21 November 2005


As I have emphasized many times in this blog, the sound interpretation of a philosophical text requires both that we consider accurately the relevant 'antecedent probabilities' (Jos. Butler and J.H. Newman) that bear upon that text, and also that the text be interpreted in its proper context. When Metaphysics V 29 is approached in this way, then, I believe, Crivelli's interpretation cannot be sustained.

What are the relevant antecedent probabilities? Would we expect Aristotle's putting forward a doctrine of 'states of affairs' in Met. V to be antecedently likely or unlikely? Antecedently unlikely, I should think, and here's why.

The doctrine of 'states of affairs' is: not found elsewhere in the Aristotelian corpus (except perhaps Met. IX.10); not a doctrine that could be considered part of a sophisticated philosophical outlook generally (Crivelli holds that it is a peculiar view of Aristotle); and not a doctrine that is naturally indicated by some Greek word or phrase.

But it is antecedently unlikely that Aristotle would be putting forward that sort of doctrine in Met. V. Met. V. is a philosophical lexicon which catalogues and attempts to put into order uses of terms which have common uses elsewhere in the Aristotelian corpus, and which anyone with a sophisticated philosophical outlook would already be disposed to accept. (Thus its definitions are not stipulative. Its canonical phrase for introducing a term is "X legetai", that is, "The word 'X' is applied..." or "We apply the word 'X' to ...".) These uses also, in general, match up well with natural uses of Greek words in ordinary language.

Note furthermore that, on Crivelli's interpretation, Aristotle introduces a peculiar notion, 'states of affairs', in a section of Met. V in which, ostensibly, Aristotle is discussing, rather, the use of the term 'false'. So he would be using a passage meant to clarify one term, by introducing a new doctrine. Also, he would be doing so without flagging this, or without introducing also any technical term or phrase for this new notion ('states of affairs'), whereas a technical term is definitely needed in English.

So Crivelli's interpretation is, antecedently, highly unlikely. Does this mean that the interpretation is impossible? No. But it does mean that, if a more likely interpretation were possible, then that should be preferred--even if that other interpretation is, at first, not as straightforwardly suggested by the text taken just on its own.


Anonymous said...

"But it does mean that, if a more likely interpretation were possible, then that should be preferred."

Awaiting candidates w/baited breath. But in the meantime: cd. you say more about how C. understands these states-of-affairs? Their advantage over composite objects is that they (so to speak) are, even when the states of affairs that they are (so to speak) are not--when they do not obtain.

They sound like propositions--what Wittgenstein sometimes calls (pejoratively) "shadows of facts" (Blue Book). Is that the idea (less the pejorative overtones)?

Michael Pakaluk said...

On C's interpretation, states-of-affairs are like 'propositions', but they need not (it seems) be eternal, and they are all affirmative, not negative ('The diagonal's being commensurable' is a state-of-affairs, but not 'The diagonal's not being commensurable'.)

Since these qualifications, in my view, detract from the theoretical simplicity, at least, of propositions, then states-of-affairs are even worse off than propositions.

Anonymous said...

May I take just a minute to point out and recommend the explicitly Bayesian methodology of Michael's argument. Even if we concede that the text of MET V make good sense on Cavelli's reading, the absence of supporting passages in other key works of the Corpus and elsewhere assigns a very low prior probability to Cavelli's view. Thus the conditional probability of Crivelli's view given the evidence of Met V must remain very low. This is an elementary point of logic, but I think we sometimes lose sight of it when we become fixated on one allegedly "crucial" text and think, how Aristotle have said THAT if he wasn't thinking of states of affairs or something like them.