Personal Life and Philosophical
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1. Key Events and Dates
2. Aristotles Lyceum
To see a beautiful Latin manuscript of one of Aristotle's works, click here.1. Basic Facts
2. Works, organized by topic
3. History of reception and interpretation
A good introduction to Aristotles general philosophical approach is furnished by his mature understanding of soul. It was opposed to Platos view of soul in a most illuminating way. When we have discussed this example, we can move into a more technical discussion of Aristotles philosophy.
Aristotle seems to have reacted gradually against Platos understanding of the soul as an immortal substance separate from the body. The problems with ordering Aristotles writings make discerning the precise development of his thought a rather hazardous exercise, but by the time of De Anima (the treatise translated in English as On the Soul) Aristotle had clearly rejected his own earlier Platonic view of soul in favor of a conception of soul as immanent in the body.
Soul (psyche): the internal principle of unity of a thing.
So long as there is an internal principle of unity, there is soul. Thus, plants and animals and human beings have soul; it is their life principle. For humans, soul is that which is essentially human in them; for living beings in general, soul is the unifying principle of life within them.
2. Soul and Form
Every object, whether animate or inanimate, is formed matter, or matter plus form. But form for Aristotle is in the thing and not a replica of an item in some other-worldly world of forms (Plato).
In the same way, soul is not some external stuff that infuses a body with life (Plato), but an immanent principle that expresses a natural function. It is natural, therefore, to associate soul in Aristotle with form. To the extent that what kind of a thing a thing is, and what it can do depends on its form, soul is involved in the form of animate objects.
Inanimate objects such as rocks, however, do not have soul, since they do not have an internal principle of unity. All rocks are part of "rock-in-general" whereas plants and other living creatures are well defined, unified individuals. Split a rock in half and you just have two littler rocks. Split a person in half and you dont get two persons, you destroy the internal principle of unity, and the person dies.
Having form, therefore, does not automatically mean having soul. The "internality" of soul is the key for understanding how soul differs from form. When the principle of unity of a thing is internal to it, it has a natural purpose and natural capacity as well as a shape (= form). This natural purpose and natural capacity together make up soul.
Incidentally, in this way, we have introduced two of Aristotles four causes, which are ways of saying what a thing is. In this case, the shape and natural capacity of a thing is its formal cause, and the natural purpose of a thing is its final cause. The other kinds of causes are discussed below.
3. Types of Soul
If we consider the internal, natural functions and purposes of things, what do we turn up? Here is where observation comes in, and De Anima is based in a great deal of careful observation of plants and animals.
Thus Aristotle speaks of at least four kinds of soul: nutritive, motive, sensitive, and intellective. of course, there are many mixed cases, as in plants that move and feel, animals that dont move, animals that do think, and humans that dont. But the basic point is secure.
There is one fuzzy point about Aristotles idea of intellective soul. He appears to maintain a distinction between:
While the passive intellect is treated as an entirely immanent aspect of human beings (and some animals), the active intellect seems to be, for Aristotle, not subject to the vagaries of bodily existence, and perhaps a separate principle. Could this be a vestige of incompletely overthrown Platonic influence? Is it inconsistency? This is a controversial point in the interpretation of Aristotle.
However it is interpreted, the importance of active intellect is that it makes possible Aristotles idea of God, who is purely active intellect, pure form with no matter, as we shall see.
4. The Birth of Science
We need to notice just how dramatic the shift from Plato to Aristotle is, and the difference between their views of soul helps us to do that. There are two main differences:
The suspicion of non-material substances and the quest for observation-based descriptions and definitions are hallmarks of science, and Aristotle is very clearly responsible for crystallizing these instincts in Western philosophy. In a real sense, then, that makes him a scientist in the tradition of the Milesian philosopher-physicists, though much more sophisticated than they were. By contrast, Plato seems to be more of the mystic philosopher, in the tradition of the Pythagoreans.
A general question: In contrasting the scientific, observational-descriptive way of thinking of Aristotle with the rational, aesthetic-speculative way of thinking of Plato, are we confronting two different kinds of thinking, two different ideals for thinking, or two different aspects of one process called thinking? What, then, is thinking?
1. Problems with Plato and the Pre-Socratics
There are a number of points at which Aristotle notices problems in the metaphysical reflection of Plato and the Pre-Socratics. Laying some of these out here will serve as an indication of Aristotles reasons for thinking his own views on these matters the most compelling.
General Approach: scientific saving of appearances. Aristotle likes Platos ideas of forms: universal unchanging essences are the only things that can be known, but wants to protect this idea from being squandered on Platos idealism; scientifically oriented people can do no less: forms are in things, and our concepts of forms are abstractions from real things.
