I. Background: Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus


I. Mechanics

A. Calling the role

-- What we're doing in here is, after a little background in Ancient Philosophy, looking at St. Augustine (technically late classical) and the major European philosophers into the beginning of the 12th century. This course concentrates on Christian philosophers.

B. Texts (Read before class, then go back and reread...bring your books...at least Hyman, Walsh and Williams)

C. Lecture and discussion.  Attendance and good notes absolutely imperative.  Feel free to ask questions any time.  Meaty material.  Good discussions.

D. Notes on line. Study guides.

E. Requirements:

1. 3 essay tests weighted roughly equally (3/6 of grade). Two 5-7 page research papers (2/6 of grade).  Super-easy daily quizzes on the readings...when there are readings (1/6 of grade).  I can take account of constructive class participation and improvement on tests.

2. Course is hard.

II. Why do "history"?

A. These ideas shaped our world

B. And yet they're different.Promote objectivity.  Place to stand from which to criticize the common wisdom. Liberating.  Dictator.

C. These guys might be right!  Religion, science, ethics...


I. Why do philosophy?

A. In order to lead the good and happy life. Pragmatic thread running through the whole endeavor.  "Can I be absolutely certain that the world is not a dream?" (quintessential modern question) silly.

B. For example, Medieval Epistemology --  Knowledge is possible...thinking can get you somewhere...reason is for living...

1. anti-sceptical

2. not going to doubt the truths we take as certain in everyday life: 2+2=4, it's wrong to torture small children for fun, cats are cats and I know one when I see it.

3. HOW is this knowledge possible and what is its purpose?  vs. modern which starts with deciding how we know and then goes on to ask what we know and as often as not comes to the conclusion that we don't really know much of anything.

C. Value, meaning, point to life. Relentless optimism.

D. God!

II. How should we do philosophy?

A. Synthesize revelation with reason, Greek philosophy with scripture. 

B. Problems?

1. Philosophers sometimes say there's something anti-rational about religion.  A world-view incorporating faith is intellectually suspect.

2. Religious people sometimes say philosophy corrupts faith.   Makes it cold and intellectual, or it's too humanistic, or it leads to unbelief. 

C. Au contraire!

1. Nothing irrational about religious faith.

a.  Many religious truths can be proved by reason. E.g. God exists!

b.  Nothing irrational about accepting some beliefs on faith. Plenty of non-religious truths have to be taken on faith. Life is a faith-based enterprise. What do I mean, "have to be"? More when we get into Augustine.

2.  Why does religion need philosophy?

a. You can't love what you don't know.

b.  A simple faith is in danger of being destroyed when it is challenged intellectually.  20th century is a prime example.

D.  What sort of philosophy are we going to bring to bear?  Pre-Christian Greek, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus (Neoplatonism)...

1. What can they add to religion?  No dumbies.  Take what we can use.

2. Early middle ages, mostly Neoplatonism...Aristotle largely unavailable.


(As understood by the folks we're looking at this semester.)

We start here because it saves time. A lot of issues and problems can be dealt with quickly if we know what sort of God we're dealing with.

Overarching idea; God is perfect, i.e. unlimited.  What else can we say about Him?

2 preliminary points

1. Contemporary philosophers of religion will often deny that God is perfect and unlimited in the way the tradition holds that He is.  They will say that the medievals are ‘Hellenizing' and that Scripture points to a God who is e.g. in time, learns things, makes mistakes, changes His mind.  The medievals respond that Scripture has to be interpreted and that one of the keys to interpretation is that anything that makes God look imperfect cannot be taken at face value.

2. Why insist that God is perfect and unlimited?

Religious reason...

a. If even we can think of something better, then God is not worthy of worship.

Philosophical reasons...

b. This is what a number of the proofs for the existence of God prove.

c.  If He's the source of all, then He must transcend the limiting categories of his creation.


I. Simple

A. A thing with parts is destructible, even if only conceptually, in that the parts can at least be conceived as being "pulled apart".

B. A thing with parts can't be completely a se, independently existing, since the whole would in some sense depend upon the parts.

II. Omnipotent (Can God make a round square?)

A. Can't do the logically contradictory.

    1. Is He limited by logic, then?  No. He's not limited at all.

    2.  Does He invent the laws of logic?  No.  If He transcended them then there'd be no thinking about God at all.

    3. The answer: Logic is a reflection of the nature of God.

B. Can't forget or make a mistake or make a rock too heavy for Him to lift.  These "inabilities" are not limitations.  

Divine omnipotence is the ability to do everything possible for a perfect and unlimited being.

