Notes on Plato’s “Phaedo”


  1. Dramatis persona
    1. Phaedo of Elis (b. ~418/9)
      1. Student of Socrates
      2. founded the School of Elis
      3. aristocratic descent
      4. captured during war, sold as slave (as a “catamite”)
    2. Echecrates of Philus
      1. Student Eurytus of Tarentum and Philolaus)
      2. “last of the Pythagoreans”
      3. Philus was an ally of Sparta vs. Athens
    3. Antisthenes – student of Gorgias
    4. Critobolus of Alopece, son of Crito
    5. Appollodorus of Phaleron – “constant companion” of Socrates, “maniac”, flamboyant
    6. Hermogenes – Alopece, wealthy man
    7. Epigenes of Cephisia
    8. Aeschines – poor, dissolute, legal troubles w.r.t. debts, speaker, author of Socratic dialogues
    9. “Foreigners”
      1. Simmias of Thebes
      2. Cebes
      3. Phaedondes
      4. Euclides of Megara
      5. Terpsion of Megara
  2. Themes:
    1. Category identification (the soul, life, mind)
      1. Many dialogues, especially the early ones, have as their dominant theme the finding of what we call “definitions of common terms”, but which in Plato were called
    1. “what it is to be an ‘x'”
    2. “x itself”
    3. “the common character of all x”
    1. Philosophical way of life
    2. Dialectic
    3. Explanation of natural phenomena – life, sensation, movement, other changes in livin creatures.
  1. Introduction
    1. the fableof pleasure and pain (60c)
    2. The Socratic daimon’s last advice: “ “Socrates” it said “compose music and work at it.” …. philosophy is the greatest music” (61a)
    3. The soul, body and the gods
      1. Body as prison or fort (62b)
      2. Against suicide
      3. “It is gods who take care of us and that we human beings are one of the gods’ possessions.” (62b)
      4. The Afterlife:
        1. “firstly, the company of other gods, who are both wise and good”
        2. “secondly, the company of humans who have dies and who are better than the people here”
      5. “…the sole pursuit of those who correctly engage in philosophy is dying and being dead.” (64a)
    4. “For it is unreasonable that the wisest people shouldn’t resent leaving this ministration in which they are supervised by the best supervisors there are, namely gods. Because I take it such a person doesn’t think that he will take better care of himself after he has become free.” (62d)
  2. Philosophy and Death
    1. There is death (64c)
    2. Death is the separation of body and soul (64c).
    3. Pleasures vs. reason: food, drink, sex, clothes (64d)
    4. Lack of pleasure in body > death? (65a)
    5. Reasoning also seeks that which is separate from body? (65b-66a)
      1. “Just itself”, “…and a Beautiful and Good” (65d)
      2. .. which are not visible with the eyes (65d)
      3. but which are only visible with the mind (65e)
      4. And the affections of the body impede said mental vision? (66c)
      5. Virtue is such separation from the bodily affections. (67a)
    6. “Virtue” marginalia (67d)
    7. “Form” as ideal
    8. “nowhere but in Hades will he have a worthwhile encounter with it” (68b)
    9. courage, temperance (68c)
    10. “The reality is, I suspect, that temperance, justice, and courage are a kind of purification from everything like this and that wisdom itself is a kind of rite to purify us.” (69c)
    11. Concerns for possible mortality of the soul itself. (70a)
  3. Initial arguments for the immortality of the soul (70d-86)
    1. Argument from opposites or reciprocal processes of eternal recurrence (70d-73)
      1. If you want to consider this with regard to humans only, but in relation to all animals, and plants too. In short, everything that has a coming-to-be, let us see whether they all come to be in this way; the opposites from nowhere other than their opposites…” (70e)
      2. “being dead is the opposites of being alive” (71d)
    2. Argument based on the doctrine of recollection (73-78)
      1. “Suppose one set of things did not always balance the other by coming to be, going round in a circle, as it were, but instead the process of coming-to-be were a straight line from the one to its opposite only, and did not bend back again to the former or turn in its course. Do you realize that then everything in the end would have the same form, be in the same condition, and stop coming to be?” (72b)
      2. “also, according to that theory which you yourself habitually propound, that our learning is in fact nothing but recollection…” (72e)
      3. “I don;t quite remember at the moment.” (73a)
      4. “Equal itself” (74b)
      5. “For our present argument is no more about the Equal than about the Beautiful itself, the Good itself, the Just, the Pious, and, as I’ve been saying, about everything to which we attach this label, “what such and such is”…” (75d)
      6. [For other uses of the locution “what such and such is”..look at:]
        1. 65d-e
        2. 74d
        3. 75b
        4. 78d
        5. 92e
        6. Symposium 211c-d
        7. Republic
          • 490b
          • 507b
          • 532a-b
      7. Fears about the immortality of the soul:
        1. “For why shouldn’t it be that, on the one hand, the soul is born and constituted from somewhere else, and exists before it ever enters a human body, but that, on the other hand, when the soul has entered a body, and is being separated from it, it itself then dies and is destroyed?” (77b)
        2. “…when the soul leaves the body the wind blows it apart and dissipates it, especially when someone happens to die not in clam weather but in a strong wind.” (77e)
        3. “You must chant spells to him every day until you manage to chant it away.”
      8. “The Great Commission”: “Greece is a large place … and there are no doubt many good men in it. There are also many races of foreigners. All of these people you must comb in your search for such an enchanter, sparing neither money nor effort, as there’s nothing on which you’d be better off spending money. But you must yourselves work together as you search, because you may not easily find others more able to do this than you.” (78a)
    1. Argument involving these two arguments: souls as pre- and post- life existence.
      1. “What kind of thing is liable to undergo this – that is, to be dissipated?” (78b)
    2. Argument involving composite and incomposite objects [affinity argument] (78c-81)

















      1. The characterization of the form in future dialogues:
        1. Republic– “noeton” or “intelligible”
        2. Parmenides– “mono-eide” or “one idea”
        3. Sophist –
          • ever self-consistent
          • Khorismos(“separate”)
      2. “those who care about their own soul”
      3. “purifying rite that philosophy provides” (82d)
      4. “and philosophy observes the cleverness of the prison – that it works through desire, the best way to make the prisoner himself assist in his imprisonment.” (82e)
      5. “the god whose servants they are” (85a)
      6. “I myself am the swan’s fellow-slave and sacred to the same god” (85b)
  1. Objections (86-102)
    1. Epiphenomenalism (92-95c)
      1. Simmias’ Pythoagoreanism”
      2. Soul as harmony or attunement
      3. musical instrument analogy
        1. “…attunement, too, and a lyre and strings: that the attunement is something invisible, incorporeal, and utterly beautiful and divine in the tuned lyre, whereas the lyre itself and its strings are bodies, corporeal, composite and earthly and akin to the mortal.” (86a)
        2. “our soul is a blend and attunement of those every things, when they are blended properly and proportionately with one another.” (86c)
        3. “…a weaver who had dies in old age. One might argue that the human being has not perished but exists intact somewhere, providing as evidence the fact that the cloak that he himslef wove for his own use and wore is intact and has not perished.” (87b)
        4. “But let us suppose that, after granting this much, he refused to concede the further point that the soul does not suffer in its many births and at the end perish completely during one of those deaths, and that no one knows which death and which parting from the body make the soul perish.” (88b)
      4. Rebuttal 1: How can an assembly of material parts account for recollection? (92b-93)
        1. “For presumably you won’t allow yourself to say that an attunement existed, already composed, before those thing existed of which it was due to be composed.” (92b)
        2. “For the second has come to me with no proof but with a sort of plausibility and outward appeal, which is the basis on which most people believe it too.” (92d)
      5. Rebuttal 2: How can there be differences in moral worth among collections of material parts? (93-95)
        1. “In that case, an attunement is not the sort of thing to governits components, but rather to follow them.” (93a)
        2. “…is one soul in even the smallest degree this very thing, soul, more and to a greater extent than another, or less so and to an inferior extent?” (93b)
        3. “Of all the things in a human being, is there any other than soul that you would say is in command, and especially a wise soul? … Does soul do so by surrendering to the body’s affections or by actualy opposing them?” (94b)
        4. “Theban Harmonia” (95a) [wife of Cadmus, legendary founder of Thebes]
    2. Cebes’ reply (Mechanist naturalism) (95c-102)
      1. Based on Heraclitean theory of exchanges
      2. Analogy: weaver wearing out many coats or bodies as a covering.
      3. The soul viewed as psychic units of energy, which are variously allotted through the whole realm of souls.
      4. Requires the full treatment of the causes of generation and destruction; leads to the famous account of Socrattes’ intellectual development and critique of the Anaxagorean conception of nous. (96-102)
        1. Anaxagoras – “intelligence should be the cause of everything” (97c)
        2. Socrate’s intellectual quest:
          • Ionian physicists – combination of elements
          • Pythagoreans – numbers
          • Empedocles –
          • Anaxagoras – Mind
          • The Delphic Oracle – Wisdom, definitions, “common character”, “x-itself”, “ontos on
      5. dunamis” (98c) “method” or “function”
      6. “causes” (99b)
      7. cosmology (99b)
  2. The Theory of Forms (102-107d)
    1. Participation and Oppositional Forms (102-104)
      1. “In the same way, the small in us is never willing to come to be, or be, large, nor can any other opposite still be what it was and at the same time come to be, and be, its opposite, but it withe” (103a)
      2. “…not only does the Form iteslf merit its own name for all time, but there is also something else that merits it, which is not the same as the Form, but which, whenever it exists, always has the feature of that Form.” (103e)
    2. Concluding section on dialectic and the soul as an animating principle. Difference between accidental and essential predication. (104-105c)
      1. “For if you were to ask me what I is that, when it comes to be present in anything’s body, makes the thing hot, I will not give that safe, ignorant answer – namely that it is hotness – but, thanks to what we now say, a more ingenious one: that it is fire.” (105c)
    3. Formal argument for immortality from the premise that the soul is a principle of life – the Form of Life.
    4. “…and as for God, I suppose, and the Form of Life itself, and any other immortal thing there may be, it would be agreed by everyone that they may never perish.” (106d)
  3. The Myth of the Underworld.
    1. “Now there are many wondrous regions of the earth, and the earth itself is neither of the nature nor of the size it is believed to be by those who usually talk about it, as I have been convinced by someone.” (108c)
    2. “…if the earth is round and in the middle of the heaven, it has no need of air or of any other such necessity to stop it falling” (109a)
    3. “the earth is extremely large” (109b)
    4. “aether” (109c)
    5. “Now we are unaware that we dwell in the earth’s hollows, and we suppose that we dwell up on the earth’s surface…” (109c)
    6. “…true heaven, the genuine light and the vertiable earth.” (110b)
    7. “For if it’s also appropriate to tell a myth, it’s worth hearing, Simmias, what the things on the surface of the earth under the heaven are really like.” (110b)
    8. “One of the chasms in the earth is in fact the largest in a number of ways, but in particular because it is bored right through the whole earth.” (112a)
    9. “Tartarus” (112b)

Taran, Leonardo. “Plato, Phaedo, 62 A.” The American Journal of Philology, vol. 87, no. 3, 1966, pp. 326–336. JSTOR,

Deborah Kamen. “The Manumission of Socrates: A Rereading of Plato’s Phaedo.” Classical Antiquity, vol. 32, no. 1, 2013, pp. 78–100. JSTOR,

Rundin, John S. “Gods and Corporations: Fifth-Century B.C.E. Athena and the Economic Utility of Extraordinary Agents.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, vol. 19, no. 3/4, 2007, pp. 323–331. JSTOR,

Notes on Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” Book IV


IV.1 The Supreme Science of Ontology

Q: What is metaphysics or “first philosophy” about?

A: This science investigates “beingquabeing”. What does that mean?

  • The word “qua” means “as” in Latin.
  • For example,
    • The science of biology investigates living things qua living;insofar as they are alive.
    • Physics studies beings qua physical – insofar as they are matter and energy.
    • Chemistry studies beings insofar as they are made of atoms and molecules.

Now you can study a living creature as such, or you can ignore its biological traits and focus on its character as a merely physical being, for example, its mass and energy. If you study it qua chemical being, you are also ignoring its distinctivelybiological traits and focusing on its atoms and molecules and the chemical reactions inside of it. You could also study a living creature, such as a raven,qualiterarybeing; for example its symbolism when used in Poe’s poem “The Raven”. Every science has a certain type or character of things that it focuses on. For each of these sciences, the essence of what they study is assumed as part of a “scientific paradigm”. Living things, numbers, and poemsare alltypesof beings. However, the science of numbers can be used to study anything quaquantifiablebeing; in so far as it has quantity or magnitude. Likewise, the study of poetry can study anything qua poetic being, in so far as it relates to whatever it is that poetry does.

