Plato’s theory of causality

free essayPlato was a renowned philosopher and a mathematician in Ancient Greece. Plato was also an influential figure and contributed much to the Western philosophy. He was a student of Socrates and pioneered the Academy of Athens, one of the first institutions of higher learning in the Western world. Together with his student Aristotle, they are considered to have set foundation of science and Western philosophy. His concepts have been used in teaching a range of subjects, including logic, ethic, philosophy, religion, rhetoric, and mathematics among others (Thomas 486). Plato’s theory of forms presented a distinct outlook on abstract objects and resulted into a school of thought that was popularly referred to as Platonism. Furthermore, his writings and concepts have been published in various versions. Consequently, this has resulted in various conventions in regard to referencing and naming Plato’s text.

Considered as a person of high status in Athens, his works draw much influence from intellectual movements and political events during his time. However, the question he comes up with is profound and the strategies he employs in tackling them are so provocative and suggestive that intellectuals in almost every period have in some way or another been influenced by his ideals. Specifically, in every age, there have been intellectuals who connect themselves with Plato in some critical respects. Despite him not being the first writer or thinker to have coined the word ‘philosopher’, he was quite conscious about the concept of philosophy, its ambitions, and scope (Lesser 78).

During his time, Plato managed to transform intellectuals to the extent that the subject of philosophy conceived as metaphysical, political, ethical, and epistemological issues with a unique method could be considered as his invention. Very few authors could match his philosophical capabilities during his time. They include Immanuel Kant, Aquinas, and Aristotle.

Plato and Causal Explanations

Since many intellectuals have raised a question in relation to techniques employed by Plato and since the comprehension of his method is a necessary pre-condition in reconstructing or understanding his thoughts, modern and past scholarly concern with techniques discussed or employed in thoughts does not come as a surprise (Lesser 79). Additionally, if there is exegetical necessity, core concepts critical to arguments relating to causal explanations alongside widely embraced accounts of these particular concepts should be thoroughly re-evaluated from the perspective of related queries.

In his Phaedo, Plato criticizes causal explanations of natural phenomena presented by some philosophers in the pre-Socratic period. Employing Socrates ideologies, he suggests that accounts of phenomena offered by previous phusikoi such as Anaxagoras was only effective in connecting a single physical occurrence to some combination of interactions among others. According to him, these explanations fail to offer a satisfactory account of a general organizing principle that explains why this world should be considered in one way instead of another despite explanations of the pre-Socratics constantly evoking a concept of “necessity” as a part of the organizing principle. Nonetheless, the account of ‘necessity’ that could be found in these thinkers were fundamentally different in meaning from those that Plato wished to introduce in his own perspective of the world. The pre-Socratic necessity is the one that emerges from the initial arbitrariness (Hudson 249).

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In Phaedo, Plato continues to describe his perspective of a satisfactory causal explanation. Relying on Socrates’ ideas, Plato associates his first excitement upon hearing the placement of mind by Anaxagoras as an eventual cause of all things. However, he is disappointed with how Anaxagoras interprets the term “mind”, which actually contradicts the intention of Anaxogoras. Disappointment of Plato with the Anaxagoras’s concept should not be considered as a mere linguistic conflict. Comprehension of the difference between Plato’s definition of the mind and that of Anaxagoras is in fact essential for understanding the gap in their thoughts concerning nature.

In Phaedo, Plato expresses his own expectations that all accounts focusing on nature and regarding the “mind” as the eventual cause of all things had the potential of making the world order intrinsically intelligible a priori. His reasoning in this logic is that if a directing “mind” were in essence a factor that caused the world order, then the process of this directing mind in ordering the world could not be considered as random (Botterill 288).

However, if the procedure of ordering the world could not be considered as random, the other possibility is that it could be patterned and, hence, the resulting world order should also be patterned. In Plato’s view, the pattern of the mind ordering the world could be equated with arrangement of all things in a manner that is best. Consequently, this makes him conclude that if indeed the mind should be considered as the sole cause for ordering of the world, then it is possible to comprehend the causal structure behind the realized ordering of the world through finding out how the world could be ordered in a way that is the best. In this perspective, there would be no necessity of confirming the way the universe actually appears through any sensory information (Thomas 485).

