15 May 2006

The First Kinetic Being

I've been asking: On what grounds does Aristotle hold that the First Mover is a living, thinking being?

This question breaks out in a striking way in Sarah Broadie's article, "What Does Aristotle's Prime Mover Do?". This is a now-famous article, a kind of cult classic in ancient philosophy, in which Broadie argues that Aristotle's God is primarily an efficient cause of the motion of the universe, not a remote final cause lost in contemplation of itself.

The crucial assumption of the article is that there is a distinction in kind between contemplative and kinetic thought. Broadie then argues that we can account for God's being an efficient cause of the motion of the universe, only if we assume that it is engaged primarily in kinetic thought--and the point of Lambda, she notes, is precisely to show that there must be such a First Mover.

On the traditional view, the First Mover contemplates itself, and a distinct mind, which somehow occupies the First Heaven (the outermost sphere of the heavens), both contemplates the First Mover and moves the First Heaven. (We saw this view in Aquinas' interpretation.) Broadie finds this an incoherent and unnecessary multiplication of entities: if the mind that occupies the First Heaven primarily contemplates the First Mover, then how does it also move the First Heaven? And yet, if we give it the role of moving the First Heaven, why not attribute this role to the First Mover from the start?

Broadie recognizes that her view is then open to the following objection:

If the Prime Mover's activity is kinetic, why is it necessary to suppose the Mover a noetic being at all? Aristotle explains many cases of motion without tracing it back to mind or soul, as when he treats the falling of earth as the expression of a simple corporeal nature. Again, ends can function as final causes without being desired or grasped in thought: the living world is full of examples. It would seem that if Aristotle conceives of the pimary source of motion as an essentially kinetic agent, he could have grounded the movement in the sphere itself, that solid corporeal substance, saying (as he does in DC I.2) that it is simply the nature of this body to rotate. ...In effect, then, the rotation, or else the rotating sphere itself--that physical object--would be the Prime Mover.
Continuing with this line of thought, one might wonder:
Does Aristotle make his Prime Mover noetic simply because he wants to elevate intellect in his scheme? That may be why, but then this deification of intellect is nothing but an act of intellect-worship; it is not motivated by the demands of a theory explaining the primary motion.
That's precisely my worry.

How does she reply to this? What is her explanation for why Aristotle makes the First Mover a living, thinking thing? Does she have an explanation?

She does, and I'll explain it in my next post.