So biology studies anything in so far as it relates to living beings, and it studies living beings qualiving beings, insofar as they are alive and in no other respect, unless that respect is interesting from a biological perspective. For example, the fact that Samson killed a lion in the Bible is not interesting to a biologist because of its theological import, but only in so far as it gives witness of the former range of this creature and perhaps shows that it has been slowly going extinct for thousands of years. Since species, range, fitness and extinction are distinctly and essentially biological traits they are part of the science of life qualife. But the fact that the Lord was with Sampson on that day is not biological per se.

So biology can study anything, but only insofar as it relates to life. A planet and its orbit are only of interest insofar to biology as it relates to the life that may live on that planet. Words, logic and mathematics are only of interest insofar as they relate to life or are done by life; for example, “How does logical reasoningcontribute to a species’ fitness?” In this case we are not worried about logic qualogic, but only qualiving, as an adaptive behavior.

So what does it mean to study “being quabeing”? This is what the rest of the BookIV is about.

IV.2 “Substance” and the Different Senses of ‘Being’

Q: What are the sorts of “being”?

A: Just as a biologist would want to do in their study of living things qua living, the ontologist will study being qua being. Biologists will start by compiling various lists concerning their subject:

  1. Things that they believe are done onlyby living creatures. For example, metabolism, reproduction, movement, sensation, death, et cetera.
  2. Things that pertain to allliving things.
  3. The next higher genus of things of which the living are a species. For example, living things are a subset (species) of physical or chemical beings.
  4. The next lower species of things of which the living are a superset(what Aristotle called “genus”): for example, the largestspecies/subgroup of living things are the “domains”:archaebacteria, eubacteria, and eukaryotes.

These are all the foundational questions for the science of living things qua living things.

Now in respect of questions one and two, we can say very little except that every being can be said to ‘be’insomeway. For example, the word “nothing” refers to nothing…or does it? I mean it has a meaning, and we know whatis meant when it is said. So in a sense it does refer to something, just not a normalsort of “thing”. In fact this “thing” not even a thing in the normal sense of the word, and most people would agree that it is pretty much nothing. I mean if I make up a fake word and do not assign a meaning to it, then that word refers to nothing. However, the word “nothing”doeshave a meaning because it refers to nothing. This paradox is called “Plato’s Beard”, and as Quine said, it is tough enough to dull “Ockahm’s Razor”, and is a proper subject for ontology, the study of being quabeing. The referents of a fake word and the word “nothing” are not the same sort of nothing at all, but rather different sorts, and even though we use the same word to refer to them, nobody would confuse them. After the study of ontology, you will be even less confused rather than more. Or at least this is what you will expect IF ontology is a real science. If it is a real science, then it must have a specific thing that is its per seobject, in the same way that organisms are the per se object of biology and propositions are of logic and numbers are for math.

What about question three? Well, one of the special things about ontology is that there is no wider super set or “genus” of which being is a subset or “species”. Being includes everything, even nothingis a being in a sense (not so much the word “nothing”, but the referent of that word).

And here we come to question four, where the real action is. If “Being” is a genus, then what are the widest species of that genus? Now you will really have to think hard, because there are so many types of beings, but for this you need to list the highesttypes. When I listed the highest “species” of living things, I had to list some pretty exotic taxa: forget about moths, starfish and humans, we had to go to the very top of the tree of life: archaebacteria, eubacteria, and eukaryotes. What are those? Well just as it takes some knowledge of biology to even know what these creatures are, it takes a bit of work to even understand what the highest kinds of “being” are. Those are the “categories”.

Q:What is the primarysort of “being”?

A: By “primary” we mean the most substantial and essential sense of “being” that ontology focuses on. To see what is meant by this, let us return to the example of biology above. We said that biology focuses on living things, by which we mean organisms. It also studies soil, mountains, the weather, entire planets and solar systems, etc.So any of these things can be “biological”, but our use of this word has a different meaning than when we call an organism “biological”. For biologists only study planets insofar as they might have organisms living on them. They only study soil or the weather insofar as they are relate to organisms. They only study game theory or chaos theory insofar as they relate to organisms. This is ultimately the same as with Aristotle’s example of “healthy”; “healthy people” are “healthy” in a different sense from “healthy food” or “healthy activities” or “healthy lifestyles”. Just as organisms are the primary object of biology, “healthy people” are the primary object of medicine. All the sciences also have focus on some sort of thing which is their primary object; math has numbers, music has music, chemistry has atoms, geology has the Earth, astronomy has stars, linguistics has language, psychology has the mind, et cetera. So if ontology is actually a science, then it too must have a primary object which is the primary sense of “being”, and the other senses of “being” will be seen as secondary to it.

In this chapter, he introduces the word “substance” in this context refers to the primary focus of a thisscience. Later on in Aristotle’s work, this word will acquire a different meaning based on its use in ontology. But since we do not yetknow what the primary sense of “being” is, he is not using it to refer to the primary focus of any science. Health, numbers, articulate sounds, melodies, and logical arguments, (for example) are not really substances in the full sense that we shall learn about later on, but since each of these sorts of beings are the focus of their own science (medicine, math, grammar, music, and logic), they are substances in thatsense which he uses here. Other sciences study beings which are substances in the fullsense: physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and metaphysics all study “substances” in the full sense, which we shall learn about later.

The study of substance and its relation to other more superficial categories will be completed in Book VII (Zeta), where he shows why substances must have form (they must have matter) but cannot be mere forms without matter.

IV.3 The First Axiom


In addition to its “substance” (whatever that might be) there are also proper to each science some axioms which define the essence of how one ought to think about that substance. In the case of ontology, are these axioms part of it or do they instead belong to logic or some other science?

These axioms are true of all beings, not merely physical beings or ideal beings. Do they apply to all beings qua being or only as objects of speech or thought? If the former, then perhaps they are part of the study of ontology, if the latter, then they belong to logic.

Aristotle claims that the supreme axioms are assumed by logic. You cannot even begin to study logic without assuming them. No natural scientist, not mathematician nor geometer ever doubts or tries to prove them, since they are assumed by all. Only in ontology or “firstphilosophy” can we even raise the question of what the First Principles or Axioms are that apply to all beings qua being.

The axioms of ontology are those which:

  1. Are assumed by any other study, even logic.
  2. Are more certain than the axioms of any other subject.
  3. Are more general than other axioms.



The “First Axiom” is this: “The same attribute cannot belong and not belong to the same subject and in the same respect.” (1005b20)

This axiom is assumed by any belief, statements, reasoning, or thought about anything at all of any sort, be they numbers, atoms, fictional characters, colors, Gods, et certera. Even if you say that you doubt it, and even if you actually doubt it, it is still impossible to actually think or believe opposite things at the same time according to Aristotle.


Why the First Axiom cannot and does not need to be proven.

That this axiom is first among all possible axioms can be seen from the fact that if one were to try an prove it, one first needs to assume it. Is is already proven or not? It’s either one of the other right? Why can’t it be BOTH? Oh yeah, the First Axiom tells us it can’t be both. For anything that is A, it has to not be not-A. You cannot begin to “prove” anything at all unless you already assume the First Axiom. Not only does proof depend on the First Axiom, even statments depend on the First Axiom to have meaning. If I say that “x is blue”, does this necesssarily mean it is false that “x is not blue”? If it does not, then what is the point of saying “x is blue” in the first place? If not, are you really “saying” anything? If not, you are just making noises without any propositional meaning. So in a sense, the First Axiom is simply a definition of what it means to engage in a certain form of communication, where meaning is encoded in symbols grouped into “propositions” with “truth value”. Many other facts follow from this truth, such as the following:

  1. Each proposition is not necessarily a full sentence, and each sentence may express multiple propositions.
  2. There are others sorts of speech acts that are non-propostional, such as questions, exclamations and emotive noises or calls.
  3. As for propositions that may have some truth value, they must each be either true or not and can never be both.
  4. If their meaning is ambiguous, then of course they may be neither, but in that case they are not really a ‘proposition’ in the full sense of the word.

First philosophy must imply many things like the above in explaining the meaning of the First Axiom, and we could go on forever saying new things like this. However, the important thing to see here is that all of this follows from the First Axiom, which cannot be proven and need not be proven, since all proof assumes the First Axiom before it can even begin.

After this, you might be ready to read Metaphysics Book VII.

Notes on Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” Book VII


If you like this post check out my podcast “The Aristotle Project“.

NOTE: [These are my notes on the seventh book of Aristotle’sMetaphysics, also called book “Z” or “Zeta”. It concerns the concept of “substance” (ousia), or in other words “the ‘most real’ sort of thing that is”. It shows how Aristotle defends his views against both idealism and materialism. In my view, this can be well adapted to modern debates e.g. concerning reductionism and physicalism and I hope that it is clear how I think this is so.


Something to think about while you read this.


One item that puzzled me at first and that paid off my inquiry was the variety of things that were claimed by Aristotle as being “substance”. From a modern perspective, it seems that atoms and molecules are substantial, and an organism is also substantial, but the are not “substantial” in the same way. How can some thing be equally substantial as something from which it is made? Why can some substances include other substances as their material constituents, even though substances are not merely matter in their own right? In the end, I think that there is an explanation for this that includes both Kantian and evolutionary ideas, but this will have to wait for another blog post. I hope I address many of the concerns raised by the fact that the creatures who implement the highest categories of reason evolved through a contingent process in time and space. If you really pay attention to my description of the relation of elemental and biological substances but below and in a previous post on the “Physics”, you will see it.}

VII.1 What is “substance”?

“Substances”, in the sense used by philosophers, are objects which are “really real”. In Book Zeta, Aristotle claims that the question “What is ‘substance’?” is the most important question of philosophy, the one that is implicit in all previous thought without being openly stated. In Book IV (Gamma), Aristotle claims that prior to him, all other thinkers differed primarily on this one issue, and broadly speaking they had one of two positions on the subject:

  1. Materialism – These were the those who thought that “The Arkhe” or “Substance” was some type of matter, either fire, water or possibly atoms. Since this material underlay all real things and persisted through their birth and decay, it was more realin their view. In their view, matter was substance. Matter has the following advantages:
    1. It is the bearer of attributes, but nothing else bears it as an attribute.
    2. Before anything can come to be, its matter must first already be.
    3. Matter is immediately and obviously sensible whether or not it is known or perceived.

    The disadvantage of matter is that it lacks “what-it-is-ness” it is an atom or molecule are substances, but an aggregate of H2O molecules is not a substance in this same way.

  2. Idealism – Idealists believed that there were non-material things which were both eternal and more knowable than matter, which in their view made them more real. Idealists include Plato and Pythagoras. In their view, abstract beings (ideas or numbers) were substance. This view has the following advantages:
    1. Ideas are eternal.
    2. Ideas are necessary; the cannot not be as they are.
    3. Ideas are unchanging.
    4. Ideas are the “whatness”, the essence that make each thing the sort of thing it is. Once a thing loses this essence, it ceases to exist. Thus even the being of sensible things depends of ideas.

So for each of these opposing schools, we see that they both have reasons to define a certain sorts of things as “more real” than other sorts of things. Everyone sees that most things have some sort of reality, but some things are more realthan others. Aristotle proposes to focus on this issue of being “more real” by comparing all the possible candidates for “most real” things. In his philosophy the most real category of being is called “substance” (in Greek – “ousia”, meaning “land”). His method includes the following:

  1. First he looks at the major philosophical theories of substance, dividing them up as we did above.
  2. Then he lists those things which are commonly thought of as being substantially real, such as fire, air, organs, organisms, etc.
  3. Then he looks at those qualities that seem to make up the “substantiality” of the various types of substances people seem to believe in. These include:
    1. Matter
    2. Essence or Form
    3. The Composite of matter and form
  4. Warning: Aristotle uses the word “substance” in two related ways that might be confusing, First of all, there are:
    1. Substance1– “substances” as the “really real things” we have been talking about and then there is
    2. Substance2 – the “substance OF the substances”; that aspect of substances which is what makes it a substance and not merely an aggregate of smaller substances.
    3. In other words, every substance1is a substance1because it hassubstance2.  {In the case of humans, each human is a human because its matter has the form of a human; this can mean the outward form, but if can also mean the inner essence that causes the outward form to be – i.e. one’s genome and the cellular machinery that uses the DNA to make proteins into a human.}

Ch. 1 – Being as Substance

  • ” ‘Being’ has many senses. (See Metaphysics Book V.vii and the Categories)
    • But “being” denotes first “what a thing is” (its individuality and nature) and only secndarily the other categories.
    • All that is is either substance or “a determination of a substance” (some other category).
    • Non-substances (other categories) cannot exist independently or separated from substance.
  • How is substance primary?
    • “In definition”
      • “If we say something is ‘good’, that is not really meaningful unless we know the substance of which is is said.
        • An organism is “good” if it has high fitness or health, whereas
        • a logical proof is good, if it is valid and interesting.
        • A poem is good in a whole different way.
        • In this sense, substance is prior in defintion.
    • “In knowledge”
      • We cannot know if something is “big”, “yellow” or any other predicate unless we know what sort of substance it is.
    • “In time”
      • Because actual substance is always temporally prior to all its other categories.
      • Before a thing a be good, or red or, tall, it must first be a human or a dog or some other sort of substance. If we are only speaking of a possible tall human, then the goodness is likewise merely possible as well.

