08 April 2006

Criticism of the Redaction Criticism

I described yesterday the hypothesis, in redaction criticism, that parts of Aristotle's Metaphysics H were written before parts of Z, on the grounds that Z 7-9 looks intrusive, and that H 3 refers to the argument contained in Z 8 as something that has been proved elsewhere, whereas Z 15 refers to it as something that has been shown earlier. I said that this was a weak if not completely unpersuasive hypothesis. Here are my reasons.

1. Note that Devereux in his statement of the evidence slightly magnifies it. Z 15 does not say 'it has been shown earlier' (e.g. e)/mprosqen). Rather, the two references are almost the same except that H 3 contains a qualification, or marking, that Z 15 lacks--the phrase 'in other (discussions)' (e)n a)/lloij). What Devereux strictly claims is that originally both Z 15 and H 3 had this qualification, or something like it, but that it was removed from Z 15 in a later editing decision.

2. One might doubt that all the editorial cross-references in the Aristotelian corpus were placed there by Aristotle and thus can reasonably serve as evidence of his editorial decisions. But let us put this difficulty aside.

3. Observe that Devereux's hypothesis is inelegant, because he postulates a redactor (presumably Aristotle) who overlooks things and makes mistakes. On Devereux's hypothesis, after the redactor adds Z 7-9, he removes the qualification from the reference in Z 15, but neglects to do so for the reference in H 3. Devereux writes: "But H was apparently not revised at this time: the summary in H 1 was not expanded to take account of the additional chapters in Z, and the reference in H 3 (1043b16-18) was not changed to 'it was shown earlier' [rather than elsewhere] that forms are neither generated nor produced'". But if the redactor might have made a mistake on the second time through, why not, more simply, say that he made a mistake on the first time through and included an inapt qualification to the reference in H 3 (say, because he had drafted some of that material before including it in H--after all, that reference does occur in a parenthetical passage)?

4. Of course, this is to suppose that the qualification, 'elsewhere' (e)n a)/lloij), is inapt as found in H 3, given Z 8. But why should we think this? First, let's note an ambiguity. The phrase e)n a)/lloij can mean either 'in discussions other than this' or 'in various other places.' Assume that it means the first, as Devereux does. Yet why should we presume that, if H were written after Z, it would be inapt for Aristotle to regard Z as a 'different' discussion from H--especially since H first summarizes Z and then initiates something of a new line of discussion at the beginning of H 2? Here is a comparison. Aristotle uses the phrase 'at the beginning (sc. of our discussion)' (e)n a)rxh=|) in seven back references in Nic. Eth. . Twice it refers back to the beginning of the same book. Twice it refers back to a discussion begun in an earlier book. Once it refers back to a discussion begun in the same book, but not in the beginning of it. And twice it refers back to the beginning of the treatise. Clearly, then, what Aristotle counts as 'the beginning' of his present disussion can vary with his purposes and context (for the obvious reason that his treatises are articulated wholes). Clearly, too, it would be possible for Aristotle to count as 'in the same discussion' anything found in the material between what he counts as 'the beginning' of that discussion and where he is presently. Thus, what one needs to show, as regards the reference in H 3, in order to establish that it is inapt in its present context, is that Aristotle, if he were writing that after Z 1-17 as we have it now, couldn't have regarded the statement in H 3 as occurring in a discussion that was, in some respect or for some purpose, not begun before Z 8. And I doubt very much that this can be shown.

5. In fact, there is good reason to think that the reference in H 3 is appropriate and what we should have expected, even given the discussion in Z 8. At the beginning of H 5, Aristotle writes the following:

e)pei\ d' e)/nia a)/neu gene/sewj kai\ fqora=j e)/sti kai\ ou)k e)/stin, oi(=on ai( stigmai/, ei)/per ei)si/, kai\ o(/lwj ta\ ei)/dh (ou) ga\r to\ leuko\n gi/gnetai a)lla\ to\ cu/lon leuko/n, ei) e)/k tinoj kai\ ti\ pa=n to\ gigno/menon gi/gnetai),

Since some things both are and are not, without being liable to generation and destruction --e.g. points, if they exist at all; and in general the forms and shapes of things (because white does not come to be, but the wood becomes white, since everything which comes into being comes from something and becomes something) (1044b21-24).
Note that this refers to the same doctrine defended in Z 8: that forms, although they come into and go out of existence, neither are generated nor suffer corruption. Yet here Aristotle states not only the doctrine, but also his basic grounds for holding it (which I have highlighted). Now note--and this is the important point--that his grounds are simply the doctrine of change that he develops in Physics I. That is, he thinks that the ungenerability and corruptibility of forms follows directly from his doctrine of change. (And it does, clearly.) In this reference in H 5, there was no need to refer back to Z 8, but Aristotle could simply, in a terse phrase, indicate a doctrine he would have regarded as familiar to all. But if this is how he looked at the matter, then, from the vantage point of H 3 also, he would have regarded this doctrine as shown in a great many places besides Z 8, and it would not have been strange for him to use e)n a)/lloij to signify the well-entrenched character of the doctrine. Arguably, even, it would have been odd for him to refer back to Z 8 in particular, as if that were the only place in which this was shown.

This is why I regard the argument proposed by Devereux as quite weak, if not groundless, and as itself providing no reason for us to regard H as written earlier than Z.