28 May 2006

In Company with Simon Stylites

I'm here in Cambridge, England, for the Mayweek Seminar, and have been fairly busy preparing my remarks on the virtue of magnanimity in Cicero's De Officiis, especially, the contrast between Cicero's treatment of that virtue and Aristotle's.

This is a fairly sharp change in subject from the difficulties in Aristotle's Metaphysics which I have recently been considering, and that largely explains the paucity in posts over the last week.

I also sometimes find it difficult to post on something that I don't have definite thoughts on yet. Sometimes it seems that a post can help me think, but other times I want to think something through more without sharing with others, yet, what I have formulated. Currently I'm in the latter condition.

So here is a lighthearted post involving scenes from the homestead in Massachusetts, which we call "Sparrow's Nest". The first is a photograph of that noble yet elusive Great Blue Heron which frequents our pond in the summer. It showed up this last week. Viewing it, I find it easy to believe that birds are descended from dinosaurs, because, given its size and the character of its movements, it looks how I suppose in general a (smallish) dinosaur might have appeared. It always astonishes me when I see it.

The second photograph may be entitled, "Testimony to My Laziness", or, to alter the figure, "Simon Stylites of the Front Porch". Last year I moved out to the front porch a couple of closet doors that came unhinged. I should have done something with them or disposed of them. Now they've been sitting there so long, that a robin actually built a nest on top of them; laid her eggs; hatched her young; and is feeding them with caught worms. (You can see the casters on the top of the sliding doors, where the nest is built.) So you can see that in this case my inaction was so stable that a bird could find refuge in it.

This expression of firmness of purpose is an instance of my ... stoicism.

26 May 2006

How Sausage Is Made

The Philosophical Gourmet recently sent around its draft list of faculties for its 2006 rankings.

These lists will then be shown to professors who will be asked to rank "faculty as a whole", and in some cases faculty by area of expertise, according to the following scale:

5 - Distinguished
4 - Strong
3 - Good
2 - Adequate
1 - Marginal
0 - Inadequate for a PhD program

On the PGR website, I looked under the section "Methods and Criteria", to find the criteria by which these numbers are to be assigned, and yet I couldn't find any. It's not even clear whether 'distinguished' means in fact or by reputation. (Elsewhere on the site the surveys are referred to as 'reputational surveys', so you draw your own conclusion. Presumably, also, being merely 'good' is by reputation only.)

The evaluators in ancient philosophy for 2004-6 are apparently (or at least they are so identified):
Julia Annas
Sarah Broadie
Dan Devereux
Brad Inwood
Lindsay Judson
M.M. McCabe
Stephen Menn
David Reeve
Chris Shields
Gisela Striker
Given that so many students in philosophy consult the Leiter rankings, I wonder if these scholars, and the other evaluators, would be willing to publish the reasons for their rankings, for instance, declaring the books and papers which they have studied with sufficient care, which were written by the professors of the 50+ faculties they are asked to evaluate, and then the reasons why the work of one scholar is better (generally?) than that of another. (Of course we acknowledge that that sort of judgment is only one factor contributing to their judgment on the faculty 'as a whole'.)

The section on 'methods and criteria' contains, at the end, this passing acknowledgment of the importance of independence:
The school from which the evaluator received the PhD (or equivalent) is listed in parentheses. Note that faculty were not permitted to evaluate their own department or the department from which they had received their PhD.
Thus it is recognized that the evaluators must be independent. But it seems unreasonable to hold that 'independence would appear to be impaired' (the term of art in the code of professional conduct for accountants) only through these two associations. Wouldn't other such things as collaboration, friendship, prior assistence given or taken, etc. also 'appear to impair independence'--even more so?

One might object that no judgment could be thus independent. Not so. But, in any case, that sort of independence is what we should look for in a judgment we expect to be accepted simply on authority, when the grounds for the judgment are not publicly supplied or defended.

Excellence Without a Soul

"Harvard articulates no ideals of what it means to be a good person". That's the teaser for the Wall Street Journal's recent review of Excellence Without a Soul, by Harry R. Lewis, former Dean of Arts and Sciences (May 24, 2006, page D12).

I studied computational theory with Lewis. His contribution to my goodness as a person took this form. He would walk into class, turn his back on us, and proceed to write out complicated proofs on the board for the next 50 minutes. He also co-authored the textbook we were using in the class.

I don't mean to be ungrateful. Lewis was very good at computational theory, and his was one of my favorite undergraduate courses. It's just to say, rather, that it is perhaps easy to write a book after the fact, when, it seems, neither as professor nor as Dean was Lewis particularly effective at doing anything differently.

Vincent J. Cannato's review raises some interesting questions. Does any student matriculate at Harvard expecting to be helped, by the institution, in becoming a good person? Do parents have this expectation? Even if Harvard proposed such an ideal, could it do much actually to promote it? (Can virtue be taught?) And are we sure, nonetheless, that there isn't implicit already, perhaps in what is not done, or in the very structure of an education, an ideal of a good person in a Harvard education? (And if we make that ideal explicit, we might be able to criticize or reject it.)

Some excerpts from the review:

Are American universities now in their golden age? Many rank as the leading research institutions in the world. A college education is within reach for more Americans than ever before. Applications continue to rise as colleges attract the best and the brightest from the U.S. and from overseas. And yet it is hard not to get the feeling that there is something amiss at American schools.

Recent headlines certainly suggest troubles at individual universities -- Duke with its lacrosse scandal, Yale with its admission of a former Taliban member, Harvard with its routing of president Lawrence Summers. But Harry Lewis, a former dean at Harvard who still teaches computer science there, thinks the problem is deeper than a handful of alarming anecdotes might suggest.

In "Excellence Without a Soul," Mr. Lewis decries the "hollowness of undergraduate education." What makes an educated person? Professors and college officials should know. Do they?

He takes Harvard as his case study, but many of his conclusions apply to the rest of American higher education. Mr. Lewis finds American universities "soulless" and argues that they rarely speak as "proponents of high ideals for future American leaders." He bluntly states that Harvard "has lost, indeed willingly surrendered, its moral authority to shape the souls of its students....Harvard articulates no ideals of what it means to be a good person."

The core of this book … is a defense of the idea that universities should be about something. What makes an educated person? Unfortunately, too many professors and administrators, if they ever bother to think about it, would have difficulty answering the question beyond the pabulum found in most university brochures.

So how does Harvard define an educated person? A Harvard education, the university states, "must provide a broad introduction to the knowledge needed in an increasingly global and connected, yet simultaneously diverse and fragmented world." Mr. Lewis, rightfully dismissive, notes that the school never actually says what kind of knowledge is "needed." The words are meaningless blather, he says, proving that "Harvard no longer knows what a good education is."

Such institutional incoherence has consequences. In his sharpest criticism, Mr. Lewis charges that Harvard now ceases to think of itself as an American institution with any obligation to educate students about liberal democratic ideals. As the school increasingly focuses on "global competency," the U.S. is "rarely mentioned in anything written recently about Harvard's plans for undergraduate education." In the absence of agreement on common values or a core curriculum, anything goes. Echoing Allan Bloom's critique of relativism, Mr. Lewis writes that at Harvard "all knowledge is equally valued as long as a Harvard professor is teaching it."

I post about this because I regard ancient philosophers as guardians of a tradition, or of various worthy traditions, of a liberal education. We are familiar with conceptions of an education which are not 'lacking a soul'. And yet-- Aren't we entirely content with our standing? Don't we pat ourselves on the back because (say, as a result of the efforts of Gregory Vlastos or Gwil Owen, or whatever story we tell), "it's now taken for granted that philosophy departments will hire a specialist in ancient"?

21 May 2006

Cambridge Mayweek Seminar 2006

I'm looking forward to attending the forthcoming Mayweek seminar. This is not a public meeting but a seminar within the Classics Faculty at Cambridge University. I post its schedule for general interest, and also in order to provide an explanation, if in the next couple of weeks you see the occasional post on De Officiis:

Cicero, De officiis book 1. Mayweek Seminar/Laurence Seminar, 29 May-2 June 2006

1) prefatory remarks; 1-10, introduction
Malcolm Schofield

2) 11-19, the four virtues; wisdom
Charles Brittain

3) 20-41, justice
Tony Long

4) 42-59, liberalitas
Miriam Griffin

5) 61-92, magnanimity
Michael Pakaluk

6) 93-121, decorum etc.
Christopher Gill

7) 122-51, decorum etc. (continued)
George Boys-Stones

8) 152-60, comparison of virtues
David Sedley

9) retrospect
Robert Wardy

19 May 2006

The First Cause Mysterious

A philosopher's willingness to tolerate what I called 'mystery' would be shown, I said, in his willingness to accept that something was true without his being able to say precisely, or without apparent paradox, how that was true.

