16 May 2007

Difficulties, Lecture II

Sarah Broadie's second Whitehead lecture may, I think, be encapsulated in two assertions:

(I) For Aristotle, divinity is manifested in the natural world solely in the perfect, physically necessary rotational movement of the heavenly spheres;
(II) yet on Aristotle's own principles, this movement is 'natural', and so it is unclear why he would need to appeal to anything outside of nature to account for it.
But there seem to be many texts at odds with (I). Consider simply the passage from Cicero with which Broadie began her lecture, and which she took as exemplary of Aristotle's attitude: the evidences of divinity (opera deorum) mentioned there include many sublunary phenomena, such as land, sea, sky, clouds, and wind (terram et maria caelumque vidissent, nubium magnitudinem ventorumque vim cognovissent).

And then I think of the famous passage at the end of Parts of Animals, book I, where Aristotle says that the study of living things yields the same sort of marvelous insight, though in a different way, as the study of the heavens--and he even quotes Heraclitus to make the point, "gods are present there too."

I wonder too why Aristotle would use the word theion (godlike) for human nous unless he thought it somehow manifested divinity.

(Doesn't (I) seem plausible only if we leave animate things out of the picture, and put to the side Aristotle's willingness to view living things and their powers as organized in a teleological hierarchy?)

I'm doubtful about (II) also, for two reasons:
  • Aristotle explains the movement of earth, air, fire, and water as the realization of a tendency to go to a place: but what would be the place toward which an eternal rotational movement is tending?
  • To say that the terrestial elements have a natural movement is to say that they admit of being hindered in that movement: e.g. to say that earth tends to the center is to say that it can be hindered from going to the center, and that it resumes its movement to the center when the hindrance is removed. That's just what a natural tendency is. But presumably the celestial spheres could not be hindered.


Monte Johnson said...

Michael mentions PA i 5: this passage contains further evidence for the interpretation of the cave dwellers passage in Cicero as an a fortiori argument about art and nature. There Aristotle says: "surely it would be unreasonable, even absurd, for us to enjoy observing likenesses of animals on the grounds that we are the same time observing the art that made them, such as painting or sculpture, while not prizing even more the study of things constituted by nature, at least not when we can behold their causes" (645a10-15). Again, the point seems to be that if you think that products of art or "intelligent design" are impressive, then you should be all the more impressed with natural things, because the former imitate the latter, not vice versa. To admire products of art (like furniture and luxuries) above natural things would be decadent and absurd. But to admire natural things (like plants and animals and the stars) as products of art-- that would just be confused as to the causes of natural things, and as to the priority of nature over art.

Monte Johnson