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7/07/2015 12:29 pm  #1


Constituent VS Relational Ontologies & Platonism VS Aristotelianism

Hi all,
 
Since debates over the difference between Platonism and Aristotelianism are bound to keep coming up I thought it worthwhile to resurrect an issue I mentioned briefly on Ed's blog a while back. It uses the language of modern ontology but should be useful in clarifying where the differences lie.
 
(Most of this was written up for a prospective blog of my own – hence my use of the the First Person through-out)
 
I contend that many of the arguments between Platonism and Aristotelianism, at least as popularly understood, really relate to the alternative and more fundamental differences between Constituent and Relational Ontologies. In the course of this post I intend to give a brief-run through of this two approaches to ontology (do feel free to give a kick if it's wrong). First let's set up our pop-Platonist and pop-Aristotelean:
 
Pop-Aristotelian Claims:
 
1a. There are no uninstantiated universals
2a. Universals are in their possessors, with in being taken in a non-spatial sense (to make things easier we'll ignore D.M. Armstrong's Impure Realism) 
 
Pop-Platonism Claims:
 
1b. There uninstantiated universals
2b. Universals stand apart from their particulars and are related to them only through an external relation of exemplification.
 
To attribute both no. 1 claims to the respective philosophies would be correct, however no.2 claims are in fact claims in a whole different dispute and, whilst commonly held by proponents of both views, are by no means essential to them. Jeremy will know more about this by I would conjecture that Neoplatonists at least are as strongly committed to 2a as Aristotelians whilst of course still holding a muscular account of uninstantiated universals. However Neoplatonism has an important additional ontological aspect to take into account which I'll mention later.
 
As far as I know the terms Relational and Constituent Ontology were first coined by Nicholas Wolterstoff in a 1970 review of one of Gustav Bergmann's books, however they only gained more widespread usage when the former employed them in his famous article on Divine Simplicity, where he uses the distinction to illustrate how many Plantinga's criticisms of Divine Simplicity in Does God Have a Nature would make no sense to the medievals. Bergman himself had employed a similar distinction, using the term Function Ontologies, a nod to their Fregean heritage, instead of Relational. So onto some brief definitions:
 
1. A Constituent Ontology holds that the universal in question forms an actual ontological part or constituent of the particular - in other words it is in some sense immanent to the particular. A common way of explaining this ontological parthood is with reference to a property-instance or trope, this being made up of the universal, indivdiuator and internal exemplification tie. On a Constituent Ontology particulars are ontologically structured 'layer-cake' entities.
 
2. A Relational Ontology on the other hand holds that particulars have no structure above and beyond that of common Mereological structure. In other words they have no ontological parts such as properties intrinsic to them. Instead the particular has properties by standing in an extrinsic relation to another entity e.g. an Abstract Object. To appreciate how deep this difference goes its worth considering that certain forms of Nominalism e.g. those which identify a property in relation to a class or a set are also Relational Ontologies. Armstrong gripes that this lack of ontological structure reduces properties to 'blobs', a pejorative definition the Relation Ontologist Inwagen happily accepts, 
 
Relational Ontologies are far and away the more common amongst modern philosophers. One probably reason for this is that said ontology follows much more naturally from the set-like account of properties tied in with Predicate Logic.  The major problem most moderns have with Constituent Ontologies is that they there allegedly based on a category mistaken in taking an Abstract Object to be a part of a concrete one.
 
Scholastics have historically been Constituent Otologists. They also claim to have been Aristotelians and thus have denied uninstantiated universals: however the arguments they commonly give e.g. that uninstantiated universals would reduce substances to 'mere shadows' with no intrinsic nature of their own (see pages 81 to 85 of Oderberg's Real Essentialism for a prime example of this), are clearly aimed at first and for most at a specific Relational Ontology account they take to be Platonism taut courte. Oddly very few philosophers seem to notice the difference - out of what must be nearly a hundred essays + books I've looked at on the subject only a handful of them acknowledge it.
 
