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PHL 103
Instructor: Dr. Bob Zunjich
 

 

METAPHYSICS

A 1-2


An Outline


The Metaphysics of Aristotle is a series of his (or his students') lecture notes collected and published by later commentators. The style of the Metaphysics is mostly dry but the discussed problems are still very interesting. Among other topics, they include the relationship between principles and causes, the nature and the object of "first philosophy" (= ontology/theology), the theory of substance, the distinction between potentiality and actuality, the problem of the One, the idea of the first (unmoved) mover and so on. In these two introductory chapters of the first book Aristotle establishes a rank ordering of various levels of knowledge that lead to the idea of Wisdom (=philosophy). Within this panorama philosophy appears to be the ultimate outcome of human striving for knowledge. It encompasses and supercedes all previous stages thus providing more understanding and more profound insights than any other way of knowing.

I  Desire For Knowledge

We possess knowledge. How does knowledge manifest itself? What are the implications of its existence and variety for our self-understanding?

Thesis: All men by nature desire to know.
This statement sounds very uplifting, but is it true? Do all people really desire to know?
At first glance it is easy to refute Aristotle by pointing to individuals who are in this respect either indifferent or cognitively defective. But these counter-examples are ineffective against a normative proposition which states what humans can and ought to do. Had Aristotle said that "all men desire to know" his thesis would have been only a factual statement contingent upon an actual state of affairs. But he has inserted the phrase "by nature" which indicates what humans do if they are up to their real potentials.

Different Types of Knowledge:
Aristotle distinguishes several kinds of knowledge that are mutually interrelated and ordered into a hierarchy of levels culminating in the most comprehensive and profound knowledge: wisdom = philosophy. The ascending scale of knowledge is developed in keeping with the hierarchy of living beings.

Order of Exposition:
A. All men by nature desire to know.
B 1. By nature animals are born with the faculty of sensation,
B 2 and from sensation memory is produced in some of them.
C 1. The animals other than men live by appearances and memories
C 2 and have but little of connected experience;
C 3 but the human race lives also by art and reasoning.

Logical Order:
B. By nature animals are born with the faculty of sensation.
C 1. The animals other than men live by appearances and memories;
C 2. (The non-human animals) have but little of connected experience.
A. All men by nature desire to know;
(all humans possess the faculty
of sensation, memory and experience),
C 3. But the human race (some humans) also lives by art and reasoning.

B and A, are clearly meant as universal propositions, although B does not cite a universal quantifier explicitly. If all animals were capable of memory C 1 would be also a universal proposition (otherwise it could be universal only with regard to sensation). These introductory propositions have factual character at least insofar as they refer to real living beings and are supported by empirical indicators. However, the phrase "by nature" suggests that they should be taken as normative statements as well. C 2 and C 3 are by all likelihood particular propositions. The meaning of C 2 is presumably "(some non-human) animals have little (i.e.= some) share in experience".

Philosophical Lexicon

Metaphysics (from the Greek meta ta physika = after the "physics"), literally: the books of physics, or figuratively: after (beyond) physical things, the study of the first principles and causes in general and in their totality.

Proposition (from Latin: proponere = "putting forward"), that which is asserted by a sentence; the content of a sentence that can be true or false; therefore not to be confused with the sentence itself, which may be neither true nor false (questions, wishes, commands, etc.).

Universal Proposition = the proposition asserting something of all things meeting some condition; its form is typically "All S are P" (SaP) or "No S is P" (negative universal proposition).

Particular Proposition = the proposition asserting something of a particular object or some objects (sometimes misleadingly also called general proposition). It has the form of "S is P" or "Some S are not P" (negative particular proposition).

Factual (Empirical) Proposition = the proposition stating matters of facts - truly or falsely. It is about things that are not logically necessary. Consequently, "factual" is not the same as "true"; it simply indicates that the proposition in question pertains to facts.

Evaluative (Normative) Proposition = the proposition stating matters of value; instead of being true or false it may have or lack persuasive "force".

 

 

Why do we need to deal with the desire to know? Because in that way we can learn how far it can bring us and what it can do of us (assuming we want to know who and what we are not only factually but also potentially).

