Platonic Causes

DAVID SEDLEY

ABSTRACT
This paper examines PlatoÕs ideas on cause-effect relations in the Phaedo. It
maintains that he sees causes as things (not events, states of affairs or the like),
with any information as to how that thing brings about the effect relegated to a
strictly secondary status. This is argued to make good sense, so long as we recognise that aition means the Òthing responsibleÓ and exploit legal analogies in order
to understand what this amounts to. Furthermore, provided that we do not presuppose that we already know what can and what cannot count as a cause, Plato
proves to have an attractive case for his principle that all causation is a matter
of like causing like. Once we appreciate this, we are a little closer to understanding his more idiosyncratic principle, which although puzzling is ubiquitous in his
writings and often invoked as a premise in key arguments, that opposites cannot
cause opposites.
The last part of the paper turns to formal causes, defending PlatoÕs advocacy
of them, and examining their role in the ParmenidesÕ Third Man Argument. The
main proposal is that PlatoÕs conception of Forms as causes opens the door to a
better version of that argumentÕs ÒNon-identityÓ premise than those currently
available.

I. What is a cause?
The Ž nal argument of PlatoÕs Phaedo seeks to show that such is the
soulÕs causal role as the bringer of life to the body that it itself must be
essentially alive; therefore on the approach of the opposite property, death,
it is unable to perish, and must instead take the only alternative option,
to withdraw. In order to prepare the ground for this argument, Socrates
recounts his own intellectual progress with regard to the correct understanding of causation (96a-102a). In his youth, he explains, his search for
the causes of things led him to consider all sorts of unsuitable candidates
for this role, items which did not on re ection turn out to be properly correlated to the effects they were postulated to explain. Nor was he, as he
had hoped to be, enlightened by the writings of Anaxagoras, who, having
promised to explain the world as the product of an intelligence, in the
event named as causes the same kind of unsatisfactory items as others
did – air, water, aether etc. This, in SocratesÕ view, was as useless as it
would be to cite as the cause of SocratesÕ sitting in prison, not his intelligence, but his bones, sinews etc. In his disappointment at Anaxagoras,
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 1998

Phronesis XLIII/2

PLATONIC CAUSES

115

Socrates retreated to his ÒSecond VoyageÓ, his reliance on the hypothesis
that each property of a thing is caused by the appropriate Form: F things
are (or become) F because of the F. However, later on (105b-c) he seems
to allow a more ÒsubtleÓ kind of cause, namely that F things should be
made F by the presence of something which essentially brings the Form
F-ness with it, in the way that Ž re, being essentially hot, by its presence
in things makes them hot.
Plato favours the following range of locutions to express what appears
to be his notion of cause:
(1) aàtion/aÞtÛa: ÒcauseÓ/ÒcausationÓ1
(2) di‹ + accusative, or causal dative: Òbecause of Ó
(3) poieÝn = Òto cause (to)Ó, Òto make (F)Ó (99b7, 100d5)
These, leaving aside syntactic differences, are to all appearances used
interchangeably throughout, and there is every reason to conclude that
they combine to represent for Plato a unitary notion of ÒcauseÓ. He is
ready to consider a variety of competing claimants to the description
ÒcauseÓ, admitting only some of them as satisfying all the relevant criteria. But those criteria, regarding what in principle may or may not count
as a cause, do no themselves appear to shift.
The adjective aàtiow followed by a genitive means Òresponsible forÓ. To
give the ÒcauseÓ (aàtion) of x is to point to the thing responsible (tò aàtion)
for x, and thereby to assign to that thing the responsibility (aÞtÛa) for x –
much in the way that a lawcourt seeks to determine the person responsible for a crime, or to attribute the responsibility. When I say Òthe thing
responsibleÓ, my word ÒthingÓ is deliberately vague. Plato does not in this
context show the slightest interest in distinguishing between metaphysically different kinds of thing: the thing considered as a candidate for the
cause of some effect can just as well be a physical stuff like Ž re or bone,
a mathematical process like addition, the good, a soul, intelligence, or a
Form such as Largeness or Oddness. What determines the success or failure of the candidate cause is nothing to do with its metaphysical status,2
but purely, as we shall see, its logical or quasi-logical relation to the effect.
Accepted September 1997
1
Michael Frede (ÒThe original notion of causeÓ, in M. SchoŽ eld et al. (ed.), Doubt
and Dogmatism (Oxford 1980), 217-49, points to a distinction in the Phaedo between
aàtion, ÒcauseÓ, and aÞtÛa, Òcausal accountÓ vel sim. I think that there is a tendency
in this direction, although Plato is not entirely consistent about it, cf. esp. 98d7-e1,
101c4-5.
2
The contrary assumption is a major weakness in an in uential article with which

