AN INTRODUCTION TO ARISTOTLE'S THOUGHT
ARISTOTLES WORKS CONSTITUTE PERHAPS AN EXCEPTION TO A MANDATE OF TRADITIONAL SCHOLARSHIP: STUDY THE PRIMARY SOURCES CAREFULLY FIRST, OR AT LEAST CONCURRENTLY WITH THE SECONDARY SOURCE RESEARCH SINCE THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR THE TEXT. OF COURSE THAT IS TRUE, BUT ARISTOTLES CHALLENGE IS SO FORMIDABLE, THAT INITIALLY THE STUDENT IS ADVISED TO STUDY THE CRITICS, AND THEN TURN TO THE TEXT. THUS ONLY THE OPENING OF BOOK ONE, EXPLAINING THE ORIGIN OF PHILOSOPHICAL THINKING IS PROVIDED USING THE ROSS TRANSLATION.
BOOK ONE IS FOLLOWED BY ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY FROM ALLEN AND TREDENNICK.
CLICK HERE FOR LINKS TO THE COMPLETE PRIMARY SOURCES.
ALLEN, E.L. FROM PLATO TO NIETZSCHE. NEW YORK: FAWCETT BOOKS, 1988.
TREDENNICK, H. NOTES AND APPENDICES TO ARISTOTLE'S ETHICS EDITED BY JONATHAN BARNES AND TRANSLATED BY J.A.K. THOMSON. NEW YORK; PENGUIN BOOKS, 1976.
EXCERPT FROM BOOK ONE EXPLAINING THE GENESIS OF PHILOSOPHICAL INQUIRY
TRANSLATED BY W. D. ROSS
ALL men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the
delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness
they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of
sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not
going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything
else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know
and brings to light many differences between things.
By nature animals are born with the faculty of sensation, and from
sensation memory is produced in some of them, though not in others.
And therefore the former are more intelligent and apt at learning than
those which cannot remember; those which are incapable of hearing
sounds are intelligent though they cannot be taught, e.g. the bee, and
any other race of animals that may be like it; and those which besides
memory have this sense of hearing can be taught.
The animals other than man live by appearances and memories, and
have but little of connected experience; but the human race lives also
by art and reasonings. Now from memory experience is produced in
men; for the several memories of the same thing produce finally the
capacity for a single experience. And experience seems pretty much
like science ad art, but really science and art come to men through
experience;...' Now art arises when from many notions gained by
experience one universal judgement about a class of objects is
With a view to action experience seems in no respect inferior to
art, and men of experience succeed even better than those who have
theory without experience. The reason is that experience is knowledge
of individuals, art of universals, and actions and productions are all
concerned with the individual; for the physician does not cure man,
except in an incidental way, but Callias or Socrates or some other
called by some such individual name, who happens to be a man. If,
then, a man has the theory without the experience, and recognizes
the universal but does not know the individual included in this, he
will often fail to cure; for it is the individual that is to be
cured.) But yet we think that knowledge and understanding belong to
art rather than to experience, and we suppose artists to be wiser than
men of experience (which implies that Wisdom depends in all cases
rather on knowledge); and this because the former know the cause,
but the latter do not. For men of experience know that the thing is
so, but do not know why, while the others know the 'why' and the
cause. Hence we think also that the masterworkers in each craft are
more honourable and know in a truer sense and are wiser than the
manual workers, because they know the causes of the things that are
done (we think the manual workers are like certain lifeless things
which act indeed, but act without knowing what they do, as fire
burns,-but while the lifeless things perform each of their functions
by a natural tendency, the labourers perform them through habit); thus
we view them as being wiser not in virtue of being able to act, but of
having the theory for themselves and knowing the causes. And in
general it is a sign of the man who knows and of the man who does
not know, that the former can teach, and therefore we think art more
truly knowledge than experience is; for artists can teach, and men
of mere experience cannot.
