S. Marc Cohen
Aristotle's Physics is a study of nature (phusis) and of natural objects (ta phusei). According to him, these objects—either all of them or at least some of them—are in motion. That is, they are kinoumena, things that are subject to change. The first book of the Physics is largely devoted to this task. The account of substantial change in the Physics is devoid of any commitment to prime matter. Aristotle also takes up the topics of alteration and coming-to-be in De Generatione et Corruptione. He adopts a kind of conservation principle: “the corruption of one thing is the generation of another, and vice versa.” In addition, Aristotle points out that all changes involve both a subject (hupokeimenon) and an attribute (pathos) of a sort which can be predicated of the subject, and says that either one of these is capable of “change” (metabolê).
There are various motives for refining the notion of cause. Aristotle's was an interest in providing the most informative and illuminating method of explaining the central natural phenomena of his universe. A different sort of motive is created by problems of free will and responsibility, of which readers may have been reminded by the reference to indeterminism. The thought that our free and responsible behaviour is caused by factors over which we have no control has often seemed impossible to accept and impossible to reject. The challenge then is to refine the notion of cause either so that the thought becomes more acceptable or so that it becomes more rejectable.
In Physics, Aristotle starts his positive account of the infinite by raising a problem: “[I]f one supposes it not to exist, many impossible things result, and equally if one supposes it to exist.” His views on time, extended magnitudes, and number imply that there must be some sense in which the infinite exists, for he holds that time has no beginning or end, magnitudes are infinitely divisible, and there is no highest number. In Aristotle's view, a plurality cannot escape having bounds if all of its members exist at once. Two interesting, and contrasting, interpretations of Aristotle's account can be found in the work of Jaako Hintikka and of Jonathan Lear. Hintikka tries to explain the sense in which the infinite is actually, and the sense in which its being is like the being of a day or a contest. Lear focuses on the sense in which the infinite is only potential, and emphasizes that an infinite, unlike a day or a contest, is always incomplete.
Aristotle's categorial scheme had an unparalleled effect not only on his own philosophical system, but also on the systems of many of the greatest philosophers in the Western tradition. The set of doctrines in the Categories, known as categorialism, play, for instance, a central role in Aristotle's discussion of change in the Physics, in the science of being qua being in the Metaphysics, and in the rejection of Platonic ethics in the Nicomachean Ethics. Plainly, the enterprise of categorialism inaugurated by Aristotle runs deep in the philosophical psyche. Even so, despite its wide-reaching influence—and, indeed owing to that influence—any attempt to describe categorialism faces a significant difficulty: experts disagree on many of its most important and fundamental aspects. This article argues that Aristotle's categorial scheme, as is the case with many works in the history of philosophy, is best illuminated by opposing beams of interpretive light. It examines how Aristotle arrived at his list of categories and considers the connection between Aristotle's categories and his hylomorphism.
Presocratic atomism was one of the most influential of the early theories: both Plato and Aristotle thought of it as a major competing theory, and it was an important source for post-Aristotelian Hellenistic theories. It has been commonplace that the atomism developed first by Leucippus of Abdera and then by Democritus of Abdera was a reaction to the Eleatic arguments of Zeno and Melissus, but the details of that influence have sometimes seemed rather hazy. This article brings them into sharper focus. This article considers the Eleatic foundations of atomism, especially the question of the importance of Zeno and Melissus for Democritus. By concentrating on some of the less-studied aspects of atomism and especially of the development of the concept of the unlimited into the notion of the infinite, it furthers the understanding of not only the development of early atomism but also the Eleatics Zeno and Melissus.
According to Aristotle, there is a science (epistêmê) that studies being qua being, and the attributes belonging to it in its own right. This claim, which opens Metaphysics IV 1, is both surprising and unsettling—surprising because Aristotle seems elsewhere to deny the existence of any such science, and unsettling because his denial seems very plausibly grounded. He claims that each science studies a unified genus, but denies that there is a single genus for all beings; claims which evidently conspire against the science. Aristotle announces: “[I]f there is no genus of being and every science requires its own genus, then there is no science of being.” This seems, moreover, to be precisely the conclusion he draws in his Eudemian Ethics, where Aristotle maintains that we should no more look for a general science of being than we should look for a general science of goodness. This article looks at three problems about the science of being qua being: The Possibility Problem, the Extension Problem, and the Intension Problem.