at 101c. cf. that Plato nominates as cause. Vlastos. – is secondary when it comes to the apportionment of guilt or responsibility. and instead strips the causal statement down to what he declares to be its completely safe kernel: ÒIt is because of [causal dative] the beautiful that all beautiful things are beautifulÓ. how you brought it about – strangulation. This again invites a legal analogy: ultimately the jury must decide that you were responsible (aàtiow) for the murder. claims to be utterly ÒsafeÓ – infallible. he hypothesises. the presence or sharing (or whatever it may be) of the Form of Beautiful. counts against the usual assumption that his refusal at 100d6-7 to specify the Form-particular relationship is a confession of ignorance or uncertainty about it. what is nominated as the cause is not a simple thing but a complex process. but there seems to me to be strong evidence against any such presumption. ÒIt is because of the F that F things are FÓ. he then declines to specify the nature of that Form-particular relationship (Òfor I donÕt go so far as to insist on thatÓ: oé gŒr ¦ti toèto diisxurÛzomai. At 100d3-e3 Socrates Ž rst uses this fuller type of formulation – what ÒmakesÓ things beautiful is. For example. 98d-99a. ÒReasons and causes in the PhaedoÓ. 78 (1969). rather. starvation. that turns out to be equivalent to saying that 10 is greater than 8 Òby 2Ó or Òbecause of 2Ó (causal dative). the crime. much as in a legal context a person. Frequently in his I can Ž nd no common ground at all: G. Which of these two is meant to be the more precise formulation of the cause? It is often assumed that the fuller formulation must be the more correct. PlatoÕs pared down causal statement here. rather than an event involving that person. it is the thing itself.3 I read this as strong evidence that the essence of a causal statement lies in its nominating the item which functions as the cause. and that any further statement about how the item achieves its effect is secondary. event or fact involving it. in his Platonic Studies (Princeton 1973). 100d3-8). if 10 is greater than 8 Òbecause of 2 having been added to itÓ. But only ÒIt is F because of the FÓ is completely safe (Žsfal¡staton): see 100d. However. can be used interchangeably with a simple reference to the thing which features in it (96e2-4. rather than some fact or event involving it. and thus supports my proposal that he is. 101b4-7. however. demoting it to the status of secondary relevance in causal contexts. .116 DAVID SEDLEY Standardly. Philos. as also already at 100c5. This complex description. is ultimately nominated as responsible for. 3 At 101b-d it turns out that to say ÒIt is F because it participates in the F itselfÓ is already safer than to cite a ÒcleverÓ cause of the type already exposed as bogus. Occasionally in this passage of the Phaedo. or guilty of (aàtiow). repr. poisoning etc. SocratesÕ unapologetic use of met¡xein and its cognates in the former passage. it turns out. Rev. 291-325. d6-7).

The Presocratic Philosophers (London 1979). Protag. 68e: that people should be temperate because of intemperance is ÒimpossibleÓ (Ždænaton). of the Òthe F makes things un-FÓ type. both from his attitude and from the language used (logon etc. and 353a1. aàtion. 287c-d. or blindness cause seeing is Òa great illogicalityÓ (poll¯ ŽlogÛa). (That the talk of being Òovercome byÓ something states the cause of the behaviour in question has been made explicit back at 352d8. because of temperance that the temperate are temperate. or the just because of their justice make people unjust. on a par 4 5 Tht. Parmenides 131c-d: it will be illogical (logon) if Forms are divided up.PLATONIC CAUSES 117 dialogues propositions with this form are treated as self-evident truths: for example. Plato often treats as selfevidently impossible statements to the effect that Òit is because of the un-F that F things are FÓ. 145d11. See J. . and forward to Aristotle (especially Metaphysics Z 9)5 and Hellenistic debate. Barnes. I 118-19. and others. Here are some prominent examples: Phd. the opposite of F. of the Òthe F makes things FÓ type. It seems abundantly clear that Plato sees some causal relationships. as conceptually self-evident. as unthinkable. Phd. in some sense recognised by Plato. The language used to express such an impossibility is both strong and explicit. diŒ taèta. Hp. Republic I 335c-d: that musicians should because of their music make people unmusical. where un-F is. that it is because of wisdom that the wise are wise. 289d.Ma. 100a-b: that someone should be large because of something small is ÒweirdÓ (t¡raw). Conversely.4 Moreover. Phd. Plato is by no means alone in treating causation along these lines. and more idiosyncratically. 332a8-b1.) Theaetetus 199d: that knowledge should cause ignorance. that Plato sees the basic causal relationship as a matter of logic. What is essentially the same principle that like causes like can be traced back to Anaxagoras (B10).). Protagoras 355d: that people should do what is bad because they are overcome by what is good is ÒridiculousÓ (geloÝon). ignorance cause knowledge. so that what causes large things to be large is a relatively small part of Largeness. 68d: that someone should be brave because of cowardice is ÒirrationalÓ or ÒillogicalÓ (logon). is ÒimpossibleÓ (Ždænaton). It is hard not to conclude.

But. In the Protagoras (332b-c). ÒF-ly un-FÓ. and in general if Òthe actual genera and species displayed their opposites within themselves. what is it about his view of ÒcauseÓ that makes these matters so self-evident? First. In the Parmenides (129b-e) Socrates urges at length and in the strongest possible terms that. Still in the Sophist it is Òquite bizarreÓ (m‹la topon) according to the sophist (240b-c). if Likeness itself were unlike. 382a4-5) Socrates is worried by the description of something as Òtruly falseÓ. Òheavily lightÓ or Òany other opposite coming about not in accordance with its own nature but in the opposite way to itself. and one of them will succeed the other in a process of change like growth. . 255e)? Perhaps he does not consider same and different to be opposites: at least. Or. The question is. which he compares to Òslowly quickÓ. while any particular may unproblematically participate in both of a pair of opposites.118 DAVID SEDLEY with the self-evident truth of tautologies and the self-evident falsity of self-contradictions. if One itself were many. taking it in turns to ÒadvanceÓ and ÒretreatÓ according to the relation in which the object is currently being viewed. I know of no evidence that he does. to afŽ rm that there is öntvw tò m¯ ön. a pair of opposites like small and large may coexist in the same object. to take an adverbial version of the same abhorrence. that motion should be at rest or rest be in motion is Òby the greatest necessities impossibleÓ (taÝw megÛstaiw Žn‹gkaiw Ždænaton). 35a7-8 they are Òhard to mixÓ but can be combined Òby forceÓ. Òun-F because of FÓ. as virtually interchangeable with the causal cases. emphatically. they will never ÒdareÓ to be characterised by each other: the Òlarge in youÓ will never become small. in accordance with the nature of its own oppositeÓ. ÒamazingÓ etc. undergoing these opposites as affectionsÓ (129c). According to the Phaedo (102b-103c). At Tim. it would be ÒbizarreÓ (t¡raw). and arguably the daring statement only proves acceptable to the latter because he has decided in the end that being and not-being are not true opposites.6 Just how intimate the link is between these various kinds of logically abhorrent interaction between opposites is not a simple question to answer. Rep. Yet again in the Sophist (252d). Socrates 6 Why then does he implicitly allow the ÒsameÓ to be characterised by ÒdifferentÓ (Sph. in the Theaetetus (189c-d. it is worth remarking that his abhorrence at opposites causing opposites somehow re ects a broader abhorrence at the idea that one of a pair of opposites might in any way characterise the other. cf. at any rate. But there is some reason to think that Plato would see the adverbial cases. and ÒdaringÓ according to the Eleatic Stranger (258d).

