Alexander Pruss on the Explanatory Power of Aristotelian Forms

June 13, 2007

Over the last couple months I’ve been thinking about the idea of forms and essences and other like things that seem to have been relegated to the dustbin of the history of philosophy. I’ve written here before about essences, trying to get clear about some of the problems they involve. One of those problems was the fact that essences provide virtus dormativa explanations that don’t seem to do any theoretical work. Well, I found a neat article by Georgetown Prof. Alexander Pruss which does some interesting work comparing Aristotle and Hume on this point.

I would have a few nits to pick with Pruss’s presentation. For instance, there is a translation issue involved regarding Aristotle’s use of the word aition, which is usually translated as “cause” in English, but the Greek can also bear the sense of “explanation”. Pruss emphasizes that Aristotle’s forms are “causes,” but doesn’t note that Aristotle’s concept of cause/explanation might be a bit different from ours here. I’m not sure this hurts any of Pruss’s arguments, but it makes me hesitate a bit. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting read and I commend it to your attention.