Monte Johnson examines one of the most controversial aspects of Aristiotle's natural philosophy: his teleology. Is teleology about causation or explanation? Does it exclude or obviate mechanism, determinism, or materialism? Is it focused on the good of individual organisms, or is god or man the ultimate end of all processes and entities? Is teleology restricted to living things, or does it apply to the cosmos as a whole? Does it identify objectively existent causes in the world, or is it merely (...) a heuristic for our understanding of other causal processes? Johnson argues that Aristotle's aporetic approach drives a middle course between these traditional oppositions, and avoids the dilemma, frequently urged against teleology, between backwards causation and anthropomorphism. Although these issues have been debated with extraordinary depth by Aristotle scholars, and touched upon by many in the wider philosophical and scientific community as well, there has been no comprehensive historical treatment of the issue. Aristotle is commonly considered the inventor of teleology, although the precise term originated in the eighteenth century. But if teleology means the use of ends and goals in natural science, then Aristotle was rather a critical innovator of teleological explanation. Teleological notions were widespread among his predecessors, but Aristotle rejected their conception of extrinsic causes such as mind or god as the primary causes for natural things. Aristotle's radical alternative was to assert nature itself as an internal principle of change and an end, and his teleological explanations focus on the intrinsic ends of natural substances - those ends that benefit the natural thing itself. Aristotle's use of ends was subsequently conflated with incompatible 'teleological' notions, including proofs for the existence of a providential or designer god, vitalism and animism, opposition to mechanism and non-teleological causation, and anthropocentrism. Johnson addresses these misconceptions through an elaboration of Aristotle's methodological statements, as well as an examination of the explanations actually offered in the scientific works. Reviewed in: Notre Dame Philosophical Review 2006.06.15; Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.08.37; Il-Sole – 24 Ore 6 Aug. 2006; Philosophy in Review 26 (2006): 360-2; Rhizai 3 (2006): 171-8; Journal of the History of Philosophy 45 (2007): 323-4; Ancient Philosophy 27 (2007): 191-200; Phronesis 52 (2007): 248-9; Isis 98 (2007): 375; Aestimatio 4 (2007) 146-152; The British Journal for the History of Science 41 (2008): 129-130. The European Legacy 14 (2009); La Cultura 47 (2009): 174-175; Sean M. Row, Teleology in Political Contexts: an assessment of Monte Ransome Johnson’s “Aristotle on Teleology”. (A thesis presented to the faculty of the college of arts and sciences of Ohio University, 2009.). (shrink)
A new translation and edition of Aristotle's Protrepticus (with critical comments on the fragments) -/- Welcome -/- The Protrepticus was an early work of Aristotle, written while he was still a member of Plato's Academy, but it soon became one of the most famous works in the whole history of philosophy. Unfortunately it was not directly copied in the middle ages and so did not survive in its own manuscript tradition. But substantial fragments of it have been preserved in several (...) works by Iamblichus of Chalcis, a third century A.D. neo-Pythagorean philosopher and educator. On the basis of a close study of Iamblichus' extensive use and excerption of Aristotle's Protrepticus, it is possible to reconstruct the backbone of the lost work, and then to flesh it out with the other surviving reports about the work from antiquity (for example in Alexander of Aphrodisias and other ancient commentators on Aristotle). It is also possible to identify several papyrus fragments of the work, and many references and literary allusions in later authors, especially Cicero, whose own lost dialogue Hortensius was a defense of philosophy modeleld on Aristotle's. (shrink)
We offer a sceptical examination of a thesis recently advanced in a monograph published by Princeton University Press, entitled Greek Buddha: Pyrrho’s Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia. In this dense and probing work, Christopher I. Beckwith, a professor of Central Eurasian studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, argues that Pyrrho of Elis adopted a form of early Buddhism during his years in Bactria and Gandhāra, and that early Pyrrhonism must be understood as a sect of early Buddhism. In making (...) his case Beckwith claims that virtually all scholars of Greek, Indian, and Chinese philosophy have been operating under flawed assumptions and with flawed methodologies, and so have failed to notice obvious and undeniable correspondences between the philosophical views of the Buddha and of Pyrrho. In this study we take Beckwith’s proposal and challenge seriously, and we examine his textual basis and techniques of translation, his methods of examining passages, his construal of problems and his reconstruction of arguments. We find that his presuppositions are contentious and doubtful, his own methods are extremely flawed, and that he draws unreasonable conclusions. Although the result of our study is almost entirely negative, we think it illustrates some important general points about the methodology of comparative philosophy. (shrink)
