Aristotle and Beyond Essays on Metaphysics and Ethics

Aristotle and Beyond: Essays on Metaphysics and Ethics …

Aristotle and Beyond : Essays on Metaphysics and Ethics

In sum, if all knowledge requires demonstration, and alldemonstration proceeds from what is more intelligible by nature to whatis less so, then either the process goes on indefinitely or it comes toa halt in undemonstrated first principles, which are known, and knownsecurely. Aristotle dismisses the only remaining possibility,that demonstration might be circular, rather curtly, with the remarkthat this amounts to ‘simply saying that something is thecase if it is the case,’ by which device ‘it is easy toprove anything’ (APo. 72b32–73a6).

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Essays on Aristotle's Ethics and Metaphysics ..

Aristotle also argued that we need to combine a sense of ethics, that is, a knowledge of the good goals we should pursue, with two other things. First of all, we need to have the practical wisdom to be able to figure out how to achieve a goal (see Fortenbaugh 1969). This will help us choose the appropriate means to the chosen end. Second, Aristotle argued that our character should be shaped to respond automatically in a virtuous and sensible way, i.e. we should have a disposition to take effective and good action, even in an emergency situation. For Aristotle this was a kind of emotional disposition which included a cognitive assessment of the cause of the emotion (see Fortenbaugh 1969, p167). This meant that we would always tend to be courageous, just, kind etc. In other words, even if you don’t have the time to think things through logically, you will tend to act in conformity with the moderate virtues, and tend to take a pragmatic path towards this goal.

aristotle and beyond essays in metaphysics and ethics

When discussing these techniques, Aristotle draws heavily upon topicstreated in his logical, ethical, and psychological writings. In thisway, the Rhetoric illuminates Aristotle’s writings in thesecomparatively theoretical areas by developing in concrete ways topicstreated more abstractly elsewhere. For example, because a successfulpersuasive speech proceeds alert to the emotional state of theaudience on the occasion of its delivery, Aristotle’sRhetoric contains some of his most nuanced and specifictreatments of the emotions. Heading in anotherdirection, a close reading of the Rhetoric reveals thatAristotle treats the art of persuasion as closely akin to dialectic(see §4.3 above). Like dialectic, rhetoric trades intechniques that are not scientific in the strict sense (see §4.2above), and though its goal is persuasion, it reaches its end best ifit recognizes that people naturally find proofs and well-turnedarguments persuasive (Rhet. 1354a1, 1356a25,1356a30). Accordingly, rhetoric, again like dialectic,begins with credible opinions (endoxa), though mainly of thepopular variety rather than those endorsed most readily by the wise(Top. 100a29–35; 104a8–20; Rhet.1356b34). Finally, rhetoric proceeds from such opinions toconclusions which the audience will understand to follow by cogentpatterns of inference (Rhet. 1354a12–18,1355a5–21). For this reason, too, the rhetorician will dowell understand the patterns of human reasoning.

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Significantly enough, there is no attempt to argue for the existenceof four fundamental modes of causality in the first book of theParts of Animals. Evidently, Aristotle expects his reader to bealready familiar with his general account of the four causes as wellas his defense of final causality. The problem that here concernsAristotle is presented in the following way: since both the final andthe efficient cause are involved in the explanation of naturalgeneration, we have to establish what is first and what is second(PA 639 b 12–13). Aristotle argues that there is no other wayto explain natural generation than by reference to what lies at theend of the process. This has explanatory priority over the principlethat is responsible for initiating the process ofgeneration. Aristotle relies on the analogy between artisticproduction and natural generation, and the teleological model that hehas developed for the explanation of artistic production. Consider,for example, house-building. There is no other way to explain how ahouse is built, or is being built, than by reference to the finalresult of the process, the house. More directly, the bricks and thebeams are put together in the particular way they are for the sake ofachieving a certain end: the production of the house. This is truealso in the case of natural generation. In this context Aristotle'slogan is “generation is for the sake of substance, notsubstance for the sake of generation” (PA 640 a18–19). This means that the proper way to explain the generation of anorganism like an animal, or the formation of its parts, is byreference to the product that lies at the end of the process; that isto say, a substance of a certain type. From Aristotle we learn thatEmpedocles explained the articulation of the human spine intovertebrae as the result of the twisting and turning that takes placewhen the fetus is in the womb of the mother. Aristotle finds thisexplanation unacceptable (PA 640 a 19–26). To begin with, thefetus must have the power to twist and turn in the way it does, andEmpedocles does not have an explanation for this fact. Secondly, andmore importantly, Empedocles overlooks the fact that it takes aman to generate a man. That is to say, the originating principleof the generation is a fully developed man which is formally the sameas the final outcome of the process of generation. It is only bylooking at the fully developed man that we can understand why ourspine is articulated into vertebrae and why the vertebrae are arrangedin the particular way they are. This amounts to finding the role thatthe spine has in the life of a fully developed man. Moreover, it isonly by looking at the fully developed man that we can explain why theformation of the vertebrae takes place in the particular way itdoes. (For further information about the explanatory priority of thefinal over the efficient cause, see Code 1997, pp. 127–143.)

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The study of nature was a search for answers to the question“why?” before and independently of Aristotle. A criticalexamination of the use of the language of causality by hispredecessors, together with a careful study of natural phenomena, ledAristotle to elaborate a theory of causality. This theory ispresented in its most general form in Physics II 3 and inMetaphysics V 5. In both texts, Aristotle argues that a final, formal,efficient or material cause can be given in answer to awhy-question.