I assume that it would not be appropriate for anyone to tolerate mystery generally. It would be appropriate to accept this in some domains only, and, furthermore, one should give some explanation as to why mystery should be accepted that domain in particular.

If Aristotle were like that as regards the First Cause, then, for instance, he might adopt some such position as: we can know that the First Cause moves the First Heaven, and yet we cannot explain clearly how precisely it does so (say, because we cannot understand exactly how a final and efficient cause coincide). And of course he would also provide some account of why we should expect that an account of the First Cause would thus be mysterious.

I wonder whether every philosopher isn't constrained to admit 'mystery' in the sense explained, and the dispute can only be over what one handles in this way. (To prove this, one might go to, say, Quine or Russell, and show how each inevitably admits mysteries--also, that the appeal of their viewpoints, as philosophical viewpoints, depends precisely on this.)

But then aren't there plenty of signs that Aristotle thinks that an account of the First Cause is a 'mystery'? I'll mention three:

1. His comparison in Little Alpha, viz. that the human mind is related to such things as the First Cause, as the eyes of a bat are related to sunlight. (Note: the bat is by nature not fitted to see things in bright light. That is, it never changes and develops good eyes for seeing things in sunlight.)

2. The character of his retrospective in Lambda 10. Here he looks back over his argument for a fully actualized First Mover. He seems to be aware that his view poses problems. And yet his response is not to say that the problems can be dissolved, but rather that any other alternative is beset with worse, intolerable problems.

3. The nature of his argument at the beginning of M. If Broadie were right, then Aristotle develops his account of the First Cause in such a way that it is clear throughout that this account is not vulnerable to objections such as those that Aristotle would raise against the Forms. But that is not the state of the argument at the beginning of M. There Aristotle shows a real concern that his account will indeed look to be as obscure and problematic as the Forms ("...if there is anything which they say wrongly, we may not be liable to the same objections"1076a14). That the Forms especially need to be criticized after the presentation of Lambda shows that he regards his theory as evoking a similar sort of perplexity.

18 May 2006

That It Might Imitate

Let us start by distinguishing two types of noetic activity, one contemplative, the other kinetic. The difference is one of intrinsic character or form. For the moment it is enough to specify contemplative activity by contrast with kinetic. Contemplation is noesis that is not in itself geared to bring about any change in or of the physical universe.
That's how Broadie opens her paper. But now a question and an objection. Question: Why should we presume that, for Aristotle, things that are distinct 'in intrinsic form' when they are found in us, are similarly distinct as they are found in the First Cause? Perhaps he thinks that contemplative and kinetic thought somehow converge and are indistinguishable in the First Cause (as he apparently thinks that essence and actualization converge). Objection: Broadie seems to define the one as the contradictory opposite of the other, thus guaranteeing that the two sorts of thought cannot be reconciled.

This objection takes on prominence later, when Broadie writes:
It is embarrassing for [the traditional] interpretation that Lambda never mentions a spritual agency that both moves the sphere and is other than the Prime Mover. Equally embarrassing, too, that Aristotle begins by speaking of the Prime Mover as final cause, but soon presents it as also efficient. In general, nothing stands in the way of applying the notions efficient and final cause to what is in some sense the same entity, even in respect of the same movement or change (cf. DA 415b9ff.). But there is a problem in this case, since we are assuming ... that the Prime Mover's activity is contemplative. How, in one and the same being, can contemplation give rise to motion as an efficient cause? Should we then say that the Prime Mover has an efficient-causal activity that is other than contemplation? If so, how are two such different activities related to the one being?
Doesn't this difficulty arise simply from Broadie's definition of the terms? Why, otherwise, should there be a difficulty of 'how two such different activities are related in the one being'?

Broadie, as we have seen, holds that the Prime Mover is an intellectual being, which understands its causing movement in the outer sphere as its bringing about the cycles of generation and change in the cosmos. The Prime Mover, she furthermore holds, 'means' or intends to produce the cosmos.

But Aristotle additionally holds (as we know) that these cycles of generation, in turn, are imitations of the Prime Mover: Aristotle accepts the Symposium view that mortal creatures imitate immortality in the way available to them, through generation.

But, if these things are so, then why shouldn't we say (even admitting that there is a real distinction between contemplative and kinetic thought in the Prime Mover), that the Prime Mover (i) moves the cosmos with kinetic thought, and that (ii) it intends to do so, so that (i.e. with the end that) the cosmos imitates its own activity of contemplative thought? That is: its aim or goal in initiating the movement of the universe is its own contemplative activity.

I see nothing standing in the way of such a resolution except Broadie's definition of terms.

17 May 2006

Mysticism and Logic in Aristotle's Metaphysics

I want to ask a question about (one might call it) clarity and mystery in philosophical explanation. More precisely: How much mystery should we regard Aristotle as willing to accept in an account of a First Cause?

I mean 'mystery' in a technical sense which I take from theology. A 'mystery' in this technical sense is some truth which in principle, or by its nature, exceeds the capacity of the human mind and can never be fully grasped by us. We can perhaps make gains in understanding it; and we can perhaps show that contradictions and objections that pertain to this truth are groundless--or perhaps in some cases we will be limited to showing, merely, that other views are beset with worse contradictions and objections. But we can never make the truth fully comprehensible.

In my view, it is clear that Plato accepts that truths may be 'mysteries' in this sense. That he does is in part of the reason, I think, why he turns so frequently to myths. And the Parmenides shows that he would not be surprised if the truth in some domain were affected by the persistent appearance of contradiction.

But what about Aristotle? What is his stance toward these things? Would he similarly not be surprised if fundamental truths were 'mysteries'? Or is he something of a rationalist, who anticipates the attainment of complete clarity in our grasp and justification of the truth? (This question has a bearing, too, on whether Aristotle thinks that metaphysics can be a deductive science on the model of the Posterior Analytics.)

Here are two passages from Broadie which guide the development of her account and suggests that she tends, at least, toward taking Aristotle as a more of a rationalist. These guide her account in the sense that an imperative underlying her paper is that a theory of the Prime Mover should state not simply that it moves without being moved but also how precisely it does so:

Before lanching into a detailed discussion, let us note several requirements for a satisfactory interpretation of the Prime Mover theory in Lambda. It must do justice to Aristotle's main objectives in the treatise, among them these: ... (c) Since Aristotle maintains that the ultimate source of eternal motion must be an absolutely changeless non-sensible substance, he is concerned to show that its metaphysical status is quite different from that of a Platonic form. (For one of his recurring complaints against Platonism is that the Forms cannot explain movement or any sort of change.)

...Aristotle has reason to avoid any theory that would leave it a mystery how the Prime Mover moves anything.
But is there anything in the Metaphysics to show that Aristotle would be more accepting here of 'mystery'?

Last BACAP Lecture of 2005-6, David Reeve

B. A. C. A. P.
The Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy
and Dartmouth College

Professor David Reeve
Philosophy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

“Goat-Stags, Philosopher-Kings, and Eudaimonism in Plato's Republic

Professor Mark McPherran
Philosophy, University of Maine, Farmington

Thursday, May 18
Rockefeller Center, Room 1
Dartmouth College
7:30 pm

Also a seminar:
“The Project of the Republic”
Thursday, May 18
A lunchtime seminar, 12-2
Thornton Hall, Room 101

Both the lecture and the seminar are open to the public.
For more information, please contact:
Professor Christie Thomas, Philosophy, Dartmouth College

16 May 2006

The Source of an Eternal Movement

Here is how Broadie argues that the Prime Mover has to be an intellect:

The Prime Mover is the source of an eternal (aidios) movement, which means, I think, not that the Mover eternally produces movement, but that what the Mover produces is a movement essentially eternal and all-containing in time and space. This (or something producing this) is the Prime Mover's end, comprehensive and indivisible. But something like this could not be an end unless it were an end for an intellect; it has to be understood.
This seems weak: Suppose that what the Prime Mover does is unhindered--that it is impossible that it be hindered, since nothing could ever hinder or impede it. Won't that guarantee the eternity of this motion, whether the Prime Mover understands it or not? Or, if there were something about the Prime Mover that could make its movement fail, then surely its understanding, or its aiming at, its movement as eternal would not itself make any difference.