Ch. 2 – Opinions on substance.

  1. Many things are commonly accepted as substance.
    • Organisms
    • Parts of Organisms
    • Elements
    • ‘And their different species’
    • “and their parts and what is compounded of them, e.g. the physical universe and its parts (the stars, the Moon, and the Sun).”
  2.  Are all of these substances? Are there any other substances?
  3. Pythagoras says that numbers and geometrical forms are more substantialthan matter.
  4. The physiologoireject nonsensible substances.
  5. Plato
    • accepts geometry and adds Forms;
    • rejects material substances.

Ch. 3 – Substance as Substratum

  • There are four strong candidates for substance:
    • Substratum – the underlying concrete being
    • Essence – the Form of the thing
    • Universal – the definition of the essence, for example the data from sequencing a genome or the design of an artifact.
    • Genus – higher level universals, since they are more general, and on one view are thus more substantial.
  • Possible substrata:
    • Matter
    • Sensible Form of the individual being
    • Hylomorph – the matter/form compound – both of the above in concert.
  • Any of these could be “that which has predicates but is not predicated of another.”
  • If we define it over-simply thus, it seems that matter is the most likely substance the substance.

Ch. 4 – What has essence?

  1. “Essence” is :
    • What a thing is of itself
    • What a thing is in virtue of itself.
  2. Essence is NOT:
    • “A musical person” – accidental quality of substance.
    • “A white surface” – accidental quality of form.
    • “A white man” – accidental quality of substance.
    • “A cloak”
      • artificial product.
      • compound
        • of material elements
        • of matter and form by skill, not nature. This is because the form of the artifact is only partially in the artifact; in another sense it is in the workman. However, it serves well in many of Aristotle’ examples to illustrate “matter”, “form” and other concepts.
  3. Essence belongs to:
    • Substance “primarily and simply”
    • secondarily to all other Categories, which are said to “be”
      • By equivocation
      • In a qualified sense
        • We know that something is unknown
        • In the sense that nothing “is”.
      • Analogically as in:
        • “Surgical” (tools, practitioners, patients, supplies, rooms, schools, books, techniques, data, terminology)

Ch. 5 – Have coupled terms essence of definition?

This chapter deals with the essences of coupled terms like “white man”, white surface”, “musical man”, or “female human”. It is clear that the separated terms have essences in some sense; what about the compound terms taken jointly?

Essential attributes.

  • Noses are either concave or snub(per se attributes).
  • Animals are either male or female.
  • Quantities are either equal or not.

But whiteness is a NONessential attribute of man.

“Essence” is said analogously or in a different sense in both substance and other categories.

“Thus in one sense there will be no definition or essence of of anything except substances, while in another sense the remaining categories also have them. And so it is manifest that definition is the formula of the essence, and that essence belongs only to substances or to them alone in the proper, primary, and unqualified sense.”

[It seems that nonsubstantial essences are merely classificatory, while substantial essences have other senses:

  • Living essences have their form as their essence.
    • The genotype is the essence, in the following sense:
      • the genotype is nonsensible
      • the genotype is the cause of being is and temporally prior to the phenotype.
  • Molecular essences are the the molecules interface with other molecules; in other words, those aspects of the molecule that make it a suitable substratum for biology.
  • Atomic essences are the properties of the atom (atomic weight, outer electron shell configuration) that determine its chemical behavior.

Notes about these essences:

  • Lower-level substances (e.g. atoms )are “subsumed” into the essences higher level substances. (e.g. molecules).
  • The essence of the living substances is their encoded genotype (informed matter).
  • The essence of non-living substances is their interface with living creatures.]


Ch. 6 – Is a thing the same as its essence?

Two questions:

  • Does “The being” = “The being’s substance”?
  • Does “the being’s substance” = “the being’s essence”?
  1. Q: Why would the essence of the subjects of accidental predication be identical on the view that “a thing = its essence”? After all, it is its essence.
    • A: In one sense, the essence of “white man” and “black man” are the same, since both are “men” and the color is non-essential.
  2. What about per seexpressions?
    • Assuming the (Platonic)? Forms:
      • IF – Essence = Form
      • AND – Form = “ontos on” (thing in itself ?).
      • THEN – Essence is the things themselves. [substance?]
    • “That each individual thing is one and the same as its essence. … is clear … from the fact that to know the individual thing is to know its essence.”


Ch. 7 – Analysis of the Generation of Substance.

  1. Things Belonging to any of the categories may come into being in many ways.
    1. From many types of causes
      1. nature
      2. art
      3. spontanaeity
    2. Genesis is effected:
      1. BY something (efficient cause)
      2. FROM something (material cause)
      3. FOR something (final cause)
  2. “Some artificial, like some natural, products are also produced spontaneously and by chance; for sometimes, even in the natural sphere, the same things are generated both from seed and without it.” (from History of Animals (eels, fish, testaceans, insects) as well as(Physics?)”2.9″”
    1. Processes of production are analyzed in this section in two ways:
      1. By process:
        1. First the thought
        2. Then productive action
      2. Modes of speech
        1. “From sickness to health” – (not a health from sickness)
        2. “Statue made from stone” – (not from stone to statue)

Ch. 8 – What is generated? The “Hylomorph”

Q: When a substance comes into being, what is it that does so? Form, matter or both?

A: The “hylomorph” (compound of form and matter) comes into being.

“… We do however, cause a bronze sphere to ‘be’ inasmuch as we produce it from bronze andsphere; we put the form into a given lump of matter and the result is a bronze sphere. But if the essence of sphere were produced, it would have to be produced out of something; for what is produced must always be divisible and be partly one thing and partly another – partly matter and partly form.” … “Clearly, then the Forms (if there are such things) do nothing to explain generation or substances, and therefore cannot be considered self-subsistent substances.” Because substances cannot be predicated of another substance.

“Living creatures indeed are more truly substances than anything else, and in their case, if in any, we might expect to discover forms. But no, the begetter is adequate to generating the product, i.e. to putting the form into the matter. The completed whole, a certain form in a certain flesh and bones, is Callias or Socrates; but they are different by virtue of their matter, but the same in form, which is indivisible.” [Note the contradiction with Charlotte Witt’s thesis of individual essences.]

“If then we make the spherical form itself, clearly we should have to make it from some thing, and the process will go on like thatad infinitum.” [But given that the form is ‘made’ (by phylogeny or stellar nuclear synthesis) is it not made from existing “relative form” or ‘intelligible form’?]

Ch. 9 – Production: Autotmatonand non-substances.

“And here is a peculiarity of substance: there must pre-exist in actuality some other substance which produces it, e.g. an animal in the case of animal generation, but a quality or quatity need not necessarily pre-exist otherwise than potentially.” [On the modern view of cosmic and biological evolution, this is not true; nuclear synthesis and phylogeny both generate substances without actual pre-existence.]

Ch. 10 – Parts and Whole

Q: Does the definition of a whole contain that of its parts? What parts are prior to the whole?

n this section, Aristotle is resolving a paradox that comes from speaking of “part” in two different senses: the physical parts (e.g. atoms, molecules, organs, etc.) and the parts of the definition (e.g. the genus and the differentia), and the parts of the compound of these two. His example is a circle of which there are two halves that form semicircles. Now if we look at a concrete circle, the obviously in one sense the two halves are part of this, since they are each half the matter of the original. So in this sense, the semicircles are part of the circle. But if we look at the essence of the circle (or more specifically, the definition (horismos or logos) of the essence), then we see that semicircles are not part of the essence, although they can be deduced from the essence. The parts of essences are the genus and differentia. For circles, the genus is “bounded two-dimensional space” and the species or difference is “boundary = all points equidistant from the center”. In neither of these are “semicircles” mentioned. Since semicircles are not part of the essence of circle, the in this sense semicircles are not part of the circle. You can only define a semicircle by taking an existing circle and divining it in halfThe circles are essentially prior to the semicircles, and are only in each circle as potentials to be created, not as an essential part. In the previous example, the semicircles that made up the actual circle were meant in the sense of “the matter of the semicircle”, and in this case as well only the matter was actual. That two parts qua parts were only there in potentiality.

But when we come to the concrete thing, e.g., this circle, i.e. one of the individual circles, whether perceptible or intelligible (I mean by intelligible circles, the mathematical, and by perceptible circles those of bronze and wood) – of these there is no definition, but they are known by the aid of intuitive thinking or of perception; and when they pass out of this complete realization it is not clear whether they exist of not; but they are always stated and recognized by means of the universal formula. But matter is unknowable in itself. (1036a5)

So the matter in the semicircles are not knowable qua matter but only by virtue of being shaped like a semicircle and of being part of a full circle. In it interesting here that when he says “individual circles”, this could mean either perceptible material circles or intelligible mathematical circles. It may seems weird to call an ‘intelligible”mathematical” circle a “particular”, but perhaps he is referring to the particular intellect of the one who is thinking of the circle. Since the thinker is one, then in this sense the mental idea of the circle is also one particular circle. And immediately following this, he says something rather weird:

And some matter is perceptible and some intelligible, perceptible matter being for instance bronze and wood and all matter that is changeable, and intelligible matter being that which is present in perceptible things but not qua perceptible, i.e. the objects of mathematics. (1036a12)

It is one thing to (foreshadowing Occam) speak of abstracta having a sort of existence in the particular intellect, but “intelligible matter” sounds doubly weird.

Regarding the objects of mathematics, why are the formulae of the parts no parts of the wholes; e.g. why are not the semicircles included in the formula of the circle? It cannot be said, “because these parts are perceptible things”; for they are not. But perhaps this makes no difference; for even some things which are not perceptible must have matter; indeed there is some matter in everything which is not an essence and a bare form but a ‘this’. The semicircles, then, will not be parts of the universal circle, but will be parts of the individual circles, as has been said before [cf. 1035a30-b3]; for while one kind of matter is perceptible, there is another which is intelligible. (1037a)

Ch. 11 – Parts of the Form / Concrete Whole

Q: Essence seems to be mostly about form. Are there essences which “include” matter? Circles clearly are the former, but “animal” clearly includes matter in the definition.

A: Living creatures are essentially animate. meaning the are defined by movement of matter in space and time. A dead hand is only a ‘hand” equivocally,for it lacks the essentiall principles of change needed for a complete substantial hand.

“With regard to mathematical objects, why are they not the definitions of the parts included in those of the whole; e.g. why is not the definition of the semicircle contained in that of the circle? Not because they are sensible objects, for they are not … semicircles, then, are not part of the universal Circle, but of particular circles,”…

We have stated generally:

  1. What essence is and how it is self-subsistent. (ch. iv)
  2. What sorts of definitions include parts of do not. (ch. v, x, xi)
  3. That material parts have no part in the definition. (ch. v, x, xi)
  4. “Thatprimary substances (ch. vi) e.g., crookedness, (??????????) are the same as their essences, while concrete things involving matter are the same as their essences.”
    1. Concrete things cannot be defined, and all parts of the thing are parts of the thing
    2. But the definition or essence can be defined, and the parts of the concrete thing are not the parts of the essence.


Ch. 12 – [Nothing here folks, move along.]

Ch. 13 – Universal is not substance.

  1. a) A thing’s substance is peculiar only to it and nothing else. b) Substance is not predicated of a thing; whereas universals are always predicated of another.
  2. Perhaps universal is merely included in the essence as “animal” in “man” or “horse”. In that case either:
    1. It must be definable. [And thus contain another universal as defining element.] OR
    2. If not all elements are definable, then some are and thus a) above must be true
    3. It is impossible that individual of substance, if composite, should be composed not of substance or individuals but of qualities. [The qualities are not prior to substance in definition or time.]
    4. If “animal” were substance, then the substance Socrates would contain another substance “animal”.
  3. No common predicate denotes a “so-and-so”, rather “such-and-such”.
  4. A substance cannot contain “other substances existing actually”. [But does not a living substance consist of elemental substances?]

“Substance is definable in one sense and not in another.”

Ch. 14 – Forms are not substances.

This chapter looks at further problems with Platonism:

  • Making Forms substances.
  • Making Forms separate from concrete individuals.\
  • Resolving species into genera and differentia.

Ch. 15 – Forms are not substances, continued.

