11 May 2006

Two Conceptions of First Philosophy

Yesterday I raised the question: suppose we take 'first philosophy' in Aristotle, as according to an old definition, to deal with substances that exist separately from sensible substances, viz. minds and God. Then: what is the relationship between Aristotle's views on the one (God) and his views on the other (minds)?

One is tempted here to draw a distinction between the 'order of being' and the 'order of knowing' and to say that, in the order of knowing, his views about God are prior, but in the order of knowing his views about minds are prior. But this seems too easy a way out of the problem, because what we want to know is how the various views get justified.

For instance, these seem to be two different ways of proceeding:

"God and Other Minds". I take the label from Plantinga's book. We first establish certain doctrines about the human mind, and then infer, by analogical reasoning, that the Prime Mover must be similar. For instance, from an argument such as that in De Anima 3.4 we conclude that the human mind is separable from perceptible substances, since it has a function which is not the function of a bodily organ. We then argue from analogy that something that directs the universe in ways not unlike the way the human mind directs the body, and which is similarly separable from perceptible substances (since it lacks matter), should similarly be accounted a Mind.

"Image of God". I take this label from Genesis, but one might just as well say "Affinity with the Divine", taking this from the Phaedo. We first establish certain doctrines about the Prime Mover and then infer that the human mind must be similar. We argue about the Prime Mover, perhaps, in the following way: a first cause cannot have potentiality; thus it lacks matter; but it would have to consist, then, simply of form, or something like form; but a form existing without matter just is a thought; but a thought implies a thinker; thus the Prime Mover is a thinker. And then we reason about human beings: the human soul directs the body and comes to have knowledge in ways that resemble the Prime Mover; it strives, too, to imitate the divine and has an evident affinity with it. Thus, it has a faculty (the mind) which, like the Prime Mover, is separately existing.
Which of these represents Aristotle's approach? One would think the first, because psychology for Aristotle is a part of physics, and metaphysics is to be studied after, and is meant to build upon, results in physics. Yet does Aristotle appeal to results in human psychology in Lambda in something like this way? The general structure of his argument there might seem to conform better with the second approach.

Note that a similar question arises as regards the relationship between human and divine eudaimonia. Does Aristotle think: (i) we arrive at the conclusion that eudaimonia is contemplative simply from considering the human case, and then we conclude that divine eudaimonia must be something similar, although more intense and eternal; or (ii) we arrive at the conviction that human eudaimonia is contemplative through a consideration of what sort of end or goal might be meaningfully attributed to a divine being, on the assumption that the human mind is quasi-divine?