One might add that there are no grounds in the text for ascribing this consideration to Aristotle.
Broadie gives a second argument:
...it cannot be by accident that the effect of the primary rotation pervades the entire universe, not only contributing to the motions of the inner spheres, but thereby eventually providing the ongoing conditions (though not the particular structures and forms) of all that takes place in the sublunar domain. The Prime Mover is not the soul of the world, if by this we mean a single principle that steers all things so that the life of all things is its one life. Rather, it is a spirit that makes possible the generations of many independently natured substances through infinite time. But such a general end could not be an end except to one capable of grasping in intellectually. The analogy of the military commander in Lambda 10 (1075a11ff.) makes the point. A commander sets the framework for operations; he does not expressly dictate the detail that unfolds within the field secured by his influence. The Prime Mover of Lambda need not and probably cannot be omniscient. But it does not follow that the cosmos is something not meant by the Mover--whether because he is lost in pure contemplation or because he is only a rudimentary impulse, corporeal or psychic, that issues in circular motion.
These reasons seem relevant largely to deciding the scope of a Divine Intellect, not to deciding whether a First Cause is an intellect at all.

Grant that, if the Prime Mover is an intellect, then we should say that the cosmos is meant by it, in the sense that its has as ite end that it "make possible the generations of many independently natured substances through infinite time". But why should we hold that it is an intellect? The only additional argument given here, it seems, is that otherwise it would be an accident that "that the effect of the primary rotation pervades the entire universe".

But this seems to presuppose an unAristotelian premise: if not intended ('meant'), then accidental. But Aristotle recognizes necessity and nature, too, as alternatives to accident. If the motion of the sphere were eternal, and other things were so formed that, through their having that motion as a kind of end, then "the generations of many independently natured substances" would invariably follow, then there would be nothing 'accidental' about it.

So Broadie, in my view, gives no good reason why a Prime Mover, if kinetic, should be an intellect.

But do you see the important consideration from Lambda that seems ignored by Broadie's entire discussion of a 'kinetic' Prime Mover?

15 May 2006

Because It's Truly Funny

If you haven't seen this already: a headline from Onion, October 26, 2004:

Jacques Derrida 'Dies'

Here's the original. There was no column or obit; only the headline.

The First Kinetic Being

I've been asking: On what grounds does Aristotle hold that the First Mover is a living, thinking being?

This question breaks out in a striking way in Sarah Broadie's article, "What Does Aristotle's Prime Mover Do?". This is a now-famous article, a kind of cult classic in ancient philosophy, in which Broadie argues that Aristotle's God is primarily an efficient cause of the motion of the universe, not a remote final cause lost in contemplation of itself.

The crucial assumption of the article is that there is a distinction in kind between contemplative and kinetic thought. Broadie then argues that we can account for God's being an efficient cause of the motion of the universe, only if we assume that it is engaged primarily in kinetic thought--and the point of Lambda, she notes, is precisely to show that there must be such a First Mover.

On the traditional view, the First Mover contemplates itself, and a distinct mind, which somehow occupies the First Heaven (the outermost sphere of the heavens), both contemplates the First Mover and moves the First Heaven. (We saw this view in Aquinas' interpretation.) Broadie finds this an incoherent and unnecessary multiplication of entities: if the mind that occupies the First Heaven primarily contemplates the First Mover, then how does it also move the First Heaven? And yet, if we give it the role of moving the First Heaven, why not attribute this role to the First Mover from the start?

Broadie recognizes that her view is then open to the following objection:

If the Prime Mover's activity is kinetic, why is it necessary to suppose the Mover a noetic being at all? Aristotle explains many cases of motion without tracing it back to mind or soul, as when he treats the falling of earth as the expression of a simple corporeal nature. Again, ends can function as final causes without being desired or grasped in thought: the living world is full of examples. It would seem that if Aristotle conceives of the pimary source of motion as an essentially kinetic agent, he could have grounded the movement in the sphere itself, that solid corporeal substance, saying (as he does in DC I.2) that it is simply the nature of this body to rotate. ...In effect, then, the rotation, or else the rotating sphere itself--that physical object--would be the Prime Mover.
Continuing with this line of thought, one might wonder:
Does Aristotle make his Prime Mover noetic simply because he wants to elevate intellect in his scheme? That may be why, but then this deification of intellect is nothing but an act of intellect-worship; it is not motivated by the demands of a theory explaining the primary motion.
That's precisely my worry.

How does she reply to this? What is her explanation for why Aristotle makes the First Mover a living, thinking thing? Does she have an explanation?

She does, and I'll explain it in my next post.

13 May 2006

Works in 20 Volumes

I do have an excuse for posting this picture of the late Dieter Roth's magnificent sculpture, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel- Werke in 20 Banden (1974).

I was thinking about 'edible art' as a way of explaining how one and the same thing might be loveable in the three different ways that Aristotle allows: pleasant (to the taste); useful (as people buy art for an investment); and good (as a work of art). An internet search led me to this. (By the way, Arthur Danto has a wonderful essay on Roth here.)

Unfortunately, this particular sculpture won't serve as an example, because it isn't edible: each sausage, it turns out, is stuffed with boiled pages from the corresponding volume of Hegel.

But Roth has other sculptures in chocolate.

Meanwhile, will someone please do a similar sculpture for Dugald Stewart, in haggis?

And one for Plato, too, using only his Laws--on Bismarck's idea that the Laws are like sausage.

Aquinas on the Intellectual Life of the Prime Mover

I have been asking, in effect, on what grounds Aristotle in Met. L holds that the Prime Mover is an intellect. Does he argue for this directly, e.g. on the grounds that the Prime Mover lacks potentiality, or does he do so through an analogy with the human mind--so that here metaphysics depends upon psychology (a branch of physics)?

Aquinas in his commentary has a surprising answer to this question. I'll explain it to you.

He attributes to Aristotle the following argument:

  1. The Prime Mover moves without being moved.
  2. But something can move without itself being moved, only through its being an object of intelligence and will.
  3. Thus, the Prime Mover moves through being on object of intelligence and will.
  4. The First Heaven is the first thing moved by the Prime Mover.
  5. But what is moved by something as being an object of intelligence and will, has intelligence and will.
  6. Thus the First heaven has intelligence and will.
According to Aquinas, Aristotle then uses human psychology to draw analogical conclusions about the intelligence and will of the First Heaven--which is how Aquinas interprets 1072b14-24. He takes that passage to about the intellectual activity of the First Heaven, not of the Prime Mover! Here is that passage:
And its course of life is like the best which we enjoy for a short time; for it is always in that state, though this is impossible for us. For its operation is also pleasure. (That is why being awake, sensing, and understanding are most pleasant, and hopes and memories are pleasant because of them.) Now undersanding in itself has to do with what is best in itself, and the highest type of understanding has to do with what is best to the highest degree. ...
According to Aquinas, after Aristotle thus establishes results about the intellectual life of the First Heaven, he then arrives at similar results about the Prime Mover through a fortiori arguments. Indeed, Aquinas thinks that Aristotle does not begin talking about the Prime Mover's intellectual activity (as opposed to that of the First Heaven) until the mention of 'God' at 1072b25:
Therefore, if God is in that pleasurable state in which we sometimes are, this is wondrous; and if He is in that state in a higher degree, this is even more wondrous; and He is in that state.
Aquinas understands this as: It would be wondrous if God were in the same state as the First Heaven, but in fact, since he is the cause of the First Heaven, he is in an even more pleasurable state, which is even more wondrous.

So Aquinas attributes a bootstrapping argument to Aristotle: argue first that the Prime Mover is an object of intelligence and will; then argue that the First Heaven must have intelligence and will; then use human psychology to fill out, by analogical reasoning, our account of the intellectual life of the First Heaven; then use a fortiori arguments to reach proportionate conclusions about the Prime Mover. Very clever.

12 May 2006

At a Loss on God and Minds

There should be an obvious and agreed upon answer to the question, shouldn't there be? --that is, on the question: Does Aristotle rely on results from human psychology to argue that God is a mind, or does he rely on theology to reach conclusions about the human mind?

