18 February 2006

The Prophysics

"That which comes after the science of nature comes before it."

A riddle? Yes, but how do we resolve it?

The riddle is Aristotle's. In Metaphysics Gamma, he complains about natural scientists who apparently deny, in one way or another, the principle of non-contradiction (PNC)--xrw=ntai de\ tw=| lo/gw| tou/tw| polloi\ kai\ tw=n peri\ fu/sewj, "Many natural scientists, even, adopt this theory". Heraclitus is reputed to have denied it; Anaxagoras's infinite mixture apparently does so; and so on.

Of course, in reply Aristotle gives us his famous series of dialectical arguments, in Gamma 4, aiming to show that someone who 'says anything at all' is thereby committed to the PNC. These sorts of arguments are a part of metaphysics, as Aristotle tells us: it is the task of the philosopher, he says, who thinks about things simply insofar as they exist, to give this sort of defense of the PNC.

o(/ti me\n ou)=n tou= filoso/fou, kai\ tou= peri\ pa/shj th=j ou)si/aj qewrou=ntoj h(=| pe/fuken, kai\ peri\ tw=n sullogistikw=n a)rxw=n e)sti\n e)piske/yasqai, dh=lon: prosh/kei de\ to\n ma/lista gnwri/zonta peri\ e(/kaston ge/noj e)/xein le/gein ta\j bebaiota/taj a)rxa\j [10] tou= pra/gmatoj, w(/ste kai\ to\n peri\ tw=n o)/ntwn h(=| o)/nta ta\j pa/ntwn bebaiota/taj. e)/sti d' ou(=toj o( filo/sofoj.

Clearly then it is the function of the philosopher, i.e. the student of the whole of reality in its essential nature, to investigate also the principles of syllogistic reasoning. And it is proper for him who best understands each class of subject to be able to state the most certain principles of that subject; so that he who understands the modes of Being qua Being should be able to state the most certain principles of all things. Now this person is the philosopher.
And yet Aristotle also says that if the offending natural scientists had had sufficient training in 'analytics', they never would have gone off the rails the way that they did. That sort of training, Aristotle says, is the sort of thing that someone should acquire before beginning physical investigations at all (or investigations in any particular science).

e)/sti de\ sofi/a tij kai\ h( fusikh/, a)ll' ou) prw/th. o(/sa d' e)gxeirou=si tw=n lego/ntwn tine\j peri\ th=j a)lhqei/aj o(\n tro/pon dei= a)pode/xesqai, di' a)paideusi/an [4] tw=n a)nalutikw=n tou=to drw=sin: dei= ga\r peri\ tou/twn [5] h(/kein proepistame/nouj a)lla\ mh\ a)kou/ontaj zhtei=n.

Natural philosophy is a kind of Wisdom, but not the primary kind. As for the attempts of some of those who discuss how the truth should be received, they are due to lack of training in logic; for they should understand these things before they approach their task, and not investigate while they are still learning.
So apparently clarity about the PNC belongs, now, not to 'the things that are after the physics', but rather to the 'the things that are before the physics'.

Well, which is it? As I said, it's Aristotle's riddle, not mine.


porphyrios said...

dear Michael,

ta meta ta physika is not a name given to a collection of papers by aristotle, as everybody knows, so your riddle after/before works only on the surface and out of the mouth of Aristotle.

in the analytics II, which are quoted in the passage, it is stated that of certain principles there is no demonstration. some people just don't know, says Arist., they should read my book, hear my lessons!

the training they lack is of logic, while the part of first philosophy that deals with pnc and excluded middle etc is a philosophy of logic.


Michael Pakaluk said...

Dear Porphyrios,

You're right, my riddle was a bit of a sham.

But it does raise at least three serious questions.

1. Aristotle distinguishes the 'that' (hoti) from the 'reason why' (dioti). Can it be that something like an entire system of logic can count as a 'that'?! It can, I think. But this is a very different understanding of the 'that' than is usually accepted.

2. What precisely is the relationship between logic and metaphysics for Aristotle? One might say that, in the analytic tradition, the relationship tends to be: a view in metaphysics is plausible to the extent that it seems required for logic. Would Aristotle agree with this, or disagree?

3. Can the felt differences between the Categories and the Metaphysics in Aristotle be sufficiently explained as the sort of difference that one would find between a 'that' and a 'reason why'?

Another concern: If the 'that' can involve even a system of thought, a method or an outlook, then wouldn't that make developmentalist accounts of Aristotle's thought much more problematic? What looks to be an early view might, rather, be a 'naive' outlook, which Aristotle regards as constituting a 'that', and which he thinks is always available to us, even after we have discerned the 'reason why'.