Again, we do not regard any of the senses as Wisdom; yet surely
these give the most authoritative knowledge of particulars. But they
do not tell us the 'why' of anything-e.g. why fire is hot; they only
say that it is hot.
At first he who invented any art whatever that went beyond the
common perceptions of man was naturally admired by men, not only
because there was something useful in the inventions, but because he
was thought wise and superior to the rest. But as more arts were
invented, and some were directed to the necessities of life, others to
recreation, the inventors of the latter were naturally always regarded
as wiser than the inventors of the former, because their branches of
knowledge did not aim at utility. Hence when all such inventions
were already established, the sciences which do not aim at giving
pleasure or at the necessities of life were discovered, and first in
the places where men first began to have leisure. This is why the
mathematical arts were founded in Egypt; for there the priestly
caste was allowed to be at leisure.
We have said in the Ethics what the difference is between art
and science and the other kindred faculties; but the point of our
present discussion is this, that all men suppose what is called Wisdom
to deal with the first causes and the principles of things; so that,
as has been said before, the man of experience is thought to be
wiser than the possessors of any sense-perception whatever, the artist
wiser than the men of experience, the masterworker than the
mechanic, and the theoretical kinds of knowledge to be more of the
nature of Wisdom than the productive. Clearly then Wisdom is knowledge
about certain principles and causes.
Since we are seeking this knowledge, we must inquire of what
kind are the causes and the principles, the knowledge of which is
Wisdom. If one were to take the notions we have about the wise man,
this might perhaps make the answer more evident. We suppose first,
then, that the wise man knows all things, as far as possible, although
he has not knowledge of each of them in detail; secondly, that he
who can learn things that are difficult, and not easy for man to know,
is wise (sense-perception is common to all, and therefore easy and
no mark of Wisdom); again, that he who is more exact and more
capable of teaching the causes is wiser, in every branch of knowledge;
and that of the sciences, also, that which is desirable on its own
account and for the sake of knowing it is more of the nature of Wisdom
than that which is desirable on account of its results, and the
superior science is more of the nature of Wisdom than the ancillary;
for the wise man must not be ordered but must order, and he must not
obey another, but the less wise must obey him.
Such and so many are the notions, then, which we have about Wisdom
and the wise. Now of these characteristics that of knowing all
things must belong to him who has in the highest degree universal
knowledge; for he knows in a sense all the instances that fall under
the universal. And these things, the most universal, are on the
whole the hardest for men to know; for they are farthest from the
senses. And the most exact of the sciences are those which deal most
with first principles; for those which involve fewer principles are
more exact than those which involve additional principles, e.g.
arithmetic than geometry. But the science which investigates causes is
also instructive, in a higher degree, for the people who instruct us
are those who tell the causes of each thing. And understanding and
knowledge pursued for their own sake are found most in the knowledge
of that which is most knowable (for he who chooses to know for the
sake of knowing will choose most readily that which is most truly
knowledge, and such is the knowledge of that which is most
knowable); and the first principles and the causes are most
knowable; for by reason of these, and from these, all other things
come to be known, and not these by means of the things subordinate
to them. And the science which knows to what end each thing must be
done is the most authoritative of the sciences, and more authoritative
than any ancillary science; and this end is the good of that thing,
and in general the supreme good in the whole of nature. Judged by
all the tests we have mentioned, then, the name in question falls to
the same science; this must be a science that investigates the first
principles and causes; for the good, i.e. the end, is one of the
That it is not a science of production is clear even from the
history of the earliest philosophers. For it is owing to their
wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize;
they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced
little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters,
e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the
stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled
and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth
is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders);
therefore since they philosophized order to escape from ignorance,
evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any
utilitarian end. And this is confirmed by the facts; for it was when
almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for
comfort and recreation had been secured, that such knowledge began
to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any
other advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for his
own sake and not for another's, so we pursue this as the only free
science, for it alone exists for its own sake.