C. Can't sin.

III. He's perfectly and necessarily Good.

---The Euthyphro problem----The way Plato put it in the dialogue is -- "Is x good because the gods love it, or do the gods love x because it's good?"

    A. Is He limited by the rules of morality?  No.  He's not limited.

    B.Does He invent the rules of morality? (Divine Command Theory)  No. No one in Early Medieval will go that route, though later some philosophers will.

        1. Then the moral order would be arbitrary.
        2. If God transcends and invents the moral order then He Himself is not "good" in any meaningful sense, since the very meaning of "good" is eviscerated.

    C.The moral law (like logic) is a reflection of God's nature.  God is not only good, but the standard for all good.

IV. Omniscient (How about the future?  Freedom? If God knows I'm going to do x tomorrow, then I have to do x tomorrow. How can I be free? A really good question!)

V. Eternal, outside of time.

    A. Two theories of time

        1. presentism -- all that exists is the present moment
        2. isotemporalism -- all times exist equally

    B. Three views of God's transcendence of time, following from two theories of time.

        1. Presentism: He's everlasting , i.e. He's always existed and He will always exist.
            a. ...and He changes. (Our guys won't say that.)
            b. ...and He does not change.

        2. Isotemporalism: He's eternal in the sense of outside of time such that it's all present to Him.

VI. Immutable (A perfect being can't change).

    A. Change implies being in time somehow.

    B. He can't..

        1. Get better? No, He's perfect.

        2. Get worse? No, then He'd be corruptible.

        3. Lateral motion? Just different? No. Divine properties are not neutral. They're all good. And no more good can be added.

    C. A simple being can't change. If God did x today and then did y tomorrow, we'd have to distinguish between, on the one hand, God in Himself, who stays the same, and, on the other, the x-doing-part and the y-doing-part, which change.

VII. Only One (Can't have more than one perfect being. Try to imagine two omnipotent beings, A and B...impossible.  Either A and B have power over each other or they don't. If they do, then each is limited because there's a being that has power over it. If they don't, each is limited because there's a being over which it does not have power. )

VIII. Ubiquitous (He'd be limited if there were some place where He wasn't.)  Aspatial, incorporeal.

IX. Necessary Being -- NOT contingent. His very nature is to exist. He can't fail to exist.

X. Creator

A. Why? Love

B. How?

1. ex nihilo (If there's anything co-eternal with God then He's limited...He doesn't need anything...and there's nothing He's got to deal with or take account of.)

2. by thinking (If you ever wondered why science works and things make a sort of sense, it's because it's all the product of mind!)

C. When?  From our perspective there was probably a first day (Scripture, physicists) but God is causing everything to be from moment to moment.

    Note that this is not to deny secondary causation. The causes that science talks about are real. It's just that they don't bring anything into being. God, as primary cause, supports the whole system in being. But God really likes secondary causation.

XI. Personal -- God is a person, a conscious mind

XII. Providential--Taking an interest in His creatures

N.B. Tension: Immutable, Eternal, Incorporeal etc.  vs. Agent, providential, personal etc.

PLATO (428 - 348 B.C.)

I. Epistemology

A. There are truths that you know that you could not possibly have learned through your senses.
e.g. 2+2=4, It's wrong to torture small children for fun, cats are cats.

B. You learn them through recollection (Weinberg calls it Reminiscence, p.13).  Before you were born into your current body, your soul existed in the World of the Forms. (Ideas)

C. Forms=perfect, immutable, immaterial standards of things: mathematics, qualities, the Good, the Beautiful, genera and species, cat, human.

D. When our memories are jogged by experience in the world, we remember. (So the senses have a role to play, but we don't get any of the important ideas through the senses.) "Innatism".

II. Human nature

A. Dualist - You are body and soul, material and immaterial

--- Plato, as you might expect, is a Platonic dualist --

B. The real you is just your soul.  Soul is eternal (reincarnation).

C.  Very negative attitude towards body. Body is a prison. Distracts you from what's important.  Keeps you from becoming yourself.  Goal is to get out for good. 

(How this good soul got mixed up with body in the first place is a good question which Plato never answers satisfactorily.)

III. Metaphysics

A. Our corporeal world is a copy or reflection of these Forms.

B. The causal relationship is one of participation.  Analogies...it's a tough concept.  Not like the causality we're used to.

1. Blueprint: But not an adequate metaphor. The object can remain after the blueprint is destroyed.

2. Image in mirror: Better -- probably the most popular metaphor.

    a. -- the original has more reality than the image.

    b. -- the original must be there simultaneously with the existence of the image.

    c. -- the single original produces many images. Unity vs. multiplicity.

    d. -- but still inadequate since still implies a separation. 