At the risk of controversy I would hold that the criticisms of Platonism in both Real Essentialism and Ed Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics are based on this confusion and that, whilst both books certainly give us ample reason to prefer Constituent Ontologies, neither constitute a full-scale ‘defeater’ to ‘Platonism’.  We need not, and I would claim should not embrace Relational Ontologies, but that doesn't mean we're a priori forced into denying uninstantiated universals. J.P. Moreland, a self-styled Constituent Platonist, has argued this case in his various writings on universals. William Vallicella, who btw has some great blog entries criticising Inwagen's article on the subject, also recognises this. Of course there may be reasons why a Constitute Platonism is inadvisable – for instance it might commit us to the existence of Bare Particulars, but I think others have done enough to show that it’s not immediately incoherent.  Ironically the main difficult Paul Gould's cites in terms of accepting Constituent Ontological Platonism i.e. that it obliges us to recognise a non-spatial sense of being 'in' applies equally to any Constituent Ontology that doesn't accept Armstrong's Axiom of Localisation
 
And now to end by complicating things further: it’s hardly a secret that Scholastics, including both Ed and Oderberg (and E.J. Lowe) do endorse uninstantiated universals after all! Instead of considering them to be ‘free-floating’ Abstract Objects as modern Platonists would they take them to be grounded in the Divine Intellect. To preserve Aristotelean terminology this is spoken of in terms of existing in a mind but I question whether it’s in the end different from what the Neoplatonist does when he/she claims the Forms are grounded in the One and what the Theistic Activist does when he/she talks of God necessarily ‘creating’ Platonic universals (the main problem with Theistic Activism, the ‘boot-strapping’ objection’, can be easily mitigated by endorsing Divine Simplicity, however this makes it almost the same as the Classical account). Ultimately William Vallicella is probably correct when he claims in the recent controversy with Tuggy that God is strictly neither an Abstract nor a Concrete Object but the member of a sui generis class containing some aspects of both. Modern philosophers, both Theistic and Atheistic might not like this conclusion, but given how fundamental the God of Classical Theism must be it’s hardly surprising.
 
Essays and stuff mentioned.
 
Divine Simplicity – Nicholas Wolterstoff
 
How Does an Aristotelian Substance Have Its Platonic Properties? Issues and Options – Paul Gould
 
(A great article setting out the two ontological approaches and discussing Moreland’s views in contrast with those of Michael Loux. I found it very helpful indeed)
 
Exemplification and Constituent Realism: A Clarification and Modest Defense – J.P. Moreland
 
(Moreland’s essay setting out a plan for what he considers to be a Platonic Constituent Ontology. If people are interested in this drop me a PM)
 
On Substances, Accidents and Universals: In Defence of a Constituent Ontology - Barry Smith

(An extremely detailed account of Constituent Ontology with an emphasis on how it relates to Mereological issues. Smith is a Realist Phenomenologist with a preference for Aristotelianism)
 
Relational vs. Constituent Ontologies - Peter Van Inwagen
 
(An easy article apparently adapted from a lecture explaining the two approaches and championing Relational Ontology. Some might say PvI attacks a straw-man at times)
 
Constituent Ontology Versus Relational Ontology and an Argument Against the Latter
 
(Bill Vallicella’s account of the two approaches and a moderate defence of Constituent Ontology. Very accessible – W.V. does a lot more for philosophy in his retirement than certain philosophers of Law who will remain nameless do in their professional capacity)
 
Peter van Inwagen's Trouble with Tropes
 
(A rejoinder to Inwagen’s essay. Read Tropes as Property-instances)
 
Relational Ontology, Constituent Ontology, and Divine Simplicity
 
(An entry from the same on Constituent Ontology and Divine Simplicity)
 

 

7/07/2015 6:03 pm  #2


Re: Constituent VS Relational Ontologies & Platonism VS Aristotelianism

Alexander wrote:

Thanks for posting this! You might be overstating the degree to which Feser criticises Platonism, however. In "Teleology: A Shopper's Guide", Feser makes it explicit that Aquinas' "Scholastic realism" take on universals combines Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic views, so when he criticises "Platonism" I suspect he's using the term to refer to the view that forms exist necessarily and independently of God (something few classical theists could endorse). As you say, his critique is rooted in confusion, but I think it's a confusion of language rather than ideas.