2. The Nature of Knowledge and Principles of Explanation
The question of what reality ultimately is had always been a driving question in Greek philosophy. A sensible question to ask bears on how we know when we have such ultimate knowledge of reality: What is knowledge of a thing? For Aristotle, the question about knowledge of things is best expressed in terms of another question: What is the essence of a thing? Knowledge occurs when we can say what causes a thing to be what it essentially is. For example, when do we know what an oak tree is? When we can say what made it to be like it is, how it works like it is, and what will happen to it in the normal course of events. Having such information is being able to explain the thing we seek to know, to give an account of a thing in such a way as to explain why it is like it is.
Knowledge, therefore, seeks explanations for things. Aristotle proposed four principles of explanation (see Physics II,3)formal, material, efficient, and final types of explanationwhich are called causes. (The names come from medieval scholastic philosophy.)
Teleology: the theory of purposes and ends.
Aristotle also provides a discussion of twelve modes of causation, or modes of ways that a thing can be in its essence: each of the following three opposed pairs can be possible or actual: particular vs. opposite, accidental attribute vs. genus, complex vs. independent simple.
3. Identifying Substances and Explaining Change
The four principles of explanation play a crucial role in metaphysics, ethics, and theology, but lets trace out the issue of what kinds of things there are (ultimately) in the world, and how those things change.
3.1. Primary Beings, Substances, and Accidents
Aristotle denies Parmenides ultimate unity in favor of a view of many real things, or primary beings. Thus, actual things are more than merely determinate particularity; they are a mixture of matter and form. This is the doctrine of "hylomorphism."
Hylomorphism: the doctrine that every existent individual thing is a mixture of matter and form. (It includes the denial of the existence of immaterial objects, except for Aristotles God, which is pure, immaterial form. This is Plato's view of material objects, though he admitted many immaterial exceptions to the hylomorphism rule.)
Primary beings have unifying structures. This unity of being or "isness" is form. But primary beings are more than just matter plus form; they also have soulan internal principle of unity in their form. Some being such as inanimate matter does not have an internal principle of unity (it is merely matter plus form, and all rocks are a part of "rock"), and so does not have soul (thus a rock is not a primary being). But primary beings have soul, to varying degrees (as we saw above, plants have a nutritive principle of unity; animals, additionally, sensitive and motive principles of unity; and humans, additionally, an intellective principle of unity).
Primary Being (or primary substance): a real individual thing with an internal principle of unity, or soul. (This class of beings includes each plant, each animal, and each human being. An alternate definition states that a primary being is a real individual thing of which attributes may be predicated, and which is not an attribute of any other thing.)
Objects have an essence that is the bearer of attributes, or properties. The word accidents is used to describe these properties because they do not modify the essential features of the object but rather are accidental, non-essential characteristics.
Substance: the bearer of properties or characteristics.
Accidents: properties or characteristics predicated of substances.
Aristotle's fundamental answer to the question of how things move and change is that change is matter taking on new forms; this answer is made possible by the matter-form definition of the essence of things.
Plato couldnt explain change because he made the forms have independent, eternal and thus changeless being. In that case, how does the acorn become an oak? When do the eternal forms change their applicability in a continuous process of change?
By insisting that forms only have real existence in things, Aristotle is able to say that change can occur simply by matter taking on different forms; this is workable if it is the case that forms are only real when they are in things. The forms dont change, for they are really unchanging (though they dont have independent existence; we shall see this issue recur in medieval debates about so-called universals).
In terms of the distinction between essence and accidents just introduced, we may distinguish between accidental change (e.g., cow gets wet) and substantial change (e.g., cow drowns). The subject of accidental change is a substance (the cow that gets wet). But here's something to think about: What is the subject of substantial change? It cant be a substance (for then the change would be an accidental change); it cant be an accident (for accidents, or formswetnessdont change); and it cant be nothing (for then change would be random, having no relationship to the things that cause ita cow could get wet when there is no source of water). The subject of substantial change must be neither actual (substance or accident) nor nothing; Aristotle calls it "potentiality." In accidental change, the subject of change is a substance with potentiality. In substantial change, the subject of change is potentiality itself. This potentiality or capacity for change Aristotle calls "primary matter."
3.3. Causation and Motion
[TT704 may ignore this] Motion: the fulfillment of the potential of a thing according to its nature (Physics III.1; e.g.. a bronze statue can be moved but does not fulfill its natural potential by moving itself, but rather by standing there and looking beautiful; whereas an animal fulfills its natural potential by moving itself.)
Some things are self-moving; this is accounted for with the idea of soul, as the essence of things (see the definition of motion, above). Things with a motive soul have a form and a structure that allows for self-movement.
But other things are not self-moving, but are caused to change and move. Things act on other things to cause motion; this is accounted for with the "efficient cause" type of explanation. But how do these efficient causes get started? We need the idea of an unmoved first mover who sets motion going. That's God.
