Ferejohn, Michael T. Formal Causes: Definition, Explanation, and Primacy in Socratic and Aristotelian Thought

By Mirus, Christopher V. | The Review of Metaphysics, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Ferejohn, Michael T. Formal Causes: Definition, Explanation, and Primacy in Socratic and Aristotelian Thought


Mirus, Christopher V., The Review of Metaphysics


FEREJOHN, Michael T. Formal Causes: Definition, Explanation, and Primacy in Socratic and Aristotelian Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. xii + 211pp. Cloth, $65.00--Two passages in the Metaphysics, 1.6.987bl-4 and 13.4.1087b22-30, comment on Socrates' concern with definitions. According to the second, "it was natural that Socrates should seek the essence. For he was seeking to deduce, and essence is the starting point of deduction." Echoing as it does Aristotle's own account of demonstration, this remark leads directly to the question of Professor Ferejohn's new book: What do Aristotle's philosophical and scientific methods owe to Socrates' interest in definitions?

Ferejohn's argument unfolds in three stages: chapters one and two examine Plato's Socratic dialogues; chapters three and four take up what Ferejohn calls "canonical demonstration" in the Posterior Analytics-, and chapters five and six discuss Aristotle's subsequent philosophical development.

In the first stage, Ferejohn argues that Socrates' interest in definitions emerges from his practical interest in testing those who laid claim to ethical wisdom. In Plato's dialogues, this testing leads Socrates in two stages to the invention of epistemology. The first stage occurs when, in the Laches for example, Socrates moves beyond asking whether this or that interlocutor can give an account of his alleged knowledge and begins wondering what might be required of anyone who claims to know. Ferejohn finds two necessary conditions of knowledge implicit in such "early" Socratic dialogues: knowledge requires being able to say what one is talking about (definition), and it requires being able to say why one's claims are true (explanation). These two conditions come together in the Euthyphro, where Socrates suggests that an adequate definition of piety would enable him to explain not only why certain actions are pious and others impious, but also why pious actions have certain other characteristics as well. The second stage in the invention of epistemology occurs in a later dialogue, the Meno, where Socrates provides for the first time an explicit analysis of knowledge.

In the second stage, Ferejohn claims that the epistemology of the Posterior Analytics develops from reflection on the Meno's suggestion that knowledge is true belief with an explanatory account. First, Posterior Analytics 1.2-4 explores a series of requirements that demonstrative premises must meet if they are to ground knowledge; Aristotle takes these requirements to be met by definitions. Second, although Aristotle distinguishes four modes of explanation in Posterior Analytics 2. …

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