such as those at Protagoras 355d. But I am conŽ dent (a) that the pattern of reasoning I have documented is far too deep-seated in PlatoÕs thought to be explained away either as humorous or as his idiosyncratic way of expressing some harmless truth. and (b) that we will never fully understand PlatoÕs logic and metaphysics until we do understand what is driving him here. and the kind he considers spurious. the most that I can hope to achieve in this paper is an improved grasp of its positive counterpart.g. for instance that what is done foolishly is what is done out of folly. of the food?] (b) being large [in relation to another adult] (96d8-e1) head also results in smallness (Law 3). both may be reducible to puzzlement as to how quickness could be in any way characterised by slowness. So the puzzlement over Òslowly quickÓ and the like may even be reducible to puzzlement over the causal version. and it is a pity that modern commentators have failed to recognise that this strange but ubiquitous Platonic causal principle is at work in them. As a step towards understanding why Plato is so Ž ercely attached to the principle that opposites cannot cause opposites. Alternatively. or adding  esh to  esh ingÕs growth (= becoming (96c7-d5) large) (96c6-7) [these also bring about shrinkage – e. and is itself small (Law 1) (100c8101b2) a head (96e1) (Ž rst voyage) (second voyage) (105b-c) intelligent cause ÒsafeÓ cause subtle cause [part of providentially designed life cycle?] ? [largeness] largeness (101a1-5) the largeness in us . Parmenides 131c-d and Theaetetus 199d. I am very far from pretending to understand what is going on in these and similar passages. the principle that what causes F must itself be F. provide the basis of crucial refutations within Platonic arguments. Òquick because of slownessÓ.119 PLATONIC CAUSES argues for a straight equivalence between somethingÕs being done F-ly and its being done Òout of F-nessÓ (causal dative). 121) Causation at Phd. and more plausibly. The following chart lists the main examples he discusses there. see p. in the autobiographical passage of the Phaedo. First we must take a glance at the kind of causes that Socrates considers acceptable. (For the ÒlawsÓ cited here. Some of the examples I have listed. adding in square brackets a number of guesses as to how he might complete the picture. 96a-101c (+ 105b-c) effect spurious cause objectio n (a) a human beeating.

air also lets things fall (Law 3)] part of the overall good cosmic arrangement (99c5-6) (h) Socrates sitting in prison (98c2-4) bones and sinews (98c4-d6) bones and sinews are just as effective for running away (Law 3) (98e5-99a4) the AtheniansÕ [sitting?] and SocratesÕ judgements about what is best (98e1-5) (i) thought/wisdom blood (Empe(phronein) docles). 98a2-b2) aether (Anaxagoras) (98c1) [aether could just as easily produce the opposite motions (Law 3)] [to communicate number etc. e. 96a-101c (+ 105b-c)) effect spurious cause objectio n (Ž rst voyage) (second voyage) (105b-c) intelligent cause ÒsafeÓ cause subtle cause (c) 10 being more than 8 (96e1-3) 2 (96e2-3) [2 also makes 8 less (Law 3)] ? numerousness (101b4-6) (d) 1 becoming 2 (96e7-9. let me invent an example. air (96b3ff. 90c-d)] ? (g) the earthÕs stability (99b6-8) a vortex (Empedocles) or a cushion of air (Anaxagoras) (99b6-8) [a vortex also brings about motion. brain (Alcmaeon?) (96b3ff. water (Anaxagoras) (98c1) [these could result in any shape/arrangement? (Law 3)] to give it stability (108e-109a) cf. Imagine in column 1 the question ÒWhat is the cause of its being hot in summerÓ? A spurious cause (column 2) might be given by the astronomerÕs answer ÒThe sunÕs movement in the eclipticÓ.g. in a corpse (Law 3)] wisdom ( phronesis) is intrinsically good (69a-b) (j) a thingÕs being beautiful (100c10-d1) [same colour/ shape can make a thing ugly (Law 3)] [by (human or the beautiful divine) design] (100d3-e3) its colour. 97a5-7) addition (97a1) or division (97a7) theyÕd be opposite causes of the same effect (Law 2) (97a7-b3) ? twoness (101c2-7) (e) shape and position of the earth (97d5-98a2) air.) [these things can have the opposite effect.) (Anaximines). (g) ? (f ) celestial motions (96b9. 46e-47c. Causation at Phd.? (Timaeus 39b. aether.120 DAVID SEDLEY (cont. Ž re (Heraclitus). to which the objection (in column 3) would perhaps be that that same alleged cause is just . or shape (100d1-3) [rest?] ? soul To illustrate the full range of this scheme.

