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Volume 12, 2014

La Causalité Platonicienne, Stoïcienne, Cynique et Médiévale

Karel Thein
Pages 15-46

Aristote, critique de Platon sur les causes

The paper reconsiders Aristotle’s criticism of Platonic forms as causes together with its wider implications for the differences but also similiarities between the two philosophers. Analyzing the relevant texts of Metaphysics A 9 and Generation and Corruption II, 9, where Aristotle addresses the hypothesis of forms as put forward in the Phaedo, it discusses two interpretative options : that Aristotle takes these forms for an imperfect anticipation of formal causes, and that he sees them as an aborted attempt at grasping the efficient causation whose proper discovery Aristotle claims to be uniquely his own. Although both readings have their virtues and can be defended from the Aristotelian perspective, their check against the text of the Phaedo reveals that, in this context, efficient causation distinct from material causation is quite plausibly the issue Aristotle has in mind first and foremost. This, however, is only one side of Aristotle’s broader critical stance towards forms as causes : while he seems to detect a split in Plato’s own understanding of the relation between the forms and causation (a split between the direct yet unclear influence of universals such as the forms of the large or the beautiful on the one hand and the clear causal scheme of the craft-like model of producing things on the other hand), he is equally critical (if not scornful) of the craft-like model as personified by the demiurge of the Timaeus. However, other passages from the Metaphysics (and also from the Generation of animals) suggest that some features of precisely this model, once it is carefully stripped of its personal aspect, may ultimately bear on Aristotle’s own conception of efficient cause.

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