantian opposition between thinking and being may well fundamentally distort Plato. The full title is Platos Ideenlehre: Eine Einführung in den Idealismus. pp. pp. Philosophical Review. rather than in reality. in spite of what may at rst seem an anachronistically Kantian approach. The work has recently been reissued in Meiners Philosophische Bibliothek. ‘Idealism and Greek Philosophy: What Descartes Saw and Berkeley Missed’. I am also grateful to Werner Beierwattes. e.A N TI. Natorp. 91 (1982). 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 61 .. shows that the more modern debate between epistemological realism and anti-realism. 233–4. I have no doubt that using the debate between epistemological realism and anti-realism to consider Aristotle’s and Plato’s epistemology and metaphysics is both valuable and illuminating. Strawson. viz. See. Whether or not we agree with Natorp’s individual conclusions. which is as much alive today as when Natorp wrote and which after all goes back to Kant. Ibid.R EA L IS T IN TER P R E TATI O N S O F PL AT O : PAU L NATO R P discovered by science lies in the account of thinking and knowledge. Critique of Pure Reason. 196. Ibid. 201. ‘Kant’s New Foundation of Metaphysics’. For while there are enough passages in Plato to support the view that the function of the most general ideas or kinds is to account for thinking and knowledge. P. this is not true of idealism or anti-realism in general. John Dillon and Dermot Moran for speci c comments on the paper. can usefully be sought at the centre of Greek philosophy. Ibid. quotes from pp. p. 3–40. 4 and 8. Natorp uses the term logical in conscious association to the Greek term logos . esp. between Plato and Aristotle. 1994). Dublin Notes 1 I am grateful to The Dublin Centre for the Study of the Platonic Tradition.g. which he understands to refer precisely to conceptual thought.. The View from Nowhere (Oxford: Oxford University Press.
where ideas are said to be the condition for discourse (dialegesthai) and the search for knowledge (philosophia ).g.. For D. See also Parmenides 135c. ‘had to end in tears’ (p. 209. Armstrong laments. M.. 1987). Ibid. 62 . Werke. knowledge and science.. Ibid. See Hermann Cohen. Whether Kant is committed to non-conceptual content is again disputable. 208. Of course. p. New York: Georg Olms Verlag. Quine’s anti-realism about states of affairs. 1997). Armstrong’s realism is expressly Aristotelian (see. Armstrong’s realism about states of affairs. is phrased in terms that are meant to recall the account of knowledge that Plato rejects in Phaedo 96b5–8. 100a3–9. I intend no further analogy between Natorp’s Plato and Quine than the view that the notion of states of affairs is dependent on the notions of thought. in Posterior Analytics B 19. e. 5). p. p. Zürich.I N TE R NAT IO NA L J O U R NA L O F P H ILO S O P H ICA L ST U D IES 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Ibid. 203. The account of knowledge that Aristotle endorses here.. Band 1 (Hildesheim. p. 13). see especially his recent A World of States of Affairs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.