I would accept that assessment. I know Ed does in places stipulate the difference between Scholastic Realism and Aristotelianism (so does Oderberg but only in a tiny aside) – historically Neo-Scholastics have been a bit too keen on vaunting their Aristotelian credentials and only grudgingly admitting the divergence when pressed, which is a terrible shame since what might be termed the ‘Classic’ or ‘Scholastic Realist’ view has a number of interesting features of its own which commend it. For instance there is a certain proof of God’s existence which Augustine and Leibniz were very keen on which follows from it*
 
If it came down to a match between ‘Free-floating object’ Platonism** and Aristotelianism I think the former would have to win out despite its discomfort to the theist. Thankfully the Classical view gives the best of both – we get all the virtues of uninstanted universals (e.g. propositions like 'Red is Closer to Red than Blue' are necessarily true as they can have a truth-maker in all possible worlds including ones with no instances of those properties, something ‘austere’ Aristotelianism cannot account for ).
 
*E.J. Lowe offers an updated version of this ‘Proof from Eternal Truths here(ignore the title and preamble – the argument he ends up developing is not an Ontological Argument)
 
**Interestingly Moreland though a Constituent Ontologist, endorses the free-floating variety of Platonism – he’s forced into doing so by his denial of Divine Simplicity.

Last edited by DanielCC (7/08/2015 4:25 am)

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7/07/2015 8:18 pm  #3


Re: Constituent VS Relational Ontologies & Platonism VS Aristotelianism

I think Feser is wrong about Platonism also, but since he relies very strongly on an historical tradition which I thing he reads in accords with a bad traditional story- Aristotle is some kind of anti-Plato and is more "down to earth" than him -I consider his reading to likely be wrong for broader reasons. As Simplicius has it: Aristotle was authoritative for the sensible world and Plato for the intelligible world. The differences between them are only apparent and stem from the fact that Plato examines the sensible world on the basis of principles drawn from the intelligible world and Aristotle proceeds in the opposite manner.

Thus I simply think that:

Pop-Platonism ≠ Platonism ≠ Pop-Aristotelianism & ∄ Aristotelianism proper

I would end up saying basically that the Platonist and the "Aristotelian" so-called share the same basic commitments and reject the same basic alternatives and that their "separation" amounts to differences in focus and differences in satisfying their basic commitments. You might think of it on the model of two different string theorists or two closely allied but differently focused virtue ethicists.

Now, in your favor, I'm not sure that Platonism proper could endorse a Relational Ontology. Even in Plato himself, it is not ultimately acceptable that the forms be the ultimate ontological level and also an indefinite plurality: that's something of the positive upshot of the Parmenides and Plato gives an account of a unifier in "the form of the good" in the Republic, though because of a great deal of apparent incomernsurability between traditional philosophy and contemporary philosophy it's often very hard to see how related the two positions even are, never mind if they're compatible.

Ergo my attempt to try and work through the position.

Last edited by iwpoe (7/07/2015 9:17 pm)


Fighting to the death "the noonday demon" of Acedia.
My Books
It is precisely “values” that are the powerless and threadbare mask of the objectification of beings, an objectification that has become flat and devoid of background. No one dies for mere values.
~Martin Heidegger
 

7/08/2015 4:12 am  #4


Re: Constituent VS Relational Ontologies & Platonism VS Aristotelianism

@iwpoe,

I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that account. Later Platonists and Neoplatonists certainly did endorse a Constituent Ontology in that they held the Forms were manifesting in the particulars, so if we take the defensible route of considering Plotinus an accurate interpreter of Plato himself then we can say the same for that great originator.
 
Random aside: Husserl and most of his early Munich followers were Constituent Platonists
 

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7/08/2015 4:51 am  #5


Re: Constituent VS Relational Ontologies & Platonism VS Aristotelianism

DanielCC wrote:

@iwpoe,

I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that account. Later Platonists and Neoplatonists certainly did endorse a Constituent Ontology in that they held the Forms were manifesting in the particulars, so if we take the defensible route of considering Plotinus an accurate interpreter of Plato himself then we can say the same for that great originator.