Hence also the possession of it might be justly regarded as beyond
human power; for in many ways human nature is in bondage, so that
according to Simonides 'God alone can have this privilege', and it
is unfitting that man should not be content to seek the knowledge that
is suited to him. If, then, there is something in what the poets
say, and jealousy is natural to the divine power, it would probably
occur in this case above all, and all who excelled in this knowledge
would be unfortunate. But the divine power cannot be jealous (nay,
according to the proverb, 'bards tell a lie'), nor should any other
science be thought more honourable than one of this sort. For the
most divine science is also most honourable; and this science alone must
be, in two ways, most divine. For the science which it would be most
meet for God to have is a divine science, and so is any science that
deals with divine objects; and this science alone has both these
qualities; for (1) God is thought to be among the causes of all things
and to be a first principle, and (2) such a science either God alone
can have, or God above all others. All the sciences, indeed, are
more necessary than this, but none is better.
SECONDARY SOURCE COMMENTARY FROM ALLEN:
Aristotle on Form and Matter :
...Plato took over from his predecessors the problem of how to relate the element of change and the element of permanence in our experience...Aristotle was not satisfied with Plato's solution, the theory of Forms. He has two substitutes for this, one dynamic and the other static. An illustration of the former from human life may be helpful. John Smith changes while still remaining John Smith. We use different terms to describe him at the various stages of growth and development, speaking of him as a baby, child, young man, adult, old man and so on. What connects these stages is well expressed in the saying that 'the child is father of the man. That is to say, he has the capacity to become the man, while the development of what is in the child yields the man. Aristotle would say that the child is potentially the man. So an acorn is potentially what the oak is actually, and: the oak is potentially the ship's mast that is made out of it. Modern science makes considerable play with this notion of the potential, what a thing is not as yet but has it in it to become.
The case of the oak that is made into a ship's mast admits of another analysis that is also to be found in Aristotle, that into matter and form. For the felled oak as it lies on the ground is potentially a great many things beside a ship's mast,' dressing-table, a bookcase, and so on. It is, so to say, the material that can be worked up in any one of a number of ways. On the other hand, the mast may have been made out of any one of a number of tree-trunks that were adequate in size and other qualities. It is, we might say, the shape that can -be imposed on various different materials. Aristotle would say that the wood is the matter and the mast the form. But he uses this pair of terms in a much wider sense. Thus, if the ship's mast were to be removed on shore and used as a flag staff, it would become the matter on which the form of a flagstaff was imposed. Equally, oak could be regarded as the form assumed by the matter 'tree', and 'tree' the form assumed by the matter plant'. And so we might go on, everything being matter in relation to what is above it in the scale, and form in relation to what is below it. So we could construct what has been called 'the great chain of being', a conception that powerfully influenced the Western mind till it was displaced last century by another, that of evolution. According to this, every thing has its place in a graded series, a hierarchy of being, each member of which plays the part of form to what is below it and of matter to what is above it. For the scale to be complete, there must of course be two exceptions to this rule. The highest member will be pure form with nothing above it to which it can serve as matter. Medieval thought was not slow to identify pure form with God, but Aristotle did not make that identification himself. Equally, at the bottom there must be pure matter, with nothing below it to which it can serve as form. That, however, is not to be regarded as a definite existent; but as the point at which our thinking has to call a halt, a limit. It is obvious that this condition has a good deal in common with Plato's vision of the world as a series of stages through which one ascends in love or desire towards Absolute Beauty at the summit.
This brief summary of Aristotle's account of the physical world needs supplementing at one further point--his analysis of the causal concept. He did not, as later thinkers were to do, raise the question what we-mean by saying that a is the cause of b and on what grounds we make such an assertion. He took the causal relation for granted as something with which everyone is familiar, and found that there were four kinds of cause. Let us take as an illustration: a house that is in process of building. In the light of what was said above, we can distinguish at once the material and the formal cause Under the first head we bring the bricks and mortar, the windows and- doors, and everything else that goes into the building. Under the second head we bring the form of a house, represented by the architects design. For of course the materials we have enumerated might have made something other than a house, a shop or an office, for example. Thirdly, we can speak of the efficient cause, represented by the contractor and the men under his employ, for without these the materials and the design would not have been brought together, nothing, as we say, would have been 'effected'. Fourthly, there is the final cause, the end in view for the whole process. Is the house being built to be occupied, to be sold, or to be let, and if so, to whom? These are questions we ask when we see the work going on.
