Gadamer on Plato’s Idea of the Good and Aristotle’s theos
As is well-known, Plato in the Republic describes the Good Itself or the Idea of the Good as “beyond all being” (epekeina tés ousias; 509b). Hans-Georg Gadamer, who has published widely on Plato, offers a reading of Plato that brings him much closer to Aristotle than is commonly presented in the literature. For example, Gadamer argues that Plato’s Idea of the Good and Aristotle’s theos are different ways of talking about the same reality. Wachterhauser unpacks Gadamer’s claim as follows,
When Plato refers to the Good as what is common in all things, he suggests that the Good is the principle of Being of all things, although it itself is not a being. Similarly, Aristotle’s God, as the highest being, becomes the one principle uniting all beings as the one principle to which Being must be referred if we are ultimately to understand how all beings ‘move’ for the sake of a telos which is not synonymous with their mere existence. Thus we can only speak of their being in light of this telos, which in turn can only be comprehended in light of the highest being, of the unmoved mover. Thus all Being is spoken of analogously in that Being is predicated of things ‘to one end’ or what Aristotle called ‘pros hen’ predication. All beings have this one being in common in that what they are can only be comprehended in analogy with the highest being. The relative perfection of each thing is a matter of degree of approximation to the highest being (Beyond Being: Gadamer’s Post-Platonic Hermeneutical Ontology, 89-90).
The common ground that Gadamer believes obtains between Plato and Aristotle allows him to “stress the importance of motion and change for comprehending reality” (Beyond Being, 90). As Wachterhauser explains, Gadamer interprets Plato as presenting in mythical form what Aristotle articulated in his act/potency distinction in which things unfold teleologically over time.