“Substance” is twofold:

  1. The “concrete thing” – the “hylomorph” (form and matter compound)
    • capable of destruction.
    • NOT demonstratable by reason.
  2. The Form – The substance of the concrete thing.
    • NOT capable of destruction.
    • Demonstratable by reason.
  3. Can the Form be defined?
    • Each Form is singular.
    • Which is the overlap of other universals.
    • But universals apply to many, as do any set of universals.
    • Even collections of universals that happen to have only one existing examplar COULD have more. (For example, if you created a copy of the Sun, it could still never be theSun).
    • [So if the Form is substance, then how could it be many? Since substance has predicates but never is a predicate.]

Ch. 16 –

  1. Of the substances, most exist only “potentially”.
    1. Parts of animals.
      1. Do not exist separately.
      2. When separated are merely matter, losing their form.
    2. Earth, fire, air – “None are one, but they are like a heap.”
    3. One might suppose that parts of animals exist “in act” (i.e. are substances?), YET:
      1. Parts exist only potentially.
      2. For parts are connected “by nature”, not “by violence” (biai) or by growing together.
  2.  Universal not substance of a concrete thing.
    1. On ‘x’ = an ‘x’ thing/itself.
    2. The substance of one ‘x’ is one.
    3. No universal can be a substance or the substance of a thing.

Ch. 17 – “The True View of Substance”

There are two ways of asking “Why is ‘x’ a ‘y’?”:

  1. “Why is man an animal?” – Because the from of  animal is in the form of man.
  2. “Why is this matter a man?” – Because the matter has taken the form of man.

A compound which forms a unity (“hylomorph”, meaning “matter-form”):

  1. is not merely an aggregate of material elements. (Gk. “hyle“)
  2. but also includes something destroyed by dissolution. (The Form, “morphe” or “eidos“, not the form itself, but the particular instance of the form that was in the particular bit of matter.)

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Notes on Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” Book I

These are my notes on the first book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.  They contain a few original thoughts, and should give you an idea as to whether you would like to read this work. Book I is a good introduction to Aristotle if you have already read the early Greeks. The only other thing that he wrote that might be good to read ahead of this is Physics Book II, for which you can find my notes here.

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The value of knowledge

For Aristotle, knowledge is inherently good. Some knowledge, to be sure, is only of instrumental value, but the deepest and most valuable knowledge is inherently good and thus ought to be valued for its own sake.

Likewise, sensory input is also valued for its own sake, because nature has fitted us to enjoy senses so that we take initiative in exploring and paying attention to the world around us.

[Note on evolution and the “inherent value” of knowledge.]

[From a modern evolutionary standpoint, knowledge and sensation are not an inherent value, but rather these are adaptations intrumental for the goal of  not going extinct, which from an evolutionary perspective is the only inherent value. It is this latter value which alone is inherently valued in living nature, and this is true whether there are any creatures who are aware of it or not. Even if humans disagree, that does not change reality.

It might be that case that disagreeing with evolution is actually better from an evolutionary standpoint, and this does not at all make evolution false; it just means that it is not “Good” to know the Truth. However, in all my work I assume that the Truth is Good as well as Beautiful. But that is just my assumption because that’s my adaptive strategy. I will also assume that the reader also sees Truth as Good and Beautiful.

So what Aristotle says here about knowledge of the highest truths being inherently good must be taken as being true from within the standpoint of the evolved organism (for us) rather that being true in theory, or “in itself”. In theory, we really do not know this to be true, but most people who read philosophy will assume it to be true, for otherwise, they would not be reading it.]

Sensation, Experience, Knowledge

Sensation, Experience, Knowledge are somewhat similar, but they should not be confused with each other.

Sensation – Perception of such and such a thing here and now. Very often in philosophy sensation and perception are defined separately, but it seems that in this context they are lumped together when contrasted with experience. Aristotle claims that invertebrates ( which he calls “non-sanguinous animals”, animals wothout blood) have only sensation without experience. [Citation ?]

Experience – The memory of many sensations and perceptions of things which are continuous over time. Aristotle claims that non-human vertebrates (“sanguinous animals”) have only sensation and experience without knowledge. [Citation ?]

Knowledge (“episteme“, “tekne“) – After experience, humans can derive knowledge of the causes and principles that underlie the objects and processes that we experience.  Aristotle claims that only humans (“animals having logos“) have knowledge. [Citation ?]

“From a practical point of view” experience is as good as art, skill or knowledge. But for Aristotle, the person with knowledge of principles is “wiser” than one with experience.

[ On the distinction between inherent and instrumental value.]

[From an evolutionary or historical viewpoint, it is clear that there is considerable overlap and crossing-over between inherent and instrumental value.

Take for example, the practices of hunting, fishing, gardening, and herding. For brevity’s sake, we will refer only to “hunting”, but it will be clear that everything we say applies to a great many other things.

Hunting clearly falls under the Aristotle’s category of “productive art”, meaning that it is not inherently good for its own sake but is valued for the production of food. I take it as self-evident that all living creatures that hunt only do so in order to eat and this avoid extinction. So far we agree with Aristotle, but if we look closely, this view ignores certain facts:

  • Our cats and dogs very often enjoy chasing animals that they don’t bother to eat even when they are not hungry.
  • Humans also still hunt animals and seem to think of the activity as being inherently good. People who could very easily and cheaply obtain food from the grocery go through a lot of expense and trouble to go hunting.

Similar observations could be made about fishing, gardening and herding animals. On the one hand these activities are “productive arts” and thus clearly of instrumental value, but it also seems that people experience these activities as being inherently good.

Why is this? It seems that this is likely due to the long evolutionary history we have with these activities. So many generations of our ancestors depended for their survival on these skills, so that those who survived were those who enjoyed them for their own sake. In this way, we see that the inherent/instrumental value distinction is not as absolute as Aristotle might think. However, this does not undermine most of what he says about them, and I think that his basic arguments are sound.]

Ch. 2 – Wisdom: Knowledge of First Causes

  • Common views about wisdom:
    • “Knows all things” but not “every particular”.
    • Understands that which is difficult.
    • “More accurate”.
    • “More capable of understanding the causes”.
    • Inherently good, not instrumental.
    • Authoritative or supervisory rather than subsidiary.
      • Architecture, not construction.
      • Science, not medicine.
      • Medicine, not Nursing.
  • Because of the above points, the highest wisdom will be:
    • More universal or abstract.
    • More primary.
    • Of “what is most knowable” in itself.
    • Be of the highest “final cause” (summum bonum).
  • Wisdom = “knowledge of first principles and causes including the first cause”.

Ch. 3 – Early materialism: material causes

Philosophy seeks principles and causes in the “really real” (onto on, ousia ). For the physiologoi (Thales, Anaximenes. Heraclitus, et al), this was matter. Because all change is change of an underlying matter that persists through change, the matter is the really real, while its superficial appearances are only relatively real.

The form-matter distinction

Late in the chapter, we see that the “differentiae” of the prime matter (“primary substratum”) as being in some sense “formal”.

“Now they [the atomists] enumerate these differetia:

  • shape
  • arrangement
  • position
  • [size]”

Each of these is a “form” of matter; not unlike the atomic forms that define our modern conception of matter.

Ch. 4 Slightly later materialism: Efficient causes

  • The earliest thinkers lacked efficient causes.
    • Physiologoi
      • Thales
      • Anaximenes
    • Eleatics
      • Parmenides
      • Melissus
  • But pluralists made one of their natural elements serve as a source of movement.
    • Hesiod – Eros, “chief among all immortals”
    • Heraclitus – fire
    • Empedocles
      • Eros – Good, gathering, creating
      • Eris – Evil, dissipation, decay
    • Anaxagoras – Mind (“deus ex machine”)

Ch. 5 – Pythagoras

  • Pythagoras introduces mathematics into the study of nature.
    • Numbers resemble things which come into being.
      • Resemblance = formal cause
      • Musical forms
        • Both Mathematical and Sensible
        • Emotive content relates to Eros
        • The numerical nature of these forms are hidden.
      • Astronomy
        • Very mathematical – considered a branch of mathematics in the ancient world.
        • Sensible forms in space and time that are perfectly mathematically precise.
        • Astrological thesis – “As above, So Below.”
          • Days
          • Tides
          • Seasons
            • Weather
            • Life cycles
        • Yin/Yang binary opposites
          • Odd/Even
          • One/Many
          • Right/Left
          • Male/Female
          • Rest/Motion
      • Treat numbers as part of material causes.
        • “But as we have seen, form and matter are correlative”
          • Form is “Intelligible matter”
          • Matter differentiates by form
            • Atoms, Elements
            • Molecules, Compounds
      • Excludes efficient causes
      • Problems
        • No efficient causes.
        • Superficial use of mathematics
          • Numerology
          • Idolization of Decimal numeral
          • system
        • Aristotle’s summary of above:
        • “From what has been said, then, and from the wise men who have now sat in council with us, we have got thus much—on the one hand from the earliest philosophers, who regard the first principle as corporeal (for water and fire and such things are bodies), and of whom some suppose that there is one corporeal principle, others that there are more than one, but both put these under the head of matter; and on the other hand from some who posit both this cause and besides this the source of movement, which we have got from some as single and from others as twofold. Down to the Italian school, then, and apart from it, philosophers have treated these subjects rather obscurely, except that, as we said, they have in fact used two kinds of cause, and one of these—the source of movement—some treat as one and others as two. But the Pythagoreans have said in the same way that there are two principles, but added this much, which is peculiar to them, that they thought that finitude and infinity were not attributes of certain other things, e.g. of fire or earth or anything else of this kind, but that infinity itself and unity itself were the substance of the things of which they are predicated. This is why number was the substance of all things. On this subject, then, they expressed themselves thus; and regarding the question of essence they began to make statements and definitions, but treated the matter too simply. For they both defined superficially and thought that the first subject of which a given definition was predicable was the substance of the thing defined, as if one supposed that ‘double’ and ‘2’ were the same, because 2 is the first thing of which ‘double’ is predicable. But surely to be double and to be 2 are not the same; if they are, one thing will be many—a consequence which they actually drew. From the earlier philosophers, then, and from their successors we can learn thus much.”

Ch. 6 – Plato

  • Platonism “bears a strong resemblance” to Pythagoreanism.
  • Plato “affirmed that sensibles exist only by participation in the Forms”,
    • while Pythagoras said that things imitate the numbers.
    • But neither school really properly defined either relationship.
  • For Plato, both Forms and numbers are eternal and unchangeable, but
    • while each Form is uniquely itself,
    • numbers are many of the same kind.
    • The “Divided Line”:
      1. Forms (Formal Principle = “the One” = unity among many)
      2. Numbers
        • intermediary category
        • Combination of both:
          • “One”
          • Great/Small (Magnitude)
      3. Sensibles
        1. Material principle = magnitude
    • Aristotle seems to say here that Plato does not treat of efficient and final causes.
      • However, Plato often deals with “the Good”, as in the purpose of political cooperation in The Republic.
      • Ad there are two efficient cause found in Plato:
        • The “Demiurge” or “Divine Workman” in the “Timaeus”
        • Eros in the “Symposum”

Ch. 7 – Review of Chs. 3 – 6

Previous thinkers did not treat the formal causes properly, not even Plato, who neglects their role in [natural ?] change. Plato, merely uses the forms to impart essence to objects. [Classification ?]

Ch. 8 – Criticism of Early Systems

  • Physiologoi
    • Problems with monism
      • Ignore non-physical beings
      • Ignore efficient causes
      • Ignore formal causes
      • Dogmatically assign one element as the Arkhe or “Prime Matter”
    • Problems with Pluralism
      • Elements do not remain themselves but transform into one another.
      • Insufficient treatment of efficient causes.
      • Qualitative change requires a single substratum.
      • Anaxagoras
        • Previously unmixed state?
        • Some elements cannot mix.
        • Affections and attributes
          • Cannot exist apart
          • Therefore cannot be a mixture.

Ch. 8


Ch. 9,10 – Criticisms of Plato

  1. While Forms ought to be fewer in number than sensible beings, it seems that there would be more Forms than particulars. This is because there ought to be Forms for each of the following:
    • Sciences / Arts
    • Negations
    • Perishables – because we can recognize them.
    • Relative terms
    • The particulars themselves – because we can recognize individuals, not just species and genera.
  2. ?
  3. ?
  4. Forms are useless for explanation:
    • Cannot cause motion.
    • Cannot be substance unless it is in a substance.
  5. Things are not compounded of Forms.
    • What uses Forms as models?
    • You can be like something regardless of Forms.
    • If Form and participation are admitted, each thing will have many Forms.
    • Forms have other Forms, which destroy the absoluteness of the form/matter distinction.
  6. If Forms are apart, they cannot be the substance of particulars.
    1. Non-substances come into being the same way as substances (that have Forms).
    2. In the Phaedo, Plato calls the Forms “causes of being and becoming”.
      1. Forms or not, becoming requires efficient causes.
      2. Many things become without Forms.
        1. (“houses” and “rings” [Which are not substances but should have Forms])
  7. If a concrete individual is a ratio or numerical harmony, then it is a formal cause, but material causes needs must also exist.
  8. Platonists have abandoned physics, but cannot speak of Forms except as causes of sensible beings.