II  Justification of the Thesis

1. (a) Delight in the senses: Aristotle points to "the delight we take in our senses" as a factual support for A. The assumption is that we do not desire what we do not like.

(b) Intrinsic vs. instrumental: "We like them (the senses) for themselves", because we like them as they are, intrinsically, regardless of their usefulness (instrumental value). If the sense knowledge were only a means for a further end, our innate desire would not be a desire for knowledge but for something else and that would contradict the thesis.

(c) The sense of sight: Aristotle privileges the sense of sight for two reasons: because of its informative value and also because of the distinctness of information provided by it. Typical for ancient Greek "optical culture" - veneration of the form, order and proportions.

(d) Adverbial phrase "by nature" in A and B has a twofold meaning; (1) it denotes something innate, inherent, as opposed to something bestowed or imposed from outside "by force" or "by craft"; in this sense it obviously goes against the expression "by art", divine or human (ancient Greek opposition of physis and techne); (2) it means "by innermost essence" entailing the idea of an internal potential behind the biological development; in this sense, "by nature" presupposes the ultimate stage of perfection as the measure for all phases and instances of one species. This is in keeping with the idea that species have immanent essence and form which is to be realized if a particular thing is to be a full-fledged member of that class. Consequently, Aristotle excludes those who do not desire to know either purposely or through some defect, for they simply fall short of their essential nature.

2. The faculty of sensation: The capacity or the process of receiving sense impressions through direct stimulation of the bodily organs.

3. By appearances: Animals rely on what they perceive; appearances denote sensations or even "sense data".

4. Bees and similar animals (ants, wasps). These insects are apparently "intelligent". Why they then cannot be taught as dogs or elephants? Aristotle thinks that bees have the capacity of memory, but do not hear. The sense of hearing is a precondition for learning, because teaching, for Aristotle, must be conducted orally (conservative theory of learning).

5. Universal (experiental) judgment: judgment based on experiental knowledge covering many similar individual cases; experience is meant in the cognitive sense, that is to say, as a kind of knowledge about particular instances, not as something that has happened or is happening to us.

Philosophical Lexicon

Sensation = the product of the interaction between external stimulii and the sensory receptors.

Sense data
= the immediate objects of sensory perception; that what is being perceived in sensing no matter what is the nature of external stimuli (the term "sensation" is neutral in that respect).

Intrinsic = belonging to something independently of its relation to other things, that is, belonging to the essence or nature of a thing.

Extrinsic = belonging to a thing by virtue of relations to other things.

Instrumental = having a value contingent upon the functional usefulness (being a means) for something else.

III  The Scale of Knowledge (Rank Ordering)

Factual Knowledge

{ 1. Sensation (Greek: aisthesis)
2. Memory (Greek: mneme)
3. Experience (Greek: empeiria)
} Some Animals & All Humans

Explanatory Knowledge {

4. Art (Greek: techne
5. Science (Greek: episteme
6. Wisdom (Greek: sophia)

} Some Humans Only

Particular Levels:

1. Sensation - not defined explicitly; includes sensing (the act), the senses (faculties) and sense-perceptions (the products of our use of the senses). The senses are the most "authoritative" means of recognizing particular things, but this knowledge is "easy" to attain.

2. Memory - not defined explicitly; results from sense perception and denotes a natural ability to collect, store and recollect previous sensations. Basically it is a spontaneously produced "image", which is regarded as a copy of that which it is an image of (Aristotle designates acquired, rationally controlled mnemonics with another expression - anamnesis).

3. Experience - results from memory, "for many memories of the same thing produce finally the capacity for a single experience"; so it is a "general knowledge" derived from many memories of the same thing (one particular instance remembered on many occasions).

4. Art - (the Greek techne includes both craft and art); it is the capability to make universal judgments that cover all cases of a certain type; thus, it is a "universal knowledge" that includes also the reason why something is so.

5. Science - defined in the Nicomachean Ethics (VI 3); the demonstrative and teachable knowledge deduced from the starting principles.

6. Wisdom - the knowledge of "the first causes and the principles of things"; in fact, it is a combination of an intuitive insight into these principles as well as the demonstrative (scientific, universal) knowledge derived from these principles (Nicomachean Ethics, VI 7).

