22 April 2006

The Metaphysical Study of Perceptible Substance

Here's the problem. Aristotle's official characterization of 'first philosophy' is the study of form as truly separable from matter. Yet ZHQ and also the first five chapters of L are about forms in matter. So how do these count as 'first philosophy' (metaphysics) rather than 'second philosophy' (physics)? One would like to say that there is some way of studying form-in-matter that counts as metaphysical.

But explaining this proves difficult to do.

One may see this in Burnyeat's discussion of L .1-5 (see Map, pp. 133-4). He rejects the view of Ross and others that these chapters are 'physics'. And yet he seems to give no clear reason why these are not physics, as the following analysis shows.

Here it is relevant to recall the evidence of Z11 that there is a first-philosophical way of studying sensible substantial being as well as a second-philosophical way.
That is exactly what is at issue. What is the difference?
The statement 'Sensible substantial being is liable to change' (L .1.1069b3) can be read as an invitation to study change. That is a topic of Aristotelian physics. But the statement can also be read as an invitation to study the type of substantial being we find in the sensible world-- changeable substantial being as opposed to the unchanging type that first philosophy aspires to understand...
But presumably, as Aristotelian scientists, we appropriately study change by studying the changes of substantial beings. Also, if we are not studying the 'unchanging type' of beings which are the proper object of first philosophy, then how are we studying first philosophy?
The way to read the early chapters of L is as a first-philosophical use of the factors invoked in Physics I to explain change (matter, form and privation).
Indeed. But what is this 'first-philosophical use'? This has not been explained.
These now reappear as the principles that explain the substantial being of sensible, hence changeable, substantial beings.
I don't understand. Is it that we should study these 'changeable substantial beings' as if they don't change? Or study them when they are not changing? What would that be? And in any case, Aristotle devotes much attention in the Metaphysics to how they come into and out of existence.
Just this is what happened when H1 resumed after the summary. That passage continues with a reference to the physical works (1042b8:e)n toi=j fusikoi=j), which confirms that H1 itself is not conceived as a contribution to physics.
We may grant the fact, but what is it for H1 not to be 'conceived as a contribution to physics'? (Also: Isn't it a fallacy to argue that any work that refers to the Physics isn't of a piece physics? Compare: "The Politics refers to the Ethics, which shows that it is not conceived as a contribution to ethics." Also: note too that here Burnyeat does grant that H1's discussion of perceptible substance resumes an earlier one.)
Similarly, when L 1 announces a comprehensive study of all three ranks of substantial being (sensible and perishable, sensible and eternal, unchanging and non-sensible), and says that because the first two involve change, they are the subject-matter of physics, this does not mean that are L 1-5 conceived as physics rather than first philosophy.
Granted, once again. Yet, once again, we still don't know what it means to study the objects of physics but not in the way that physics does.
L defined its task as that of finding the principles and causes of substantial beings (L 1.1069a18-20), where 'substantial beings' (we soon learn) covers all three ranks of substantial being enumerated at 1069a30-b2. If L starts from sensible substantial beings, this is because they are better known to us than the other two ranks of substantial being (cf. Z 3.1029b3-12).
To be sure; but, still, in what way is its 'starting from sensible substantial beings' distinct from physics?
The point of reminding us, here and at the beginning of L 6.1071b3, that the first two ranks of substantial being are studied by physics is that, since they are also studied by physics, the reader can be expected to come to first philosophy already familiar with matter and form and other factors in the Aristotelian analysis of change. Compare A3.983a33-b1, which says that the four causes have been sufficiently explained in the Physics; the knowledge we are assumed to have is now to be put to a new use.
Again, that's not controversial. But what is that new use? Once again, this is unexplained.
Readers versed in Aristotelian physics can be expected also to be familiar with the contrast between the perishable substantial beings of the sublunary world and the imperishable, eternally circling heavens. Crucially, they wil have the understanding of human psychology which is presupposed in the attempt of L 7 and 9 to extrapolate to the mind of God. First philosophy is first in order of understanding, but last in the order of learning.
But now we are on to 'first philosophy' in the proper sense, without its ever having been explained to us how L 1-5 did not count as physics.
To put it another way, the task of finding the principles and causes of all three ranks of substantial being has the universal scope assigned to first philosophy at the end of E4.1028b3-4: to find the principles and causes of being itself qua being.
But if we append, in front of a treatise, "What follows should be understood as having universal scope", have we thereby turned it into metaphysics? That's a bit too easy, I should think. Not that this would be the case anyway:
True, the rubric 'being qua being' is not found in L. But nor is it found in ZHQ. Instead, both Z1 and (more briefly) L 1 use the focal analysis of being to explain why the inquiry will concentrate on substantial being rather than the dependent categories. Because the dependent categories are dependent, it is substantial being that explains the rest. The study (to coin a phrase) of substantial being qua substantial being is the first part (cf. 1069a20: prw=ton me/roj) of the universal study of being qua being. It is this part that is begun, but not completed, in ZHQ, begun and completed in L. From beginning to end L is first philosophy.
I can't say that I'm convinced.