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PH354 Aristotle Weeks 1 and 2. The Desire to Understand & Nature
Why Study Aristotle? 1.In almost every area of philosophy, Aristotle’s treatments of those topics are the starting points for all subsequent accounts. 2.Aristotle’s own views provide a rich source of insight into contemporary philosophical problems. Philosophers are increasingly turning to Aristotle to develop neo-Aristotelian accounts across a range of contemporary literature.
A Brief Biography Born in Stagira, Northern Greece, 384 BC At 17, commenced study in Plato’s Academy in Athens Left Athens after Plato’s death, to set up his own academy at Assos, North West Turkey. Returned to Athens in 334 BC to found the Lyceum. Period of composition of mature work. Left Athens again in 323BC after the collapse of Macedonian Empire, and died in Chalcis, Euboea in 321 BC.
A Guiding Thought “Aristotle believed that to understand ourselves we must understand the world. He also believed that to understand the world one must understand oneself.” (Jonathan Lear, Aristotle: The Desire to Understand, 1988, 14)
Plan for Weeks 1 & 2 1.What do the famous opening lines of Aristotle’s Metaphysics mean? What arguments does Aristotle offer for the truth of the claim he makes? We will identify some difficulties. 2.We will consider Aristotle’s famous discussion of the ‘four causes’ in Physics, Book II. We will look in more detail at the idea of a ‘final cause’; at what Aristotle’s ‘teleology’ involves, and what arguments he offers for this approach. 3.We will see if this discussion can provide us with some clues about the lines from the Metaphysics.
Metaphysics Book 1 (A) 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 sight to almost everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things. (980a21-26)
Metaphysics Book 1 (A) 1.Nature – An inner principle (explanation) of change, growth and development 2.Desire – To have a desire to F is to be motivated to get F 3.Knowledge – Translates ‘episteme’. To know in this sense is to know why something occurs, rather than merely to know that it occurs. (Lear (1988) translates ‘episteme’ as ‘understand’ to mark this)
Metaphysics Book 1 (A): Arguments 1.That we have a desire for knowledge is the best explanation of ‘the delight we take in our senses’. 2.That we have a desire for knowledge is the best explanation of the natural curiosity of human beings, and capacity for ‘awe and wonder’.
Physics Book II: The notion of cause (aitia) …(W)e must see if we can characterize and enumerate the various sorts of cause. For since the aim of our investigation is knowledge, and we think we have knowledge of a thing only when we can answer the question about it ‘On account of what?’ and that is to grasp the primary cause—it is clear that we must do this over coming to be, passing away, and all natural change; so that knowing their sources, we may try to bring all particular objects of inquiry back to them. (194b, )
Physics Book II: The notion of cause (aitia) ‘Aitia’ is usually translated as either ‘cause’ or ‘explanation’. A ‘cause’ in Aristotle’s sense is an answer to a ‘Why?...’ question (e.g. Why are teeth sharp?, Why did the glass smash?) Causes are things or features in the mind- independent world, which we grasp through their being things which can be given in answers to questions.
Physics Book II: The Four Causes 1.The Material Cause: That out of which (e.g. the bronze of which this statue is made) 2.The Formal Cause: The ‘what it is to be’ something. (e.g. what it is to be this statue of Venus is to be something intentionally produced to look like Venus) 3.The Efficient Cause: That which produced or brought this thing about (e.g. the father is the cause of the child) 4.The Final Cause: What something is for (e.g. health is what medicine, or taking a walk, is for).
Physics Book II: The Final Cause It is easy to make sense of the notion of final causes for the intentional actions performed by rational beings. Actions have aims or ends which are determined by the intentions that agents perform them with. But Aristotle thinks that there are final causes or aims in nature independent of the purposiveness of the actions of rational beings.
Physics Book II The Final Cause 1.The Inadequacy of Materialist Explanation with respect to the explanations of regularity 2.The Evidence of Ends in Nature 3.The Craft Analogy (See Broadie (1987)) 4. An overarching thesis: final cause is form
Physics Book II: On Materialist Explanation 1. If something comes to be regularly, then it cannot come about out of luck or spontaneity. 2. Things (i.e. the growth of teeth in a way that makes them suitable for taking on nutrition effectively) are either a coincidental outcome (due to luck or spontaneity) or for something. 3. The growth of teeth in such a way that makes them suitable for taking on nutrition effectively) cannot be a coincidental or lucky outcome (because the growth is regular). 4. Therefore the growth of teeth must be for something. (See Shields (2007), Charles (1991), Matthen (2009) for further discussion of this argument)
Physics Book II: On Materialist Explanation The materialist might just deny premise 2. Why think that things are either co- incidental or purposive? Couldn’t natural law (conceived non- teleologically) explain the systematic and repetitive character of the growth of teeth?
