Thursday, September 18, 2014

History of Western Philosophy - Aristotle

These are the notes I'll be using this morning to introduce my MCCC Western Philosophy students to Aristotle's metaphysics.



1.    Explain Aristotle’s idea of “form” and “matter.”
2.    How does Aristotle explain “change?”
3.    How does Aristotle’s reasoning provide an alternative to Parmenides?

1.    Explain Aristotle’s idea of “form” and “matter.”
A “form” is what a thing really is. “Matter” is not what a thing really is.
o   For 3 reasons:
·         Your physical being (“matter”) could not be what it is to be you. For three reasons.
1)    Matter is always going in and out, always changing.
E.g., you change your material constituents a lot without
stopping to be yourself. E.g., you cut your hair.
2) Something can remain what it is even if we replaced bits of matter on it. E.g., we could take a house, tear out some rotting boards, and replace them with different kinds of boards.
§  As long as it stayed that same continuous functional structure, serving the function of a house, we would still have the same thing or entity on our hands.
3) Matter is not definite enough to be what a thing really is.
§  Matter is just a lump or heap of stuff, so we couldn’t say you are some stuff or other.
§  It’s only when we’ve identified the structure the stuff constitutes that we can even go on to say something intelligent about the stuff itself.
Forms are non-material. But not in some abstract Platonic Realm of Ideas.
o   Aristotle thought we actually cannot go coherently beyond our experience. The only thing we can do is the investigating, the mapping, of the sphere of our experience.
o   E.g. – Raphael painting
Immaterial forms exist in physical things.
“Form” makes things belong to a certain kind. E.g., “dog.” Matter makes them individuals of that kind. E.g., “This German Shepherd.” Or: “My dog.”
“Matter is the principle of individuation in material things. This means, for instance, that two peas of the same size and shape, however alike they are, however many properties or forms they may have in common, are two peas and not one pea because they are two different parcels of matter.” (82-83)
EXAMPLE: These two dry erase markers have the same form. But they are two individual markers, because of matter.
“Forms are logically incapable of existing without the bodies of which they are the forms. [This is against Plato.] Forms do not themselves exist, nor come to be, in the way in which substances exist and come to be. Forms, unlike bodies, are not made out of anything; and for a form of A-ness to exist is simply for there to be some substance which is A; for horseness to exist there simply are horses.” (83)
So? This chair is a form-matter composite.

2.    How does Aristotle explain “change?”
In our experience we contact things that are changing. E.g., a leaf unfolds, is green, turns yellow, then withers.
A child is born, matures, grows older, then dies.
Now the question is: If we are to talk about changing things, there still must be some “It” that stays the same while all the attributes of it are changing.
            Otherwise it will be hard to talk about change at all.
            Change, paradoxically, requires stability.
E.g. – I cannot say “You have changed since I last saw you” unless there is some stable, unchanging “you.”
The question Aristotle asks is: what are the more continuous, persisting things on which we can anchor our discourse about change, things which themselves persist while properties or attributes are changing?
This is the “What is it?” question.  E.g., Who are you, really?
E.g., “you.” Which among the many properties of you that impress themselves on my senses are the most fundamental ones, the ones you couldn’t cease to have without ceasing to be yourself?
You could change your jacket. But obviously you would still be you.
Aristotle’s question about identity is the search for the parts or elements in the thing which play that very fundamental role, which are what it is to be that thing.
Two questions:
#1 – What are the characteristics of an object that are fundamental and indispensable, in that they make the object what it is?
#2 – What are the characteristics of an object that persist through change, so that the object, though changing, remains the same object?
(For Plato it’s the Forms.)

For Aristotle, there are two kinds of change:
o   Substantial change
§  When a form/substance of one kind turns into a form/substance of another kind.
§  “Matter” takes on a different form.
§  E.g., when you shake a bottle of cream and it changes into butter.
o   Accidental change
§  When a form stays the same but the matter gets reconfigured.
§  E.g., when you put a new roof on a house.
·         What a substance is, is its actualities (e.g., this piece of wood); what a substance can be or change into are its “potentialities” (e.g., a pile of ash).
o   Potentiality – the capacity to undergo a change of some kind. (82)
o   ‘Forms’ – the actualities involved in changes.
§  E.g., a bottle of cream can change into butter.
§  E.g., a piece of wood can change into a pile of ash.
o   ‘Matter’ – that which has the capacity for substantial change.
§  Matter can take on different forms.

·         E.g. – a piece of wood is actually cold but potentially hot; actually wood but potentially ash.
o    “The actualities involved in changes are called ‘forms’, and ‘matter’ is used as a technical term for what has the capacity for substantial change.” (82)

3. How does Aristotle’s reasoning provide an alternative to Parmenides?
-       Kenny, 83
Parmenides denied that change was real, because Being cannot come from Unbeing, since Unbeing cannot be thought (is nothing).
For Aristotle change is explained like this:
·                     Matter is eternal.
·                     Matter cannot exist without form.

·         Change is explained by either: 1) matter taking on a different form; or 2) a form/substance changing accidentally.