3.4. Natural Purposes
Most things have a natural propensity to become something else, an in-built tendency to change their form over time. This is the "final cause" principle of explanation. The acorn and the oak tree is the standing example, but just about anything exemplifies the point. Aristotle thought that things tend toward their natural states by realizing (forming) their potential (primary matter). This is the mechanism of natural, purposive change.
This account of change makes the notion of natural potential extremely important. The natural purpose of a primary being is expressed in its nature, which is its soul and is expressed in its form. To know a thing's nature is to know its natural purpose, and that leads to knowledge of what is good for it. Every primary being has a purpose, for Aristotle, and purposive explanations (final causes) will underlie every other principle of explanation. (If everything is assumed to have its natural state and to tend toward that state, then it is not surprising that Aristotle made some nutty proposals to explain various behaviors. For example, birds fly because they are naturally "air-like"; that's just their nature. And as we shall see, he thinks that women need to be ruled by a man because that's their nature.)
The unmoved mover has a role to play here. Everything is moved towards its natural purpose (telos) by being "lured" by God, which is the object of desire of the essence of determinate beings. God changes and moves other beings through being the object of their desire. This is how the prime mover moves, and thereby begins the chain of efficient causes. To say that Aristotles is a naturalistic teleology does not exclude God from the picture, but rather brings God into the natural world in a limited way.
Note the double thrust of Aristotles brilliant solution to the problem of change, and associated issues. First, primary matter is potential; and second, there is a prime mover who gives shape to the natural teleology of the world and sets the chains of efficient causes in motion. After that, everything acts (roughly) according to its nature. Of course, all that gets a bit more complicated with human beings, who have a moral life.
Ciccarelli Creation: The House that Susan and Jack Built
This is the house that Susan and Jack built. It is a weathered Cape with black shutters, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, and a detached garage. Outside is a large black walnut tree, from whose branches hangs a wooden swing.
When Susan and Jack first decided to build a house, they were living in a small apartment with one bedroom. Susan was pregnant, and they would need more room. They did not have much money, so Jack built the house himself, from wooden 2x4s, shingles, nails, and other materials he purchased from a nearby building supply company.
After they finished the house, they brought over their furniture from the apartment in a U-Haul and arranged it almost to their satisfaction. Unfortunately, two days after this, Susan decided that her mothers old upright piano had to be moved away from the fireplace because it would be uncomfortable playing it while sitting so close to the fire in the winter time. Fortunately, Jacks brother Earl was visiting for the weekend. So Jack and Earl, after great effort, moved the piano over to the window.
As Susan and Jack sat in their new living room, they could see a black walnut tree in the front yard. They loved the tree, and Susan, who became quite dreamy in the final weeks of her pregnancy, liked to speculate about its being there. How did the nut get carried to this very spot? How fortunate that it found the right conditions for growth when so many seeds were eaten, or fell in an unsuitable location. And how amazing that this tree could grow from the nut in the first place! It did get plenty of sun throughout the morning, and sunshine seemed crucial to the fact that it became this well-established tree producing fruit of its own. And then she began to ponder the sun, how crucial it was for the existence of everything in this world. Jack said we were just lucky. Susan wasnt so sure.
Jack and Susans son Mark was born not long after the house was finished. At no time in their lives had Jack and Susan been so filled with hope about the future, so quick to theorize about education and development, so caught up in plans to give their child the best opportunities for a good life. They wondered if he would be a great statesman, or a great scientist, or perhaps a great artist (their thoughts always ran to "great" in these first days with their baby). Jack always hoped he would be a good person. Susan knew he would be highly intelligent and use his intelligence wisely. Mark did little but sleep and eat. Being born seemed to have exhausted him.
The years passed, and Mark became a fine, active, and always hungry boy. One day, as he was playing under the tree in the front yard, he picked up one of the green-husked fruits that had fallen from its branches, and split it apart to extract the nut. His mother helped him shell it and he then ate the walnut meat inside.
As she watched Mark run off to play, Susan thought: it wont be long before hes building a house for his own family.
We know because the structure of the world (as expressed in the categories) is also the structure of our mind. This continuous identity between mind and world leads to a correspondence view of truth (a proposition is true because it accurately describes an actual state of affairs). It also leads to the conviction that a logical principle such as the principle of non-contradiction is no merely formal rule for intelligible discourse but is rather a characteristic of the world itself: "a thing cannot be both itself and not-itself." For Aristotle, rules characterizing the logical functions of human thinking also describe the way the world is in itself. A single theory could thus be a realist basis for describing the world and predication in one fell swoop. (Contrast this approach with that of Kant, to whom we shall come later in this course.)