3. "sharing in"...but not like we each have a piece of pie.  The Form remains unchanged by being participated in.

C. There is a form of all the forms. Highest, most important Form is The Good (from The Republic).

1. The Parable of the Cave -- the Sun, God as light, a powerful and lasting image.

2. Perfect, immutable, source of all being and knowing.  Sounds kind of like God.   With what differences?  Not a mind.  Not an agent.  Not personal.

---The Good a sort of god, but Plato, in a different dialogue, gives you another picture of a god. ---

D. How did this world of change come into being?  The creation myth from the Timaeus proposes a  Demiurge (Craftsman or Architect).

1. Creates out of Love, so wants world to be the best it can be.

2. So it must be a copy of the very best, i.e. the World of the Forms.

3. Demiurge "impresses" the forms onto the receptacle (formless mish mash of the four elements).

4. Demiurge is like the Judeo-Christian God in the sense of being a rational creator who acts out of love.  Unlike in that it's not absolute, not the best, changeable, does not create ex nihilo.

IV. Interesting problems remain, among them...

1. Two views of God; The Good, immutable, impersonal, and the Demiurge, changing agent who brings the world into being (not necessarily in time).

2. Two ways of looking at the world; poor imitation (negative), mirror of the divine (positive).

ARISTOTLE  (384-322 B.C.)

I. Rejects Plato's doctrine of Forms.

A. Multiplying entities beyond necessity.

B. "participation" is just a meaningless word.

C. Doesn't explain change.

(n.b. He's not going to reject the key insight that form is central...just Plato's view that forms exist in a transcendent world.  Aristotle will hold that there are indeed forms, but they exist in the corporeal objects of this world.)

II. What's really real are individuals (substances).

A. Each physical individual is composed of matter and form. ("Hylomorphism") Neither can exist without the other.

1. Form = nature (structure, behavior...)  What makes something be the kind of thing it is.

2. Matter= What something is made out of.  Table>wood, Human>flesh and blood.  There can be a matter of this matter, e.g. wood, flesh, etc. made of some combination of the four elements.

3. Matter is what individuates.  Things having the same nature are made unique individuals through having different matter.  We're all the same species, but we've got different flesh and bones.

B. Underlying all is prime matter (a little like Plato's receptable).

1. No qualities...quality is a function of form...prime matter underlies all form.

2. pure potentiality (to be informed this way or that).

3. can't exist on its own...can't even be thought or conceptualized.

4. So why think it exists?

a. qualities must be held together "in" something.

b. explains substantial change. 

III. The Four Causes

A. The list.

1. Matter...what something is made out of.

2. Form...what makes something to be the kind of thing it is...its nature.  This includes physical makeup and behavior.

3. Agent...what has to take action for the thing to come into being.

4. Final...the purpose or goal for which a thing is made/does what it does.

B. Note that 2,3, and 4 all have to do with form. 

1. Agent cause must have the form to pass it on. Makes evolution impossible. The world has always existed and has always been going on as it goes on now. 

2. Final, goal is to actualize one's potentials, flourish as the kind of thing one is,which is to say, realize one's form. For human beings the final cause is a.k.a happiness.

C. Teleology -- everything is goal-oriented, the entire universe and each individual thing is driven by purpose.
D. Human being: matter=this flesh and blood, form=soul.  (All living things have souls -- it is the animating principle.)

    1. Not exactly a dualist.  At least at first you'd think he'd say that you are an organic unity with 2 constituents that can be separated only in intellectu (in the mind).  

    2. Can the soul survive the death of the body?  Probably not...but... look at his epistemology.

IV. Abstraction: Same problem as with Plato.  To know something is to know more than this individual.  To know that a cat is a cat you need to know the nature.  You need to understand the form of cat...which applies universally in all cats.  You can't get this through your senses alone.

A. All knowledge starts with the senses (empiricism)

B. The rational mind is capable of picking out the form from the sense data which is presented to it.  This even applies to 2+2=4. 

    Abstraction means setting aside the inessential and focusing on the essential. ("Essential" in the technical sense of what belongs to the essence/form/nature of a thing.)

C. There are two intellective principles necessary for cognition.

1. We have a passive intellect (tabula rasa) which receives data.

2. And an active intellect which actively does the abstracting/produces the form. For Aristotle the active intellect is (or may well be, or maybe not) a unified, transcendent mind which is eternal.  That is,there may be only one active intellect for all humanity.