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Notes on Aristotle’s “On the Soul”.

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Book I

Ch. 1 (402.0)

What is the “Soul”?

  • By genus
    • nature – Is it physical , illusory, or supernatural?
    • form – is the soul a form?
    • matter – is it material?
  • By category
    • substance – Is it a separately existing being?
    • quality – Is it a property of a body?
    • quantity – Are there many souls, or is there ultimately just one “Oversoul”?
    • Is it an “affection” of the body? (Epiphenomenalism)
    • etc.
  • By potentiality/actuality (See Metaphysics Book IX)
  • Divisible or not?
    • Are souls discrete units, one per organism,
    • Or is it a subtle form of matter  that is fungible or not localized?

Questions for the study of the soul to answer.

  • Are all souls “the same”?
    • If not the same do they differ by species or by genus?
    • Most people tend to study the human soul only.
      • Are all animals a species of “animal soul”?
      • Or are each type of soul different in definition? “horse, dog, man, god”. (402.6-7
    • Are all souls separate of are they parts of one soul? (402.9)
  • The middle path between materialism and dualism.
    • “There is also the problem whether the properties of the soul are all common also to that which has it or whether they are peculiar to the soul itself; for it is necessary to deal with this, but not easy. It appears in most cases that the soul is not affected nor does it act apart from its body, e.g. in being away, being confident, wanting, and perceiving in general; although thinking looks most like being peculiar to the soul. But if this too is a form of imagination or does not exist apart from imagination, it would not be possible for even this to exist apart from the body.” (403.10)
    • For Aristotle, the separation of the soul and body is not like supernaturalistic dualism, but rather more like an abstract “software” for the hardware of the body.
      • For this reason, the Aristotelian “soul” is physically causal.
    • “It seems that all the affections of the soul involve the body – passion, gentleness, fear …for at the same time as these the body is affected in a certain way.  …  If this is so, it is clear that the affection of the soul are principles involving matter. Hence their definitions are such as ‘Being angry is a particular movement of a body of such and such a kind, or a part of potentiality of it, as a result of this thing and for the sake of that.’ And for this reason inquiry concerning the soul either every soul of this kind of soul, is at once the province of the student of nature.” (403d25-28)
    • “But the student of nature and the dialectician would define each of these differently, e.g. what anger is. For the latter would define it as a desire for retaliation or something of the sort, the former as the boiling of the blood and hot stuff around the heart. Of these, the one gives the matter, the other the form and principle.” (403d28ff)
      • Similarly, for the explanation of a computer system:
        • Physicist – As an electrical device
        • System analyst (“Dialectician”)-
          • Serves a function
          • Has form (software’s logical structure).
      • How similar is Aristotle’s soul theory to software?

According to G.M.A Grube (“Aristotle” page 97) the final cause of every organism is reproduction “after their own kind.” (415b26ff)

Question: Is this true? How similar is this to the modern evolutionary concept of adaptation? In the modern view, each organism is optimized to pursue a certain strategy of perpetuating its genotype.

If you like this post check out my podcast “The Aristotle Project“.

Notes on Heidegger’s “Question Concerning Technology”

Unless otherwise noted, all page numbers in these notes refer to the Heidegger anthology Basic Writings ed, David Farrel Krell

Another translation is available free online here.

If you like this post check out my podcast “The Aristotle Project“.

A good source for defining Heideggerian terms is here. It is focused on how the words are used in his early work, but still very useful for us here.

What is technology?

What is modern technology?

What makes modern technology so troubling and difficult to comprehend?

These questions are what Heidegger wants to answer in this essay. His answers are very weird, as is his mode of presentation. You could be forgiven for assuming that it is all mystical gibberish. However, I have no patience for such nonsense and I can tell you that there is a real argument there that can be translated into clearly meaningful terms. However, this would be a task for a future work. Here I only try to give you a decent beginning for your own thinking.

Section I

He starts off by listing and differentiating his thesis from other common opinions concerning technology:

  • “Neutrality” – Technology is value-free, neither bad not good in itself.
  • Instrumentalism – Technology is primarily and essentially a means to an end.
  • Anthropocentrism – Technology is primarily a deliberate human activity.

The idea that technology is not “merely a means” is a common theme in the criticism of modern technology. Technology seems to have evolved beyond instrumentalism into functioning as an end in its own right.  Some classical authors are very concerned about means displacing ends with tragic results, most notably Plato (“Ring of Gyges”). In modern times, this has continued with “Walden”, Wagner’s operas in the “Ring” cycle, “Invisible Man”, “1984”, and “The Lord of the Rings”. This latter work was an extreme criticism of the neutrality thesis, where the One Ring cannot be used for good and enslaves the power-mad to its true master. Critics of technology very often set themselves the task of revealing the underlying agenda of modern technology.

Dialectical Teleonomy

We have many intuitions about whether certain things, activities or states of affairs are good or bad, as well as whether they are inherently good or instrumentally good. The study of these intuitions is known as value theory or “axiology”.

From the standpoint of evolutionary psychology, it would make sense for our axiological intuitions to change. For example, it seems obvious on the one hand that hunting is not inherently good, since we only  do it to obtain food. In Aristotle’s terms, it is a “productive science”, as opposed to a “theoretical science”. “liberal art”, or a “virtuous action”. While Aristotle considers the latter three to be inherently good, “production” is only intrumentally good.

But on the other hand, people have been hunting for so long, so well, and so profitably, since long before we were what we now call “people”. As a result , people seem to think and feel that hunting is an inherently good activity. While we would not go hunting unless we could thereby obtain food, but we also find deep joy and satisfaction from the activity in the following ways:

  • We could buy food for less than the cost of hunting trip and hunting gear.
  • Our most treasured social networks are often our hunting buddies.
  • Many people “live to hunt” rather than the converse.
  • People want their children to take up hunting, regardless of the material benefits.
  • Hunters consider other hunters to be better people, ceteris paribus.

So it seems that hunting is very close to being a true “liberal art” rather than merely a productive one. What was once (I assume) merely instrumental has now evolved into an inherent good. How is this different from the thesis that modern technology has usurped its lowly productive rank and set itself up as a value in itself? Is it merely a case of more time for evolution to work its axiological alchemy?

Aristotle’s “Four Causes”

H explains that Aristotle’s Four Causes are:

das Enbergen

  • aletheia – “truth”, “revealing”
  • a-lethe very often translated as “truth”, but more literally “means”
    • “un-concealing”
    • “un-forgetting”
      • Note that for Plato, all learning is really an “unforgetting” of the Forms, which we saw before birth and then forgot upon reincarnation.
    • “un-mindfullness”
      • Note that the River Lethe is literally the opposite of aletheia, so that when a living person, crosses over into Hades (the underworld), it could also be said that they are passing into “letheia”. If so, the return journey over the Lethe would be called passing into “Aletheia”.) In this respect it is interesting that a possible etymology of the word “Hades” is “a-idein” (alpha-privative + “to see”) which literally means “invisible”, but since Plato’s ideas are cognate with the same root, it really shows an interesting web of concepts.
    • “oblivion”
      •  This relates to the value of “eternal glory” (Greek kleos or doxa)for the divinized dead. Not everyone passes into oblivion at death; some few become gods or heroes; they dwell in Olympus or become remembered as constellations.
      • Perseus is what we normally think of as a demigod (child of Zeus and a mortal woman), but also remembered in the stars are Andromeda the princess he rescued, Cepheus her father, Cetus “the Kraken” and other characters from that story who went to heaven rather than suffer eternal “oblivion”.
      • Those whose earthly exploits promote the reign of Truth (Saints, Sages, Poets, Prophets, Heroes, “Founding Fathers”, etc.) are saved from oblivion by going “to heaven” to live in “eternal glory”.
      • Humans are unique on Earth in that each human has a “reputation” (kleos or doxa) that can be know around the world and which is still part of us. A famous person is transformed by their glory, while no animal can be. For example, the famous “Grumpy Cat” is only famous for people, he has no idea whatsoever that he is famous, nor could any non-human animal have the slightest hint of what fame is. But all people, no matter how humble, are clearly aware of and concerned with fame and renown even from childhood. This is part of being the “zoon echon logon” or “political animal”.

Section II

Tekne has two different historical forms: Traditional and Modern.

 Traditional  Modern
 Handmade  Machine made
 Personal Interaction with nature  Modern mathematical physics
 poeisis  Herausgefordern
 Bestellung (“setting in order”)  Stellung (“setting upon”)
 ?  Bestand (“standing reserve”)
 art work  power works
 [das Bestell (“the ordering” a.k.a. “cosmos“?)]  das Gestell (“the Enframing”)

“All art is concerned with coming into being, i.e. with contriving and considering how something may come into being which is capable of either being or not being, and whose origin is in the maker and not the thing made; for art is concerned neither with things that are or which come into being by necessity, not with things which do so in accordance with nature.” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics VI.4)

Phronesis (“Prudence”, “Practical wisdom”)

  • “To deliberate well about what is good for life in general, not good in some narrow respect.” (Aristotle)
  • Cannot be knowledge (episteme) or art (tekne).
    • Episteme is about the necessary, not the contingent.
    • Art is about making (poiesis) not doing (praxis).
    • Doing has inherent value. Virtuous action is inherently good.
    • Making has instrumental value. It must produce something good to be good.
  • Physis resembles both making and doing.
    • It is not merely contingent, for the natural happens always or for the most part.
    • It is not strictly necessary

“Enframing means the gathering together of the setting-upon that sets upon man, i.e. challenges him forth, to reveal the actual, in the mode of ordering, as standing reserve.” (Heidegger, Basic Writings, p. 325)

Das Gestell is the essence of modern technology.

  • A “Form” (loosely speaking).
  • That sustains modern technology
  • Its origin/arkhe

“Such activity [machines and techniques] always merely responds to the challenge of enframing, but it never comprises enframing of brings it about.”

 “Chronologically correct “  “Historically True”
 1 Tekne(?)  das Gestell (The essence of Modern Technology)
 2  Philosophy/Mathematics(?)  Tekne
 3  Modern science  Modern science
 4  Modern Technology  Actual Modern Technology

Heidegger asserts that there is ONE THING that modern physics will never ever renounce:

“That nature report itself in some way or other that is identifiable through calculation and that it remain orderable as a system of information.”

This is the neo-Kantian basis for the fundamental concepts or categories of modern science: i.e. its mathematical and axiomatic metaphysics.

The “retreat from the kind of representation that turns only to objects”. I think that this refers to the fact that early physics focused on the easily observable behavior of medium-scale objects that make up the recognizably human world. Measurement was merely used to make precise observations about things that we were already familiar with from normal life. But H claims that modern physics is depending more and more on purely mathematical theory to deal with entities that are beyond normal human perception.  As a result, modern physical causality is not formal nor efficient as Aristotle defined them, but rather is

“shrinking into a reporting…of standing reserves that must be guaranteed either simultaneously or in sequence.” (Basic Works p.328)

Also relevant from a related work (Basic Works p. 288):

“Therefore, [in modern science] the concept of nature in general changes. nature is no longer the inner principle out of which the motion of the body follows, rather it is the mode of the variety of the changing relative positions of bodies, the manner in which they are present in space and time, which themselves are domains of possible positional orders and determinations of order and have no special traits anywhere.”

Section III

Being and Revealing

Basic Writings p.328

Q: How does the “actual reveal itself as standing reserve”?

A: Two possible answers”

  1. Objectively – “Somewhere out beyond all human doing?”
  2. Subjectively – Exclusively in or through man?

Neither of them. In a way, revealing is both and neither: it is ontological.

Q: What is ‘being’?

A: Being is whatever it is that makes it possible to say that “x is y.”.

  • “x is form and matter.”
  • “x is standing reserve.”
  • x is a creation of God.”
  • “x is a participant in the Form of ‘X’.”
  • “x is nothing but atoms and the void.”
  • x is as revealed in the clearing of being.

Nobody deliberately “thought up” being. Humanity is essentially always already in and of being.

“Enframing is the gather ing together which belongs to that setting-upon which challenges man and puts him into a position to reveal the actual, in the mode of ordering, as standing reserve.”

We already find ourselves thrown into the revealing of Enframing and only later come to see it and say it clearly. But seeing ourselves as so “challenged forth” is “never too late” in coming.

P. 329

What “throws” us into the Enframing is “destining” (“das Geschick“), normally translated as “fate”, but H says he wants to avoid any “fatalistic” connotations, so the translator used the coinage “destining”. (See also “On the Essence of Truth” in Basic Writings.)

“Poiesis is also a destining in this sense.” [The same sense of das Gestell.]