Principle of Gradation: "more knowledge"/"more wisdom"; every next stage provides more information and deeper insights than the previous one that serves as its starting point. The first three levels answer the question whether something is so or not, whereas the second three give reasons why it is so. The question "Why it is so?" aims at an explanation.

Philosophical Lexicon

Explanation (from the Latin explanare = make level or plane) is the description of a thing which makes intelligible its nature by stating the cause of its existence, the way how it functions and its possible purpose.

Terminological Note: Aristotle's notions of memory and experience should not be confused with our common usage of these words which is very often exactly a reversal of its Aristotelian counterparts. We say "one recalls in his/her memories what he/she has experienced in the past", thus making experience precedes memory at least temporally. In accord with this Webster defines memory as "the power, act or process of recalling to mind facts previously experienced". On the other hand, we understand experience loosely as "everything that has happened in one's life we recall" (Webster), equating practically experience with the "total of our memories". Defining memory and experience from these disparate usages becomes either circular or not distinctive enough. However, we can define memory more scrupulously without any specific recourse to experience if we say that "memory is a mental function consisting in reproducing previous mental states and sensations".
This is precisely the way how Aristotle proceeds when he adduces memory to define experience. For him, experience is the capacity of connecting many memories of the one and the same thing into the knowledge of that particular thing.

Polus' Dictum: "Experience made art, but inexperience luck."

The first line is explained by the definition of art and the accompanying example:

1) Art arises from experience as a justified generalization about similar things.
2) While experience points to particulars, art covers a whole kind.

Experience connects the individual occurence of one thing with some previous cases (x1 is a, x2 is b, x3 is c). Based upon symptoms and examination art includes one particular case into its class (x is A; all A is B, x is B). The second line should be understood as pointing to what at best can be achieved in case that we lack not only craft but experience as well.
When treating one illness, it is possible to distinguish the following three best scenario situations:

1) Lack of experience: we can find the appropriate treatment only by chance (luck)
2) Possession of experience: we have fair chances to find the right treatment
3) Possession of art: odds are completely on our side that the chosen treatment will be successful

IV  Some Interpretive Issues:

1. We even see men of experienced succeeding more than those who have theory without experience.

The reason for this deviation from the rank ordering (a very common phenomenon) is the fact that every productive activity first and foremost has bearing on particulars, and an actual treatment requires precisely the cognition of particulars (experience) and only secondarily the cognition of universals (art). The knowledge of particulars is provided by experience, not by art.

Does this contradict the conclusion derived from Polus' dictum?

No, it only complements it. Since we first and foremost deal with individuals, in treating an illness it does not suffice to have a universal knowledge in order to be able to heal; what is required is ability to recognize the particular as such; in that situation experience has better chances than rational account, because theoretical knowledge without experience cannot identify individuals. (Someone who has a theory but lacks experience will recognize the universal but not the particular falling under it.) Of course, the ideal would be to be able to subsume the particular case under respective universal rule. That is what makes a good judgement in arts.

Artists/artisans are not necessarily better in practice of those who have only experience; however, they always have the advantage of knowing not only that something is so, but also why it is so. They know the reason and the cause. The difference between the knowledge of facts and the knowledge of causes.

2. The physician does not heal a man, except in an incidental way, but Callias or Socrates…who happens to be a man.

The fact that each individual under treatment is a man remains in the performing of the healing art co-incidental. A physician does not heal general human nature, but a particular man. One's humanness is being affected only co-incidentally as belonging and determining that particular person.

This does not mean, of course, that any of the treated individuals is incidentally a man. Being a man is, of course, an essential determination for any member of human species. Thus Socrates is not incidentally a man, but essentially; humanness is a property he must have in order to be what he is, although, a particular human is Socrates incidentally, since he may have been another person as well. On the other hand, to be Socrates he must be a human (assuming that we do not give that name to animals or plants). However, Socrates is ill only incidentally, as a particular human being. It is perfectly possible that he is not ill. Illness is obviously an accidental property for any individual human being. Being human allows that possibility but does not imply it necessarily.

Philosophical Lexicon

Particulars = things with particular position in space at any one time.