We saw that Mary Louise Gill, in her brief treatment of theology, apparently favored the first:

  1. "The Prime Mover is a pure actuality".
  2. "The Prime Mover's divine being does not differ in kind from the active being of ordinary terrestial substances".
  3. Thus, "God [sc. the Prime Mover] always enjoys the activity that we earthly substances achieve only sometimes and for a short time."
We wondered whether her premise 2. as stated was false and not Aristotelian. And in any case it should presumably be revised to read something like:
2'. The Prime Mover's divine being does not differ in kind from the pure actuality of a special class of terrestial substances, viz. human minds.
And if you balk, perhaps, at this reference to minds as substances, recall NE I.6 1096a24-27:
e1ti d' e0pei\ ta)gaqo_n i0saxw~jle/getai tw|~ o1nti (kai\ ga_r e0n tw|~ ti/ le/getai, oi[on o( qeo_j kai\ o( nou~j, kai\ e0n tw|~ poiw|~ ai9 a)retai/, kai\ e0n tw|~ posw|~ to_ me/trion, kai\ e0n tw|~ pro&j ti to_ xrh&simon, kai\ e0n xro&nw| kairo&j, kai\ e0n to&pw| di/aita kai\ e3tera toiau~ta), dh~lon w(j ou)k a2n ei1h koino&n ti kaqo&lou kai\ e3n:
Minds and God are the only examples Aristotle offers of goods in the category of substance.

So if these revisions are friendly, then Gill would be asserting the view that I called "God and Other Minds"--viz. that Aristotle relies upon human psychology when he holds that the Prime Mover is living and thinking.

Ross in his commentary fudges the question. "Having shown (1072a25) that there is a prime mover which is a substance and is pure activity or actuality, Aristotle assumes that it must be such as the highest activity or actuality that we know, viz. no/hsij, immediate or intuitive knowledge." Ross presumably means "concludes", not "assumes" (a sophomore's mistake!). And yet that he uses "assumes" shows that he hesitates to commit himself to one direction of argument rather than another.

Burnyeat's discussion is similarly unhelpful. He considers one of the passages in De Motu Animalium which bring together theology and psychology:
About soul, whether it is moved or not, and if it is moved, how it is moved, we spoke before (pro/teron) in our discussions on soul. Now since (a) all lifeless things are moved by something else, and (b) the way in which the first and eternally moved is moved, and how the first mover imparts motion, were determined before (pro/teron) in our discussions on first philosophy, it remains to consider (c) how soul moves the body and what the origin is of an animal's motion (700b4-9).
Buryneat devotes most of his efforts to arguing that 'before' here means only dependence in argument (in the 'order of learning'), not earlier composition. But he doesn't explain that dependence:
Aristotle refers to first philosophy because he wants us to understand both the similarity and the difference between the way the eternally circling heavens are moved by God and the way we and other mortal animals are moved by our more mundane objects of desire (cf. esp. MA 6.700b29-35) A reader ignorant of what is said in L7 would miss the message.
"Similarity and difference" is vague; and insofar as the "comparing and contrasting" is between God and animals that lack minds, it is not relevant, at least, to the question at hand. Burnyeat concludes his discussion:
Aristotle's message is that we should consider animal movement, a problem in second philosophy, in the light of his solution to a problem in first philosophy. That is what he conveys by saying, 'the way in which the first and eternally moved is moved, and how the first mover imparts motion, were determined before in our discussions on first philosophy.' This is the one instance in the corpus where first philosophy comes earlier in the order of learning.
So much for animal motion: theology comes first. But if this is indeed the only place in the corpus where first philosophy is 'earlier in the order of learning', then it must be the case that Aristotle relies upon human psychology in reaching the theological conclusion that God is alive and thinking. But how?

Are you not perplexed, as I am, that major scholars, as it seems, lack a definite view on this elementary matter?

11 May 2006

Must We Teach What Appeals to the Immature?

(This post is not in line with recent discussions of Aristotelian metaphysics.)

I've been worried recently about an issue in what might be deemed the 'sociology of education', which is this: To what extent are the things that we teach affected by the fact that our students are, in effect, adolescents, whose attention we can be guaranteed of having only for about 15 weeks? (This worry is similar to: many students read only in high school works of literature that they will not be capable of understanding, if at all, before they are middle-aged.)

Let me clarify. By 'adolescents' I do not mean to be disparaging. I allow that these students are as clever, strong of mind, and inquisitive, as you might want to insist. I say, only, that they are not mature. Their minds are not formed, and won't be so, on any reasonable standard, until they are in their mid-20s. (By 'formed' I do not mean 'settled', and I certainly do not mean 'dogmatic'. I mean, rather, that they lack the good judgment that comes of fuller experience.)

I pick the mid-20s as my mark from my own experience and that of friends. If you reject this, then we part as regards this subject.

By saying that we are guaranteed of their attention for 15 weeks, I mean that, even if we know that a student will take other philosophy courses, and we know which courses these are (say, the student is a philosophy major with some further, definite requirements to fulfill), still, we have to regard the lessons that we draw in our courses (and not to draw any lessons is itself to draw a lesson) as largely independent of what that student will study later.

Of course, instructors must also try to win the attention of students, for a variety of familiar reasons.

My worry is that, under these conditions, successful teaching means appealing to the 'adolescent mind', through unbalanced ideas--and that these ideas are never revisited or re-evaluated by students, when they've reached intellectual maturity, because they then lack sufficient time.

Here is an example of the sort of thing I mean (I could pick from dozens of others). It is common in introductory philosophy courses to introduce non-Euclidean geometries and draw a lesson from them in something like the following way (I compress, of course): "From antiquity it was common to regard axioms as self-evident truths. It was thought to be a 'fact' that a whole is greater than a part, or that things equal to the same thing are themselves equal. Likewise it was thought that the geometry of Euclid was true. But in the 19th c. it was discovered that there are non-Euclidean geometries that result from denying Euclid's fifth postulate-- Riemannian geometries, which deny that even one line can be drawn parallel to a line on through a point distinct from it, and Lobachevskian geometries which assert than many such lines can be drawn. What this shows is that axioms are neither true nor false, and that an axiomatic system is simply the study of the inferential relationship between some privileged propositions, the 'axioms', and derivative propositions, the 'theorems'."

I regard the thought, "There are non-Euclidean geometries; therefore no axiom systems are true", as an adolescent thought. Yet I am confident that there are several million attorneys, physicians, engineers, etc. who in a vague way accept the inference, because it was suggested to them when their minds were not well-formed, and who have no opportunity now to reconsider it.

That it is an adolescent thought: The appearance of non-Euclidean geometries shows merely that what was provisionally taken to be the unqualified formal study of space (only 'provisionally taken to be', because the status of the fifth postulate was disputed since antiquity), in fact is the formal study of space on a condition. Make that condition explicit: there are no different grounds now, than before, for counting it so qualified as true.

What sort of system of education could escape this difficulty? A fixed curriculum in a small college environment, such as one finds in St. John's (Annapolis, Santa Fe); or, a reasonably well-structured philosophy (or liberal arts) major, in which faculty actually confer and cooperate as regards the long-term intellectual progress of their students.

Two Conceptions of First Philosophy

Yesterday I raised the question: suppose we take 'first philosophy' in Aristotle, as according to an old definition, to deal with substances that exist separately from sensible substances, viz. minds and God. Then: what is the relationship between Aristotle's views on the one (God) and his views on the other (minds)?

One is tempted here to draw a distinction between the 'order of being' and the 'order of knowing' and to say that, in the order of knowing, his views about God are prior, but in the order of knowing his views about minds are prior. But this seems too easy a way out of the problem, because what we want to know is how the various views get justified.

For instance, these seem to be two different ways of proceeding:

"God and Other Minds". I take the label from Plantinga's book. We first establish certain doctrines about the human mind, and then infer, by analogical reasoning, that the Prime Mover must be similar. For instance, from an argument such as that in De Anima 3.4 we conclude that the human mind is separable from perceptible substances, since it has a function which is not the function of a bodily organ. We then argue from analogy that something that directs the universe in ways not unlike the way the human mind directs the body, and which is similarly separable from perceptible substances (since it lacks matter), should similarly be accounted a Mind.