This is a rough analysis that is valid enough for the purposes of everyday life, though it is too imprecise an instrument for the scientist to employ. Indeed, some physicists seem to make it their aim to dispense with the causal notion altogether. What is of special importance in Aristotle is the emphasis he lays on the final cause.: "In the history of science, there has been no more, strenuous defender of 'final causes'." (D. J. Allen: The Philosophy of Aristotle, 1952, p. 46.) Now, the Greek thought of nature not as a machine but as an artist, though one that worked unconsciously, no doubt. So Aristotle conceives of nature as a realm of purpose. Each level in the hierarchy of nature fulfills the purpose of the one below it and serves that of the one above it: Striving to be man, the worm / Mounts through all the spires of form.
This is not evolution as we understand it. For it describes, not a long and bloody process in which species arise and perish, but the erection by nature, out of the inorganic and organic material at her disposal, of a pyramid in which the higher forms rest on those below them.
Aristotle on the Soul:
When we come to Aristotle's psychology, we shall not him to share with Plato the extreme view for the soul is the immortal tenant of a strange and body. He will think in terms of gradations rather than sharp distinctions. That is in fact what we find. He uses here me categories of form and matter, actual and potential, worked out in his study of nature. The soul for him is the form of the body. This does not mean that it is merely the most complex level reached in the development of the material organism, as it might suggest to a modern reader. For, while form and matter are inseparable only in thought and are distinguished by us in a substance, form is for Aristotle sovereign over matter. The other set of categories, actual and potential helps to preserve that relation. The soul is the form of a specific kind of organism, and that organism in turn can most adequately be described as the one that is potentially soul. Aristotle recognizes that, within our experience, the psychological and the physiological are bound together. He knows nothing of the connection between mind and brain, but had he known it he would have said that it entirely supported hi view.
His analysis of the soul is akin to that of Plato, which to be sure, was based on certain obvious distinctions. But he is intrigued by one fact that may well not have come within his predecessor's ken. Certain lower forms of life, worms and insects, for example, do not die when they are cut in half; instead, each half continues to function as though it were a whole; The relation between soul and body is not therefore that the former is present spatially in the latter, in which case part of one would carry with it only part of the other. The soul must be present non-spatially, so that it can function as a whole even in the two parts into which the body is divided. Yet, of course, there is a close connection between the soul in certain of its activities and the body in certain of its parts, the sense organs. We see by the eye, and if the eye is injured, sight is impaired as a result. This might lead us to question the immortality of the soul, were it not that our reasoning powers do not seem dependent on particular organs to the same extent. But that is a question to which we shall come shortly.
What exactly happens in sensation, when, for example, we see a bright or coloured body? One suggestion that had found acceptance in certain quarters was that such a body gave off infinitesimal particles that impinged on the organ of sight. That is too materialistic a view for Aristotle; sensation is rather apprehension of the form of an object and that by a process of appropriation. "Sense is that which is capable of receiving the sensible forms without the matter." (W. D. Ross: Aristotle: Selections, 1927 p. 211). Note the qualification sensible; It will be important in the sequel. The illustration used is that of wax taking the imprint of a seal, of whatever metal the seal may be composed. The process of perceiving is one of assimilation, so that not only does the hand become hot from the object it holds--a quite intelligible state of things--but the eye similarly becomes coloured from a 'coloured object--which is most difficult to grasp. But of course we perceive, let us say, a body that is brightly coIoured, heavy, and so on; we pool the findings of the various senses in our awareness of objects. There must therefore be what Aristotle calls common sense' to perform this function of collection and synthesis.