Physics Book II: Evidence of Ends in Nature The point is most obvious if you look at those animals other than men, which make things not by art, and without carrying out inquiries or deliberation. Spiders, ants, and the like have led people to wonder how they accomplish what they do, if not by mind…
Physics Book II: Evidence of Ends in Nature Descend a little further, and you will find things coming to be which conduce to an end even in plants, for instance leaves for the protection of fruit. If, then, the swallow’s act in making its nest is both due to nature and for something, and the spider’s in making its web, and the plant’s in producing leaves for its fruit, and roots not up and down but for nourishment, plainly this sort of cause is present in things which are and come to be by nature. 199a,
The Craft Analogy (Physics, 199a 8- 19) If a house were one of the things which come to be due to nature, it would come to be just as it now does by the agency of art; and if things which are due to nature came to be not only due to nature but also due to art, they would come to be just as they are in nature. The one, then, is for the other… If, then, that which is in accordance with art is for something, clearly so is that which is in accordance with nature. The relation of that which comes after is the same in both. (nb; techne, can be translated as ‘art’ (as in skill) or ‘craft’)
The Craft Analogy (Physics, 199a 8- 19) 1.Art (or craft) is a case of things being brought about for something 2.Nature is analogous to craft (As he puts it: “The relation of that which comes after is the same in both”) 3.Nature involves things being brought about for something.
The Craft Analogy (Physics, 199a 8- 19) (a) There are different kinds of crafts and different kinds of craftsmen. So also with substances or entities with natures. Each individual has the appropriate aim for its kind, and so also with craftsmen. (b) Crafts involve repeatable applications of a skill, nature involves repeated behaviour
The Craft Analogy (Physics, 199a 8- 19) (c) Craft relies on getting things right, or success. Failures must take place against a background of success. To be a craftsman, one must be generally successful. Things are the same in nature, with respect to the growth and development of things. (d) The cognitive system and practical system that exists in support of a craft exists only for the end (to make the relevant things). Those skills wouldn’t otherwise exist. The same is true of ends in nature and the capacity to realize that end.
The Craft Analogy (Physics, 199a 8- 19) (e) It is not even clear, says Broadie, that the engagement of a craftsman in the exercise of his craft involves psychology. The reason that a builder builds, as a builder, is not that he desires to. “To say of someone that he operates as a builder is already to have implied that pursues the builder’s typifying end (not merely that he exercises the special skills).” (1987: 94). The builder, as a builder has not motive for building. To pick out a natural object as an instance of a kind is also to imply that it pursues its typifying end.
The Craft Analogy (Physics, 199a 8- 19) “Craft is non-psychological in in precisely those respects in which craft is most suited to provide the model for an Aristotelian nature.” (1987: 95) “Craft is essentially practical, or (to speak more abstractly) a source of orderly change. That is the basis of the analogy with nature.” (1987: 97) The general idea: Premise 2 is true because nature has a similarity of structure (end-directed movement) to craft. We can think that premise 2 is true without thinking that nature contains psychological representations of the goal or aim.
Worries for the Broadie (1987) treatment 1.Disanalogies between craft and nature 2.It is the notion of nature that gives the relevant structural notion of craft its content
The Craft Analogy (Physics, 199a 8- 19) “What paradigm of automation could he show from the real world more perspicuous or telling than the natural activity, itself, or organisms? Thus when nature is compared to craft, it is the first that prescribes what the second must mean in this alignment. But perhaps this argument shows that it was not needed in the first place. For could we make sense at all of what passes for craft in this context if we did not already possess the idea of a type of teleological functioning that needs no roots in reflection.” (Broadie: 1987).
Physics Book II: Final Cause as Form “And since nature is twofold, nature as matter and nature as form, and the latter is an end, and everything else is for the end, the cause as that for which must be the latter.” 199a “The last three (causes) often coincide. What a thing is, and what it is for, are one and the same, and that from which the change originates is the same in form as these.” 198a The final cause is form considered in a certain way.