The Essence of Freedom

  • “Destining is never a fate that compels. For man becomes truly free only insofar as he belongs to the realm of destining and so becomes the one who listens, though not the one who simply obeys.”
  • heidegger’s conception: “man is not the Lord of beings, but rather the Shepherd of Being”. (“Letter on Humanism”). This is rather like the following other ideas:
    • “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” – Francis Bacon
    • The motif of “bargaining with God” as seen in the story of Lot before the destruction of Sodom. (This is the thesis of the book “Joseph’s Bones”.)
    • The case of moral reform in evolutionary ethics; not status quo-ism, but rather “moral engineering”.
  • Man does not passively channel the destining of Beings, but cultivates a dialectical or recursive relationship.

The “Danger”

Man is “endangered” by Geschick by being “placed between these possibilities”:

  1. “Pursuing and promulgating nothing but what is revealed in ordering and of deriving all his standards on this basis.”
  2. Man could “be admitted sooner and ever more primally to the essence of what is unconcealed and experience our essential our essential “belonging to revealing”.


Geschick is essentially “dangerous”.

“In whatever way the destining of revealing holds sway, the unconcealment in which every thing that shows itself at any given time harbors the danger that man may misconstrue the unconcealment and misinterpret it.”

This includes degrading God who should be “exalted”, “holy”, “mysteriously” “distant” to the level of “God of the philosophers”, who is merely an “efficient cause”.

“Namely, those who define the unconcealed and the concealed in terms of the causality of making, without ever considering the essential provenance of this causality.”

Two forms of “supreme danger”

p. 332

There are two manifestations of the supreme danger:

  1. The paradox of the Lord of Beings as standing reserve.
    1. Self-interpretation as ordered standing reserve.\
    2. Subjectivity of “values”.
    3. Man’s essence hidden.
      1. “[D]oes not grasp enframing as a claim.
      2. “[F]ails to see himself as spoken to, and hence also fails in every way to hear in what respect he ek-sists [sic; H’s own coinage], in a realm where he is addressed, so that he can never encounter only himself.”
  2. Elimination of “every other possibility of revealing”.
    1. “[A]bove all, Enframing conceals that revealing which, in the sense of poiesis, lets what presences come forth into appearance.”

Summary: “Thus the challenging Enframing not only conceals a former way of revealing (bringing forth) but also”

  • conceals revealing itself and with it
  • [conceals] that wherein unconcealment, i.e. truth, propriates.”

The “Saving Power”

“But where danger is, grows

The saving power also.”

What is “saving”?

Commonly said, it means only to secure something/one “in its former continuance”.

Here, it means “to fetch something home to its essence, in order to bring the essence for the first time into its proper appearing.”


If the poem is true, then “the essence of technology must harbor in itself the growth of the saving power.” No immediate solution here, but rather the seminal insights that may “grow” into the solution.

The new concept of “essence”.

Heidegger recommends that the saving power be sought in rethinking the concept of “essence” according to the example of his treatment of “Enframing” as the essence of technology. T

he most common sense of “essence” is that of a universal by which beings are classified as a “what it is” (“to ti hen einai”). Heidegger proposes an alternate conception along the examples given earlier:

  • der Geberg – a mountain chain
  • das Gemut – character, dispostion, Skt. “samskaras” (the locus of karma).
  • das Gestell – the underlying ontological basis of modern technology and science.

Each of these is a “way they essentially unfold [wesen]”, for which Heidegger uses the archaicism “dis Weserei“, the space where something “essentially unfolds”.

Plato promoted the concept of essence as “permanent endurance” (aei on), that whihc persists as the same throughout change. Heidegger’s new concept of essence is more like an underlying cause of the entire course of change thusly:

  • Just as a mountain chain has its origin in the same border between two tectonic plates;
  • And as a series of deliberate actions of the same person has its common origin in that person’s character.
  • So also must all forms of modern science, technology and “technique” (Jaques Ellul’s coinage) have their origin in the same underlying way of interpreting what is.

Heidegger claims that this is close in meaning to a poem where Goethe replaces the common verb “fortwahren” (“continuous endurance”) with the coinage “fortgewahren” (“to grant continuously”).

“Only what is granted endures.”

p. 336

The following sections on “granting”, “propriative event” are not clearly new in meaning and seem to rehash previously introduced concepts.

“The inevitable mention of the supreme awesomeness of the Greeks”

Once final tip for maximizing your “saving power”: tekne was once formerly not just technology, but also art and poetry.

“At the onset of the destining of the West, in Greece, the arts soared to the supreme height of the revealing granted them.” (p. 339)

“Reflection on the essence of technology takes place in art, but not through “sheer aesthetic mindedness” but rather that we should ‘guard and preserve the essential unfolding of art’.” (p.340)

What does this mean? It seems that the best place to look next is the earlier essay “On the Origin of the Work of Art”, where Heidegger famously attributes to art the power of depicting the “world”, which I assume must be related to the concept of the phenomenological “lifeworld”. But that is better left to continue at another time.

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Notes on Aristotle’s “On Generation and Corruption”

This book is one of the so-called “physical treatises”. This does not refer to our own usage of “physics.” Rather, it means that it deals with the study of nature or, in other words, natural science. For Aristotle, this means anything which changes in space and time. This excludes mathematics, geometry, logic, theology, but includes our modern sense of “physics”, chemistry, biology, psychology, astronomy, and meteorology.

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Book II

This book is really interesting for those who like their history of science, especially where the typically down-to-earth Aristotle crosses over into astrology and myth.

Ch. 9 (335.10ff)

Refers to Socrates in Plato’s “Phaedo”

  • Concerning things which are, such as:
    • Forms
    • Things which “have” forms.
  • Of things that become, they come to exist by “taking form”.
  • ”                                                   “pass away by “losing form”.

For physiologoi and the atomists, matter is the source of change or movement.

“But neither party [idealist nor materialists] give the correct account, for if the forms are causes, why do they not always generate continuously rather than sometimes doing so and sometimes not, since both the forms and the things which partake of them are already there?”

Ch. 10

On the astronomical cause of natural corruption:
The source of cycles of growth/birth and corruption and death are in the heavens. All natural change has its ultimate arkhe in the heavens: the Sun rises and sets each day; the ecliptic tilting each year is the cause of the yearly and daily cycles. Since winter is the season of decay and death, its arkhe is the lowering of the angle of the ecliptic each year. Rebirth thus happens when the ecliptic’s angle increases again.

This interpretation is deeply rooted in the mythology of “Hamlet’s Mill“. a worldwide mythological trope whereby all pain and suffering is due to some “ur-catastrophe” that unseated the celestial axis from it’s original socket and made the ecliptic tilt like it does. It just so happens that winters are cause by this tilt, but not, of course death and pain. NOTE: I do not endorse the main thesis of the discredited work “Hamlet’s Mill”, however, it is a theme with wide provenance neat to find this in Aristotle. I am not sure how widely know the precession of the equinoxes was in the ancient world, but I am open to a few independent discoveries, perhaps even in the New World.

Ch. 11

Are there any necessary beings?

Contingent genesis: “going to be”

Necessary genesis: “will be”

Conditional necessity: for the roof to be, the foundation must also be.

338.0 In nature, only circular motion is “necessary becoming” in the strictest sense.

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The “Arkhe”: Notes on Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” V.1

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Arkhe” (pl. “arkhai“) is an untranslatable Greek word that includes the meanings of the English words “principle”, “origin”, “basis”, “leader”, “oldest”, “first” and others. In my view, philosophy, science and engineering all seek the arkhe behind everything, and every major scientific revolution in science seems to reduce the number of principles needed for explaining things without decreasing predictive power.

Defined at length in Metaphysics V.1 by Aristotle, where he defines with the meaning given below; for the sake of the unGreeked reader, I have underlined all words that translate “arkhe”.

“‘BEGINNING‘ [Gk. arkhe] means

  1. That part of a thing from which one would start first, e.g a line or a road has a beginning in either of the contrary directions.
  2. That from which each thing would best be originated, e.g. even in learning we must sometimes begin not from the first point and the beginning of the subject, but from the point from which we should learn most easily.
  3. That from which, as an immanent part, a thing first comes to be, e,g, as the keel of a ship and the foundation of a house, while in animals some suppose the heart, others the brain, others some other part, to be of this nature.
  4. That from which, not as an immanent part, a thing first comes to be, and from which the movement or the change naturally first begins, as a child comes from its father and its mother, and a fight from abusive language.
  5. That at whose will that which is moved is moved and that which changes changes, e.g. the magistracies in cities, and oligarchies and monarchies and tyrannies, are called arhchai, and so are the arts, and of these especially the architectonic arts.
  6. That from which a thing can first be known,-this also is called the beginning of the thing, e.g.the hypotheses are the beginnings of demonstrations. (Causes are spoken of in an equal number of senses; for all causes are beginnings.)

It is common, then, to all beginnings to be the first point from which a thing either is or comes to be or is known; but of these some are immanent in the thing and others are outside. Hence the nature of a thing is a beginning, and so is the element of a thing, and thought and will, and essence, and the final cause-for the good and the beautiful are the beginning both of the knowledge and of the movement of many things. ”

Arkhe is also the dominant theme of Metaphysics Book I.1-2. Section one distinguishes the use of principles in a theory or an “art”(tekne) from other forms of cognition that do not depend on principle, such as sensation and experience. Section two refines the concept of value of principles, while also distinguishing tow things that both use principles: theoretical science and productive or practical knowledge. An especially relevant passage from section two is this:

“Since we are seeking this knowledge, we must inquire of what kind are the causes and the principles, the knowledge of which is Wisdom. If one were to take the notions we have about the wise man, this might perhaps make the answer more evident. We suppose first, then, that the wise man knows all things, as far as possible, although he has not knowledge of each of them in detail; secondly, that he who can learn things that are difficult, and not easy for man to know, is wise (sense-perception is common to all, and therefore easy and no mark of Wisdom); again, that he who is more exact and more capable of teaching the causes is wiser, in every branch of knowledge; and that of the sciences, also, that which is desirable on its own account and for the sake of knowing it is more of the nature of Wisdom than that which is desirable on account of its results, and the superior science is more of the nature of Wisdom than the ancillary; for the wise man must not be ordered but must order, and he must not obey another, but the less wise must obey him.” 

This is a very important concept for evolutionary philosophy, since much of the its elegance derives from the fact that many phenomena that are often thought to lack an explanation are amenable to evolutionary explanation: For example: ethics. Ethics is clearly a behavior of certain animals, and this alone is enough to make evolution its default explanation, even if certain questions remain unanswered in the short term. Biologists often are confronted with behaviors that are difficult to explain, but they never doubt that and explanation exists or that evolution will provide the explanation. If biology was in a theoretical crisis (ripe for paradigm shift), then they would be open to non-evolutionary approaches, but given that there is no crisis, we are warranted in assuming an evolutionary explanation.

Granted the above, ethics must inherit principles from some wider domain of beings. orthodox philosophy has placed ethics directly under metaphysics, but this classification has not helped to clarify or resolve issues in ethical theory over many centuries or millennia. In my view, moral naturalism adds value by positing that ethical beings inherit principles from biology in the same way that biology inherits principles from physics and physics inherits principles from metaphysics.

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Elaboration of Aristotle’s “Four Causes” into modern terms.

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I have recently been reading Aristotle’s Physics, which is famous for the “Four Causes”. My impression is that the Four Causes require a lot of filling out in light of modern science. In my view, it is very important that we do so, since this will allow making sense of their relation of the hitherto separate worlds of science and value.

One way to fill it out is to define various “sub-causes” within the main four, which are listed below. If there is anything which is unclear, please ask in the comments. This will be filled out in the future and become the outline for further work.

The causes are the principles of change in nature. While forms in themselves are not strictly natural, many types of natural changes do have something to do with form. Many people nowadays are of the opinion that purpose are value are in no way part of natural science, but Aristotle and myself disagree. This is why “final causes” are also part of natural science, for which see below.

The “Four Causes”

In Aristotle’s own words, the four causes are:

  • Matter
    • “Some identify the nature or substance of a natural object with that immediate constituent of it which taken by itself is without arrangement, e.g. the wood is the ‘nature’ of the bed, and the bronze the ‘nature’ of the statue. ” (Physics II.1.)
    • “In one sense, then, (1) that out of which a thing comes to be and which persists, is called ’cause’, e.g. the bronze of the statue, the silver of the bowl, and the genera of which the bronze and the silver are species. (Physics II.3)
  • Form  
    • In another sense (2) the form or the archetype, i.e. the statement of the essence, and its genera, are called ’causes’ (e.g. of the octave the relation of 2:1, and generally number), and the parts in the definition.”
  • Efficient / Agent
    • “Again (3) the primary source of the change or coming to rest; e.g. the man who gave advice is a cause, the father is cause of the child, and generally what makes of what is made and what causes change of what is changed.”
  • Purpose
    • “Again (4) in the sense of end or ‘that for the sake of which’ a thing is done, e.g. health is the cause of walking about. (‘Why is he walking about?’ we say. ‘To be healthy’, and, having said that, we think we have assigned the cause.) The same is true also of all the intermediate steps which are brought about through the action of something else as means towards the end, e.g. reduction of flesh, purging, drugs, or surgical instruments are means towards health. All these things are ‘for the sake of’ the end, though they differ from one another in that some are activities, others instruments. ” (Physics II.3)

Natural Material Elements

Premodern material elements

Nonliving Substances (“ousia“) have a “nature”, but no form except perhaps an “elemental form”(see below). These are found in the classical pre-modern medical theory of Europe and Asia.