In some influential histories of ancient philosophy, teleological explanation and mechanistic explanation are assumed to be directly opposed and mutually exclusive alternatives. I contend that this assumption is deeply flawed, and distorts our understanding both of teleological and mechanistic explanation, and of the history of mechanistic philosophy. To prove this point, I shall provide an overview of the first systematic treatise on mechanics, the short and neglected work Mechanical Problems, written either by Aristotle or by a very early member of (...) his school. I will argue that the work is thoroughly Aristotelian in methodology, and that taking it seriously can deepen our understanding of Aristotle’s discussion of animal and human self-motion in the Physics and On the Movement of Animals. (shrink)
I develop a positive interpretation of Democritus' theory of agency and responsibility, building on previous studies that have already gone far in demonstrating his innovativeness and importance to the history and philosophy of these concepts. The interpretation will be defended by a synthesis of several familiar ethical fragments and maxims presented in the framework of an ancient problem that, unlike the problem of free will and determinism, Democritus almost certainly did confront: the problem of the causes of human goodness and (...) success. I will argue that Democritus' account of the virtues and success is naturally interpreted as an intellectualist one. His focus on our intellectual powers as the source of our own agency and cause of our success led him to remarkable breakthroughs in moral psychology, including the development of a kind of cognitive-behavioral therapy for stress and anxiety, and the proposal of an autonomous source of moral sanction. (shrink)
Critics have alleged that Democritus’ ethical prescriptions (“gnomai”) are incompatible with his physics, since his atomism seems committed to necessity or chance (or an awkward combination of both) as a universal cause of everything, leaving no room for personal responsibility. I argue that Democritus’ critics, both ancient and contemporary, have misunderstood a fundamental concept of his causality: a cause called “spontaneity”, which Democritus evidently considered a necessary (not chance) cause, compatible with human freedom, of both atomic motion and human actions. (...) Some influential contemporary compatibilists have argued that freedom and responsibility are compatible with causal determinism, but not intentional constraint where some other agent is intentionally manipulating or coercing one’s actions. In line with this, Democritus holds that humans should not blame their actions on other agents like the gods, or agent-like external forces like fate or chance, but should assume ultimate intentional control over their own choices and actions. The famous remark of his associate Leucippus that “everything happens for a reason and out of necessity” is a fitting slogan of their atomistic philosophy, for Democritus pursued what can without anachronism be recognized as a causal theory of freedom. (shrink)
We hope to show that the overall protreptic plan of Aristotle's ethical writings is based on the plan he used in his published work Protrepticus (Exhortation to Philosophy), by highlighting those passages that primarily offer hortatory or protreptic motivation rather than dialectical argumentation and analysis, and by illustrating several ways that Aristotle adapts certain arguments and examples from his Protrepticus. In this essay we confine our attention to the books definitely attributable to the Nicomachean Ethics (thus excluding the common books).
The concept of kosmos did not play the leading role in Aristotle’s physics that it did in Pythagorean, Atomistic, Platonic, or Stoic physics. Although Aristotle greatly influenced the history of cosmology, he does not himself recognize a science of cosmology, a science taking the kosmos itself as the object of study with its own phenomena to be explained and its own principles that explain them. The term kosmos played an important role in two aspects of his predecessor’s accounts that Aristotle (...) rejected: first, cosmogeny and kosmopoiia, generation or creation of the kosmos; second, diakosmêsis, arranging of a plurality of kosmoi. Aristotle was extremely critical of accounts involving kosmopoiia and diakosmêsis and he developed general dialectical strategies against them. In emphatically distinguishing his view from all his predecessors (including Plato), he uses the terms ho ouranos (the heaven), to holon (the whole), and to pan (the totality) in preference to ho kosmos (the kosmos or world). There is usually no harm in speaking loosely of ‘Aristotle’s cosmology’ when referring to his concept of the order of nature and the ouranos. Nevertheless, Aristotle’s theoretical philosophy offers something very different from those of his predecessors for whom kosmos was a keyword. (shrink)
Authenticates approximately 500 lines of Aristotle's lost work the Protrepticus (Exhortation to Philosophy) contained in the circa third century AD work by Iamblichus of Chalcis entitled Protrepticus epi philosophian. Includes a complete English translation of the authenticated material.