We are now in a position to consider the different levels at which the soul functions. For Aristotle, the human soul will not be something quite new; it will represent an advance on the principle of life in animal and plant and at the same time include these. They will be the matter to which it gives its specific form. Thus we must think of the human soul as containing within itself those functions that constitute the soul in animal and plant. Let me again make the point that this does not imply that man has come about by evolution from plant and animal. Each species is fixed and there is no transition from one to another for Aristotle. It is as if a graded series of textbooks on a subject were written at the same time but quite independently; when the series was complete, we should see how each formed an advance on what was in the one below it. So plants possess the nutritive powers of the soul, they seek food to maintain themselves. The animal has these, and in addition is capable of perception; with perception goes desire, and "desire includes appetite, anger, and rational wish". Man in addition has reason.
While reason supervenes upon the lower levels of the soul, it is distinct from them and does not appear to be as closely bound up-with the body as they are. What complicates Aristotle's treatment at this point is that he distinguishes two types of reason, one active and the other passive, and goes on to relate these as form and matter, actual and -potential. As the sense-organ receives the impress of sensible forms, so the passive reason receives that of intelligible forms, e.g., mathematical relations. So far so good. What the active reason does is not so clear. Does it operate on the passive reason and what it receives? That is suggested by the form-matter analogy. Or is it a fresh source of knowledge by intuition and contemplation? That is supported by Aristotle's acceptance of speculation as the highest activity with something divine about it. What is important in this connection is that he claims complete separability from the body and immortality for the active reason alone.
Aristotle on Ethics:
When Aristotle turns his attention to moral questions, he does what Plato did and what any Greek would have done; he brings these under the heading of the good' rather than 'the right'. That is to say, he is concerned not so much with the obligations men are under as with the ends they seek. What a man seeks is what he regards as 'the good'. The term good is normally relative; a knife is good for cutting, a field for a baseball game, aspirin for relieving headache, etc. Is there, beyond all these things that are good as means, something that is good as an end in itself, good absolutely? If so, it will be the supreme goal of human endeavour. Aristotle thinks there will be general agreement as to what this supreme good is. It is happiness. That, however does not help much, as there are so many opinions on what constitutes happiness. His own suggestion is that happiness for man lies in the unimpeded exercise of his peculiar function, of what stamps him as a man. In the light of what has been said above, this will be his reason. "If this is the case, human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete.
That the word virtue here has a much wider range than with us is shown by the fact that Aristotle goes on to distinguish between intellectual and moral virtues. Some such translation as 'characteristic excellence' might bring out its meaning better. But before we glance at the intellectual virtues, w e shall do well to note how down-to-earth Aristotle's treatment of the good " life is. He adds that, in addition to intellectual and moral qualities, it needs also a certain amount of external goods and extension over a whole life. To return now to the intellectual virtues. These are two in number, practical wisdom and theoretical wisdom. The former is our guide in the conduct of life, giving us both general principles and the insight to discern how these are to be applied in particular situations. Aristotle is careful to point out that most men go wrong, not because their principles are mistaken, but because they do not bring particular instances under the general rule they acknowledge. This implies, as he readily allows, that no hard and fast line can be drawn between moral and intellectual virtues. Theoretical wisdom we shall deal with in due course.
We come now to the moral virtues. These are not mere actions, which might be sporadic and not indicative at all of what the person himself is; they are states of character. As such, they are the product of a discipline to which we submit ourselves; but we must have an aptitude for that discipline to begin with; On the dispute between nature and nurture, Aristotle would say that what is present potentially in nature needs to be brought to actuality by nurture: "Neither by nature, then, nor contrary to nature do the virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit." We form good character by developing good habits, and we form good habits by the repetition of good actions. The process is analogous to that of the flute player who becomes accomplished by constant practice, or, as we should say, the tennis star who never misses a day at the nets. Morality is thus the art of living well, and the good man is the virtuoso.