Gareth B. Matthews
This chapter examines the views of death by ancient Greek philosophers including Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato. It suggests that Aristotle offered no cheerful optimism similar to Socrates in his “Apology” and did not provide any arguments about the immortality of the soul like Plato in “Phaedo.” What Aristotle attempted to do was to help us face immortality that can enhance our chances of living worthy lives.
Modalities enter into practically every area of contemporary philosophy. Great progress has been made in understanding the variety of differences between what is possible, what is actual, and what is necessary. But things were not always so clear. We owe a great debt in this area, as in so many others, to Aristotle, who had a lot to say on the topic, part of which comprises his discussion and use of the actuality/potentiality distinction. One important task in understanding his discussion of actuality and potentiality is locating the distinction within the wider area of modality in general. One very general area in which modalities are significant is the assessment of arguments. Aristotle provides us with the basics of a modal logic, and in Metaphysics V 12, treats the family of modal notions expressed by the Greek noun dunamis and its cognates. This article explores his account of energeia and dunamis, matter and substance, capacities, natures, and dispositions.
Daniel W. Graham
The founder of atomic theory, according to Aristotle and Theophrastus, is Leucippus. His very existence has been called into question. Three of the best minds of nineteenth-century scholarship were embroiled in a vehement debate on this question, which thereupon became a cause célèbre, with scholars weighing in on both sides for the next half century. Ultimately this debate seems to have ended in stalemate and exhaustion rather than in any clear-cut decision. After briefly reviewing the debate, this article argues that there are indications of an atomic theory different from Democritus's that can plausibly be attributed to Leucippus. It considers indications that the atomic theory was known in the mid-fifth century, and then tentatively explores Leucippus's contributions to atomism in a way that will illuminate Democritus's contributions.
Recent work by analytic philosophers on the Trinity takes a mysterious 5th-century document as its starting point, accepting widespread but inaccurate narratives about the history of Trinity theories. This article summarizes the Platonic influence on ancient theologies and describes the rise of transcendent triads, and eventually the idea of a tripersonal God. Recent Trinity theories (positive mysterianism, Trinity monotheism, relative-identity approaches, and “social” theories) are explained as built to respond in various ways to a type of anti-trinitarian argument. But since each recent application of logic and metaphysics to the theology of the Trinity is problematic, it is argued that another look at the minority unitarian report is warranted.
The relation of ontological dependence or grounding, expressed by the terminology of separation and priority in substance, plays a central role in Aristotle’sCategories, Metaphysics, De Animaand elsewhere. The article discusses three current interpretations of this terminology. These are drawn along the lines of, respectively, modal-existential ontological dependence, essential ontological dependence, and grounding or metaphysical explanation. I provide an opinionated introduction to the topic, raising the main interpretative questions, laying out a few of the exegetical and philosophical options that influence one’s reading, and locating questions of Aristotle scholarship within the discussion of ontological dependence and grounding in contemporary metaphysics.
M. R. Wright
This article explores early Greeks' cosmological speculation, showing how they explored the possibility of a “theory of everything” and human understanding of the cosmos. In the exposition of competitive cosmologies, there are three questions still unresolved: the form of most of the matter in the universe is not known; the process of beginning of the universe is not known; and whether the universe is finite or infinite is also not known. Presocratic solutions to these problems, still perplexing to the contemporaries, are tackled in this article, with the addition of a note on what is called the anthropic principle, which addresses the place of human life and human observation in the whole.
This chapter analyzes the view of Greek philosopher Epicurus on the relation between death and pleasure. It explains Epicurus's views about death and their place in his overall ethical theory, and describes how ancient Epicureans conceived of a pleasurable life within the wider context of their ethical thinking. The chapter also discusses some features of Epicurus's hedonism to evaluate the kind of support it offers for his arguments about death.