Next. since no causal theory could coherently describe such a thing. but it seems to me that this cannot do justice to PlatoÕs approach. and these include simple things like Òthe beautifulÓ and ÒintelligenceÓ (as distinct from states of affairs. it may be – and often is – suspected that explanation 7 is The equation of aitiai with explanations has become almost as popular in the interpretation of Plato as in that of Aristotle. talk of necessary or sufŽ cient conditions becomes unsatisfactory. These considerations at least show that Platonic causes are not straightforwardly identiŽ able with either necessary or sufŽ cient conditions. Your stabbing me through the heart may be a sufŽ cient condition of my death. if we could Ž nd one to place in column 4. which is inalienably hot and therefore necessarily brings heat with it. which orders everything. And if Ž nally a ÒsubtleÓ cause were to be sought. but cannot be a sufŽ cient condition of his doing so or his bones and sinews could not be said. regards as the cause of a given effect whatever thing in the story it is most appropriate to attach the blame to. as constituting any kind of ÒconditionÓ. events etc. as they are.). I have argued. for the best. the ÒsafeÓ cause would be. one which shows that they cannot be ÒconditionsÓ at all. ÒAristotle on inefŽ cient causesÓ. SocratesÕ decision that it is best to stay and face the death penalty is explicitly the cause of his sitting in prison.PLATONIC CAUSES 121 as effective at making it cold in winter. If causes are essentially things. Conversely. would be cosmic nous. SocratesÕ having bones and sinews is said to be a necessary condition of his sitting in prison. at least the following three Laws of Causation are being assumed by Plato: If x causes anything to be F (whose opposite is un-F) (1) x must not be un-F (2) xÕs opposite must not cause anything to be F (3) x must never cause anything to be un-F Plato. but it is hard to see what it would even mean to call you a sufŽ cient condition of my death. How does Plato decide which item qualiŽ es for this? Commentators have often enough succumbed to the temptation to frame their answer in terms of necessary or sufŽ cient conditions. including summer heat. it would have to be the Ž re travelling from the sun. PQ 32 (1982). as distinct from some fact about the thing like its presence on the scene. to constitute a further necessary condition. It represents one of my very few disagreements with Julia Annas. 311-26. But there is a far more fundamental consideration to add. As has often been remarked. quite simply ÒhotnessÓ. Alternatively. An intelligent cause. 7 . but explicitly not the cause.

in this case SocratesÕ judgement about what is best. Addition may have led to Cf. we may take Socrates to mean. and to ask which among them has some characteristic which made it all along such as to bring about the effect in question. PlatoÕs approach is to sift through the items that play a part in the story. because. A cushion of air (see (g) in the chart) is. in A. Bones and sinews (see (h) in the chart) were clearly not all along such as to bring about the effect of sitting in prison. who brings out ways in which cause and explanation may overlap. Similarly (see (d) in the chart). and the aim of causal inquiry is to identify the thing responsible. this causal account would entail something smallÕs being the cause of largeness (101a-b). if I am holding one piece of wood and pick up another. A more nuanced account is offered by Gail Fine.122 DAVID SEDLEY the dominant notion motivating Plato – that he is requiring a description under which the cause in question will prove maximally explanatory of its effect. also Vlastos. they constitute less an epistemological than an ontological category. My warning is against taking Platonic causes to have a primarily epistemological function of the kind outlined above. such as the bones and sinews rejected as the cause of his sitting. Mathematics and Metaphysics in Aristotle (Bern and Stuttgart 1987). there is nothing about air as such to make it more suitable for holding things up than for doing the opposite. 69-112. not such as to bring about the effect of the earthÕs stability (as Anaxagoras and others thought). If I am right. a head being something small. In no case does Socrates replace a rejected cause. But that this kind of explanatoriness is not what he is seeking seems clear to me. Graeser (ed. cit. ÒForms as causes: Plato and AristotleÓ. Socrates anyway assumes that a satisfactory cause must be able to survive such redescription. Rather. addition cannot be named as the cause of my now holding two pieces of wood in my hand. It seems. no matter under what description. art. on Law 2. likewise. These are applications of Law 3. that causal contexts are referentially transparent. . at least in the following case: he excludes a head as the cause of someoneÕs largeness on the ground that. because they are just as suited to the (presumably) opposite activity of running away from prison (98e5-99a4). with a redescription of the same item. Of course it can hardly be denied that Ž nding the cause of something may often play a crucial part in explaining it. in the way that – to adapt an example from Aristotle – it is more explanatory (though it may be no truer) to call the person responsible for my house Òa builderÓ than Òan amateur trombonistÓ. then. letting them fall.). he each time substitutes a reference to a quite different item.

