12 May 2005

Johansen on 'Itself of Itself'

Thomas Johansen wrote in with these follow up remarks:

I wonder what relevance Victor ascribes to the claim (425b22-3) that 'to_ o(rw~n is in a way colored, for the sense-organ is in each case receptive of the sensible without the matter'. If this point is going to help us with the aporia that to_ o(rw~n will have colour (b17-20), then surely this o(rw~n (the b22 one) has to refer to refer to the same thing as in b19. But at b23 to_ o(rw~n is explained in terms of the sense-organ. So if the solution is going to work, there has to be a way of saying that to_ o(rw~n can refer to the sense-organ as well as to the sight or seeing that is of itself back at b16. It has to be possible to say that since the sense-organ becomes (in a way) coloured in seeing, what sees can itself be seen as coloured, and so we can say that this thing (the act or the faculty) is 'of itself'. If to_ o(rw~n did not refer to the same thing in b23 as in b19 then the claim at b22-3 would not present itself as an answer to the problem of a) how what sees can have colour and therefore not as an explanation of b) how we can say that there is a sense or activity that is of itself. Perhaps Victor would want to separate b) from a), i.e. perhaps he would say that it is one thing to explain how what sees has colour; it is another to parse the expression au)th_ au(th~j. But the aporia does seem to be generated by saying au)th& tij e1stai au(th~j: the claim that sight or seeing must have colour seems to be a consequence of sight (or seeing) seeing itself, so it is surely assumed that when sight or seeing sees the colour received by the sense-organ it is also, in a relevant sense, seeing itself. So what would be the relevance to the overall argument of saying that the sense-organ becomes in a way coloured if Aristotle was only interested in the way in which the activity can see itself as an activity? My point is, then, that Victor's insistence that au)th_ au(th~j refers strictly to the activity sits uncomfortably with the admission that to_ o(rw~n refers to the sense-organ in a context that reads as if meant to explain how sight or seeing can be of itself.

Now in the paper I put a similar point as an objection to my own reading, which took to_ o(rw~n at b19 to refer to the faculty. So I said in no.26:

'To the objection that there is now another problematic shift of reference in the notion of the sense perceiving itself, this time between the sense faculty and the sense organ, I reply by referring to the above answer: just as there need be no problem in accepting that the sense faculty can see itself insofar as it is actualized, so there should be no problem in admitting that the sense faculty sees itself insofar as it materially realized. Aristotle’s idea that the sense-organ is the sense faculty at a lower level of potentiality, whilst the actuality of perception is the sense faculty at a higher level of actuality serves after all to emphasize that these are three different states or aspects of the same thing.'

It seems then to me that Aristotle in the theory that sense-organ, faculty, and actuality of sight are related as potentiality, first actuality and second actuality has an answer to the kind of worry one might have when asking 'Well, you say that the sense of sight sees itself but in fact it is just seeing an activity of sight, not the sense itself'. The answer is that the sense of sight is seeing itself in its own state of actuality but that is thereby importantly seeing itself since this state of actuality is the very actuality of sight: indeed, it is the actuality that defines the faculty of sight as the potentiality it is, cf. 415b16-20. Note also 'into itself' at DA II.5 417b5-6: 'what has knowledge becomes a contemplater, which is either not an alteration (for the transition is into itself [eis hauto] and to actuality) or it is another kind of alteration).' Of course if you expect Leibnizian identity within reflexive expressions, you're not going to find it even on this account of the relationship between sense-organ, faculty and actuality. But my point in the case of the man seeing himself was that to insist on this kind of identity within reflexive expressions is generally to ask for too much.