"Image of God". I take this label from Genesis, but one might just as well say "Affinity with the Divine", taking this from the Phaedo. We first establish certain doctrines about the Prime Mover and then infer that the human mind must be similar. We argue about the Prime Mover, perhaps, in the following way: a first cause cannot have potentiality; thus it lacks matter; but it would have to consist, then, simply of form, or something like form; but a form existing without matter just is a thought; but a thought implies a thinker; thus the Prime Mover is a thinker. And then we reason about human beings: the human soul directs the body and comes to have knowledge in ways that resemble the Prime Mover; it strives, too, to imitate the divine and has an evident affinity with it. Thus, it has a faculty (the mind) which, like the Prime Mover, is separately existing.
Which of these represents Aristotle's approach? One would think the first, because psychology for Aristotle is a part of physics, and metaphysics is to be studied after, and is meant to build upon, results in physics. Yet does Aristotle appeal to results in human psychology in Lambda in something like this way? The general structure of his argument there might seem to conform better with the second approach.

Note that a similar question arises as regards the relationship between human and divine eudaimonia. Does Aristotle think: (i) we arrive at the conclusion that eudaimonia is contemplative simply from considering the human case, and then we conclude that divine eudaimonia must be something similar, although more intense and eternal; or (ii) we arrive at the conviction that human eudaimonia is contemplative through a consideration of what sort of end or goal might be meaningfully attributed to a divine being, on the assumption that the human mind is quasi-divine?

10 May 2006

Minds and God

A line I encountered today in De Ente et Essentia raised a question for me:

Nunc restat videre per quem modum sit essentia in substantiis separatis, scilicet in anima, intelligentia et causa prima.
I have seen 'first philosophy' defined as the study of the human mind, first intelligences, and God. Does anyone know the origin of this definition of the phrase? (Nothing like that is fully explicit in Aristotle.)

A second and similar question occurred to me when reading the section on "Theology" from Mary Louise Gill's "First Philosophy in Aristotle" (forthcoming, as I said, in the Blackwell Companion to Ancient Philosophy, and quoted here with permission). Probably because of space limitations, there is not very much on theology in the article. But, after a review of the basic physics of L .1-5, this is how that section ends:
Metaphysics L .1 distinguishes three sorts of substances: perceptible perishable substances, like plants and animals; perceptible imperishable substances, like the sun and stars; and unmoved substance, which he argues is separate from physical things (1069a30-b2). Aristotle argues in the following way: What ensures the continuity of generation and destruction in all its splendid variety? His answer: the complex eternal circular motions of the heavenly bodies. What ensures the continuity of those motions? His answer: an unmoved mover, one for each heavenly sphere ( L .6, 1071b3-11; L .8). The Prime Mover is first introduced as the cause of the eternal rotation of the outermost sphere, the sphere of the fixed stares (L .7, 1072a23-26; 1072b3-10). But this first mover accounts for more than the continuous rotation of the outermost sphere. In L .10 Aristotle asks in what way the good is contained in the universe: Is it contained in something separate by itself or in the order of the parts? Or is it contained in both ways, like an army, whose good is both in the order and the general? Aristotle says that the good is contained in both ways, but it is more the general, since the general does not depend on the order, whereas the order depends on him (1075a11-25). Aristotle's Prime Mover is the principle of cosmic order (see Kahn, 1985). The Prime Mover's constant activity guarantees that things continue to behave according to their natures for the good of one another and for the good of the whole.

Aristotle argues that the Prime Mover is a pure actuality--a second-actuality or activity. He excludes from it all vestiges of potentiality. If the first mover contained any potency (dunamis), its activity might fail, and it would depend on something else to ensure the continuity of its activity (L .9). The Prime Mover's divine being does not differ in kind from the active being of ordinary terrestial substances. The difference is that Aristotle's God always enjoys the activity that we earthly substances achieve only sometimes and for a short time (L .7).
And thus it ends. I have some quibbles: Is it correct to call an actuality a 'second-actuality', if it is never the realization of some potential? Also, it seems wrong to say that, for Aristotle, God and terrestial substances do not differ in kind ("Since contraries are other in form, and the perishable and the imperishable are contraries ... the perishable and the imperishable must be different in kind", I.10 1058b28-30.)

But I'm interested more in the fact that, except for the appearance of the word 'enjoys' (which seems unmotivated) in the last sentence, there is no reason, from what is given in these paragraphs, to regard the Prime Mover as living, a mind, or an intelligence. Yet that is how Aristotle undeniably regards the Prime Mover. (The label 'God' seems unmotivated in the passage as well. But even if we grant that the Prime Mover is Aristotle's 'god', that would not imply that it was thinking or alive: some presocratics, of course, called their first principle 'god' simply because it was everlasting.)

That raises a question: On what grounds does Aristotle regard the Prime Mover as thinking and living? We can reformulate this with respect to First Philosophy as defined above: On what grounds does Aristotle wish to draw closely together human intelligence and the Prime Mover? (Indeed, he calls human intelligence divine and a kind of god within us.)

I'll say more about this in a later post. It has to do with two ways of resolving the 'schizophrenia in Aristotle scholarship' I mentioned earlier.

Something to Imitate

"Aristotle dissected fish with Plato's ideas in his mind." --A.N. Whitehead.

An article by Kyle Fraser in a spirited on-line philosophical journal has got me, at least, wondering whether Aristotle's God doesn't make fish with Plato's ideas in his mind (or, better: whether a fish doesn't imitate Aristotle's God, because God has an idea of that fish).

I had presumed that the notion of 'ideas in the mind of God', which one finds in Aquinas and before him Augustine, is an inheritance from Plato: it is how monotheism preserves, in its way, Platonic Forms. In a monotheism which posits a Creator, the Forms cannot be eternal, free-standing paradigms, but rather must be reconstrued as eternal thoughts which serve as models for creation and providence--since there is no eternal being but God.

Yet Fraser mounts a strong argument that Aristotle's First Cause is meant to be a first formal as well as final and agent cause, through God's realizing, in his activity of thought, the formal reality of each species. When Aristotle says that the form of a sensible substance is separable only in thought--Fraser maintains--he is not supposing that it would be ultimately satisfactory, from the point of view of first philosophy, to say that these are separable in human thought alone. Rather, the stable, objective existence of species and genera in the world of change requires the eternal, separated existence of the corresponding forms in God.

Have you noticed various comments in the central books of the Metaphysics that seem to make best sense on the supposition that Aristotle intends to move the argument in the direction that Fraser indicates? I have. Hence I'm tempted to think that Fraser may just be right. But, for my part, the topic requires fuller investigation.

09 May 2006

The Meaning of Tode Ti in the Categories

I have been considering the question: Does Aristotle mean by a 'primary substance', in the Categories, an ordinary 'thing', or does he mean an 'instance of a nature'? Is it Socrates, or rather this human nature of Socrates, which serves as an example of a primary substance? I maintain: the latter. A primary substance is an ordinary thing of a certain kind less its determinate accidents.

An instance of a nature is of course a 'this', in the sense in which a 'this' may be distinguished from a sort or kind. Consider a sick man in bed, immobile, with parched lips. He sees a glass of water on his bedstand and says, "Water!". He may mean by this either:

"The sort of thing I want is water", or
"I want that water."
If the former, then he would have used the word 'water' to indicate a secondary substance; if the latter, then he would have done so to indicate a primary substance. In the latter usage, 'water' signifies a 'this something' (tode ti).

It is because words for kinds admit of this ambiguity, and can mean instances of kinds just as wells as the kinds themselves, that Aristotle makes the clarifying remark at Categories 3b10. That he has to clarify in this way shows, I argued in an earlier post, that he does not think of a primary substance as what would be naturally signified by a proper name. Thus primary substances are instances of kinds, not ordinary things. They are 'individuals' not 'particulars'.

"Scholars often take thisness to indicate particularity," M.L. Gill observed; and she seemed to accept that "Aristotle's use of the phrase in the Categories supports this claim (Cat. 5, 3b10-18)". But in fact we have seen that Aristotle's use of the phrase in that passage supports, rather, the view that tode ti indicates 'individuality', that is, being an instance of a kind.

