12 May 2005

Reflexive Expressions in Aristotle

Consider the following:

1. Aristotle analyzes 'self-movement' as one part of a thing moving another part, or the whole.

2. Aristotle understands 'self-love' (NE 9.4) as one part of a person loving another part, or the whole, or itself but at different times.

3. Aristotle is reluctant to understand even identity as a relation between a thing and itself, or, at least, he says, it involves our treating the same thing as if it is two things (h( tauto&thj e9no&thj ti/j e0stin h2 pleio&nwn tou~ ei]nai h2 o3tan xrh~tai w(j plei/osin, oi[on o3tan le/gh| au)to_ au(tw|~ tau)to&n: w(j dusi\ ga_r xrh~tai au)tw|~. Met 1018a7-9).

So why shouldn't we understand au)th_ au(th~j, 'it is of itself', as perhaps allowing for an analysis into two parts or aspects, not itself committing Aristotle to any strict claim of identity between the referent of 'it' and that of 'itself'? After all, Aristotle takes the phrase to indicate something puzzling: he has to prove, he thinks, that the result is unavoidable; and he concedes that the view needs to be teased out, since it brings with it an aporia.

And then, the second half of the passage, where the aporia is teased out, actually uses this language of two aspects or parts: Aristotle speaks of to_ o(rw~n, 'the part [sc. of the faculty of sense] that sees', which presumably stands in contrast to the part of the faculty of sight that perceives this seeing (cp. ti to\ ai)sqano/menon, NE 9.9.1170a31). So Aristotle's own interpretation of au)th_ au(th~j, it seems, would be: part of the sense senses the actualization of another part.