23 November 2005

Aristotle's Paradigmatism

I had almost neglected to post on Ed Halper's interesting paper in BACAP last Thursday at Holy Cross.

Halper argued that it is possible to give a coherent interpretation of Metaphysics Iota, if that book is understood to be expressing a general affirmation of 'paradigmatism'. Paradigmatism is the view that (i) the genus, not the species, is the primary unit of knowledge, but that (ii) typically a genus contains a species which serves as the 'one' and 'measure' of that genus, and (iii) the other species of the genus may be construed as in some way derived from this species, by some combination of contraries. Hence, (iv) this species serves as the paradigm of the genus. According to Halper, this 'paradigmatism', for Aristotle, is what remains true about Plato's theory of Forms, even if Forms themselves are rejected.

Halper said that paradigmatism explains Aristotle's anthropocentism. The anthropocentrism is, as it were, metaphysically underwritten:

Many scholars have decried Aristotle’s anthropocentrism. My claim here is that Aristotle’s emphasis on man reflects something deeper and more far reaching: that there is a unity within each genus reflects its constitution as a genus and is intrinsic to the possibility of having knowledge (science) of it. ... [I]n Metaphysics Iota Aristotle provides essential orienting principles for interpreting his biology. Since he takes the species of human being as the “one” of the genus of living things, he sees all other species as having differentiae composed, somehow, of the differentia of man; and to the extent that particular organs have their own differentiae, the differentiae of the organs of other animals are composed of the differentiae of human organs. If this is right, there is no reason to regard the biology as aiming at a taxonomic scheme: rather, its aim is knowledge of particular animal species, and this depends on leading other species back to the primary species. ... Moreover, the existence of anomalous species is not necessarily a problem. Indeed, it might be expected if each other species owes its character to a falling off from that of man..
Someone raised an objection: If this account of the genus, 'animal', were correct, and 'human being' is the paradigmatic species, then one would expect that Aristotle would hold that statements of the form "A human being is more of an animal than a horse" are true (where any non-human species of animal is substituted for 'horse'). And yet in the Categories he denies that 'animal' 'admits of more or less'. (One might also have urged that De Anima gives 'animal' as an example of a genus which is a true universal--it is precisely not a genus that is imputed as a consequence of some ordering.)

Halper's reply (he conceded that this was not entirely satisfying) was that the Categories view was presumably put forward in a different context and for different purposes. Halper did not appeal to developmentalism and seemed to think that Aristotle might consistently have held both views at once.

But are these views consistent? And would someone who had formulated the Met. Iota view, as Halper understands it, have rested satisfied with the unqualified claim that we find in the Categories?

There are some other problems, too, in Halper's example. If human beings were paradigmatic animals, then wouldn't we naturally appeal to human beings when making claims about animals? And yet we don't do this. (Just the reverse, it seems: e.g. young children find it almost incredible that human beings are animals). Also, wouldn't we often simply refer to one another as 'animal' instead of 'human'?--this wouldn't be vague or indirect, because we after all are the paradigmatic animals. And yet 'You animal!' is a metaphor.