Can we further describe the form this art of living will take? Yes, we can go on to define virtue as a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean i.e, the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it.
Virtue is the mean between to extremes, each of which is bad. Yet the mean is not reached by a mathematical computation, but by tact, a discernment that is itself morally conditioned. The theory appeals at once to the ordinary person, through an examination it turns out to have its difficulties. We can see clearly, for example, that the brave man is one who neither risks his life in foolhardiness nor preserves it all all costs in cowardice. In war, he knows just when he should die at his post and when he should surrender because further struggle is useless. So the miser and the prodigal represent the extremes avoided by the man who knows just when to spend his money and when to save it. But Aristotle admits that here is no word for the man who is neither ambitious, so claiming too much, nor unambitious, not exclaiming enough. That there is a state of character that keeps the balance we need not doubt.
The important question remains of the highest kind of life and where it ought to be sought. Here Aristotle finds himself pulled in two directions. He lived in a society that called on the citizen to participate in politics, to sit on the jury, and to bear arms in time of war. Yet at the same time it cultivated leisure and the interchange of ideas in conversation. Is action or contemplation the more desirable? Aristotle opts for the latter, while allowing to the former a second and by no means dishonourable place. In the exercise of theoretical reason, in speculation and inquiry, man lives by the highest part of himself, by that which he shares with the gods. It is within man's power to live on earth the immortal life, and let him not refuse to do this, for that would be to surrender to false modesty. But the good citizen who faithfully discharges the duties of his station ranks next in order of merit. The last thing Aristotle wishes to do is to loosen the bonds of society, though he sees--and is he not right in this?--that the highest dimension of life transcends, not the limitations only, but also the duties of society.
Aristotle on Metaphysics and God:
WE have seen that what Aristotle did was to break up the total vision of Plato into a number of separate disciplines, each to be worked out in detail and for its own sake. He is, we may say, the father of that specialization that has become at once so fruitful and so dangerous in our time. But the element of vision is by no means lacking from his work. It comes out in what posterity has called his 'metaphysics' (i.e. the work that comes 'after the Physics' in the Aristotelian corpus), but what he himself termed 'first philosophy'. Here we find his quest for what Plato sought, that which truly is. Unfortunately, his works as they have come down to us do not show any clear solution to this problem: perhaps this was one of the cases in which he drew subtle distinctions that proved too difficult for his students to grasp. We have seen that he analyzed the concrete thing into form and matter. This yields three possibilities: Substance (that which truly is) could be (a), form (b), matter (c) the concrete thing as such. Each of these identifications can be supported from the evidence accessible to us. The one thing that is certain is that he rejected Plato's position, understanding this to mean that what truly is is separate from the actual objects of our experience.
He was, indeed, in a difficulty as soon as he came to ask just what is the object of scientific knowledge. At the beginning of his Metaphysics he states one possibility quite clearly. According to this, all our knowledge derives in the last (or shall we say the first?) resort from sense-impressions. This would make Aristotle an empiricist. But it is not the only account of knowledge he has left to us. That was not to be expected in view of the position held by mathematics as an exact science not 'based on sense-impressions, though relevant to what: is known thereby. Aristotle clearly holds that each science rests upon certain general principles that are not to be demonstrated but are apprehended intuitively. Further, he is aware that scientific knowledge is much more than an enumeration of instances, that it is the construction of a generalization that embraces and does justice to all these.
We suppose ourselves to possess unqualified scientific knowledge of a thing, as opposed to knowing it in the accidental way in which the sophist knows, when we think that we know the cause on which the fact depends, as the cause of that fact and of no other, and, further, that the fact could not be other than it is.
[Note that in the following section, dealing with cosmology and astronomy, Aristotle is in serious error.]--R. Nighan.