In offering his perspective concerning a satisfactory account for causes behind the ordering of the world, Plato recognizes the pattern, which the mind produces in ordering of things with conceptualization of “necessity”. He goes on to suggest that a satisfactory account ought to inform first whether the earth is “round or flat”. Further, such an account should also explain why a particular explanation is necessary considering why it is better than the rest (Bluck). Therefore, when Plato talks about “necessity”, what he refers to is some property that could identically transfer any world that has a potential of coming into being by something not related to the “mind”. This is because, in Plato’s perspective, the mind can only order things in a manner that is the best. In this perspective, it may not be possible for two distinct worlds to coexist unless both of these worlds are entirely the same. Stated differently, for any account focusing on the order of the world to achieve standards of Plato, it ought to have this peculiar property of universal, absolute applicability.

Plato’s Naive Explanation on Causality

Plato’s Form and Sense Particulars

In accordance with Plato, universals are considered as ideal forms. This notion differs from that of idealism presented by other philosophers such as Berkeley. Plato’s abstractions are not temporal, spatial, and not compatible with the emphasis of idealism or dualism on mental existence. Plato’s forms consist of geometrical forms and numbers, which ultimately make them the logic of mathematical realism, i.e. objects could be described through mathematical forms. Further, the notion also incorporates the “form of the good”, thus making it a theory of ethical realism as well (Botterill 287-313).

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In Plato’s opinion, universals do not exist in a similar way as physical objects do despite the fact that Plato used to refer to these objects in explaining his notions. Essentially, the theory holds that universals are abstract and broad though not at any temporal or spatial distance from the body of humans. Hence, humans could perceive or see these universals. However, in order to conceive them, an individual has to visualize these abstract forms.

In turn, dualism conceives that the matter and the mind, i.e. the physical and the mental, are two independent and separate elements that have to be used in describing universals. Under this theory, human beings rather than animals contain both substances. The concept goes on to postulate that a person’s mind is a thinking entity with senses, understanding, and imagining capabilities. A body is the object that has a physical size and exists in a physical space. This means that there is a relationship between this theory and the Plato’s notion of forms though there are also clear differences, especially in regard to mind existence.

In explaining the causal relationship between objects and forms in the world, Plato says that things take part in forms. There is no clear message from this articulation, but there are three potential explanations on what forms are. (1) Forms may be considered as paradigms, which are regarded as a perfect instance of what they may be representing. A good example could be a form of justice, which could be regarded as a paradigm of justice, an example of perfect justice in this world (Thomas 485). All other aspects that may be just only insofar are what they replicate or are the same as this justice. (2) The second point one can get is that forms may be considered as universals, whereby all instances of form have common features.

Plato uses the theory of forms in explaining the aspect of causality where he presents it as something that could not be refuted. He presents it without giving much detail or background of definition and assumes that all his audiences are in agreement and understand what he is saying. He does not explain what a form is and it should be considered that he only used the word form once. He simply assumes that the audience agrees with existence of such a factor as beauty by default.

In essence, Plato employs forms here as causality explanations although this may cause some kind of misunderstanding. Currently, a cause could be considered as something that acts upon something, being an element that generates particular effects. A perspective example of effect and cause could be a billiard ball, which makes another ball move. In traditional Greek, there were different assumptions that related to causation and the focus of Plato was on teleological causes. These causes were not concerned with explaining “why”, “how”, or “what for” aspects. Plato’s emphasis on teleological causes explains his lack of interest in the provision of addition as many factors that account for one and one adding to two. Though addition may be used in answering how a combination of one and one result in two, the focus of Plato is the end result that emerges from combining one and one. His answer to this aspect is two or duality, which is the outcome of adding one to one generating two (Bluck).

In the modern perspective, individuals could relate teleological causes with explaining people’s actions. Plato explains that he and the Athenian court could best explain the reason on why Socrates is imprisoned. This could be done so by using some material explanations that may appear appealing to his anatomy (Botterill 287). Unlike the current perspective where material explanations are used in explaining facts, Plato gives the same teleological explanations for causes other than human phenomena.