  • The original elements:
    • Sublunary/Terrestrial matter
      • “Dry/Moist”
      • “Hot/Cold”
    • Different cominations of these give rise to the classical four elements: of
      • earth –
      • water
      • fire
      • air
    • The Fifth Element -“Quintessence” or Celestial Matter

Modern material elements

The modern elements of the periodic table function something like the way that the classical elements do, with the exception that there are rare cases where they transmute, which means that strictly speaking, only the fundamental particles should be “elements”.  But since we do not yet know if there are any fundamental particles or matter, then we will accept that for purposes of biology (the general domain with which Aristotle and we are concerned), the modern elements will serve as material substance.

  • Level 1 substances: Hydrogen, Helium, etc.
  • Level 2 substances: Protons, neutrons, electrons
  • Level 3 substances: Quarks, gluons, photons, etc.
  • Level n substances: Whatever…
  • Level 0 substances: Protons, Electrons, Neutrons, Photons
  • Level -1 substances: Quarks, etc.
  • Level – 2 …. -n substances: Who knows if there is really a fundamental level of matter or not. Perhaps it is “turtles all the way down”.

In any case, it seems to me that the “substantiality” of a certain level of natural phenomena is relative to how well it behaves in a certain way. The foundational task of neo-Aristotelian naturalism is defining what that “certain way” is. In short those levels of organization where

  1. behavior can be more suitably described as having “Form” in the way this term is use by Plato and Aristotle.
  2. are suitable for forming a material substrate for living systems.

Both of these above points are mutually constituitive: Formal regions of nature are those regions which are suitable form of matter to sustain life, and vice versa.

A good illustration of this is the comparison of atoms and solar systems. Atoms and solar system are quite similar is some ways in that they have a “nucleus” made of one type of thing (stars, protons) that is orbited by another type of thing (electrons, planets). There are other similarities, but the differences between them are what concern up here. All the essential differences are those which make atoms fall into natural kinds which make them suitable for being the substrate or matter of living creatures.

Atoms of a certain element are so identical that they can be likened to “standardized parts”. Every hydrogen atom in the universe is at least as identical as every new part that rolls off of an assembly line in any factory. This goes for all atoms of every element on the periodical table. There are differences between carbon atoms, for example there are different isotopes which differ in atomic weight and decay rates, but this does not affect the function that carbon atoms serve in chemical processes. Since the different isotopes behave similarly in chemical reactions (as anion, cation, catalyst, etc.), therefore play the same function in biological processes. By virtue of this common functionality, all carbon atoms can be said to instantiate the same “form”: the “Form of the Carbon Atom”.

Notice how different the case would be if all the atoms in a universe would be as dissimilar as solar systems. As we have seen from the recent data from exoplanetary observation satellites, the orbits of planets  are radically different from each other to a much greater degree that those of electron. All hydrogen atoms have a single proton which orbits in exactly the same way, presenting to other atoms the exact same outer orbital with one electron and one gap just large enough for one donated electron from some other atom. Different isotopes of hydrogen, despite the difference in atomic weight, behave in the same way in chemical reactions to the extent that living creatures are not very concerned with avoiding “heavy water”, because this difference does not matter to it. This similarity in function among slight differences among atoms of the same element is why these atoms can be said to have the same “form”.

Material Compounds

 These are not strictly natural according to the original descriptions given by Aristotle  (Physics II.1.), but rather derive their nature from their elemental composition.

  • Classical (pre-scientific) compounds:
    • Tin – earth, fire, ???
    • Copper – earth fire, ???
    • Bronze – tin + copper
    • Mud – water + earth
  • Modern Compounds
    • H2O
    • H2SO4, etc.
    • The relationship between modern compounds and the elements of which they are made can be described in one of two ways, both of which we debated by the Scholastics:
      • The substantial forms of the elements can be subsumed under those of the compounds.
      • Or, the substantial forms of the elements can be merely potentially present in the compounds.
      • Either of these options can be applied to any level of organization; for example, cells combining into animals or plants, or protons combining into atoms.
        • It is clear that water retains some of its properties within the body, so I prefer to say that its substantial form is subsumed under that of the organism.
          • I learned about this disctinction from Francois Savard’s thesis which can be found here. I follow his preference for the “subsumption of forms” solution to this problem.
          • Savard has also written about recent treatments of this theme here.

“Form as Matter”

Where a form is the product of labor, that is shaped by the craftsperson to form a final product.  For example: “The letters are the causes of syllables, the material of artificial products, fire, etc., of bodies, the parts of the whole, and the premisses of the conclusion, in the sense of ‘that from which’.” Aristotle,  Physics II.3. Here Aristotle is saying that the formal building blocks of syllables and premises are the “matter” from which words and arguments are formed.  Thus, form and matter are not absolutely distinct, but only relatively so.  Anything that can be “worked on” or “given form” can be called “matter”However, these are not the only formal elements that are the “material” for formal products; others include:

  • Phonemes (vocalized sounds) as elements of syllables.
  • Letters as elements of words.
  • Words and punctuation as elements of the language.
    • Natural language
    • Artificial languages
  •  Words and punctuation as elements of a work of literature
    • Poetry
    • Fiction
    • Nonfiction
  • Other ideal or formal products
    • Mathematics
      • Just doing math problems entails working on raw materials and getting a result.
      • Empirical Science
        • Words, numerals and symbols as elemetns of theories, hypotheses, etc.
      • Math research – new theorems
    • Other design
      • Architecture, Engineering design drawings – for these, the geometrical forms are the matter that is given form by the designer.
      • Software code – Variables, Classes, Keywords, operators are the matter given form by the programmer.

Formal Causes (Greek “eidos“)

Formal causes concern the informational aspect of things – measurements, sensory data, designs, genetic or other biological information, etc. The aspect of things that can be codified as information.

“Another account is that ‘nature’ is the shape or form which is specified in the definition of the thing. ” Aristotle,  Physics Book II, sec 1.

Merely Physical shape/form

  • “Automatic form” – Not strictly a “form” as that term is used in Greek thought, but rather unformed matter whose form is merely random. However, each rock can be recognized as differently-shaped from other rocks, and in that less-interesting sense can be said to have a “form”. (See also “automatic” below.)
  • “Hammerstone form” – Hammerstones are chosen from a wide selection of automatically shaped rocks. They are not given form by the worker (their shape is not altered), but they have a form which is recognized by the flintknapper. There are numerous other natural objects whose unaltered natural (in Aristotle, “automatic”) form is selected according to skill, but not altered in form in any way.

Sensible Form

Patterns of sense impressions

  • Visual – How a thing looks
  • Auditory – How a thing smells
  • Tactile – How a thing feels
  • Olfactory/Taste – How a thing smells/tastes
  • Gustatory – How a thing

Biological Form

  • Genotypic form – The genetic information and transcription protocols that initiate and guide ontogeny.
    • Individual essence – the genome of an individual organism.
    • Species essence – the gene pool of a biological species
    • Generic essence – the common genetic heritage of a higher biological taxa, from biological genus to class, order, phylum, kingdom, etc.
  • Phenotypic form – The actual/manifest  form of a living creature, perhaps including random or environmental influences on development.

Formal Form”

  • Arithmetical form
  • Geometrical form
  • Algebraic form
  • Boolean form
  • Algorithmic from

“Material Form”

The way we recognize the form of various natural elements/compounds.

Phenomenological Form

The way in which things seem within the “lifeworld” of qualia; the results of a formal analysis of Dasein.

Efficient Causes (Greek “urgos”)

Also known as “moving causes”. Causes due to action of an agent.

  • Phylogenetic agency – This is the idea that evolution can be attributed the credit for “designing” living creatures.
  • Phusis – Could be called “vegetable agency”  The natural action that manifests the adult form of a growing creature. Present in all living creatures, not merely plants.
  • Animal agency – The natural action of animals that act from instinct and experience. Present in all animals, including humans.
  • Rational agency – distinctively human forms of agency.
    • Tekne – The normal use of productive arts
    • Praxis – The deliberate actions taken by rational agents to further or hamper Eudaimonia. Subject to ethical and political appraisal.

Final Causes (Greek “telos“)

Caused by Function or Purpose.

  • Ecological Functions – Play a role in the biosphere
    • Prior Ecological Functions – Preexisting factors
      • The Sun
      • The Earth’s Core, Mantle, Magnetosphere, Raw prebiotic surface composition
    • Coevolutionary Ecological Functions – Factors which co-evolved with life but were not strictly adaptation for the function they play.
      • The postbiotic atmosphere – free O2
      • Topsoil
      • Other organically-formed mineral
        • Limestone
        • Crude deposits of fossil fuels.
        • Mineral nodules from the Archeaen Eon from the waste products of microbes.
  • “Final Final Cause” a.k.a.”Avoiding Extinction”, “Maximizing great-great-grandchildren”, “maximizing inclusive fitness”.
  • Natural Telos – The form of an adult organism manifested by growth or “phusis“.
  • Technical Telos – The form of the completed artificial product manifested by labor.
  • Practical TelosEudaimonia, the telos of human action manifested in praxis.
  • Phenomenological Telos – The way in which things seem tp be for something within the “lifeworld” of qualia; a.k.a. “Zuhandenheit”.

Other “Causes”

“But chance also and spontaneity are reckoned among causes: many things are said both to be and to come to be as a result of chance and spontaneity. We must inquire therefore in what manner chance and spontaneity are present among the causes enumerated, and whether they are the same or different, and generally what chance and spontaneity are. ” Aristotle,  Physics Book II,sec 4.

Spontaneity or Automatic (Greek “automaton“)

“Natural” phenomena that simply occur, but have no purpose and are not regular. For example, the shape of a particular rock, the fact that it rains on a particular day.

“Chance” or “Luck” (Greek “tyche“)

Chance is merely when something happens and fulfills a purpose, but was not done with that purpose in mind. For example, if you find a rock that happened to look like someone famous, that is chance. Originally, the rock’s shape was due to automaton, but the fact that is looks like someone is chance. Likewise, going to the store is deliberate action, but meeting someone that you wanted to see is chance.

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Notes on Aristotle’s “Physics”

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Book I

Chapter 1

Physics studies the causes and principles of natural beings, those things that change in space and time.

[“Cause” and “principles” defined:]

I post this link because both of these words are significantly different in Greek from English.

Cause” (“aitia”) can mean either of the following:

  1. The normal sense of “cause”, which is some event or thing that affects itself or something else and effects some change in space or time.
  2. An “explanation”, which is a set of propostions of mental content that refers to either;
    1.  A “cause” in the sense given just above (#1),
    2. Or a cause in the sense of another propostion or other mental content.
    3. Or some sort of “law of nature”. (Note that it is hard to know what sort of thing a “natural law” is; it could fall under either of the above sense of “cause” or as some mixed case, or we could just forego answering this question and leave it as a third sort of “cause”.)

“Beginning/ principle” (“arche”) also has a similar ambiguity of meaning, being either

  1. Some sort of rule, law or other mental content
  2. Some actual thing that does something to effect change or perhaps even prevent some change,
  3. The nature of reality itself.
  4. A ruler / leader / or law-giver.
  5. The foundation of a building.
  6. A goal which was the cause of taking some action or an event that motivated some action on the part of some agent as a reaction,  Aristotle uses the example of an insult being the arche of a fight.

There are very very many cases in the works of Aristotle where ambiguiuty in the meanings of these and many other words will create confusion in the reader. Another famous case isthe use of “happiness” to translate “eudaimonia” You may as well get used to it, because this is just a fact of life when you are reading a translation of an author from a distant culture. Similar problems occur with translations from Chinese (look us “Tao“), Sanskrit (see “Dharma“), and other languages. There is no way around this, but it is a great way to free your mind from the tyranny of grammar and parochial assumptions concerning the fundamental nature of reality. If I have made this point for you, I encourage you to go back and read the above-linked work (“Metaphysics Book V”) and read the definitions of “cause” and “beginning / principle” so that you can get it from Aristotle himself. Then, scan the rest of the definitions, especially “elements” and “beginning” (which is actually how this translator translated “arche“, which is just something you will have to get used to when reading Aristotle.)

I just skimmed over Book I, and have taken note of the most interesting parts of it. I would prefer to focus on Book II. Because of this, I recommend that you skip straight to “Book II – What is nature?” below.

Q: How many elements are there, Aristotle?
A: Either two or three.