A closer examination of the passage gives additional reason for thinking this. Consider in the passage the parallelism between Aristotle's use of the phrase tode ti and his use of the phrase poion ti. I'll highlight this in red for clarity's sake:
Every substance seems to signify a certain 'this'. As regards the primary substances, it is indisputably true that each of them signifies a certain 'this'; for the thing revealed is individual and numerically one. But as regards the secondary substances, though it appears from the form of the name--when one speaks of man or animal--that a secondary substance likewise signifies a certain 'this', this is not really true; rather, it signifies a certain qualification, for the subject is not, as the primary substance is, one, but man and animal are said of many things. However, it does not simply imply a certain qualification, as white does. White signifies nothing but a qualification, whereas the species and the genus mark off the qualification of the substance--they signify substance of a certain qualification. (One draws a wider boundary with the genus than with the species, for in speaking of animal one takes in more than in speaking of man.) (3b10-23, Ackrill)

Pa~sa de\ ou)si/a dokei= to&de ti shmai/nein. e0pi\ me\n ou}n tw~n prw&twn ou)siw~n a)namfisbh&thton kai\ a)lhqe/j e0stin o3ti to&de ti shmai/nei: a1tomon ga_r kai\ e4n a)riqmw|~ to_ dhlou&meno&n e0stin. e0pi\ de\ tw~n deute/rwn ou)siw~n fai/netai me\n o(moi/wj tw|~ sxh&mati th~j proshgori/aj to&de ti shmai/nein, o3tan ei1ph| a1nqrwpon h2 zw|~on: ou) mh_n a)lhqe/j ge, a)lla_ ma~llon poio&n ti shmai/nei, ou) ga_r e3n e0sti to_ u(pokei/menon w3sper h( prw&th ou)si/a, a)lla_ kata_ pollw~n o( a1nqrwpoj le/getai kai\ to_ zw|~on: ou)x a(plw~j de\ poio&n ti shmai/nei, w3sper to_ leuko&n: ou)de\n ga_r a1llo shmai/nei to_ leuko_n a)ll' h2 poio&n, to_ de\ ei]doj kai\ to_ ge/noj peri\ ou)si/an to_ poio_n a)fori/zei, poia_n ga&r tina ou)si/an shmai/nei. e0pi\ plei=on de\ tw|~ ge/nei h2 tw|~ ei1dei to_n a)forismo_n poiei=tai: o( ga_r zw|~on ei0pw_n e0pi\ plei=on perilamba&nei h2 o( to_n a1nqrwpon.
Let us suppose that, from this parallelism, we may conclude that Aristotle understands tode ti the way in which he understands poion ti.

But how does he understand poion ti? It seems that here, as is common in Aristotle, a phrase of the form "____ ti" indicates that what is put in the blank has to be understood with a certain proviso. And the proviso that he wishes to add as regards poion is that it is peri\ ou)si/an; a secondary substance indicates a qualification that is tina ou)si/an. I'll highlight these phrases in blue.

What he means by this proviso is presumably that a term for a secondary substance ('animal'), unlike a term for a quality in the usual sense ('white'), is relevant for classification: what a secondary substance signifies serves to place something in a kind. When we call something an animal, we identify it as falling in a class of animals; but, in contrast, there is no meaningful class of 'whites' into which we sort something in calling it 'white'. Thus, words for secondary substances indicate a special and indeed privileged sort of qualification (poion ti).

But if this is what he means, then, given the parallelism between poion ti and tode ti, we should presume that, by tode ti, Aristotle understands a similar proviso, and the phrase then means "a this as regards substance", that is "a this as regards some basis for sorting". And if this is what it means in this passage (even if later it acquires a technical sense), then the phrase would precisely indicate what I have called an individual. It would pick out something as an instance relative to some kind.

08 May 2006

How To: Multiple Home Pages in Firefox

If you are using Mozilla Firefox as your browser...

...do you know that you can make multiple tabs serve as your homepage? This is what I do. When I open my browser in the morning, it simultaneously and immediately opens, as various tabbed web pages:

  • my web e-mail
  • Dissoi Blogoi
  • Blogger dashboard
  • TLG
  • Perseus
  • LSJ
  • my web calendar
  • other blogs and sites I read on a daily basis
Here's how you do it. In Firefox, open the sites you look at each day, in the order of importance. Then go to the "Tools" pull-down menu. Select "Options". Under Options, select "General". Under General, click the button that reads "Use Current Pages". This will make all of your opened tabs your 'home page'. When you open Firefox, it will automatically load all of these pages for you: no need any longer to open them up individually.

Two Conceptions of 'This'

I distinguished in earlier posts two conceptions of primary substance and argued that Aristotle, in the Categories, means by a 'primary substance' (roughly) an instance of a nature.

But corresponding to this is a distinction, too, in senses of 'this'. We know that, in the Categories, Aristotle says that a primary substance is a 'this' (tode ti). But this 'this' might mean either of two things:

(i) A particular. To be contrasted with a universal. A particular is something which, if it is perceptible, at least, has definite existence in space and time. It exists in a place and for some determinate time. To say that something is a particular in this sense is to group it with all and sundry other particulars: Socrates, the Eiffel Tower, Jupiter, the water in my glass.

(ii) An individual. To be contrasted with a kind or sort. Something is an individual always of some kind or nature (an individual horse, an individual human). To say that something is an individual, is to say that it is one of (potentially) many other instances of that kind. To say that something is an individual is to group it implicitly with other individuals of the same kind.
I think it can be shown, from definite texts in the Categories, that there, by tode ti, Aristotle means (ii) and not (i).

But here's a neat argument by Mary Louise Gill that Z3 shows the same thing. It is from her contribution to the forthcoming Blackwell Companion to Ancient Philosophy, in a chapter called "First Philosophy in Aristotle":
Z1 also mentions thisness. Aristotle said that being is said in many ways. In the first place it signifies what something is (ti esti) and a this (tode ti), and then the other categories (1028a10-13). Thisness is a distinguishing feature of substance. Scholars often take thisness to indicate particularity. Although Aristotle's use of the phrase in the Categories supports this claim (Cat. 5, 3b10-18), its application is probably not so restricted. Reflection on the phrase itself suggests another relevant factor. The phrase can be literally translated in two ways: "some this" or "this something". In either case one term presumably indicates a kind, and the other something that falls under that kind. The item marked off could be either a particular that falls under a kind (some horse, this horse) or a determination of a wider kind (a sort of horse, this sort of horse). That thisness does not simply mean "particular" seems assured, since matter in Z.3 fails the test. A bare subject is surely a particular. Matter's lack of thisness is rooted in a different fault. As literal translations of tode ti suggest, something counts as a this only if it is something determinate or particular that falls under a kind. Matter in Z.3 may be a particular, but it does not fall under a kind, since it has no categorial being, and a fortiori no substantial being, in its own right.
The ultimate subject discussed in Z.3 is a particular; yet (Aristotle insists) it is not a 'this'; thus 'thisness' , for Aristotle, does not indicate something's being a particular.

06 May 2006

A Strip Search for Substance

I said that a primary substance conceived of as an 'instance of a nature' might be conceived of, also, as the substance as distinct from its accidents.

Would Aristotle allow such a conception? An argument that he would is: he allows it for items in the other categories; therefore, he would allow it also for substance.

That he allows it for items in the other categories is shown in a curious passage from his treatment of relatives. In this passage, he argues that a relative always has a correlative, so long as the relative and correlative are given correctly:

Again, if that in relation to which a thing is spoken of is properly given, when all the other things that are accidental are stripped off and that alone is left to which it was properly given as related, it will always be spoken of in relation to that. For example, if a slave is spoken of in relation to a master, then, when everything accidental to a master is stripped off--like being a biped, capable of knowledge, a man--and there is left only its being a master, a slave will always be spoken of in relation to that. For a slave is called slave of a master. On the other hand, if that in relation to which a thing is spoken of is not properly given, then, when the other things are stripped off and that alone is left to which it was given as related, it will not be spoken of in relation to that. Suppose a slave is given as of a man and a wing as of a bird, and strip off from man his being a master; a slave will no longer be spoken of in relation to a man, for if there is no master there is no slave either. Similarly, strip off from bird its being winged; a wing will no longer be a relative, for if there is nothing winged neither will there be a wing of anything 7a31-b9, Ackrill).