V. But why do things change...God, i.e. the Unmoved Mover.

A. Change/motion=going from potentiality to actuality.

B. Aristotle's universe

C. The Proof (Premises which, if true, and put together correctly, give you a true conclusion.)

    1. Things are in motion (look around).

    2. Nothing in motion (going from potential to actual) can cause its own motion.  (If it's in a state of potentiality it can't make itself actual.)

    3. Motion must be caused by something already actual. (With one exception, this could read "already in motion", but there is that one exception.)

    4. There cannot be an infinite series of moved movers. (If the cause needed a cause itself there must be something that doesn't need a cause.  If the cause can only "pass motion along" once it's got it, there has to be something which can generate motion in the first         place.  The mirror analogy.)


    5. There must be a first cause which can move others, but which is itself unmoved. The Unmoved Mover, First (Prime) Mover.

D. The Unmoved Mover

1. NOT FIRST IN TIME!  First in order of dependence, i.e. it is the original cause on which all else depends.  First in the hierarchy of causes.

2. Moves as a final cause.

3. No potentials so it must be engaged in the perfect activity. Thinking!  The pure actuality.

4. It thinks what's best...i.e. itself.

E. Like the Christian God

1. Top of the World, Best, Perfect, Goal...

2. Thought (a mind)

3. A first cause (for motion).

F. Unlike

1. Knows only itself...not providential, omnipotent, omniscient...

2. Not a creator (does not bring things into being ex nihilo).

PLOTINUS  (c.205-270 AD)

---systematizes Plato and synthesizes with Aristotle----

Influence on Western thought: Four streams

1. Augustine (though Plotinus is explicitly anti-Christian...The Incarnation not only absurd, but nasty).

2. Ps. Dionysius (5th c) and Eriugena (9th c) got Plotinus through Eastern Christians.  Impels towards views which are borderline orthodox.

3. Medieval Muslims rediscover Aristotle, including his theology...which is really Plotinus.

4. Hegel

I. The One (or the Good...Plotinus claims to be simply elaborating views that were originated by Plato) (Similar arguments in Hindu Vedantic literature and in the Tao Te Ching...is there a historical link, or is it just that when brilliant thinkers of a certain cast of mind turn to the question of the source of all, this is what they end up with?)

A. There must be a source for everything.  Absolutely the top.  Transcends all limitation.  Division (corruptibility) is a sort of limitation, so it must be One.

B. Not a mind.  A mind thinks.  Even if it was thinking itself there'd still be the dualism of thought and thinker.

C. All descriptive words we might be tempted to use, all concepts are limiting.  So better to say the One is Not-powerful, not-knowledgable, not-being.  Even One and Good are just the least inadequate terms.

D. Beyond all human capacities.  This is not a dumb thing to say.  Surely the source of all cannot be circumscribed by the thought of a limited thinker.

II. The One overflows into Nous (mind)

A. Emanation (standard analogy: light from the sun) The source pours forth but remains undiminished.  Emanation is necessary...not coerced, not mechanistic...just the nature of the One.

1.Is it necessary that the Best be a creator?  Those more immediately influenced by Neoplatonism will say yes.

2. Weinberg (p.30, beginning of chapter on Augustine)  makes too much of the distinction between emanation and creation (in the view of your professor).

B. Nous

1. Thinks a single, eternal thought which encompasses itself...It is thought thinking itself (Aristotle)....and the One.  Not perfectly unified since there is thinker and object.

2. Neoplatonic ‘return'...idea that the lower turns towards the higher.  In contemplating and desiring the higher it fulfills its nature (both Plato and Aristotle).  W/Neoplatonism dynamic, circular motion of pouring forth and returning.

3. Nous contains World of Forms but as one, unified thing...one perfect thought.  So Nous is the Form of all the forms. I.e. the Good again.

III. Nous overflows into World Soul

A. Soul turns back to Nous, contemplates the unified forms and is/thinks the World of the Forms as diverse.

B. Then overflows into material world.  Impresses world of forms into matter to produce the corporeal world we see around us (demiurge).

IV. Matter: ambivalent as to its nature and its value status.  (A deliberate ambivalence!) (A continuation of that ambivalence bequeathed by Plato.  The world is bad as a poor copy, the world is good as an image of the divine.)

A. The One is the source of all...so it seems like we ought to say matter is just the last and least of the emanations..farthest from the One, least good...but still good...

B. Or was it already ‘there' like Plato's receptacle?  Something existing outside of the One? Does it have any real ‘being' at all?  Is it below being as the One is above it?  Plotinus assigns it the role of Principle of Evil.