the onset of death and the concurrent departure of the soul.9 Must the cause of someoneÕs death be itself dead? Will a court convict you of my murder only if you were yourself dead at the time I died? Obviously not. or the cause of. it is not hard to illustrate such a principle. As for my death itself. Perhaps it has no cause at all. re ection about its opposite reveals that there cannot be anything about addition as such that links it to the effect in question. In a case like that of heat the name makes easy sense: you can be made hot only by a hot thing. never cold. taking life with it. can by its presence only make things cold. and the number three. p. The same might be said of a very different application of the 8 For an impressive defence of this principle. the principle that like causes like. well. Ž re by its presence can only make things hot. 9 This type of reaction is well articulated by D. by being present in a set of things.PLATONIC CAUSES 123 the doubling on this occasion. it may be hard for him to see what it could ever be about the thing that pointed towards that outcome. in deciding that you are guilty (aàtiow) of my death. ÒAn ancient principle about causationÓ. Likewise snow. division. the murderous act – a causal analysis which does appear to obey Platonic principles. 135-52. and. These look like good illustrations of PlatoÕs Law 1. of its positive counterpart. . so long as it speciŽ es carefully exactly what item is causing what. may strictly speaking mean that you are a murderous person who can therefore be held responsible for. can only make them odd because it is itself inalienably odd. because nothing else has heat to transmit to you. Plato is looking for something which was all along such as to produce the effect F-ness. equally. Bostock. Makin. then. perhaps the murderous act is not strictly its cause. if not the thingÕs being itself in its own nature F. is just as effective at producing the same result: I could simply have broken the Ž rst piece of wood in two. That is. provided that you select your examples carefully. This approach is sometimes known as the Òtransmission theory of causationÓ. when its (supposed) opposite. 155. being by nature cold. that whatever causes something to be F must not itself be un-F. PlatoÕs Phaedo (Oxford 1986). The jury. beyond a safe formal cause. because it is itself by nature hot. At least. see S. but a Platonic theory of causation might still survive the challenge. If. but it does not follow that it is its nature to produce 2. To take PlatoÕs own paradigmatic case from later on in the Phaedo.8 It is tempting to react with counterexamples. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 91 (1990-1).

more loosely. when in the Meno Socrates apologises for his numbing effect on his interlocutor by remarking ÒIt is because I myself above all am at a loss that I cause others too to be at a lossÓ. like that of air and aether with the earthÕs original formation. To insist too strongly on transmission as a distinct stage in the causal process threatens to dilute the immediacy and transparency of the cause-effect relation. that so-called causal relations will prove to be nothing more than regular conjunctions. Even in the simple case where a murderous act is attributable to a murderous person. that decision-making is the process by which you transmit your character to your behaviour. In all such cases. as we saw earlier. while there is no use for a causal stage in which the murderousness is ÒtransmittedÓ from the agent to the act. When we have accounted for the murderous act by pointing to the murderous person. as if the act were already there awaiting the conferment of this property. How the murderousness was transmitted is no more important to a causal account than it was at Phaedo 100d3-e3 to establish whether it is by sharing. presence or whatever that the Beautiful comes to make things beautiful. we have already said all that there is to say about where the actual responsibility lies. . One central thrust of PlatoÕs account is that reference to mere situational correlations. And if he can persuade us that all genuine causal relations have this transparency and immediacy.124 DAVID SEDLEY same law. But we must be careful. pantòw mllon aétòw ŽporÇn oìtvw kaÜ toçw llouw poiÇ ŽporeÝn. Only in causal relations of the kind which Plato 10 Meno 80c9-d1. highlighted by Hume. we might still say. There is nothing altogether absurd in the prospect of learning to reform our causal language so as obey PlatoÕs strictures. why should we object? It may even help us to see why. in cases of accidental killing. is a hopelessly inadequate way of locating a cause-effect relation. An apparent further attraction of adhering to so strict a notion of cause is the prospect of circumventing the danger. and we are being asked simply to take it on trust. Plato does not include in the irreducible kernel of a causal statement the process by which the cause acts. in the way that there is when someone elseÕs murderous character becomes the cause of a murderous act. the actual causality cannot be displayed. we should not hold the unfortunate perpetrator ÒresponsibleÓ at all: there is simply no properly causal link between the agentÕs character and the act. That is why. or that of SocratesÕ bones and sinews with his sitting.10 It is easy to think of Socratic dialectic as the device by which he transmits his puzzlement to others.

in T. 359-83. if Intelligence is the cause of 11 I am grateful to Christopher Shields for impressing on me the point made in this paragraph. a Platonic approach promises to save us from the sheer arbitrariness or subjectivity which the task of singling out a cause regularly seems to import.). 1-26. to learn much about how they might be coherently formulated. Philosophical Dialogues: Plato. showing how a divine Intelligence (nous) ordered it as it is because it judged that this was the best way for things to be. at least. then. Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 5 (1990). 12 In ÒTeleology and myth in the PhaedoÓ. after all. we should not expect. or your Ž ring your gun? Or was it the rupture of my heart. does he himself envisage this kind of cause? How. was it reckless provocation on my part.11 It is inadequate.J. from his own informal sketch of the idea. as a forensic scientist is more likely to claim? Or again. Maybe. or any of a thousand other items which various sectional interests may choose to privilege as Òthe causeÓ? Platonic causation eliminates all these impostors at a stroke. then. Quite apart from the Humean question. they are not genuinely causal. your callous pursuit of your own ends. What caused my death? Was it you? Was it your action? Was it your gun. How. he is rejecting material causes in favour of intelligent. Hume and Wittgenstein (Oxford 1995).PLATONIC CAUSES 125 endorses is the actual nature of the causing conceptually self-evident. Plato is acknowledging that cosmology was not a discipline to which his master made any direct contribution. your deprived childhood. He adds that he would dearly love to learn how to establish similar causes for the arrangement of the cosmos. But it is equally clear that Plato himself12 regards teleological cosmology as a proper philosophical project. the in uence of television. in particular. Since Socrates confesses that he has been unable to discover an adequate account of such causes. can intelligent or teleological causes even obey PlatoÕs own austere causal principles? For example. . But can it. deal adequately with all the cases that he himself considers causal? What about SocratesÕ own expressed ideal of teleological causation? In the passage about the causes of his sitting in prison. goal-directed causes: the primary reason for his sitting in prison is his judgement that it is better for him not to escape. to object on the ground that PlatoÕs causal theory cannot account for all the relations which we consider causal. Smiley (ed. and ÒThe dramatis personae of PlatoÕs PhaedoÓ. I have argued that to understand the PhaedoÕs teleological programme we must distinguish PlatoÕs own authorial voice from the voice of his character Socrates.