This is one of the many parts of the Physics that are primarily of historical value; if you can restate the arguments found here in a modern form, that would be great. But this chapter is mostly of interest in the way he goes about getting his answers.

“The principles in question must be either (a) one or (b) more than one. If (a) one, it must be either (i) motionless, as Parmenides and Melissus assert, or (ii) in motion, as the physicists hold, some declaring air to be the first principle, others water. If (b) more than one, then either (i) a finite or (ii) an infinite plurality. If (i) finite (but more than one), then either two or three or four or some other number. If (ii) infinite, then either as Democritus believed one in kind, but differing in shape or form; or different in kind and even contrary.” (Physics I.2)

Number of Principles

  1. One Principle
    1. Motionless (Motion merely apparent, not “really real”(onto on).)
      1. Zeno, Parmenides, Melissus
      2. Don’t even bother with these people.
        1. They deny the reality of change.
        2. Aristotle has already proven in his “Categories” and “Metaphysics” that
          1. change is possible and
          2. that changeable things are knowable.
        3. Thus the premise “There is change.” can be allowed into First Philosophy on the strength of our experience.
    2. In motion
      1. Urstoff
      2. Tao
  2. Many
    1. Finite in number
      1. 2 in number
        1. Yin/Yang
        2. Matter and Spirit
        3. Matter and Energy
        4. Temperature, Moisture (Aristotle)
      2. 3 in number
        1. Sattvas, Rajas, Tamas (the Vedas)
        2. Tripartite soul (Plato)
      3. 4 in number
        1. Earth, Air, Fire, Water
      4. or more
        1. Five Elements of TCM
        2. Four Elements plus Spirit – India, elsewhere
    2. Infinite in number
      1. Same or differ only in form – Atomism
      2. Contrary or Different in kind – Mind and Matter, for example.

The Elements and the Categories

First, he looks at the idea that “All is One.” This thesis was defended by many Greek thinkers, both naturalistic and otherwise, and by many other authors ancient and modern. Aristotle attacks them all at once using his doctrine of Categories, which can be found in his book Categories I.4. There is some weird jargon going on here, but it is not merely an exercise in logic-chopping. (The most masterful use of it is in the Nicomachean Ethics I.6, where he uses it to destroy Plato’s ethical theory as well as the possibility of the “Philosopher King”.)

A “category” is a way that one can use the verb “to be”, as in the following:

  • substance- “Lassie is a dog.”
  • quantity- “There are seven days in the week.”
  • quality- “The sky is blue.”
  • relation- “Plato was older that Aristotle. “
  • place- “I am here.”
  • time- “This is now.”
  • position
  • state
  • action
  • affection
  • etc.- and so on and so forth

There could be more categories, the key thing is here is what a “category” is. If you are saying “All is One.”, which category of “is” are you using? I fail to see how we can know if “all is one” or not if we do not know what the “is” means.

Somehow I still think that “All is One” in the sense that “we are all made of the same stuff, but have different forms”. Aristotle seems to think that there are either two or three “elements”, and he prefers two elements “hot/cold” and “dry/wet”, which then combine to form the Four Elements of Fire, Air, Water and Earth.

I and most modern physicists seem to think that there simply has to be one underlying stuff out of which matter, energy, space, time, or whatever all come. But once you read his use of the categories in other contexts, you will have lots of respect for it. In fact, it is one of the things where he really anticipates modern ideas of information useful in software development.


All change is from A to !A. Therefore, “All principles must be contraries.” (???? but substances cannot be contraries, as he says later.)

“(The universal is knowable in the order of explanation, the particular in the order of sense; for explanation has to do with the universals, sense with the particular)” (189a5-10)

Note that “aitia” here is ambivalent (it can mean either (“explanations” or “causes”); universals (according to Aristotle) can be explanations but not causes.


Q: How many physical principles exist?

A: NOT one, because no contrary.

NOT infinite, because unknowable.

Thus a finite munber of principles.
Q: Are yin and yang sufficient for physics?
A: “[I]t should be plausible to suppose then more than two. For it is difficult to see how either density could act on rarity… Love does not gatherStrife together and make things out of it.” (198a23)

Contraries cannot be the substance of the thing. (198a30)

“Substance” is the third thing, such as the monistic Arche of the Physiologoi: Water, Fire, Apeiron, Atoms. The indeterminate prime matter is best since it seems that fire, water et al are already one of the extremes.

Three principles:

  1. The One – Arche, Substance
  2. Excess
  3. Defect

It is common for thinkers to arrange their physical principles into categories of “active” and “passive”:

Active: Love, Strife, Fire, Mind

Passive: Apeiron, Earth, Matter

Book II

Section 1

What is nature?

“Nature” (Grk. phusis) – a principle of change in itself and not in an other.


  • Animals
  • Plants
  • “Simple bodies” –  The Four Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water

All of these has in itself its own principle of change or of staying unchanged.

  • Movement, Holding still
  • Growth
  • Decay
  • Alteration

A bed or a coat has no innate principle qua product of skill or art (Grk. tekne). However, the matter from which it is made is still natural, and thus has its own principle of change within it qua natural material. This means that if a wooden bed could grow, it would sprout a tree, not another bed. The natural movement of the bed is to fall if dropped, not to move about, mate with other beds, grow into a full-sized bed. Falling is the natural movement of its matter, not due to its artificial form as bed. Living creatures, on the other hand have natural movement specific to their forms. Snails and octopi are similar in matter, but not in form, and their form determines their natural behavior. But wooden furniture all behaves the same way which depends only on how they are used by others.

The bed is natural as matter, but not as bed (form). The form comes from  the craftsman, not the matter itself.

Both phusis and tekne are principles of change, but phusis is a principle of self-change.

A doctor uses tekne to heal an other, but natural healing is when the body heals itself. On occasion, doctors may treat themselves, but this is still not “natural” (kata phusis – “according to nature).  On the contrary, natural healing can never heal an other. This is even more clearly true of the skills of carpentry, masonry, sculpture, painting, et cetera.

[Another difference between nature and skill is that skill can also be used to create the opposite effect, for example a doctor can use their knowledge to kill or harm. The body’s natural healing powers can never be used to cause harm. See Metaphysics Book VII]

Various conceptions of “nature”.

Phusis as Matter (193.10)

Some believe that the nature of a thing is its matter, since the matter was there prior to form. For composite materials (“compounds”), the nature of the compound is derived from the nature of the simple elements that form the compound.

Some materialists have chosen one of the simple elements for the role of fundamental element. (E.g. Thales “All is Water.”)

Phusis as Form  (193.30)

Another way of defining nature is “the form which accords with its logos.”

“Men (anthropoi) come from men.” – Natural beings contain their own forms.
“Beds do not come from beds.” – Artificial beings do not contain their own form.

On this view of Phusis as Form natural beings can only be by having a form. On this view, matter without a form is not really a being (“ontos on“, Greek for “really real”). Matter comes to be a being by taking form, either by necessity, nature, or art.  (See Plato’s “Phaedo” and Aristotle’s “On Generation and Corruption” II.9)

Phusis as Telos (193.15)

Art does not produce art. Medicine produces health, not medicine.

Nature produces nature. Humans produce humans.

Is this true? -“The telos of nature is to produce the form, and the telos of the form is to manifest proper activity.” (This is just me talking, not Aristotle.)

On this view the nature of thing is its function, purpose or final cause. This is like saying that the “nature” of wings is to fly, the nature of humans is politics.

Section 2 – Nature and Mathematics

How natural or unnatural is mathematics?

Geometrical volumes are separate from physical matter.

  • “Geometry treats of natural lines, but not as natural. Optics treats of mathematical lines but as natural.”
  • “Two sort of things are called “nature”, form and matter.”
    • The physiologoi focused on matter.
    • But art treats of both matter and form, so maybe science should as well.
      • The doctor knows:
        • The Form/Telos of Health
        • The matter of the body.
      • The builder knows:
        • The form of the building.
        • The purpose of the building.
        • The matter for building.

List of senses of “form”

See also here for a more detailed treatment.

  • Genus/species
  • Quantity
    • Geometry
    • Arithmetic
  • Logical
    • Definition
      • Metadata
      • Data
    • Algorithm
  • “Mere” Recognition of Eidos
  • Biological Form
    • DNA
    • Other biological information
      • RNA
      • mDNA
      • other protein signatures
  • Technical Form
    • Know How
    • Design/Plan

Notes concerning this section from Aristotle, by Sir David Ross (pg. 68 ff)

  • Aristotle defines the nature of physics by
    • Comparing it with math
      • The mathematician studies nature as form only.
        • Terrestrial matter
        • Celestial matter
        • Intelligible matter
        • In any case, they ignore the matter and only treat the form.
      • The physicist studies nature as:
        • form and matter – doctors and builders
          • Primarily form
          • Matter as it relates to form
        • Agent and telos
        • The study of physics and tekkie both study all four causes.
    • Asking how it approaches nature.
      • As form?
      • As matter?
      • as both? (Yes to this one: pg. 70)
    • Questions
      • Why does a certain form require a certain matter?
      • Conversely, why does certain matter only take certain forms?
  • Aristotle compares Physics and Metaphysics as well:
    • Physics studies
      • Forms abstracted from nature
      • Ends serves by natural beings.
    • Metaphysics studies separately existing forms/ends
      • God
      • gods
      • Human intellects()?

Section 3 – The Four Causes

Material Causes

  • Bronze -> Statue
  • Silver -> Cup

Formal causes

  • “Account of what a thing might be”
  • “And its genera”
  • Octave = “ratio of 2:1” as well as other numerical relations/dimensions.

Efficient Causes

  • “Primary source of the change or of staying unchanged.”
    • One who has deliberated -> deliberate action
    • parent->child

Telos – “Final causes”

  • walking ->”health”/”keeping fit”
  • health is the telos of:
    • the quality of slimness
    • the action of purging
    • the use of drugs (as tools ?)

Section 4 – Chance and Automaton.

Yes, because…

Section 5 – What is luck (tyche)?

Loosely speaking, “luck” is a “cause”, but in reality they are very different from other causes. To explain why, we will review the others sorts of (more real) causes.

  • Nature
    • comes to be always or most of the time
    • Luck does not; it happens rarely
    • “Of the things that come to be, some come to be for something, some not. Of the former, some are in accordance with choice; some not, but both are among things which are for something.”

Ch. 6 – Luck and automaton.

Of things that are neither by nature nor by choice:

  • If it is for something, it is “luck”.
  • If not, it is automaton (Greek, “spontanaeity”, also translated as “automatic”.).

Luck is for something by concurrence, not by choice.

“But since automaton and luck are causes of things for which mind or nature might be responsible, when something comes to be responsible for these things by virtue of concurrence, and since nothing which by virtue of concurrence is prior to that which is by itself, it is clear that no cause by virtue of concurrence is prior to that which is by itself a cause. Hence the automatic and luck are posterior to both mind and nature…”(“Physics” 198 5-10)

Ch.7- What are causes?

What are causes? = “On account of what?”

There are four causes:

  1. Form – “What is it?”
  2. Efficient – “What first effects the change?”
  3. Final – “What is it for?”
  4. Matter- “What is it made of?”

1-3 “often coincide”.

  • Form is often the final cause.
    • The form of many products of skill is “whatever works“.
  • For natural beings:
    • The telos of growth is the mature form.
    • The Form is also the efficient cause, since the mature form is that which generates offspring.

Ch.8 – Telos: Natural and Artificial.

Ch.9 – Nature and Necessity

Book IV


Q: What is the essence of “place”?

A: Anything we say of place is either: 1) IN virtue of itself OR 2) In virtue of another.

“there is place which is common and in which all bodies are AND which is the proper and primary location of each body.”

Place is either 1) Form – as the container of each body or 2) Matter – as the extension of each body. [Or telos – the proper place of each body.]

“In so far as it is separable from the thing, it is not the form; and in so far as it is different from matter, it is not the matter.”

Book VII

Ch. 6 – The Prime Mover

Primary and ultimate source of change in nature

  • Eternal – because natural change is eternal, therefore there must be an eternal source of change.
  • Unmoved -Only an unmoved mover would be a constant source of change
  • Good – Only a final cause is unmoved.
  • Omniscient(?) – sort of, but only of the first principles of natural change
  • Omnibenevolent(?) – kind of, in the sense that it is “the Good”

Other treatments concerning nature and tekne in Aristotle.

Metaphysics V: Definitions of

Section 1: arkhe – “principle”, “beginning”, “leader”

Section 2:  aitia – “causes”, “exlanations”

Section 3: stoicheia – “elements”

Section 4: phusis – “nature”

Metaphysics VII, 7-9: Natural and artificial “powers” or abilites.

On the Soul I.1ff – Focuses on living natural beings.

Nicomachean Ethics I.1ff – “What is the telos of human life?” Focuses on natural living human beings.

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