C. Ambivalence carries over to activity of the World Soul.

1. Overflowing is good, it's nature is to pour forth goodness and bring order to the unformed chaos. Wrapping the matter in "golden chains".

2. Overflowing is bad, it's a motion towards the lower, and a sign of illegitimate self-assertion, pride.

V. Like and unlike the Judeo-Christian God

A. Trinity

1.though members of Plotinus' "trinity" are not co-equal.

2. No hint that Christian Spirit is capable of evil. I.e. no ambivalence for the Christians.

B. Creator?  Unclear...depends on how radical a distinction you want to draw between emanation and creation, and whether or not matter pre-exists.


C. One is not providential in the sense of an agent who acts in the world. Nor is Nous. World Soul doesn't act and interact the way the Judeo-Christian God does.

D. One and Nous obviously not omniscient. World Soul...maybe...but it's not a perfection for Plotinus.

VI. Human Being

A. Platonic Dualism

    1. The soul is the real you and goes from body to body.

    2. If matter is the principle of evil, obviously a negative view of body. (Hence the disapproval of Christianity.)

B. Your soul always remains joined to World Soul...you exist both in the transcendent world and in the physical world.

C. Epistemology.

    1. Of course in order to know that 2+2=4 and it's wrong to torture small children for fun and that a cat is a cat, you need to grasp the forms.

    2. But you don't actually need to recollect since you're ‘joined' to the World Soul (which is the World of the Forms) right now.

    3. In terms of epistemic role, the World Soul can be seen as similar to (the more extreme reading of?) Aristotle's active intellect.

D. You have the choice to turn up or down.

1. "Know thyself" means turn inwards to the real you, the soul.  Shut out the corporeal.

2. Move upwards...contemplate the forms in the World Soul, which is turned upwards towards the Nous, which is turned to the One.

3. Goal is mystical union with the One...beyond reason.  Not irrational.  Very intellectualized mysticism in that you think as long and hard as you can and with any luck you get to the upper limits of rational capacity.  Very influential.

Study Guide for Section I: Background

(I do not guarantee that I will ask the questions just they way they are phrased here, and I may ask for comparisons or contrasts which reflect information mentioned here, but which are not explicitly spelled out on this sheet.)

I. God

-Omnipotence: What can and can't God do?  Why?  Does the fact that He can't do some stuff mean He is limited? Does God conform to external laws of logic? Why not? Does God invent or create the laws of logic? Why not?  What is the relationship of God to the laws of logic?

-Goodness: The Euthyphro dilemma and how to solve it.


-Eternity : Presentism with two understandings of divine eternity and isotemporalism with another understanding of divine eternity

-Immutability (Why can't a perfect being change? )

-Unity: Why can there be only one perfect being?  Why must a perfect being be perfectly unified -- i.e. indivisible?

-Creator: Out of what? Why, How, When???

-Personal: God is a conscious mind.  An agent which acts.

-Providential: He takes an interest in us.

II. Plato

-Recollection (Why COULDN'T you learn that 2+2=4 and it's wrong to torture small children for fun and cats are cats through your senses? N.B. This is a separate question from "How DO you learn 2+2=4 etc.?"

-Forms, Participation, The Good .

-Dualism, attitude towards death and the body.

-Parable of the Cave from The Republic and Creation myth from the Timaeus.  How are the Form  of the Good and the Demiurge like and unlike the Judeo-Christian God?

- Two ways of thinking of "God".  Two ways of evaluating the corporeal world.

III. Aristotle

-Rejects Plato's doctrine of the Forms. Why?

-Hylomorphism: everything except Unmoved Mover made of form (morphos) and matter (hylas).  What does each contribute to the individual?  Prime matter.)

-Four causes (be able to give man-made and natural examples)

-Hylomorphic nature of the human being.  Is Aristotle a dualist?  (Trick question).

-Abstraction (knowledge starts, but does not end, with the senses).

-Proof for the Unmoved Mover (in beautifully numbered premises with explanations for each.)

-The Unmoved Mover: How does it move things?  What is it like?  How is it like and unlike the  Judeo-Christian God?

IV. Plotinus

-One. What can and can't be said about it.  Why?

-Emanation (not forgetting the neoplatonic return)

 -Nous: reminiscent of Unmoved Mover, and Plato's World of Forms

-World Soul: Forms and Demiurge

-Matter: How is Plotinus ambivalent towards matter? How does this ambivalence affect his  attitude towards the activity of the World Soul?

-Comparison to the Judeo-Christian God.

-Where is human being in all this?  What is the goal?