e1ti e0a_n me\n oi0kei/wj a)podedome/non h|} pro_j o4 le/getai, pa&ntwn periairoume/nwn tw~n a1llwn o3sa sumbebhko&ta e0sti/n, kataleipome/nou de\ tou&tou mo&nou pro_j o4 a)pedo&qh oi0kei/wj, a)ei\ pro_j au)to_ r(hqh&setai: oi[on ei0 o( dou~loj pro_j despo&thn le/getai, periairoume/nwn a(pa&ntwn o3sa sumbebhko&ta e0sti\ tw|~ despo&th|, oi[on to_ di/podi ei]nai, to_ e0pisth&mhj dektikw|~, to_ a)nqrw&pw|, kataleipome/nou de\ mo&nou tou~ despo&thn ei]nai, a)ei\ o( dou~loj pro_j au)to_ r(hqh&setai: o( ga_r dou~loj despo&tou dou~loj legetai. e0a_n de/ ge mh_ oi0kei/wj a)podoqh|~ pro_j o3 pote le/getai, periairoume/nwn me\n tw~n a1llwn kataleipome/nou de\ mo&nou tou~ pro_j o4 a)pedo&qh, ou) r(hqh&setai pro_j au)to&: a)podedo&sqw ga_r o( dou~loj a)nqrw&pou kai\ to_ ptero_n o1rniqoj, kai\ perih|rh&sqw tou~ a)nqrw&pou to_ despo&th| au)tw|~ ei]nai: ou) ga_r e1ti o( dou~loj pro_j a1nqrwpon r(hqh&setai, mh_ ga_r o1ntoj despo&tou ou)de\ dou~lo&j e0stin: w(sau&twj de\ kai\ tou~ o1rniqoj perih|rh&sqw to_ pterwtw|~ ei]nai: ou) ga_r e1ti e1stai to_ ptero_n tw~n pro&j ti: mh_ ga_r o1ntoj pterwtou~ ou)de\ ptero_n e1stai tino&j.
Note that as being a man is accidental to being a master, so is being a master accidental to being a man. So we might strip off being a master from being a man, in just the same way as Aristotle here contemplates stripping off being a man from being a master. And then the same thing might be done with the other accidents.

Presumably, too, in the above passage 'man' indicates the primary substance. To strip away man from being a master just is to strip away the primary substance. But clearly if a man can be stripped away from a relative, so the relative and other accidents can be stripped away from a man.

Thus the primary substance is not the individual, but the individual with the accidents stripped away.

05 May 2006

The Origin of the Mistake?

In an earlier post I traced my mistake (as I now consider it), of thinking that primary substances are ordinary 'things', to my first studying the Categories with the aid of Acrkill's commentary, where Ackrill simply presumes that this is so.

Today I found, I think, the origin of Ackrill's mistake (as I consider it). It surfaces in his discussion of how Aristotle arrives at the categories.

Ackrill distinguishes two methods of arriving at the categories:

(i) A category is marked out by the range of non-absurd responses to what are apparently the most general sorts of questions. (This is the method I described in my last post.)

(ii) A category is a 'highest genus,' which we arrive at by pressing, again and again, questions about classification ('what is it?'), until higher genera give out. (E.g. "This whiteness is a kind of white." "But what is white?" "A kind of color." "But what is a color?" "A kind of visual quality." "But what is a visual quality?" "A kind of quality." And here, it is claimed, words fail, because a quality is not a kind of anything else. Quality is a category.)
Ackrill then says:
It should be noticed, however, that only the second method gets individuals into categories. For one may ask 'what is it?' of an individual in any category; but items introduced by answers to different questions about Callias are not themselves individuals, and a classification of such items will have no place for Callias himself or for Callias' generosity (80).
It's strange that Ackrill thinks these two methods lead to different inventories for the categories. By the one method, Callias gets counted as a substance (Ackrill thinks), and by the other method not. And it's stranger still that Ackrill never concludes, as he should, that (i) is therefore not a good method for arriving at the categories (he doesn't, presumably, because that would be untenable on its face).

But Ackrill's mistake is in thinking that (i) doesn't yield individuals. Consider the examples of the categories that Aristotle himself gives:
Of things said without any combination, each signifies either substance or quantity or qualification or a relative or where or when or being-in-a-position or having or doing or being-affected. To give a rough idea, examples of substance are man, horse; of quantity: four-foot, five-foot; of qualification: white, grammatical; of a relative: double, half, larger; of where: in the Lyceum, in the market-place; of when: yesterday, last-year; of being-in-a-position: is-lying, is-sitting; of having: has-shoes-on, has-armour-on; of doing: cutting, burning; of being-affected: being-cut, being-burned (Ackrill).
It is easy to think of these examples as answers to questions. And it is easy, too, to consider such answers as, in some contexts, indicating individuals. For example, the exchange, "What qualification?" --"White", admits of being understood as an exchange about Socrates' particular whiteness ("How is he qualified?" "There is a whiteness to his skin."), just as much as an exchange about what sort of color he has ("How is he looking?" "Very pale.").

Ackrill fails to see this, I think, because he fails to see that Aristotle's distinctions--between 'said of'/'not said of', and 'existing in'/'not existing in'--are meant precisely to clarify this ambiguity. When I say "white" in response to "what qualification?", I might mean either an instance or a sort. If I mean to indicate something existing in a thing, but not said of it, then I am indicating an instance of white; if I mean to indicate something existing in a thing and said of it, then I am indicating the sort, white.

Yet then, of course, the same thing holds of the category, substance. When I say "man" in response to the question, "what?", I might mean either an instance or a sort. If I mean to indicate something not said of something, then I mean "an instance of man (human nature)", that is, "a particular man" (o( tij a1nqrwpoj); if I mean to indicate something said of something, then I mean the sort of thing to which he belongs.

To sum up: method (i) is perfectly well suited to arriving at categories that contain individuals. The only problem is, as regards Ackrill's interpretation: the individual it arrives at in the category of substance is a particular instance of human nature, not a Callias or a Socrates.

What? --A substance.

What is at issue is whether a primary substance in the Categories is an individual (the usual view) or 'an instance of a nature' (as I now think).

One might argue that it must be the latter, from the way in which one arrives at categories at all.

It is commonly held that: we arrive at the categories by considering ranges of response that one might give, without absurdity, to the most general sorts of questions. (E.g. to the question, 'How many?' it would be absurd, not merely wrong, to answer 'white', but not absurd to answer 'two feet'.) Those responses that fall within the appropriate range of response, for a question of a most general sort, indicate items that are all within the same category.

But note: to the question, 'What?' (or 'What sort'?), one might say in response, without absurdity, 'man' or 'animal', but one could not say 'Callias'. (The term 'Callias' does not tell us what something is.) Thus only a term such as 'man' or 'animal' indicates an item in the category of substance, not a proper name. Thus nothing indicated with a proper name is a substance. Thus no individual is a substance or, a fortiori, a primary substance.

04 May 2006

Atomic Man

I don't want to harp on this point, but I was thinking again about S. Marc Cohen's claim about primary substances in connection with that passage from the Categories that I just posted on.

Remember that Cohen says:

The concepts of matter and form, as we noted, are absent from the Categories. Individual substances — this man or that horse — apart from their accidental characteristics — the qualities, etc., that inhere in them — are viewed in that work as essentially simple, unanalyzable atoms. Although there is metaphysical structure to the fact that, e.g., this horse is white (a certain quality inheres in a certain substance), the fact that this is a horse is a kind of brute fact, devoid of metaphysical structure. This horse is a primary substance, and horse, the species to which it belongs, is a secondary substance. But there is no predicative complex corresponding to the fact that this is a horse in the way that there is such a complex corresponding to the fact that this horse is white.
We saw that Aristotle does regard primary substances as analysable in the Categories: he is willing to analyse living things, at least, into a soul substance and a body substance (and perhaps some general form-matter distinction, as well, is either implicit or incipient).

But look again at the passage just quoted from the Categories and observe, additionally, that when Aristotle there calls a primary substance an 'atom', what he means is not that it admits of no analysis, but rather that what is referred to is not found in more than one location, 'divided' into different instances: "the thing revealed is individual (a1tomon) and numerically one."

To understand this, consider how, in contrast, something like water is divided into distinct ponds, lakes, streams, oceans, etc. The term of the mass noun, 'water', signifies a divided substance. But 'this water', mentioning a pond, signifies an undivided instance, an 'atom' of water.

03 May 2006

It Appears So, On a Presupposition

I distinguished two conceptions of primary substance in the Categories:

(i) commonsense: a primary substance is an ordinary 'thing';
(ii) theoretical: a primary substance is an instance of a nature, that is, the substance without the accidents.
Which does Aristotle accept? The common wisdom is that he accepts the former. But does any text indicate that he held one view rather than the other? If, on both views, a primary substance is conceived of as particular, how could a text serve to decide this question?