can be read as fully adhering to the strict Platonic notion of a cause. then isnÕt it (in deŽ ance of Causal Law 3) the cause of opposite effects – both heat in summer and cold in winter. and is therefore causally efŽ cacious only when it succeeds in bringing about a good state of affairs. being good and essentially aiming for the good. that the good has this power in virtue of being the goal governing all the activities of the divine Intelligence. as if air could compete with the power of Òthe good and the bindingÓ in holding the whole arrangement together. where Socrates argues that. (If it is wondered why Intelligence should be absolved of being the ÒcauseÓ of its own omissions. that will mean all good things. the goodness which affects it has enormous causal powers. to attribute something to the agency of an intelligence just is to say why it is best that it should be the way it is. Teleological causation is from start to Ž nish a matter of the good bringing about the good. the morally good act (b) a success of intelligence. in short. but only of good things. This is in fact a causal thesis almost explicitly maintained in book II of the Republic (379b-c). Intelligence invariably aims for the good. However. because intelligence always aims for the good and therefore never intends its bad results. Intelligence. It is. on a cosmic scale. both light in the day and darkness at night? I donÕt think so. a cushion of air. Socrates says at 99b-c. . For example (see (g) in the chart).)13 Thus PlatoÕs teleological project is one of investigating. for this reason (b) it has seemed to me too in my turn better to sit here. Intelligence is intrinsically good. then.126 DAVID SEDLEY everything. This is little more than a development. but its goodness. not everything about the world. he is the cause. it is absurd of the natural philosophers to attribute the earthÕs stable position in the cosmos to its resting on. therefore in so far as it acts upon things it can only make them good. and more just to stay and face whatever penalty they imposeÓ. If Plato wants Intelligence to be the cause of all things. It is precisely because it is good for the earth to be stable that the divine Intelligence can be relied on to Ž nd a way to make it so. I think. is simply not causally correlated in the right way to a bad outcome. since god is intrinsically good. a special appli13 The teleological explanation of SocratesÕ sitting in prison is (98e) that Òsince (a) it has seemed better to the Athenians to condemn me. of the Socratic paradox that no one does wrong willingly. not of everything. Here we might I suppose take it that the bad situation (a) is a failure of intelligence (this time human intelligence). failures or mistakes. He means. in achieving the good that it invariably aims for. Platonic teleology. say. As Socrates emphasises (98a-b). PlatoÕs causal principles again step in with the answer.

always by its presence makes things hot. What it may be thought to anticipate in addition is ÒsubtleÓ causation of the kind canvassed at 105b-c: intelligence. if cryptically. forget about air. through the inherent goodness of the divine intellect. i. donÕt be sidetracked into investigating the nature of colours. 99c-102a). cf. and this has sometimes fostered the impression that there is nothing more to formal causal analysis than the utterly trivial undertaking of naming the formal cause: ÒThis is F because of F-nessÓ. However. say.14 At 74b Simmias unhesitatingly agrees that ÒweÓ. One di fŽ culty about envisaging this intellectual process is that the Phaedo itself does not explicitly supply working deŽ nitions for any of the Forms that it considers. Likewise. You will then be able to trace a causal chain from the nature of the Good. aether and the like and Ž nd out what goodness is. Investigate what the beautiful is – in other words. If you want to know what makes a sunset beautiful. always imports goodness by its presence.e. at the very 14 For these as a trio. Can these formal causes be other than vacuous? They can.PLATONIC CAUSES 127 cation of the formal causation to which Socrates turns in his famous ÒSecond VoyageÓ (Phd. more ambitiously. down to the goodness of the worldÕs individual features. but I am also convinced that there is at any rate one simple trio of interdependent Forms. But only someone who grasped the Platonic causal principles could hope to carry this out. just as Ž re. There is an enormous value in knowing that the sunset is beautiful because of the beautiful and not because of. being intrinsically good. seek to establish the essence of the beautiful by means of a de Ž nition. whose deŽ nitions Plato assumes all his readers already to know. Only when you know what the genuine cause is do you know what it is that you have to investigate. with its ÒsafeÓ causal story that it is the F which causes F things to be F. its colour. This is the trio large-equalsmall. If you want to understand what makes sunsets beautiful. Formal causes PlatoÕs formal causes have received a largely bad press. tò àson kaÜ tò meÝzon kaÜ tò ¦latton And in the . if you want to understand the worldÕs goodness. at 101d that the Form that has been posited will eventually need to be de Ž ned. it may seem quite unhelpful to be told ÒBecause of the beautifulÓ. being intrinsically hot. not only does Socrates indicate. central to his illustrations of formal causation. II. 75c9.