I discuss how Aristotle’s formulation of the problem of moral luck relates to his natural philosophy. I review well-known passages from Nicomachean Ethics I/X and Eudemian Ethics I/VII and Physics II, but in the main focus on EE VII 14 (= VIII 2). I argue that Aristotle’s position there (rejecting the elimination of luck, but reducing luck so far as possible to incidental natural and intelligent causes) is not only consistent with his treatment of luck in Physics II, but is (...) to be expected, given that the dialectical path of EE VII 14 runs exactly parallel to that of Physics II 4-6. Although Aristotle resolves some issues that he raises, he cannot avoid the problem of constitutive moral luck that, as Thomas Nagel puts it, pertains to ‘the kind of person you are, where this is not just a question of what you deliberately do, but of your inclinations, capacities, and temperament’. The problem for Aristotle follows not only from his ethical positions, but also directly from his more general physical and political principles and assumptions. Furthermore, the problem touches the very essence of Aristotle’s moral theory. (shrink)
A review of Carl Huffman's new edition of the fragments of Archytas of Tarentum. Praises the extensive commentary on four fragments, but argues that at least two dubious works not included in the edition ("On Law and Justice" and "On Wisdom") deserve further consideration and contain important information for the interpretation of Archytas. Provides a complete translation for the fragments of those works.
An overview of the influence of Lucretius poem On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura) on the renaissance and scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and an examination of its continuing influence over physical atomism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
For an Aristotelian observer, the halo is a puzzling phenomenon since it is apparently sublunary, and yet perfectly circular. This paper studies Aristotle's explanation of the halo in Meteorology III 2-3 as an optical illusion, as opposed to a substantial thing (like a cloud), as was thought by his predecessors and even many successors. Aristotle's explanation follows the method of explanation of the Posterior Analytics for "subordinate" or "mixed" mathematical-physical sciences. The accompanying diagram described by Aristotle is one of the (...) earliest lettered geometrical diagrams, in particular of a terrestrial phenomenon, and versions of it can still be found in modern textbooks on meteorological optics. (shrink)
Aristotle rejected the idea of a single, overarching super-science or “theory of everything”, and he presented a powerful and influential critique of scientific unity. In theory, each science observes the facts unique to its domain, and explains these by means of its own proper principles. But even as he elaborates his prohibition on kind-crossing explanations (Posterior Analytics 1.6-13), Aristotle points out that there are important exceptions—that some sciences are “under” others in that they depend for their explanations on the principles (...) of a superior (more architectonic) science. In this paper, I explore how subordination relations and architectonic structures apply to Aristotle’s scientific practice—including not only the works of theoretical philosophy, which have already been discussed in this connection, but also in and between these and the practical and productive sciences. (shrink)
In his adventurous monograph in comparative philosophy, The Origins of Philosophy in Ancient Greece and Ancient India, Richard Seaford offers to explain why philosophy, which on his account originated in the sixth century BCE separately in both Greece and India, took such a similar form in both cultures.