How can we describe this structure which is both the way we think and the way the world is? Aristotle uses a theory of categories to do this. A theory of categories is a list of the most basic, independent ways that being appears in the world. A good theory of categories would allow us to give an account of what there is in the world and why it fits together the way it does.
Aristotle advances a list of ten categories (see Categories 4), of which substance is the most important because the others cant exist without it.
With these categories, Aristotle is able to classify all of the terms that can appear in propositions, and so determine the kinds of relations that can hold between things. In particular, he has a theoretically exhaustive account of what properties can be predicated of substances. This, together with his study of the syllogism, was the foundation of his amazing contribution to logic.
So far, we have seen God pop up as an unmoved mover who changes and moves determinate beings through being the object of the souls desire (and so both the sustainer and ground of final causation, and thereby the initiator of efficient causation).
But what kind of being would God have to be? The four aspects of soul (Nutritive, Sensitive, Motive, Intellective) are found together in humans, and higher aspects always include the lower. But could intellective soul exist by itself? Aristotle says "yes" though this is not unproblematic. As pure intellective soul, God must be eternal (as you might expect an unmoved mover to be), and this makes God an exception to the rule that all actual beings are hylomorphic: a mixture of matter, form (and a principle of unity).
Granted that the idea of God is an exception to Aristotles metaphysical system in this one respect, what would the properties of God be? God would be eternal, pure form, pure structure, perfect, changeless, and so pure actuality and no potentiality. Gods activity would consist in beholding the divine self, which is the only perfect object.
Remember Aristotles reasons for thinking there is a God answering to this description:
Note that the question about the contingency of the whole universe is not being asked here; motion and the order of nature is being explained. Though Aristotle is not asking the question about the ontological dependence of the universe, he is setting up this question for later thinkers. The theological "next step" would look something like this:
This step was taken in middle Platonism, and in Platonic rather than Aristotelian terminology. The key figure is Philo, a Jewish thinker, who regarded Plato's forms as the ideas of God in creating the world. Later, Christian theologians will intensify this vision of creation by insisting that God created not by forming matter but from nothing (ex nihilo). The first theologians to advance this idea appear to have been Tatian (famous for the Diatesseron, a harmonization of the gospels) and Theophilus (Bishop of Antioch), in the late second century CE.
With all this taken together, Aristotle has produced a vision of the diversity of beings that is more sensitive to their actual variation and more explanatorily powerful than that managed by his predecessors. Moving from the least to the greatest, this chain of being has the following links:
The hierarchical structure of being can be invoked in social processes serving to legitimate ecclesial and political structures; in any hierarchy or organization, everything has a proper place determined by its nature. Natural law follows from this, in both science, ethics and politics.
1. Ethics and Politics as Consequences of Teleology
Teleology refers to purposes. Aristotles natural teleology affirms that everything has a natural purpose. That means that, on the familiar assumption that the natural is the good (is the true is the beautiful, etc.), what is good for a thing is what is natural for it. This for Aristotle is its telos or natural purpose. Ethics and politics flow, therefore, from Aristotles teleology.
2. The Telos of Human Beings
The telos or natural good for human beings is called by Aristotle eudaimonia, or happiness, a word applied more generally in Aristotles time to refer to anything, and not just human beings. More precisely:
Eudaimonia: the complete actualization of the natural potentialities of a thing.
Human eudaimonia is the fulfillment of entire human nature, but especially the intellective part of the human soul, by the power of which all other goods are ordered.
Aristotle defines virtue (of which there are several kinds) in terms of human eudaimonia in the following way:
Eudaimonia has two levels for humans, according to the two kinds of virtue.
3. The Telos of Society
Aristotle develops his views of the ideal society by criticizing Platos views. This happens in especially two ways:
There are, however, some fundamental problems with Aristotles approach.
In brief, Aristotles political view can be summarized as follows:
The influence of Aristotle on theology is immense, especially in the middle ages, but also (and more anonymously) in the period of the formation of the key Christian doctrines. In fact, Aristotle was arguably the philosopher who was to exercise the greatest influence on Christian theology (recall that this same statement was made with reference to Plato). Aristotle's influence on theology can be summarized in fairly colorless fashion as follows:
God: Introduces the main themes of a profoundly influential idea of God
Creation: Paves the way for asking the question about creatio ex nihilo
Metaphysics: Furnishes philosophy with many of the distinctions that theologians will later use to discuss such basic issues as Christology and Trinity.
Ethics: Here the influence was very mixed.
Society: Chain of Being provides a new way of understanding church and society in the middle ages (everything has "natural" position in social hierarchy)
Medieval Scholastic Theology: Furnishes many of the distinctions, problems, and tools for medieval scholastic theology, including proofs for the existence of God, theory of the Eucharist, ecclesiology, social policy, natural law, etc.
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