Translated with introduction and notes by A.E. Taylor

Appendix B. The Four Senses of Cause← TOC→Appendix D. Mathematics and the Ideas/a>


A Popular Resumé of the main arguments against the Platonic Ideas, with special reference to the "Idea of Good."

Ethica Nicomachea, i, 6, 1096a 11-b7

It is perhaps better to examine the notion of a universal good, and to state the difficulties it raises, though such an investigation is distasteful to me, owing to my personal friendship for the inventors of the doctrine of Ideas. Still, it will surely be allowed that it is commendable and even obligatory in defence of truth to abandon even one's own cherished convictions, especially in a philosopher. For though both are dear to us, it is a sacred duty to give the preference to truth.187 Well, the devisers of the theory did not profess to recognize Ideas of aggregates in which there is an order of priority and posteriority (and for this reason they constructed no Idea of the class of numbers). Now, "good" is predicated alike in the categories of Substance, of Quality, and of Relation. But the absolute, i. e., Substance, is logically prior to the Relative (which seems rather to be an accessory or accident of substance), so that there cannot be a common Idea applicable to all these instances.

Again, "good" has as many meanings as "Being." It is predicated in the categories of Substance, e.g., of God or Mind; in that of Quality, e.g., of the virtues; in that of Quantity, e. g., of the due mean; in that of Relation, e.g., of the useful; in that of Time, e.g., of the favourable opportunity; in that of Place, e.g., of favourable climate, etc. So it clearly has no one single, universal sense. If it had, it would not be predicable in all the categories, but only in one.

Again, since the things which fall under a single Idea form the objects of a single science, there ought to be a single science of all "goods" universally. But there are in fact many sciences even of the "goods" which come under a single category. e.g., the favourable opportunity in war is the object of Strategy, in disease of Medicine; the due mean in diet is the object of Medicine, in exercise of Gymnastics.

One may also be puzzled even to know what they mean by an "Ideal so-and-so," since it is one and the same definition of man which applies alike to the "Ideal Man" and to an ordinary man. In so far as both are "men," there is no difference between them. Consequently, there is no difference either in the case of "good." Nor, again, will the Idea be any more truly good because it is eternal, just as a thing which lasts a long time is not on that account any whiter than one which only lasts a day.

Taylor's Notes

(Taylor's footnotes have been converted to endnotes)


[187]. He adroitly excuses his attack by the same apology which Plato had employed for his attack on Homer in Republic, 595c: "I must speak, said I, and yet I am restrained by the love and admiration I have felt for Homer ever since my childhood .... But, after all, a man should not be honoured at the expense of truth; so, as I say, I must speak."

Created for Peithô's Web from Aristotle on his predecessors; being the first book of his Metaphysics; tr. from the text edition of W. Christ, with introd. and notes by A. E. Taylor. Chicago, Open Court, 1907.Taylor's footnotes have been converted to endnotes. Greek unicode text entered with Peithô's Younicoder.
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