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,Hans-Georg Gadamer

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.

4 thoughts on “Gadamer on Plato’s Idea of the Good and Aristotle’s theos”

  1. This has implications for what I wrote in my dissertation. Motion, become locomotion, at the time of the Enlightenment, or more properly it became force rather than motion. It has implication for how we think about life…

  2. Hi Jeff,

    I’m eagerly anticipating your dissertation lecture this Thursday. You’ll have to tell me more then. The more I read Gadamer (and about Gadamer), the more intriguing his understanding of hermeneutics becomes. Wachterhauser’s thesis is that we only understand properly what Gadamer is doing in _Truth and Method_ when we situate his discussion of hermeneutics as an interplay of identity and difference in dialogue with his work on Plato, particularly Gadamer’s (non-repetitive) appropriation of the later Plato’s view of the transcendentals and his thesis that the One and Many dialectic is at the center of Plato’s thought, not the Ideas (construed as a dual-world theory).

    Best wishes,

    p.s. Your lecture begins at 6pm right? In what room/building?

  3. Great post Cynthia! A Gadamerian wedding of mythos and logos!

    I have moved my blog The Relative Absolute to WordPress. Here is the link in case you want to change the link on your blogroll: My new post is called “The Return of Homo Sapiens: Zubiri and Arendt on the Intellectual Situation of the Modern Subject.” Let me know what you think!

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