A line I encountered today in De Ente et Essentia raised a question for me:
Nunc restat videre per quem modum sit essentia in substantiis separatis, scilicet in anima, intelligentia et causa prima.I have seen 'first philosophy' defined as the study of the human mind, first intelligences, and God. Does anyone know the origin of this definition of the phrase? (Nothing like that is fully explicit in Aristotle.)
A second and similar question occurred to me when reading the section on "Theology" from Mary Louise Gill's "First Philosophy in Aristotle" (forthcoming, as I said, in the Blackwell Companion to Ancient Philosophy, and quoted here with permission). Probably because of space limitations, there is not very much on theology in the article. But, after a review of the basic physics of L .1-5, this is how that section ends:
Metaphysics L .1 distinguishes three sorts of substances: perceptible perishable substances, like plants and animals; perceptible imperishable substances, like the sun and stars; and unmoved substance, which he argues is separate from physical things (1069a30-b2). Aristotle argues in the following way: What ensures the continuity of generation and destruction in all its splendid variety? His answer: the complex eternal circular motions of the heavenly bodies. What ensures the continuity of those motions? His answer: an unmoved mover, one for each heavenly sphere ( L .6, 1071b3-11; L .8). The Prime Mover is first introduced as the cause of the eternal rotation of the outermost sphere, the sphere of the fixed stares (L .7, 1072a23-26; 1072b3-10). But this first mover accounts for more than the continuous rotation of the outermost sphere. In L .10 Aristotle asks in what way the good is contained in the universe: Is it contained in something separate by itself or in the order of the parts? Or is it contained in both ways, like an army, whose good is both in the order and the general? Aristotle says that the good is contained in both ways, but it is more the general, since the general does not depend on the order, whereas the order depends on him (1075a11-25). Aristotle's Prime Mover is the principle of cosmic order (see Kahn, 1985). The Prime Mover's constant activity guarantees that things continue to behave according to their natures for the good of one another and for the good of the whole.And thus it ends. I have some quibbles: Is it correct to call an actuality a 'second-actuality', if it is never the realization of some potential? Also, it seems wrong to say that, for Aristotle, God and terrestial substances do not differ in kind ("Since contraries are other in form, and the perishable and the imperishable are contraries ... the perishable and the imperishable must be different in kind", I.10 1058b28-30.)
Aristotle argues that the Prime Mover is a pure actuality--a second-actuality or activity. He excludes from it all vestiges of potentiality. If the first mover contained any potency (dunamis), its activity might fail, and it would depend on something else to ensure the continuity of its activity (L .9). The Prime Mover's divine being does not differ in kind from the active being of ordinary terrestial substances. The difference is that Aristotle's God always enjoys the activity that we earthly substances achieve only sometimes and for a short time (L .7).
But I'm interested more in the fact that, except for the appearance of the word 'enjoys' (which seems unmotivated) in the last sentence, there is no reason, from what is given in these paragraphs, to regard the Prime Mover as living, a mind, or an intelligence. Yet that is how Aristotle undeniably regards the Prime Mover. (The label 'God' seems unmotivated in the passage as well. But even if we grant that the Prime Mover is Aristotle's 'god', that would not imply that it was thinking or alive: some presocratics, of course, called their first principle 'god' simply because it was everlasting.)
That raises a question: On what grounds does Aristotle regard the Prime Mover as thinking and living? We can reformulate this with respect to First Philosophy as defined above: On what grounds does Aristotle wish to draw closely together human intelligence and the Prime Mover? (Indeed, he calls human intelligence divine and a kind of god within us.)
I'll say more about this in a later post. It has to do with two ways of resolving the 'schizophrenia in Aristotle scholarship' I mentioned earlier.