There is an important linguistic mark distinguishing (i) from (ii). Someone who holds (i) will believe that a proper name is an appellation for a primary substance, and that, indeed, a proper name is a better and clearer appellation than some such phrase as 'the individual man'.

That this is so, is evident in Ackrill's commentary, because, as we have seen, Ackrill accepts (i), and, in his commentary, as a result, he usually illustrates Aristotle's remarks about primary substances with observations about an individual, Callias (as it happens), supplying a proper name where the text itself has none.

Thus, if Aristotle accepts (i), he would believe that a proper name is the clearest appellation of a primary substance, and he would be disposed to appeal to proper names when a phrase such as 'the individual man' seems ambiguous. In contrast, if he accepts (ii), he would regard an expression such as 'the individual man' as the best and only appellation for a primary substance.

Note that we should probably regard 'the individual man' (o( tij a1nqrwpoj) as simply Aristotle's strengthening of the ordinary Greek, 'the man' (o( a1nqrwpoj).

Given these considerations, I maintain that the following text from the Categories indicates that Aristotle accepts (ii):
Every substance seems to signify a certain 'this'. As regards the primary substances, it is indisputably true that each of them signifies a certain 'this'; for the thing revealed is individual and numerically one. But as regards the secondary substances, though it appears from the form of the name--when one speaks of man or animal--that a secondary substance likewise signifies a certain 'this', this is not really true; rather, it signifies a certain qualification, for the subject is not, as the primary substance is, one, but man and animal are said of many things. However, it does not simply imply a certain qualification, as white does. White signifies nothing but a qualification, whereas the species and the genus mark off the qualification of the substance--they signify substance of a certain qualification. (One draws a wider boundary with the genus than with the species, for in speaking of animal one takes in more than in speaking of man.) (3b10-23, Ackrill)

Pa~sa de\ ou)si/a dokei= to&de ti shmai/nein. e0pi\ me\n ou}n tw~n prw&twn ou)siw~n a)namfisbh&thton kai\ a)lhqe/j e0stin o3ti to&de ti shmai/nei: a1tomon ga_r kai\ e4n a)riqmw|~ to_ dhlou&meno&n e0stin. e0pi\ de\ tw~n deute/rwn ou)siw~n fai/netai me\n o(moi/wj tw|~ sxh&mati th~j proshgori/aj to&de ti shmai/nein, o3tan ei1ph| a1nqrwpon h2 zw|~on: ou) mh_n a)lhqe/j ge, a)lla_ ma~llon poio&n ti shmai/nei, ou) ga_r e3n e0sti to_ u(pokei/menon w3sper h( prw&th ou)si/a, a)lla_ kata_ pollw~n o( a1nqrwpoj le/getai kai\ to_ zw|~on: ou)x a(plw~j de\ poio&n ti shmai/nei, w3sper to_ leuko&n: ou)de\n ga_r a1llo shmai/nei to_ leuko_n a)ll' h2 poio&n, to_ de\ ei]doj kai\ to_ ge/noj peri\ ou)si/an to_ poio_n a)fori/zei, poia_n ga&r tina ou)si/an shmai/nei. e0pi\ plei=on de\ tw|~ ge/nei h2 tw|~ ei1dei to_n a)forismo_n poiei=tai: o( ga_r zw|~on ei0pw_n e0pi\ plei=on perilamba&nei h2 o( to_n a1nqrwpon.
  1. In this passage Aristotle is concerned with an appearance: every substance seems to signify a 'this'. We should probably understand this as: every appellation for a substance seems to signify a this. Aristotle wants to explain why this is only an appearance, in the case of appellations for secondary substances.
  2. The appearance arises only on the presumption that proper names are not appellations for substances, because the 'form of the name' Callias has nothing in common with the form of the name 'the man'. Insofar as we use 'Callias' as an appellation for a primary substance, there is no possibility of regarding 'man' as working in the same way. That the appearance arises, then, and needs to be accounted for, indicates that Aristotle is regarding the appellation of a primary substance and that of a secondary substance as similar, presumably 'the man' (o( a1nqrwpoj).
  3. Note that Aristotle does not say that, in the case of a primary substance, something like: the fact that the appellation indicates a particular is clear from the possibility of our using a proper name instead. That is, he does not appeal here to proper names. Rather, he says, tellingly, that the referent itself shows that what we mean is a particular: "the thing revealed (to_ dhlou&menon) is individual and numerically one". It is the fact that we are applying 'the man' to an individual, that shows that what is got at or 'revealed' is a particular.
  4. On the other hand, Aristotle takes pains to explain how we arrive at a similar appellation which indicates a species or genus: we use 'man' (a1nqrwpoj) to indicate a qualification, and then we construct an expression derived from this, 'the man' (o( a1nqrwpoj), which now signifies, not a particular, but rather all of those things so qualified. (What Aristotle describes, actually, is what we should call the construction, by 'abstraction', of the equivalence class man, consisting of all of those substances similar to--qualified in the same way as--this man.)
That is, this passage makes best sense if we attribute to Aristotle the view that 'the man' is an appellation for the primary substance and that it is the only available appellation for it--that is, if we attribute to him the corresponding view that primary substances are instances of a nature. And the passage is not constructed in the way that Aristotle would have argued, if he had believed that primary substances were ordinary 'things'.

The Origin of My Mistake

How did I come to presume that a primary substance, in the Categories, was an ordinary thing?

I believe: from my bringing to that text the view that propositions of the form, "a is F", are atomic, where a is a proper name: it is then natural to interpret Aristotle's claim, that primary substances are neither said of, nor exist in, anything, as corresponding to the linguistic mark that proper names are not predicated of anything (except to assert an identity). Proper names, then, would seem to name primary substances. But proper names indicate ordinary things. Thus primary substances are ordinary things.

I was encouraged in this line of thought by Ackrill's commentary, because he simply presumes without argument that primary substances are individuals, and he illustrates what Aristotle says about substances, by sentences using proper names--when Aristotle never gives such examples himself. The following text provides a good example of this. What Aristotle says is:

It is a characteristic common to every substance not to be in a subject. For a primary substance is neither said of a subject nor in a subject. And as for secondary substances, it is obvious at once that they are not in a subject. For man is said of the individual man as subject but is not in a subject: man is not in the individual man. Similarly, animal also is said of the individual man as subject but animal is not in the individual man. Further, while there is nothing to prevent the name of what is in a subject from being sometimes predicated of the subject, it is impossible for the definition to be predicated. But the definition of the secondary substances, as well as the name, is predicated of the subject: you will predicate the definition of man of the individual man, and also that of animal. No substance, therefore, is in a subject (3a7-20, Ackrill).
Note that there is no mention here of individuals such as Socrates or Callias. The text itself gives us no reason to think anything other than that, if Aristotle were to support what he is claiming by appeal to language, he would examine sentences of the form, "Man is in the individual man" or "'Rational animal' is said of the individual man."

Yet Ackrill comments as follows, speaking as though 'Callias' names a primary substance:
Why is it 'obvious at once' that secondary substances are not in primary substances? It is not that they can exist separately from primary substances (2a34-b6). Nor does Aristotle appear to rely on the fact that a given secondary substance can exist separately from any given individual, that there could be men even if Callias did not exist, so that the species man can exist separately from Callias and is, therefore, not him. Aristotle seems rather to be appealing to the obvious impropriety in ordinary speech of saying such things as 'man is in Callias'. ...

One cannot say 'hero is in Callias' or 'father is in Callias'; but if Callias is a hero and a father the definition of 'hero' and 'father' can also be predicated of him...
And the rest of the commentary is similar.

I wonder, too--as regards this particular passage--whether what Aristotle claims isn't indisputably obvious, when we take a primary substance to be (as we claim) an instance of a nature, so that 'this particular man' means 'this instance of human nature'. For then: when we say "This particular man is white", we are supposing, clearly, that the white is one thing, and that this particular man is another thing. But, when we say "This particular man is a man", it's obvious that it is not the case that this particular man is one thing, and that what is indicated by 'man' is another thing: we wouldn't want to say, in that sense, that what is indicated by 'man' exists in this instance of human nature.

On the other hand, if the primary substance, 'this particular man', is not a human being, but rather the substance of Callias, then it is not, indeed, obvious that 'man' is not somehow existing in Callias.

That is to say: Ackrill's failing to find obvious, what Aristotle finds obvious, arises from his mistake of taking primary substances to be ordinary things.