Aristotle and the Science of Nature: Unity without Uniformity

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from BN.com
$39.38
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $41.56
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 7%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (5) from $41.56   
  • New (3) from $41.56   
  • Used (2) from $61.07   

Overview

Andrea Falcon's work is guided by the exegetical ideal of recreating the mind of Aristotle and his distinctive conception of the theoretical enterprise. In this concise exploration of the significance of the celestial world for Aristotle's science of nature, Falcon investigates the source of discontinuity between celestial and sublunary natures and argues that the conviction that the natural world exhibits unity without uniformity is the ultimate reason for Aristotle's claim that the heavens are made of a special body, unique to them. This book presents Aristotle as a totally engaged, systematic investigator whose ultimate concern was to integrate his distinct investigations into a coherent interpretation of the world we live in, all the while mindful of human limitations to what can be known. Falcon reads in Aristotle the ambition of an extraordinarily curious mind and the confidence that that ambition has been largely fulfilled.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...well focused and clearly written book."
-Rosamond Kent Sprague, University of South Carolina, Ancient Philosophy

"Falcon's book will surely stir up discussion. It is an important, provocative, and well-argued work that contributes significantly to the field. Scholars, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates would benefit from giving it a careful and critical reading."
-Scott Rubarth, Rollins College, Journal of the History of Philosophy

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521048040
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2008
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.35 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrea Falcon is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Concordia University, Montreal. He is the author of Corpi e Movimenti: Il De caelo di Aristotele e la sua fortuna nel mondo antico (Naples, 2001).

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt


Cambridge University Press
0521854393 - Aristotle and the Science of Nature Andrea Falcon - By Andrea Falcon
Excerpt



Chapter I

The unity, structure, and boundaries of Aristotle's science of nature



Introduction




Asked to what end one should choose to live, Anaxagoras replied "to study the heaven and the order of the whole cosmos" (Aristotle, EE 1216 a 12-14 = DK 59 a 30).

Aristotle is not merely concerned with solving a list of problems or discussing a certain number of topics. He is engaged in an ambitious project of investigation. This project consists in an attempt to establish the right sort of connections - explanatory connections - between the things of the world. If this investigation is successful, it not only provides us with knowledge, but it gives us understanding of the world. The investigation of the natural world is no exception to this rule. Aristotle has left a certain number of logoi, each of which is a relatively independent and sufficiently self-contained argument devoted to a particular topic or problem.1 But there is no doubt that these logoi are conceived as parts of a unitary project of investigation. There is also no doubt that Aristotle has a certain understanding of the relations between these parts. This understanding is strongly dependent upon a specific conception of the natural world and the substantial assumption that this particular department of reality is, at least to some extent, intelligible to us. More directly, Aristotle is persuaded that the natural condition for human beings is to know and understand the truth, and that we can know and understand a lot about the natural world if only our investigation is conducted in the appropriate way. But he is also aware that there are features of the natural world that we cannot adequately explain. I postpone discussion of this interesting tension.2 For the time being, I would like to focus on the way Aristotle presents his inquiry into the natural world in the opening lines of the Meteorology. It is my intention to show that this presentation is not neutral with respect to a certain conception of the natural world. A better grasp of this conception will enable us to understand why Aristotle conceives of the study of the sublunary and the celestial world as forming a single science: the science of nature or natural science. A full appreciation of this conception will also help us to understand the precise sense in which Aristotle's science of nature is a distinctly organized investigation of the natural world. Aristotle does not think of the science of nature as a collection of loosely connected, if not disconnected, investigations. On the contrary, the investigations listed at the beginning of the Meteorology are distinct but related. Moreover, a close scrutiny of the opening lines of the Meteorology shows that these investigations are related in a certain way. I shall argue that the causal relation that holds together the different parts of the natural world provides us with the conceptual resources to understand the precise sense in which several distinct natural investigations are unified and integrated into a single science.