Yes, I do deny the sharp separation between Plato, Early, Middle, Late, and Neo-Platonism. I think that a mistake generated from the belief that all parties involved are of necessity fundamentally mistaken in their enterprise, which makes it very easy to deny that they're all working on the same project and all trying to articulate the Truth.

DanielCC wrote:

Random aside: Husserl and most of his early Munich followers were Constituent Platonists

There is an ambiguity as to whether Husserl can be taken as talking about metaphysical essences or epistemic-transcedental essences. The Munich followers took his anti-psychologism to imply a kind of realist metaphysics. Husserl took the latter direction. Heidegger in some sense straddles the line in that, I think, he considers both interpretations inadequate and considers Husserl fundamentally to have rediscovered the Aristotelian problem of being by way of rediscovering the theme of intellection (νόησις), which is more primordial than either the metaphysical project of classical philosophy or the modern philosophical project of transcendental "epistemology".


Fighting to the death "the noonday demon" of Acedia.
My Books
It is precisely “values” that are the powerless and threadbare mask of the objectification of beings, an objectification that has become flat and devoid of background. No one dies for mere values.
~Martin Heidegger
 

7/08/2015 5:13 am  #6


Re: Constituent VS Relational Ontologies & Platonism VS Aristotelianism

iwpoe wrote:

Yes, I do deny the sharp separation between Plato, Early, Middle, Late, and Neo-Platonism. I think that a mistake generated from the belief that all parties involved are of necessity fundamentally mistaken in their enterprise, which makes it very easy to deny that they're all working on the same project and all trying to articulate the Truth.

DanielCC wrote:

Random aside: Husserl and most of his early Munich followers were Constituent Platonists

There is an ambiguity as to whether Husserl can be taken as talking about metaphysical essences or epistemic-transcedental essences. The Munich followers took his anti-psychologism to imply a kind of realist metaphysics. Husserl took the latter direction. Heidegger in some sense straddles the line in that, I think, he considers both interpretations inadequate and considers Husserl fundamentally to have rediscovered the Aristotelian problem of being by way of rediscovering the theme of intellection (νόησις), which is more primordial than either the metaphysical project of classical philosophy or the modern philosophical project of transcendental "epistemology".

This really deserves a thread of its own (I'll set up a Phenomenology Resources thread when I have the time). Whilst there's definitely ground for interpreting the later Husserl as an Idealist (at the very least in the weak way which insists any being must de facto possess a potential manner of Givenness to an ideal transcendental-Ego) it’s reasonable to assume the remained a Realist about universals all his life – after all his project was to isolate the eidetic structures behind the ‘pure’ consciousness as exposed by the Transcendental Reduction.

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7/08/2015 5:54 am  #7


Re: Constituent VS Relational Ontologies & Platonism VS Aristotelianism

I don't talk much about my love of Phenomenology and Heidegger because I'm afraid Feser and John West would be cross with me. I think analytic philosophy as a movement is a lost cause from the start- starts entirely wrong about Hegel, obsesses with linguistic puzzles to the point of absurdity, denies metaphysical arguments in plainly self-contradictory ways, and collapses into prurient naturalistic attempts at suicide. There are similar sins in phenomenology, but at least Derrida has to *start* and probably end with an anti-naturalist position. I'm not even convinced that the predicate logic is a worthwhile tool in so far as ∃x is taken to settle rather than merely gloss over genuine metaphysical problems. I remember reading a review of Kenny on Aquinas that went:

Gyula Klima wrote:

In the same way, using a concept in expounding Aquinas that he never intended to be conveyed by his words can only lead to problems of this type. But then Kenny’s castigating Aquinas’ claims concerning God as ipsum esse subsistens for not making sense in a Fregean analysis is just as misplaced as our incompetent speaker’s effort to castigate a competent speaker’s claim on account of his limited understanding of the competent speaker’s language. Of course, if esse, in the claim that God is his esse, is supposed to convey the same concept as the existential quantifier, then we would have to end up with the gibberish ‘God is his ∃’. But the nonsensical character of this string of symbols is no more an indication of confusion on Aquinas’ part than the gibberish C ends up with is an indication of confusion on the competent speaker’s part. Rather, this should be taken as a sure sign that esse is not to be read as conveying the concept of an existential quantifier in Aquinas’ claim.