Physics Book II: Final Cause as Form 1.The final cause is the formal cause (form) of a thing (i.e. the ‘what it is to be’ something). 2.There are forms in (non-human, non- deliberating) nature. 3.Therefore, there must be final causes in (non- human, non-deliberating, nature). This is a view that is emphasized by, amongst others, Lear (1988), Shields (2007) and Johnson (2005)
Physics Book II: Final Cause as Form Form can be present in something in a state in which it is not fully present or real; i.e. potentially. It can also be present actually, or in actuality. Form is actually present when potential is realized; when whatever is spelled out in the what it is to be something is, in fact, how that thing is. The final cause is form in its actual (rather than potential) state; the form as realized. It is the thing being as it is supposed to be, given that it is of the kind that it is. (This is the normative significance of form, again).
Physics Book II: Final Cause as Form in Things A way to think about form as potential and actual is that form is potential in the left and actual in the right: An acorn The mature oak tree A newborn baby The mature human being A network of fungus mycelia A mushroom
Physics Book II: Final Causes of Changes or Processes As well as things, processes or changes in nature are aimed at things, or have ends. Some examples: Maturation (becoming sexually reproductive) The process of reproduction Taking on nutrition (active preservation of the organism) Fight and flight (active preservation of the organism)
A Minimal Teleology 1.Biological entities are just those things that can be understood in terms of biological ends or aims (like survival, growth and reproduction) 2.There are final causes in nature because there are biological entities (things with biological natures). “That there is such a thing as nature it would be ridiculous to try to show; for it is plain that there are many things of the sort just described” (Physics, Book II, 193a3- 5)
Metaphysics Book 1 (A) Again: Two Ideas 1.All human beings by nature desire to know = All human beings have knowledge as their final cause/end/the good for things of that kind. 2.All human beings have knowledge as their final cause/end/the good for things of that kind = All human beings (in so far as they are human beings) live a life that can be understood in terms of knowledge.
Metaphysics Book 1 (A) Again: An Interpretive Line of Thought 1.Your good (that which is your end or aim) is that which you desire not for anything else but ‘for its own sake’. 2.Knowledge is what we human beings desire ‘for its own sake’. 3.So, knowledge is the chief good for human beings.
Metaphysics, Book 1 (A) Again: Premise 1 ‘If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything else for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good.’ (Nicomachean Ethics, 1094a )
Metaphysics, Book 1 (A) Again: Premise 2 “And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant… therefore since they philosophized in order to escape ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end.” (Metaphysics, 982b,17- 22)
Metaphysics Book I (A) Again: An Epistemic Life Consider, the sentence that opens the third paragraph of the first book of the Metaphysics: The animals other than man live by appearance and memories, and have but little of connected experience; but the human race also lives by art and reasonings. (980b, )
Metaphysics Book I (A) Again: An Epistemic Life in the Nicomachean Ethics A clearer account of it (i.e. ‘good’ or ‘the chief good’ of human beings) is still desired. This might perhaps be given, if we could first ascertain the function of man…. Life seems to be common even to plants, but we are seeking what is peculiar to man. Let us exclude, therefore, the life of nutrition and growth. Next there would be a life of perception, but it also seems common even to the horse, the ox, and every animal. There remains then, an active life of the element that has a rational principle. 1097a a 5 ‘The function of man (is) a certain kind of life, and this to be an activity or actions of the soul implying a rational principle…’ 1098a13-14
Metaphysics Book I (A) Again Faculties: The ‘delight we take in our senses’ is valuing the senses, and that is a way of saying that the senses are a good for the rational being. They are good because they are a route to knowing. So, we understand the faculty of sense through its knowledge providing role Character traits: Curiosity is something that can be understood in terms of knowledge. We understand the trait by thinking of the aim of knowing. Activities: Some are conscious attempts to get knowledge, some are being taught, or teaching. Some are reaching to the fridge for ice-cream. But they can all be understood in terms of knowing things.
Lectures 1 & 2 Summary 1.There are difficulties in explaining the notion of a ‘desire to know’ exclusively in terms of something like ‘natural curiosity’. 2.The ‘final cause’ is what things are aimed at, or what they are for. We looked at some arguments that established something of a case, and then at the fundamental idea that final cause is form as active. 3.I then built a case that for the view that at the start of the Metaphysics, Aristotle is inviting us to think of human beings as beings the function of which is to live a life that can be understood in terms of knowledge (the most basic rational principle). We can explain what a human being is, most fundamentally, in terms of knowledge.