Aristotle's investigation of nature

What follows is a partial translation of the prologue to the Meteorology:3

(1) Earlier we discussed the first causes of nature, and natural change in general; (2) also the stars ordered according to their motion, (3) and the bodily elements, <establishing> their number, nature, and mutual transformation, (4) and generation and perishing in general. (5) There remains to be considered a part of this investigation which all predecessors have called meteorology (meteōrologia). <This part is concerned with> that which happens naturally, but with an order that is less perfect than that of the first element of bodies, and which takes place in the region nearest to the motion of the stars. Such are the Milky Way, the comets, and the movements of meteors. <It studies> also the affections we may call common to air and water, and the kinds and parts of earth and the affections of its parts. These throw light on the causes of winds and earthquakes and all the consequences the motions of these kinds and parts involve. Of these things some puzzle us while others admit of explanation in some degree. Further, <this inquiry is concerned with> the falling of thunderbolts, whirlwinds and fire-winds, and further, the recurrent affections produced in these same bodies by concretion. (6) Once we will have dealt with these things, we will consider whether we are somehow able to give, in accordance with the method indicated, an account of animals and plants, both in general and separately. (7) Once this is discussed, perhaps the whole of what we established at the outset will be complete (Meteor. 338 a 20 - 339 a 9).4

Aristotle is about to engage in a new study - meteorology, meteōrologia - and finds it important to begin by placing this study within his larger project of inquiry into nature. Why? The phrase ta meteōra was commonly used to refer to the totality of the phenomena which take place in the sky, including the celestial ones.5 This explains why Aristotle cannot take it for granted that people understand what he means by meteōrologia, but rather has to establish the place that this study occupies in his larger project of investigation of nature. By so doing, however, he offers some information about the project in which he is engaged and the way he conceives of it.6

There is no doubt that Aristotle's investigation is carefully structured: it begins with an examination of the first causes of nature and natural change in general, continues with a study of the celestial region, and ends with an investigation of the sublunary world, including a study of plants and animals. The examination of the first causes of nature and natural change in general - clause (1) - is a compressed but precise description of the content of the Physics.7 By dealing with nature and change, the Physics provides a foundation for the entire investigation of the natural world.8 The language is specifically designed to insist on the generality of the Physics. By saying that the Physics is concerned with the first causes of nature and change in general, Aristotle makes it clear that the Physics provides the explanatory resources and the principles for a sensible investigation of the natural world. But does the Physics provide all the explanatory resources and all the principles for all natural investigations? The answer is emphatically no. PA 1 is a relatively self-contained and independent logos devoted to developing principles that are specific to the study of animal nature. If the Physics provided all the explanatory resources and all the principles that are necessary for a sensible study of animal nature, there would be no need of a specific introduction to the study of animals.9 It is significant, I think, that the opening lines of the Meteorology leave it open whether the study of animals and plants can be exhaustively conducted in accordance with the method indicated - clause (6).

The study of animals and plants comes at the end of the program of investigation. Once an account of animals and plants is offered, perhaps the investigation of nature will be complete - clause (7). At least two things are to be noted here. First of all, we only have a study of animals, and perhaps Aristotle has left only a study of animals. His references to works on plants are always impersonal and could be referring to the work of a Peripatetic colleague such as Theophrastus.10 Secondly, and more importantly, Aristotle presents the study of animals as a part of the science of nature. This is confirmed by what Aristotle says in PA 1, the official introduction to the study of animals. There Aristotle presents the study of animals as "an inquiry into nature" (639 a 12). He describes this study as "a theoretical <science> concerned with nature" (640 a 2, 641 b 11), and as "an investigation of nature" (644 b 16). He says that "the inquirer into nature" is concerned with both the soul and the matter, but more with the soul (641 a 29-30). Finally, he wonders whether the whole soul, or only a part of it, is the province of "the <science> of nature" (641 a 33-4). This language is mildly surprising, especially if one considers that in PA 1 Aristotle concerns himself, by his own admission, solely with animal nature (645 a 5-6). Why does Aristotle insist on nature if his focus is animal nature? Aristotle conceives of the study of animals as a specific investigation. For him, the relevant explanatory principles are to be biologically specific in order to provide an adequate explanation of animal life. In the end, the investigation of animal nature requires a reference to a soul of a specific type as form, and to a living body of a specific type as matter. At the same time, Aristotle wants to disabuse us of the view that the study of animal nature is an independent investigation. In other words, the specificity of the study of animal nature does not involve a denial of the explanatory unity of the science of nature.