Socrates sounds as if he is in fact assuming as known the deŽ nitions of largeness and smallness later used at Parmenides 150c-d (and perhaps implicit at Hp. because largeness is a Form which we are all expected to know 16 that Plato repeatedly invokes it to illustrate formal causation. but also. . but as inŽ nite in numberÓ. generated over and above Largeness itself and the things which participate in it. in that classic passage of the Parmenides. beauty etc.128 DAVID SEDLEY least all those present. where. equality must presumably be the Òcapacity neither to exceed nor be exceededÓ. A Form is supposed to be that entity in virtue of which a set of things share a property: all F things are F in virtue of the single Form. And in addition to all of these again a further one. F-ness. To say that Forms are separate entails that this Form. Largeness is the Òcapacity to exceedÓ (dænamiw toè êper¡xein).Ma. I suspect. 15 I therefore agree with Dominic Scott. ÒBut what about the Large itself and the other large things? If you look onto them all in the same way with your soul. and for this reason you judge the Large to be oneÓ. know what the equal itself is. ParmenidesÕ argument runs as follows. including the problematic goodness. is something over and above the Phaedo ÒlargerÓ and ÒlargeÓ are interchangeable – cf. ÒI think it is for the following sort of reason that you believe each Form is one thing. And you will no longer have each of the Forms as single. it is a matter of common agreement that one and the same largeness makes all large things large. replied Socrates. perhaps it seems to you. the same one. When it seems to you that there are many particular large things. as you look onto them all. ÒIn that case another Form of Largeness will put in an appearance.) is conŽ rmed by Meno 72c-e. This is sometimes called the One-over-Many principle. beauty etc. Recollection and Experience (Cambridge 1995). smallness the Òcapacity to be exceededÓ (dænamiw toè êper¡xesyai). 16 That largeness is one of the easy Forms (by contrast with goodness. This is true not only in the Phaedo. that there is one Form. wonÕt a single Large appear again. 102d-103a – for reasons which the deŽ nition of ÒlargeÓ (see immediately below) will make obvious. ÒWhat you say is trueÓ. 294b). in which case. by contrast with the case of goodness (Žret®). To oversimply somewhat. 67-8. It is. F-ness. as I shall now argue.15 And when we get to the account of immanent largeness and smallness at 102a-103a. because of which (Ú) all these appear largeÓ? ÒApparentlyÓ. that the later indication (76b-c) that perhaps no one but Socrates knows the Forms re ects the fact that they are by now talking about the entire range of Forms. the Third Man Argument (132a-b). because of which (Ú) all of them will be large.

F-ness 1. ÒThe Third Man Argument in the ParmenidesÓ. 18 As Dorothea Frede points out in ÒThe Ž nal proof of the immortality of the soul in PlatoÕs Phaedo 102a-107aÓ. it is nonidentical with the particular largenesses over which it stands. Originally in G.18 and since NI (even when heavily disguised) looks like a direct negation of SP.). He expresses his conŽ dence – and is not challenged on the point by Parmenides – that if Forms were thoughts the Third Man regress would be avoided. there must remain a doubt about whether we have really understood NI. And the same reasoning will generate a yet further Form. And then we would be confronted with the TMA all over again. the thought which is generated by surveying a set of things which include conceptual Largeness could not itself be conceptual Largeness. which links this new set of largenesses? On the reasonable assumption that no thought can include itself within its own scope. for example – positing this Form merely adds one further F thing to the list. these are: Self-predication (SP): ÒF-ness is FÓ Non-identity (NI): ÒNone of the F things is identical with F-nessÓ Since it has proved hard if not impossible to absolve Plato of being somehow committed to SP. thus generating a new. 24-41.PLATONIC CAUSES 129 set of F things. Why so? If Largeness is a thought (call it Òconceptual LargenessÓ). Gregory Vlastos17 set the terms for modern discusssions of the Third Man Argument (TMA) by isolating two controversial premises. repr. Then what links these particular largenesses and conceptual Largeness itself? Why wonÕt there be a new thought. Allen (ed. Immediately following it.E. 17 . 319-49. Stripped down. And so on ad inŽ nitum. for which we will have to posit a further Form. Studies in PlatoÕs Metaphysics (London 1965). Socrates retreats to the proposal that Forms are thoughts located exclusively in our souls (132b). a highly plausible understanding of NI can be found. Vlastos. It may be helpful to start from a retrospective view of the TMA. Philosophical Review 63 (1954). Clearly then we must construe either the TMA or the Form-thought equivalence so as to make the latter less vulnerable to the regress attack. expanded set of F things. in R. SP even follows directly from the doctrine that Forms are causes combined with the causal principle that what makes things F must itself be F. conceptual Largeness 1. given also that the Form F-ness is itself taken to be F – Beauty is beautiful. But. F-ness 2. provided we keep in sight PlatoÕs notion of formal causation. Phronesis 23 (1978). My hope is to show that.

the same causal dative has featured in ParmenidesÕ immediately preceding argument. In the TMA. That is a role which it could scarcely perform if it were a mere human thought. Òbecause of whichÓ (Ú) Largeness and the other large things are large. 34-6. pp. which. The One over Many principle was designed to correlate a set of objective items accessed by the mind. the discovery of a Form. Mind 91 (1982). and by Mary-Louise Gill in M. ÒThe Third ManÕs contribution to PlatoÕs paradigmatismÓ.19 According to the TMA. since I Ž rst wrote the above. responds by explicitly placing the Form itself within the soul. Parmenides (Indianapolis and Cambridge 1996). cf.). made Parmenides start out in the TMA by emphasising the objective. if the Form proves instead to be subjective. however. I have also learned that a similar point was developed at some length by Alexander Nehamas in his 1971 Princeton doctoral dissertation. Chang in his 1995 Cambridge Ph.-C. dissertation. Parmenides generates his second form of Largeness by urging upon Socrates that he (Socrates) looks with his soul onto the Form plus the particulars that fall under it and notices what common Form links them all. extramental status of Forms. Largeness. Ryan (ed. Òbecause of whichÓ Largeness 1 and the other large things are large. 19 The terminological point has been overlooked by the classic literature on the TMA. There it cannot be looked ÒontoÓ by the soul in the way that the other large things can. I have not seen. ÒThe role of the Timaeus in the development of PlatoÕs theory of FormsÓ. That is why Socrates. 100e. and no second Form will be generated. it will cease to be one of the items taken in by the survey. Waterlow.).D. We can now see why Plato. And what better way to substantiate this than by bringing out their objective role as causes: the Form Largeness is actually what makes large things large. etc. which should be familiar to readers of the Phaedo as one of PlatoÕs standard locutions for a cause. For a comparably causal reading of the Likeness regress in the Parmenides. and that in turn likewise leads to the addition of Largeness 2. cf. It will make a huge difference if we start by noticing this simple terminological point. in the Form-thought passage. on the absurdity of making something relatively small – viz. However. That the Form has this causal function is in fact explicitly brought out twice in the TMA by the causal dative.130 DAVID SEDLEY I suggest that this requires the following approach. Plato. and trans. 339-57. . 000 ). Indeed. the same point has been made by K. leads to the addition of Largeness 1.L. S. Phd. a part of Largeness or Equality – the cause of a particular thingÕs being large or equal (131c-d. and as the standard locution for a formal cause (as in tÒ kalÒ p‹nta tŒ kalŒ kal‹. above p. in anticipation of this later response. Predication and the theory of forms in the Phaedo. Gill and P.