Universals = that which particulars have in common (quality, kind, species, or genus)

(Co)incidental = occurring at the same time and place, but without direct causal connection (the ontological level).

Accidental = that which is possessed by an object as property, but what may be absent without affecting the kind of the thing that object is (the level of predication).

Essential = something necessarily possessed by an object if that object is to be the kind of thing it is.

V Arts and Sciences

All levels of knowledge are measured as to the degree of wisdom they include or entail (i.e. whether they inform us only that something is so and so or give us the reason why it is so and the cause):

  • "We do not regard any of the senses as wisdom."
  • "The man of experience is thought to be wiser than the possessors of any perception whatever."
  • "We suppose that artists are wiser than men of experience, which implies that wisdom depends in all cases rather on knowledge."
  • "The master-workers (are) wiser than the manual workers."
  • "The inventors of (leisure-time arts) were always regarded as wiser than the inventors of the (necessities meeting crafts)."
  • "The theoretical kinds of knowledge (are) more of the nature of wisdom than the productive."
Three kinds of arts:

- indispensable (crafts)
- recreational (fine arts)
- theoretical (sciences)

Theoretical kinds of knowledge or contemplative sciences - today's liberal arts - are pursued for the sake of pure knowledge, not because of any practical utility. In that sense they are freed from external purposes although they may prove useful in life. The sciences that aim neither at pleasure nor at meeting basic needs arose in the places where people had leisure. The importance of free time and free mind for philosophy: those who have to work until exhaustion for mere subsistence or do not go beyond everyday concerns simply cannot indulge themselves in philosophizing.

Productive sciences or poetical sciences - today's crafts and arts sensu stricto. Their knowledge relies on universalized experience and a good judgment. But they are pursued for the sake of their products (something external), which may belong to the necessities of life (crafts) or to the realm of delectation and pleasures (arts).

Note: Here Aristotle alternates the broad concept of art (techne), which also encompasses the sciences ("mathematical sciences"), with the broad concept of science (episteme), which includes the arts ("productive sciences"). But in the next paragraph (which may be a later addition) he refers readers to the Ethics where the difference between the two is clearly established (EN 1139b 14-1141b 8).

VI Wisdom (Sophia)

What kind of knowledge is wisdom? "Wisdom is knowledge of certain sorts of principles and causes." To find out what sorts of principles and causes wisdom is science of Aristotle expounds main features of those who are considered to be wise. This recourse to the common beliefs about the sage should help us understand the nature of his/her wisdom.

1. The wise person knows everything (universal knowledge).
2. The wise person knows difficult things (known only by intellect).
3. The wise person is accurate (basic knowledge out of fewer principles).
4. The wise person is a better teacher than others (transferable knowledge).
5. The wise person studies for the sake of knowing (intrinsic interest).
6. The wise person gives and does not take orders (superior knowledge).

Transition from Wisdom to Philosophy:
There could be only one science that manifests all these 6 features and it must deal with the first causes and principles. It is a theoretical and divine science in a double sense: it is about divine things and the gods are expected to possess it more than anyone else. Humans can only strive for it and if they do they start to philosophize. So wisdom as defined in 1-6 is humanly possible only as philosophy. Historically it comes out of pure wonder. Therefore it has only an intrinsic value. But this value surpasses all instrumental benefits. "All other sciences are more necessary than this one, but none is better."

The Incommensurability of the Diagonal:
This refers to the discovery which follows from the theorem of Pythagoras that the square on the diagonal of a square is double the square on its side. The theorem, namely, implies that the square number expressing the size of the square on the diagonal is divisible into two equal square numbers. However, there is no square number which can be divided this way. The ratio of the diagonal and the side of a square cannot be expressed as the ratio of two positive integers, or as Aristotle puts it, "cannot be measured even by the smallest number". In other words, the diagonal of the square and its side will never have a common divisor and both be rational numbers.

Some Questions:
  • Why is art more teachable than experience?
  • Why is Arithmetic more exact than Geometry?
  • Why a Geometer would be very amazed if the diagonal turned out to be commensurable with the side of a square?
  • In what sense is theoretical science free?
  • Why it is important to admit initial ignorance?
  • Does Philosophy eliminate Wondering completely?

 

 

 

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