Since Aristotle speaks of animals and plants, he obviously regards the study of animals as a discrete investigation. He is persuaded that we are able, at least in principle, to draw a line between animals and plants: animals have a share in cognition; plants do not. Here is how Aristotle makes this point in GA:

The function of an animal is not only to generate, which is in fact common to all living beings; in addition, all animals partake in a form of cognition [gnōsis], some more, some less, some very little indeed. For they have perception [aisthēsis], which is a form of cognition . . . it is by perception that animals [zōia] differ from merely living beings [zōntōn monon] (GA 731 a 30-5 and 731 b 4-5).

For Aristotle, plants are merely living beings, zōnta; but they are not zōia, because they have no share in perception, which is a form of cognition. Aristotle is clearly reacting to a certain tendency to connect the name zōion with the verb for living and being alive, zēn. From Plato's Timaeus, for example, we learn that everything that partakes of life, whatever it might be, can be rightly named zōion, "living being" (Tim. 77 b 1-2). The connection between the name zōion and the verb zēn explains why in the Timaeus plants are introduced as a second class of zōia alongside men (Tim. 77 a). Plants are recognized as zōia because they are living beings (Tim. 77 a). I shall return to the ambiguity of the name zōia in due course. For the time being, suffice it to say that the term zōia can be used to refer to all the living beings that there might be, including plants.11 The fact that Aristotle normally uses the term zōia to refer to animals, to the exclusion of plants, is ultimately due to his conviction that animals are a distinct class of living beings, and animal life is a form of life different from plant life. Later on I shall argue that the DA provides the explanatory resources and the conceptual framework for an optimal study of animal life. For the time being, I am content to say that the first yet crucial step for an optimal study of animal life is an argument for the view that animals are a distinct class of living beings. It is precisely by relying on the results achieved in the DA that Aristotle can restrict himself to a study of animals and set aside a study of plants.12

But how does Aristotle conceive of the study of animals? Jim Lennox has recently drawn attention to the cross-references within HA, PA, GA, and IA. He has shown, to my mind successfully, that these works are all parts of a single, unified investigation. He has also shown that this single, unified investigation displays a definite structure of a certain type. Put differently, Aristotle credits the study of animals with unity, structure, specificity, and discreteness, but he does not recognize this study as an independent investigation.13

PA 1 confirms the idiosyncratic way in which Aristotle conceives of the study of animal nature. In this logos Aristotle insists not only on the unity of the science of nature but also on its structure, placing the study of animal nature after the study of the celestial substances:

since we have already dealt with those substances [= the celestial substances], saying what appears to be the case to us, it remains to speak of animal nature, trying to omit as far as possible nothing, however noble or ignoble it may be (PA 645 a 4-7).

We may or may not believe that this passage is reminiscent of the beginning of the Meteorology (this is, in fact, open to debate), but there is no doubt, I think, that the study of animal nature is regarded as part of a larger inquiry, itself structured in a specific way.

The place of the study of the celestial world in aristotle's investigation of nature

From the opening lines of the Meteorology we learn that the study of animals and plants comes at the end of a large and ambitious program of investigation. But why does it come at the end of this program? There is no doubt that certain conceptual resources are presupposed in the study of animals. For example, since animals and plants are perishable beings, we have to be clear about the nature of perishing. We have to know, in particular, that perishing is a case of going out of existence rather than a case of becoming something else. This helps us to understand why an investigation of generation and perishing is mentioned at the beginning of the Meteorology - clause (4) - and why this investigation comes before the study of animals and plants - clause (6). This investigation is conducted in the GC.14 It is significant, I think, that some familiarity with this treatise seems to be presupposed on the part of the reader of the DA and the biological treatises.15 This does not explain, however, why the study of the celestial region comes before the study of animals and plants. The Meteorology is nevertheless crystal clear on this point: the study of the stars ordered according to their motion occupies second place in the inquiry into nature and comes before the study of any aspect of the sublunary world - clause (2).16 At first sight, this is a little surprising. There are two, if not three, good reasons to expect the study of the sublunary world to precede, rather than to follow, the study of the celestial world. To begin with, Aristotle admits that the study of the celestial world is more difficult, and that our grasp of the celestial bodies is slight, especially if confronted with what we can know about <plants and> animals (644 b 32 - 645 a 7). In addition, Aristotle insists on the existence of similarities between the celestial and the sublunary world, and claims that these similarities play a significant role in the study of the celestial world. Finally, at one point he even says that the study of <plants and> animals offers in exchange a certain grasp of the celestial bodies (645 a 3-4).17 Why, then, should this study come after, rather than before, the study of the celestial world?