Largeness is large. but as I remarked in Part I. it is arguably a principle which Plato had already acknowledged with regard to the causal role of Forms: at Phaedo 100c he was presumably recognising that F-ness could not be the cause of its own F-ness when he wrote: ÒIf anything is beautiful. That these are four of a kind.e. it is beautiful through no other cause than that it participates in that BeautifulÓ. My present aim is not to solve the problem of Self-Predication. Take. Phd. we are in a position to rewrite NI as a new. What I am proposing to add is the speciŽ cally causal analysis. plus Largeness itself. we will be well placed to explain how the regress is generated. where our individual capacity to exceed may be called interchangeably Òthe large in usÓ and Òthe largeness in usÓ. Above all. 21 The NI premise.PLATONIC CAUSES 131 The attraction of this reading is. However. premise: NI*: ÒNo cause is identical with its own effectÓ NI* has many merits.g. We still need versions of SP and NI in order to follow the argument. 20 . 22 Technically he could mean that it is the cause of its own beauty. but temporarily to disarm it in order to concentrate instead on the dangers posed by Non-Identity. in the immediate sequel he asserts that the nature of this ÒparticipationÓ relation is unimportant to his causal thesis. other than the Beautiful itself. that it offers an immediately plausible interpretation of the TMA. is itself a largeness. which stands over them.21 but also I hope entirely credible. You now have four largenesses – the largenesses of the three large things. With the help of the causal analysis. SP. the Form. a set of three large things. individual capacities to exceed) of a set of particular objects. for convenience. for our present convenience. It is explicitly stated (with regard to the causes of becoming) as a law at Philebus 27a and Hippias Major 297c1-2. ÒNothing is F in virtue of itself Ó.20 albeit a rather special one. be read as one about the interrelations of a series of largenesses. and Largeness itself. which he simpliŽ es so as to omit it: ÒIt is because of the beautiful that beautiful things are beautifulÓ. The whole argument can. p. although not by being Òparticipated inÓ by itself. If we pay proper attention to the causal language.22 The argument can now run as follows. thus formulated. to which I now turn. I hope. starting with the individual largenesses (i. has much in common with the version offered by Gail Fine. can for the purposes of the argument be treated as meaning no more than that Largeness. On Ideas (Oxford 1993). the puzzling assumption that e. 102d-e. 206. It seems an obvious intuitive truth. and therefore in need of a Cf. or cases of largeness.

Cambridge At the very least. the separation of cause from effect. Gail Fine. yielding a set of ve largenesses. Plato was already speaking of them as the causes of their own instantiations (e. Lille. since then it would be causing not only other largenesses but also itself. And so on ad inŽ nitum. it was the causal principle NI* that he reached for. Even before he separated the Forms as transcendent entities. Voula Tsouna and Chris Bobonich for further written comments. would in fact constitute an equally powerful ground for the original Platonic separation of the Form Largeness from its effects. already for some time under active investigation by Parmenides. and needed an argument for the separation of Largeness 1. This might lead us to re ect that NI*. But this new Largeness satisŽ es the same deŽ nition as the other four largenesses. his postulation of separated Forms. Verity Harte. is conŽ rmed by the fact that they all satisfy the same de Ž nition – which is probably. Meno 72c). OSAP 2 (1984). Looking back on the structure of the argument. How Plato gets from this to independently existing Forms (which I take to be intended by the notion of separation). Barrie Fleet. My thanks for comments on previous drafts supplied by audiences at Geneva. Òthe capacity to exceedÓ.132 DAVID SEDLEY unitary causal account. There is therefore a Ž fth Largeness which makes the Ž rst four largenesses largenesses. So what causes them all to be largenesses? Not Largeness itself. NI* yields Forms which are non-identical with their instances. such individual largenesses as yours and mine. or in the context needed to be. and to Christopher Shields. But NI* would do much to bridge that gap. Fine. Columbia. Perhaps then NI* should be added to the motives which we standardly adduce for that single most revolutionary development in PlatoÕs metaphysics.g. Robert Wardy. 23 . for which a yet further cause must be sought. G. ÒSeparationÓ. London and ShefŽ eld. But as soon as Parmenides came to the second step. we may note that no version of NI was. Cambridge. because causes are naturally held to be not merely non-identical with their effects but also temporally and/or ontologically prior to them.23 ChristÕs College. Milan. is a problematic issue (cf. as we have seen. Euthyphro 6d-e. 31-87). in contravention of NI*. Cornell. Princeton. invoked as justifying the initial separation of Largeness from individual largenesses: that Forms are ÒseparateÓ from the things that participate in them was SocratesÕ hypothesis.