Creation, Cosmic Cycles, and History. #2

This is a continuation of a series that began here.

2. The Cosmos and “substance” – Aristotle’s primary objection against Empedocles is that that any natural organism1 can only be generated from the agency of another of the same species.2 This means that you cannot get a horse from anything but a horse; which most early thinkers thought ruled out evolution. Plato, Anaxagoras, and most theologians claim that new substances may come to be only by God’s action, which is conceived by analogy with artificial craft-production.3 Against this consensus, Empedocles makes the radical claim that natural organisms can come to be from mere potentiality.  Both Platonic creationism and Aristotelean eternalism, for all their differences, share a source of pre-existing forms from which substances may generate: either Plato’s world of separate forms or the Aristotle’s world of formed matter. Empedocles has renounced any such pre-existing forms from which to derive generation of newly formed matter. It is this that we refer to when we say that our sense of “emergentism” implies that potentiality precedes actuality.

Questioning the primacy of the actual will inevitably force us to examine our account of purpose, whose study is called “teleology”. Coexisting within Empedoclean cosmology are two themes that stand in some tension: 1) where chance is allowed to govern or initiate the emergence of order, and 2) another that recognizes the importance of cosmic purpose or teleology with respect to the emergence of life.4 One form of genesis which we consider to have occurred is that of “strong emergence”, where organisms come to be from mere potentiality without any preceding actuality other than the matter and the forces of nature. We hope to retain as much of the doctrine Metaphysics as possible, and where this is not possible, suggest the alternative solution to the origin of form from potentiality, one that we hope serves as the best answer Empedocles might give to Aristotle. If Empedocles is to have generable biological forms from mere potentiality, then something like an “Empedoclean form” must exist potentially. How this could be is something that we will discuss in due course. But first, let us discuss the difficulties specific to reading early Greek philosophy in our next chapter.

1 He called them “generable substances”; for reasons which we will discuss below.

2 This is a broad simplification of his complete view, but if we limit our view to generable natural substance, then this holds. Aristotle’s eternalism avoids the need for an account of cosmic origins.

3 But which I mean that the Forms pre-exist in the mind of the Creator, as in Plato, Anaxagoras, and many theologoi. This world of the Forms functions in much the same way as the box full of light that Raven stole from the Old Man.

4“…Empedocles in a sense both mentions, and is the first to mention, the bad and the good as principles…”. Metaphysics I.4 (985a6).


One thought on “Creation, Cosmic Cycles, and History. #2

  1. Pingback: Creation, Cosmic Cycles and History #1. | Zoon Echon Blogon

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