We must allow therefore that something of the rationalist is to be found in Aristotle along with something of the empiricist. When we come to his cosmology, we find much there that ruled the medieval mind and has entered into Christian theology by that door. Here he was beyond the range of observation and fell back on assumptions that seem to us extraordinarily naive. Thus, he assumes that there are four elements, of which two, fire and air, 'naturally' move upwards, while the other two, earth and water, as naturally move downwards. He adds to them a fifth element, ether, of which the heavenly bodies are composed, and which will have a perfect circular movement. The earth itself is spherical and at the centre of the universe. The heavenly bodies are - located on a series of rotating spheres around it, and Aristotle reckons that the total number of spheres will be forty-nine. The whole system is eternal, there was no creation. When Aquinas came to use Aristotle's metaphysics for his natural theology, he had to meet this point. He did so by suggesting that while theoretically, the world might have been eternal it was in fact created and had a beginning
Click on the BRITISH LITERATURE INDEX; Renaissance for more on this subject.
It has often been pointed out that while for us motion is natural and rest has to be explained, for the ancients the reverse was the case. They saw a cart, so to speak, and asked where the horse was to move it. The constant and eternal movement of the spheres calls for an equally eternal source of motion. Only, in this case, the movement must be original, the First Mover must himself be exempt from movement and change. Since on this all else depends, it is the ultimate principle of explanation and so the philosopher's equivalent for God
Be it noted that he is not the Creator, for his eternity is matched by its. The communication of motion to the spheres is therefore to be compared, not to a thrust given to an object from behind, but to the attraction something desirable exerts upon a mind that contemplates it. God moves the world as the object of its desire. Perhaps, Aristotle says, there was truth in the ancient myth that the heavenly beings are gods; if so, we may think of them as aspiring towards God and so bringing about the movements characteristic of the physical universe. There is surely an element of grandeur in this picture.
What of God himself, this solitary monarch of the universe? As he did not create, so he does not exercise any providential oversight. He is not involved in the fortunes of the world and the human race, as is the Christian God; it would seem out of place to pray to him. He is "a monarch who reigns, but does not rule." (W. E. Greene: Moira, 1944, p. 322. ) The one hint of divine immanence is in the suggestion that the highest good is in the world both "as something separate and by itself, and as the order of the parts" For the Greek, it was axiomatic that the divine life will be without emotion and will be self-sufficient. Indeed, among ourselves, a God who needs his creation is known only to the mystics. Inevitably, God is thought of by Aristotle as enjoying that which for himself was the highest form of happiness, namely, the activity of pure thought. But in the case of God there can be nothing beyond himself to serve as object of his thought; he must be his own object. His life is therefore described as "a thinking on thinking". Do we say that this is cold and unattractive? Aristotle would reply that that is the case only because we are ourselves absorbed in actions that promise immediate gain and unwilling for the austere adventure of the intellectual life. Were we ready for it, we should find in it a bliss well fitted to symbolize the life of God himself.
Additional notes on matter and form, substance, causality, change, potency and act from TREDENNICK:
Source: Tredennick, H. Notes and Appendices to Aristotles Ethics edited by Jonathan Barnes and translated by J.A.K. Thomson. New York: Penguin Books,1976.
Matter and Form:
For Aristotle substance (ousia), i.e. what is in the fullest sense, is as individual person or thing. Or rather, he normally describes the individual as substance in the primary sense. But logically and epistemologically the individual is less knowable than the species to which it belongs; this is because the individual is a concrete whole...a combination of form and matter; and only the formal element is constant and definable, and therefore knowable. Hence he often identifies substance with the form or essence of a thing; and this seems to be the outcome of his long and careful discussion in Metaphysics Z. He has been accused of not being quite consistent on this point.
