Plato on Metaphysical Explanation: Does 'Participating' Mean Nothing?
According to Aristotle, Plato's efforts at metaphysical explanation not only fail, they are nonsensical. In particular, Plato's appeals to Forms as metaphysically explanatory of the sensibles that participate in them is "empty talk" since "'participating' means nothing" (Met. 992a28-9). I defend Plato against Aristotle's charge by identifying a particular, substantive model of metaphysical predication as the favored model of Plato's late ontology. The model posits two basic metaphysical predication relations: self-predication and participation. In order to understand the participation relation, it is important first to understand how Plato's Forms are self-predicative paradigms. According to the favored model, Forms are self-predicative paradigms insofar as they are ideal, abstract encoders of structural essences. Sensibles participate in Forms by exemplifying the structures encoded in the Forms. Given plausible conditions on metaphysical explanation, Plato's appeals to abstract Forms as metaphysically explanatory of sensibles is a reasonable competitor for Aristotle's appeals to natural, substantial forms. At the very least, Plato's appeals to a participation relation are not empty.