I wish Kenny's way of reading were unusual, but it's the way analytic philosophers usually read historical problems- finding alleged logical confusions when there are none.


Fighting to the death "the noonday demon" of Acedia.
My Books
It is precisely “values” that are the powerless and threadbare mask of the objectification of beings, an objectification that has become flat and devoid of background. No one dies for mere values.
~Martin Heidegger
 

7/08/2015 6:10 am  #8


Re: Constituent VS Relational Ontologies & Platonism VS Aristotelianism

iwpoe wrote:

I think Feser is wrong about Platonism also, but since he relies very strongly on an historical tradition which I thing he reads in accords with a bad traditional story- Aristotle is some kind of anti-Plato and is more "down to earth" than him -I consider his reading to likely be wrong for broader reasons. As Simplicius has it: Aristotle was authoritative for the sensible world and Plato for the intelligible world. The differences between them are only apparent and stem from the fact that Plato examines the sensible world on the basis of principles drawn from the intelligible world and Aristotle proceeds in the opposite manner.

Isn't it a major position of the Neoplatonists that there is actually a harmony to be found in Plato and Aristotle?  

The Suda indicates that Porphyry produced six books, On Plato and Aristotle Being Adherents of the Same School (Suda Π 2098 8-9).

Proclus seems to hold the view that the two are in harmony save in the reduction of the first principle to Intellect, but here he only rejects Aristotle's notion of Intellect insofar as he does not consider it simple (In Parm. 1214 11-12; In Tim. II, 121, 25; 122, 28-123).

I also seem to recall reading in Boethius--
perhaps it was On the Hebdomads--that he too counted Aristotle's philosophy to be in harmony with Plato's. Does anyone have this reference?
 

 

7/08/2015 6:27 am  #9


Re: Constituent VS Relational Ontologies & Platonism VS Aristotelianism

Flaccus wrote:

Isn't it a major position of the Neoplatonists that there is actually a harmony to be found in Plato and Aristotle?  

Just so. Though they would simply call themselves Platonists, full stop. I've met few scholars of ancient philosophy who agree. They take an almost sola scriptura approach to the dialogues. 

Flaccus wrote:

I also seem to recall reading in Boethius--perhaps it was On the Hebdomads--that he too counted Aristotle's philosophy to be in harmony with Plato's. Does anyone have this reference?

On Aristotle On Interpretation:

Boethius wrote:

When [my latin translation and commentary of the Aristotelian and Platonic corpus] is achieved I would not shrink from somehow bringing the ideas of Plato and Aristotle into a single harmony and proving that they do not disagree in everything as most think but that they agree in most things and in the most important philosophical issues.

 

Last edited by iwpoe (7/08/2015 6:27 am)


Fighting to the death "the noonday demon" of Acedia.
My Books
It is precisely “values” that are the powerless and threadbare mask of the objectification of beings, an objectification that has become flat and devoid of background. No one dies for mere values.
~Martin Heidegger
 

7/08/2015 6:33 pm  #10


Re: Constituent VS Relational Ontologies & Platonism VS Aristotelianism

iwpoe wrote:

Just so. Though they would simply call themselves Platonists, full stop.

Though there seems to be a marked difference in thought and method of those first Platonists, who seem more moralists than even the Stoics, and those later Platonists who are terribly concerned with the One God, e.g. Maximus of Tyre, and those later Platonists who were terribly interested in an Iamblichan neopythagorean invention of Plato's doctrines.  Or is this all wrong?

On Aristotle On Interpretation:

Boethius wrote:

When [my latin translation and commentary of the Aristotelian and Platonic corpus] is achieved I would not shrink from somehow bringing the ideas of Plato and Aristotle into a single harmony and proving that they do not disagree in everything as most think but that they agree in most things and in the most important philosophical issues.

 

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
 

 

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