Democritus of Abdera, best known as a cosmologist and the founder of atomism, wrote more on ethics than anyone before Plato. His work Peri euthumiês (On Contentment) was extremely influential on the later development of teleological and intellectualist ethics, eudaimonism, hedonism, therapeutic ethics, and positive psychology. The loss of his works, however, and the transmission of his fragments in collections of maxims (gnomai), has obscured the extent his contribution to the history of systematic ethics and influence on later philosophy, especially (...) in the Hellenistic age. In this essay I review the evidence basis for Democritus’ ethics, discuss the rhetorical and logical aspects of his maxims, attempt to synthesize the fragments into an overall interpretation, and offer a summary some of the more influential aspects of his ethics. (shrink)
This paper has three major aims. The first is to defend the hypothesis that Aristotle’s lost work Protrepticus was a dialogue. The second is to explore the genres of ancient apotreptics, speeches that argue against doing philosophy and show the need for protreptic responses; our exploration is guided by Aristotle’s own analysis of apotreptics as well as protreptics in his Rhetorica. The third aim is to restore to the evidence base of Aristotle’s Protrepticus an apotreptic speech that argues against doing (...) Academic philosophy, evidence that was incorrectly excluded by Ingemar Düring in 1961. (shrink)
In twenty important passages located throughout De rerum natura, Lucretius refers to natural things happening spontaneously (sponte sua; the Greek term is automaton). The most important of these uses include his discussion of the causes of: nature, matter, and the cosmos in general; the generation and adaptation of plants and animals; the formation of images and thoughts; and the behavior of human beings and the development of human culture. In this paper I examine the way spontaneity functions as a cause (...) in other Greek and Latin writers, beginning with Homer and Hesiod, and including Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, and Theophrastus; among Latin writers Cicero, Pliny, Horace, Vergil and Ovid. I argue that the most important influence (immediately or via Epicurus) on Lucretius’ concept and use of this cause is the natural philosophy of Democritus and his followers and critics. I argue that understanding the nature of spontaneity, and how it differs from chance, is crucial to understanding Lucretius’ account of the cosmos and nature, and also how some of the actions of humans and other animals are “free” and “voluntary”. For in the famous passage at II.251-293 he contrasts free action with action caused or constrained by external forces and outside influences. (shrink)
Aristotle is the first philosopher on record to subject the meaning of life to systematic philosophical examination: he approaches the issue from logical, psychological, biological, and anthropological perspectives in some of the central passages in the Corpus Aristotelicum and, it turns out, in some fragments from his (lost) early popular work the Protrepticus (Exhortation to Philosophy). From an Aristotelian perspective, in asking about life’s “meaning”, we may be asking either a theoretical question about the definition of the term life (and (...) this either generically or with specific reference to human life), or a practical question about the final end or purpose of life (or human life). Aristotle carefully considered both questions, and in his view answering the theoretical question is the key to answering the practical question. In brief, his theoretical view is that humans are distinguished from all other living things, and thus defined by their ability to use reason; thus his practical view is that the end or purpose of human existence is intellectual activity, especially doing philosophy. (shrink)
Hynek Bartos does the field of ancient philosophy a great service by detailing the influence of early Greek thinkers (such as Heraclitus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Democritus, and Diogenes of Apollonia) on the Hippocratic work On Regimen, and by demonstrating that work’s innovative engagement with contemporary scientific and philosophical concepts as well as its direct influence on Plato and Aristotle. His study usefully counteracts the lamentable tendency among ancient philosophers to ignore or downplay the influence of medical literature on philosophy in general, (...) and to heap scorn on this text in particular, which Kirk, Raven, and Schofield considered ‘an eclectic and very superficial quasi- philosophical treatise’ and Barnes famously called ‘a silly farrago of ill-digested Presocratic opinions’. (shrink)
Greco-Roman meteorology will be described in four overlapping developments. In the archaic period, astro-meteorological calendars were written down, and one appears in Hesiod’s Works and Days; such calendars or almanacs originated thousands of years earlier in Mesopotamia. In the second development, also in the archaic period, the pioneers of prose writing began writing speculative naturalistic explanations of meteorological phenomena: Anaximander, followed by Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, and others. When Aristotle in the fourth century BCE mentions the ‘inquiry that all our predecessors have (...) been calling meteorology’ (338a26), he is referring to these writers. In the third development, the first two enterprises were combined: empirical data collection about meteorological phenomena began to be married to naturalistic theoretical explanation. This innovation was prompted by Democritus and synthesised in its most influential form by Aristotle. At this point more sophisticated techniques of both short-term weather forecasting and long-term speculation about global climate change were also developed. In the fourth development, the wider implications of the naturalistic explanation of meteorological phenomena were contested. The views of ‘meteorologists’ had been controversial since the archaic period because they were perceived, and sometimes intended, to displace the divine prerogatives and undermine traditional religion. These controversies intensified throughout the classical and Hellenistic periods. (shrink)
