Platonism and Causality

  • Colin Cheyne
Part of the The Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science book series (WONS, volume 67)


For more than two thousand years, philosophers have postulated the existence of objects that exist outside space and time. Plato argued that as well as the particular objects given to us in sense experience, such as human beings, cats, beds, and cartwheels, there exists a quite different type of entity, which he called Forms or Ideas. Examples of Plato’s Forms are Beauty, Circularity, Whiteness, Humanity, and Cathood. These Forms are what are supposedly designated by predicates in subject-predicate sentences. The Form of Whiteness is designated by the predicate in ‘My cat is white’. Forms are what account for the sameness-of-property of particulars. It is in virtue of their participation in the Form of Humanity that Socrates, Confucius, Gerónimo, and Sylvester Stallone are all human. According to Plato, the Forms are eternal, unchanging, and have no location in space or time.1


Mathematical Object Causal Power Causal Account Distant Planet Causal Objection 
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  1. 1.
    Plato’s theory of Forms is scattered throughout most of his writings; see in particular Parmenides 129–35 ,Phaedo 65–66, 74–79, 100–02, and Republic 476–80, 507–18, 595–96. Specific reference to the Forms’ unchanging nature is in Phaedo 78–79, to their non-temporality in Timaeus 37–38, and to their non-spatiality in Phaedrus 247. Plato’s theory is summarised in Staniland (1972 pp. 1–7) and in Wedberg (1955 ch. 3).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See in particular Phaedo 103–05 ,Republic 510, 525–27 ,Parmenides 129–30 ,Theaetetus 185.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Some may object to the notion of causal powers, for example, adherents to a Humean regularity thesis of causation. Such persons can regard talk of entities with causal powers as a façon de parler for entities that can enter into causal relations or entities for which causal claims may be true.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For example, Maddy (1980) & (1990), and Bigelow (1988).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Since much of Sextus’s work is known to be unoriginal, it is probable that the argument considerably predates the second century A.D.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    I note that Burgess has, more recently, made a close examination of such causalist arguments himself. See Burgess & Rosen (1997).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    According to Frege (1960), functions and concepts are not objects (p. 32), rather they are incomplete or ‘unsaturated’ entities (p. 153).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See Bigelow (1988) & (1990) for an account of mathematical entities as universals. Tieszen (1989) characterises structuralism as the view that ‘mathematics is really not concerned with individual mathematical objects at all but rather only with certain structures’, (p. 19, his emphasis). See Shapiro (1997) for a detailed defence of mathematical structuralism.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin Cheyne
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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