Effectiveness of Plato’s Causal Explanations

Conceptualizing the physical world as a system that is self-contained, physical phenomena that are necessarily derived from the nature account of pre-Socratics may only be necessary as long as there are necessary consequences of a seemingly arbitrary set of physical conditions that such intellectuals are defined as comprising the initial state of the world. Since this kind of necessity is only defined relatively to a set of unquestioned initial hypothesis or preconditions that present internal features of the universe, the “necessity” postulated by the pre-Socratic philosophers could therefore be considered as internal and that there could be no necessity of applying them to any possible world system. The aspect of applicability in the world system is probably the most critical requirement that could be considered by Plato as a satisfying account of the universe.

By comparing causal explanations presented by Plato with those stipulated by Democritus and Anaxagoras, one can comprehend why he emphasizes giving explanations that could be applied to the universe system, hence representing a significant deviation from explanatory standards and styles used by other philosophers in the pre-Socratic period. After providing an account of this deviation, one is able to comprehend Plato’s thought since his criterion for providing a satisfactory account of nature is eventually that the account should be grasped as a whole by human thought as there are high chances of possibility in practice (Botterill 313).

Immortality of Soul

Plato is also considered as the philosophical source in relation to the immortality of soul. In Phaedo, Plato eulogizes his teacher Socrates and recollects the last hours in his life. In one of the dialogues presented in Phaedo, readers witness a conversation between Socrates and his friends prior to his death where he manages to convince them that there is actually nothing to fear from death. One thing one ought to keep in mind concerning arguments presented by Socrates and his friends in Phaedo is that they presuppose a form of a dualist view of oneself. One may think that this outlook of oneself could make immortality arguments unnecessary. If a rational individual consists of immaterial souls, is it then not obvious that people have to survive death? He ponders. It is critical to understand that despite immortality being connected with the belief of the existence of soul, there is no instant route from immortality to the soul. In other words, there is no apparent contradiction in thinking that individuals harbor immaterial souls, which fail to exist once they die (Hudson 249).

In essence, Plato did not use a very complicated method of hypothesis in explaining concepts such as immortality of the soul. Rather, the method he used was not only sensible, but also simple. The idea of his approach was that if an individual had a dispute with another, then a hypothesis should be found upon which a common approach could be established and see what could follow from there. For example, Simmias and Socrates could not agree on whether the soul could be considered as attunement or not (Lesser 78-81). However, both could agree on the theory of forms. The theory of forms gives an implication that there is a possibility of recollection, which contradicts Simmias’ perception of attunement. If the hypothesis do not provide a clear answer, then a newer, simpler hypothesis should be sought, which was agreeable to both parties. In this perspective, the theory of forms appears to be a common basis that is shared by both parties and, hence, it serves as the basis for proving immortality of the soul.

In his immortality of the soul concept, which are found in his republic, there are key points in his arguments. He begins his arguments with the concept of punishment and reward, which he develops into a concept of particular evils. Specifically, Plato’s understanding of immortality was in terms of reincarnation. In other words, he believed in the possibility of individuals being made flesh again. The Greeks had a belief that the soul would be reincarnated and the soul that was about to be reincarnated had to drink from a river identified as Lethe, which means forgetfulness. This offers an explanation why people could not recollect their previous life according to the Greek culture (Thomas 485-486).

From interpretation of the Plato’s causality, his arguments on causal explanations provided by earlier pre-Socratic thinkers could only be viewed as purely addressing epistemological concerns. If a particular explanation in relation to the order of the universe were not graspable by individual thought, in Plato’s perspective, it would not be possible to grasp it by human thought at all. This implies that the only means by which causal account could possibly serve its projected goal is to make causes clear in relation to the order of the world, which could be expressed in a manner that could be grasped by human thought. However, in order for the causes behind the ordering of the world to be expressed in this way, it is apparent that the ultimate causes that underlie reality would require mirroring of rationality and thought. Consequently, Plato’s idea of causal accounts as explained in his Phaedo and the Republic endeavors to solve a knowledge problem. He goes on to suggest that rational actions in a world that is itself rational and external to people are causes behind the real order of the universe. Consequently, the ostensibly inexplicable order of this physical world where people live has been assured to be potentially explicable to rational souls.

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