But the matter - form relation is not in fact as simple as it sounds. Prime matter - matter devoid altogether of form - does not occur, and could not be perceived if it did, it is barely conceivable. Matter is, however, progressively informed: first as one of the simple bodies or elements,' [The elements themselves are combinations of the four primary contraries hot, dry, wet and cold; but this is more a matter of logical analysis than of physical constitution.] Say earth, then as a species of earth, e.g. clay; then as clay treated, shaped and baked into bricks; and bricks in their turn can be so arranged as to constitute a wall or a house. At each stage the proximate matter, already informed at the preceding stage, is combined (just as if it were bare matter) with a fresh Form to produce a more highly organized entity. Thus all the constituents - both physical and non-physical - of the individual have a formal element, which is knowable; not only his physical characteristics, but all his idiosyncrasies fall under recognizable types; in fact his is a composite form, and knowable in much greater detail than the species. To put it in another way, the specia is more knowable in theory, the individual in practice. Moreover, matter and form are really correlative, though logically distinct; informed matter and inmattered form are two different ways of looking at the same thing.
Matter and form are factors in Aristotles theory of causation.' In artificial processes he distinguishes four causes or conditions necessary for producing the required result: (1) the Material, e.g. bricks, stone, wood, etc.; (2) the Formal, i.e. the shape or design which is imposed upon the materials, e.g. the form of a house; (3) the Efficient, i.e. that which originates the process: in the case of the house, the builder or his (or the architect's) idea of the completed structure; and (4) the Final cause; the end or purpose of the operation, viz. the house considered as a place of shelter for occupation. The last three are obviously closely related, and in many cases (especially in natural processes) they are barely distinguishable aspects of the one formal cause.
Change end Process:
But how does matter pass from one state to another? How does change take place? Change (metabole) is either (I) of substance, viz. coming to be (genesis) and ceasing to be (phthora); or (I) of quality, viz. alteration (alloiosis); or (3) of quantity, viz. increase (auxesis) and decrease (phthisis), or (4) of place, viz. locomotion (phora). The last two present no special problem. All the last three are usually described by Aristotle as kinds of movement, kinesis; but both genesis and kinesis are sometimes used in the more general sense of process.
All change involves three factors: (I) something that persists, and (I) and (2) two states or qualities or other determinants, one of which is exchanged for the other. What persists is the substrate or subject, hupokeimenon. In change of quality this is the substance: a round bowl is battered out of shape and is no longer round, but it is still a bowl; an unripe apple becomes ripe, and is still an apple, because transformation has not affected their essential qualities.
But in change of substance the essential form is lost, and what persists is only matter. Melt down the bowl, and all that is left is metal; keep the apple long enough, and it will disintegrate. Change is between either contraries or contradictories. Substantive change is only between contradictories, because substance has no contrary; what is not a bowl or an apple becomes a bowl or an apple, and vice versa. Qualitative change is usually between contraries: either between the extremes of a qualitative continuum (e.g. white and black) or between two points in the continuum (e.g. white and grey, or light grey and dark grey, or grey and black).
Such change may also be viewed as change between contradictories, between white and not-white - that is, between any positive quality or state, hexis, and the negation or absence of that quality or state, which Aristotle calls privation, steresis. Of course the reverse process from steresis to hexis is equally possible, and is indeed normal in natural development; but it is generally expressed in a different way.
Potentiality and Actuality:
This brings us to one of Aristotle's most valuable contributions to the analysis of change. Earlier thinkers had been unable to explain how not-A can become A. Plato in the Sophist had gone some way towards solving the problem; but it was Aristotle who provided the neat solution that what is not-A actually can be A potentially. In the case of qualities this is self-evident: to say that a thing is not hot is pointless unless it can be hot. So each contrary quality or state is potentially the other, and the substrate is potentially both, because it can become either, given the requisite conditions. In fact the antithesis of potentiality and actuality is that of matter and form viewed dynamically. Bricks are not actually, but are potentially; a house; a lump of bronze is potentially a statue. So too in the organic sphere: the seed is potentially a tree, and the fertilized ovum is potentially an animal or a human being...
Two other points about change and process have special relevance for Aristotle's doctrine of Pleasure. (l) They involve lapse of time (indeed time is only measurable in terms of change). (2) When complete, they cease, because they are relative to an end distinct from themselves; in this they differ From an activity, which is an end in itself, since its very being is activity.
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