It is not difficult to find a first, tentative answer to this question. Aristotle is not the first thinker to engage in an investigation of the natural world in its entirety. At the time there was an already established tradition of inquiry into nature, which is registered and transmitted by Plato in the Timaeus. According to this tradition, the student of nature was expected to put all natural explanations into the context of an overall narration whose order of topics is first the heavens, then the elements, and finally the living beings.18 There is no doubt that this is exactly the order that Aristotle follows in the opening lines of the Meteorology. However, if we want to understand why Aristotle insists on speaking of inquiry into nature, and indeed places the study of animals after the study of the celestial world, we cannot be content with a generic appeal to the pre-Platonic tradition of inquiry into nature. Aristotle routinely presents himself as continuing the tradition of the physiologoi. At the beginning of the Physics, for example, Aristotle puts himself in direct continuity with this tradition, and makes his own position grow out of the opinions and results achieved by his predecessors. But his position is not merely the culmination or perfection of this venerable tradition. It is a dramatically new position.

I would like to make a fresh start from a well-known Aristotelian "slogan": "it takes a man to generate a man."19 Among other things, this slogan is designed to point to the fundamental fact that the generation of a man can be understood only in the light of the nature of the man. However, a slightly revised version of this slogan can be read in the Physics: "it takes a man and the sun to generate a man" (194 b 13). Interestingly enough, the revised slogan occurs also in Lambda. From Lambda we learn that the explanatory factors involved in the generation of a man are earth, water, air, and fire, a particular form of organization as the goal of the generation, the father, and finally the motion of the sun around the ecliptic (1071 a 11-17). In this compressed text, Aristotle is doing several things at once.20 Among other things, he is trying to establish the explanatory role that both the father and the sun have in the generation of a man. Notoriously, Aristotle admits a plurality of explanatory principles: material, formal, final, and moving principles. According to him, both the father and the sun are moving principles, but they are related to the man in different ways. Father and son are the same in form; more precisely, the father is in actuality what the earth, water, air, and fire that will become the man are potentially.21 The sun, unlike the father, is a moving principle of the man without being the same in form. It is a moving principle - or better, a remote moving principle - through its characteristic motion around the ecliptic; by so moving it indirectly secures the continuous generation of man from man, and hence the eternal permanence of the species.

I have insisted on the slogan that it takes a man and the sun to generate a man because I am convinced that this slogan sheds some light upon a substantial assumption that Aristotle makes about the character of the natural world. First of all, Aristotle is persuaded that the natural world is an arrangement or organization of a certain kind; that is, a certain kind of cosmos. Secondly, and more importantly, Aristotle thinks of this cosmos as a unified whole - in Greek holon. The parts of this unified whole are causally related to one another in a certain way. The celestial and the sublunary world are related to one another in such a way that the celestial world acts on the sublunary world. More specifically, the outer part of the sublunary world is immediately in contact with the lower part of the celestial world.22 On Aristotle's account, what acts on something is normally affected by it. But this particular case represents an exception to the rule. The celestial world acts on the sublunary world but it is not affected by it. Why? For Aristotle, reciprocal action takes place only when the matter is the same (324 a 34-5).23 The celestial and the sublunary world are not the same in matter. I postpone discussion of this crucial aspect of the theory to the following chapters. For the time being, I am content to say that Aristotle is famously committed to the view that the celestial world is made of a body which has the capacity to perform circular motion but does not have the capacity to be affected by anything: the so-called fifth body or fifth element.24 By simply performing its characteristic circular motion, this particular body has an influence on the living and non-living beings populating the sublunary region.




© Cambridge University Press
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

1 The unity, structure, and boundaries of Aristotle's science of nature 1
2 Bodies 31
3 Motions 55
4 The limits of Aristotle's science of nature 85
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)