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Reviewed by:
  • Aristotle and Other Platonists
  • Deborah K. W. Modrak
Lloyd P. Gerson . Aristotle and Other Platonists. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2005. Pp. ix + 335. Cloth, $49.95.

This book is a heroic effort to defend the thesis that the Neoplatonists' embrace of Aristotle as another Platonist is well grounded in Aristotle's own texts and not a product of Neoplatonic eclecticism. If this case can be made by a comprehensive treatment of Aristotelian texts and attention to the enormous body of secondary literature on the texts discussed, Gerson is determined to make it. The introduction establishes the ancient credentials of the attribution of Platonism to Aristotle and explores the notion of harmony at the heart of Neoplatonic interpretations of Aristotle's positions. The goal of the Neoplatonic exegete of Aristotelian texts, according to Gerson, is to harmonize what Aristotle says, including his criticisms of Platonic positions, with Platonism.

After setting out the central tenets of Platonism as understood by the Neoplatonic proponents of harmonization in the relatively short first chapter, Gerson goes on in the bulk of the work to examine various Aristotelian texts as interpreted by the Neoplatonists. He looks at selected texts from the fragmentary material of Aristotle's earliest writings, the Categories, Physics, De Anima, Metaphysics, and Ethics. The objective is to reveal Platonist positions in Aristotle and to show that Neoplatonic harmonization makes better sense of the texts than reading them in a way that supports anti-Platonism or would otherwise be inconsistent with harmonization. In order to accommodate Platonic elements in Aristotle's early exoteric writings, Owen and many other recent scholars have defended developmentalism. On this interpretation, Aristotle starts out as a Platonic philosopher and then shifts away from Platonism. By contrast, Gerson argues that the positions taken by Aristotle in the exoteric writings are consistent with his later writings on the same topic. For instance, not only does Aristotle hold that the soul is immortal in the early Eudemus but also in the De Anima. In both works, Aristotle defends the immortality of the intellect and views the person as identical with his/her intellect. These positions are attributed to Plato by the Neoplatonic harmonists, as are specific criticisms of Forms. In short, if we eschew developmentalism, Gerson believes, we will see that Aristotle's positions in the popular writings are of a piece with his other writings and in harmony with Plato's views.

Turning to Neoplatonic commentaries on the Categories for descriptions of the harmonization of Plato and Aristotle, Gerson argues that Neoplatonists distinguish between giving an account of predication and giving an explanation for the possibility of predication. The former is a logical inquiry and is the subject of the Categories. The latter is an ontological project and is the reason Plato posits Forms. The two undertakings cannot come into conflict with each other. The Categories is about sensible substance and so has no implications for unchangeable substance. Concurring with the Neoplatonists, Gerson argues that unless one brings certain developmental assumptions, as does Jaeger, or certain anti-developmental assumptions, as does Graham, to the interpretation of the Categories, one will not think that Aristotle ever held that sensible substances are basic in the universe.

In the fourth chapter, Gerson looks at the Neoplatonists' acceptance of Aristotle's principles of physical science and their use of these principles to construct a Platonic account of nature. Nature, on this reading, is a moved mover. Aristotle's unmoved mover and the [End Page 315] Demiurge of Plato's Timaeus have the same function. It is not unreasonable, Gerson concludes, to identify them with each other.

Gerson next takes a "lengthy and complex exegetical path" (132) to show that the account of the soul in the De Anima is both coherent and Platonic. Like Plotinus, Aristotle holds that the intellect is separable. Gerson argues that the Neoplatonists were correct to argue that the self-reflexivity of thought rules out its being a corporeal state or function. Pseudo-Simplicius is quoted at length on De Anima III.5 because he "is essentially right in his interpretation" (165). On that interpretation, III.5 is about the individual intellect; it is immortal and engages...


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