23 April 2006

In a Swamp, and Calling for Help

I've wandered out into the morass of Met. Z and find myself wondering how I got here. Looking back, I see the following. (What follows is a 'map into the swamp'. You might just wish to surf in fresher waters.)

[i] I was writing a review of a volume (OSAP Winter 2003) in which Dan Devereux's paper appeared on the relationship between Zeta and Eta. (That review should be coming out shortly in BMCR.) It was not that I was looking to find flaws in that paper. Devereux's paper involved some relatively close and interesting matters of interpretation, which it was not possible to discuss in the review; therefore, I took up some of them here.

[ii] I looked at two sorts of arguments that Devereux put forward, involving (i) redaction criticism and (ii) philosophical interpretation. I found Devereux's arguments interesting, as I said, and worthy of serious consideration--indeed, that is why I spent time on them. Yet it seemed to me in the end that all of these arguments were unpersuasive, and I gave my reasons why. (By the way, dear reader: I rely on you to point out where I am wrong. Do not forget that you would do me a favor by refuting me.)

[iii] Since Devereux had relied frequently upon Burnyeat as an authority, I looked briefly at Burnyeat's Map of Metaphysics Z. (I had read the Map several years ago, when it was a lengthy paper; I had not previously looked at it in book form.) I found that, as regards redaction-criticism, one of the unsound arguments that Devereux had drawn from Burnyeat (about en allois) had also been endorsed by Burnyeat. But I found that another argument (about the significance of the H1 summary) had effectively already been replied to by Burnyeat.

[iv] As regards philosophical interpretation, on the other hand, a difficulty in Burnyeat's general approach appeared to me, which I've tried to clarify in the last few posts. The problem has to do with why Aristotle spends the bulk of Z examining perceptible ('sensible') substances. Here is another way of putting the problem.

[v] As is well known, Aristotle describes what he is doing in the Metaphysics in two ways. He describes it as the study (i) of being qua being, and (ii) of imperceptible, separable substances. Now, as regards (i), it would seem misguided to restrict oneself to perceptible substances only, as this would be to 'cut off only a part of being' and study only that, rather than all of being. And, as regards (ii), clearly, the study of perceptible substances is not the study of imperceptible substances.

[vi] It is not clear to me that Burnyeat's interpretation can respond to this difficulty: Burnyeat says that Aristotle introduces the form-matter distinction in Z to reply to logicizing philosophers (as we may call them); but then we are left wondering how Aristotle's examination there of substances as having matter counts as metaphysics rather than physics. I used Burnyeat remarks on Lambda 1-5 to show that he does not succeed in explaining this.

[vii] The difficulty, in my view, becomes even worse, when one considers that Burnyeat argues in his Map that Zeta-Eta-Theta were written as a unit, that Lambda was tacked on later, and that it is, so to speak, extrinsic to those other books. It is unclear how, on this view, Aristotle in Z could be doing 'second philosophy for the purposes of first philosophy'. If there is no immediate and intended application of the results of Z to imperceptible substances, then how is it first philosophy?

[viii] I suppose Burnyeat could say that, on his interpretation, the conclusion 'form is substance' is exactly what is needed for the study of imperceptible substances--that is, Z establishes that substances can exist as pure forms, in establishing that form (alone) is substance. But then I wonder why Aristotle would take Platonizing or logicizing philosophers as his target in arguing for this sort of a conclusion. (Is that what they would find difficulty with?) Or, if you say that there is some special notion of form, not shared by them, that Aristotle wants to arrive at in Z, derived from the way that that notion gets used in the Physics--then, once again, the problem arises of how Z is different from physics. Also, it's not clear that there is any 'special notion of form' in Z except insofar as form is considered in its relation to matter--and yet then it appears to be a difficulty that Burnyeat wants to treat Z7-9, where form in its relation to matter is given thorough consideration, as an incongruent interpolation.

[ix] We could of course say that Aristotle is confused about his own distinction between first and second philosophy, or that the distinction doesn't amount to much in the end.

[x] And perhaps these are illusory problems, something that is hanging me up momentarily and that isn't very serious. My difficulties could easily be based on a misunderstanding. I present them simply as something troubling me for the moment.

[xi] Finally, when discussing Devereux on Z3, I proposed my own interpretation of the famous reductio there. I said that Aristotle was wishing there to draw a distinction between two senses of 'hypokeimenon'

(i) where the subject of predication is what is predicated of it (hypokeimenon 'as form' or 'as composite'); and
(ii) where the subject of predication is not what is predicated of it (hypokeimenon 'as matter');
and I said that the reductio of Z3 was meant to drive home the point that any intelligible use of (ii) presupposed a prior use of (i).

[xii] This suggestion (which, by the way, corresponds nicely to the back reference about the hypokeimenon, at Z 13.1038b2-6, and receives confirmation from that back reference), leads to an appealing simplification of the structure of Z, which is this.

[xiii] Of the four marks of substance which Aristotle presents at the beginning of Z3 (hypokeimenon, to ti en einai, katholou, genos), it is clear that Aristotle wishes to deal with the last two negatively, in order to reject them. What really needs to be explained, then, is Z3-11, which my distinction does:
Z3: distinction in senses of hypokeimenon
Z4-6: hypokeimenon as form (to ti en einai, called by Aristotle 'form')
Z7-9: hypokeimenon as composite and as proximate matter
(Z10-11: ancillary discussion of definition)
[xiv] My post pointing out that 'form' and 'matter' are not used by Aristotle in Z4-6 was meant to support this interpretation: 'form' is not used in Z4-6, I would suggest, because hypokeimenon 'as form' is precisely what Aristotle understands as the to ti en einai and is discussed through that phrase; and 'matter' is not used, because his discussion of hypokeimenon 'as (proximate) matter' and 'as composite' begins at Z7.

Now that I know where I am in this swamp, I'm radioing to be air-lifted out.