Biology and theology are interdependent theoretical sciences for Aristotle. In prominent discussions of the divine things (the stars and their unmoved movers) Aristotle appeals to the science of living things, and in prominent discussions of the nature of plants and animals Aristotle appeals to the nature of the divine. There is in fact a single continuous series of living things that includes gods, humans, animals, and plants, all of them in a way divine. Aristotle has this continuum of divine beings, (...) and a theory of value that corresponds to it, in mind not only in key parts of his theology and biology, but also in his practical philosophy. Here I call attention to some important texts and attempt to offer a coherent account of them, without being able to enter into the usual interpretive disputes. I begin by clarifying the terms “theology” and “biology” and their place in Aristotle's division of philosophy. Next, I discuss how Aristotle’s theology is informed by his biology, and then how his biology is informed by his theology. I end by discussing some implications of the interdependence of biology and theology for Aristotle’s ethics and exhortation to philosophy. (shrink)
I present a developmental account of Aristotle’s concept of hê hylê (usually translated “the matter”), focused the earliest developments. I begin by analyzing fragments of some lost early works and a chapter of the Organon, texts which indicate that early in his career Aristotle had not yet begun to use he hylê in a technical sense. Next, I examine Physics II 3, a chapter in which Aristotle conceives of he hylê not as a kind of cause in its own right, (...) but merely as an example of the so-called “out of which” cause : the material is the cause out of which an artifact is made. Next, I examine Physics II 7, a chapter in which Aristotle names "the material" as one of the four kinds of cause in its own right. But Aristotle’s model of "the material" remains the material out of which an artifact is made. (shrink)
Pierre Gassendi was a major factor in the revival of Epicureanism in early modern philosophy, not only through his contribution to the restoration and criticism of Epicurean texts, but also by his adaptation of Epicurean ideas in his own philosophy, which was itself influential on such important figures of early modern philosophy as Hobbes, Locke, Newton, and Boyle (to name just a few). Despite his vigorous defense of certain Epicurean ideas and ancient atomism, Gassendi goes to great lengths to differentiate (...) his philosophy from Epicureanism on certain key points. In this paper I argue that those key points on which Gassendi rejects and and criticizes the Epicurean view, such as the immortality of the soul and divine creation of the cosmos, are central not only to Epicureanism, but also to Gassendi's own philosophy. In order to see Gassendi's philosophy for what it is, and understand its role in the history of natural theology, we need accept and understand better why he rejected the central theses of Epicureanism. (shrink)
An appreciation of the "more philosophical" aspects of ancient medical writings casts considerable light on Aristotle's concept of nature, and how he understands nature to differ from art, on the one hand, and spontaneity or luck, on the other. The account of nature, and its comparison with art and spontaneity in Physics II is developed with continual reference to the medical art. The notion of spontaneous remission of disease (without the aid of the medical art) was a controversial subject in (...) the medical literature, and Aristotle's aporia about the notion of spontaneous generation of natural things runs parallel to this controversy. Aristotle's account of spontaneous generation in the Metaphysics and in the Generation of Animals can also be profitably illuminated by looking at the comparison with medicine in detail. The result, hopefully, is a clearer and more consistent picture not only of Aristotle's concepts of nature, art, and spontaneity, but also of the influence of medical writings and concepts on his natural philosophy. Joel Mann has written a commentary on the essay. (shrink)
According to a generally held impression, which has coalesced out of centuries of misinterpretation occasioned mostly by misguided charitable commentary, but often by outright hostility to his followers (and occasionally deliberate misrepresentation of his ideas), Aristotle is a teleological (as opposed to “mechanistic”) philosopher, responsible for a “qualitative” (as opposed to quantitative) approach to physics that is thereby inadequately mathematical, whose metaphysical speculations, as absorbing as they continue to be even for contemporary and otherwise ahistorical analytical metaphysicians, are essentially devoid (...) of the virtues that determine the success of our modern sciences, which are in fact the result of overthrowing Aristotelian views. Jean De Groot’s monograph Aristotle’s Empiricism: experience and mechanics in the 4th century BC should completely wipe away that impression, as she offers an extremely attractive interpretation of Aristotle and his methods to replace it. This is a groundbreaking and exciting work, brimming with insights won from close and careful readings of both well-known and obscure passages of the Aristotle Corpus. It is an instant classic of Aristotle studies that should not only change the image of Aristotle’s role in the history of science but also set the agenda for much of the future research in every area of his theoretical sciences, including metaphysics, mathematics, and natural science. Thus although my primary goal in this review is to summarize its contents and try to give an idea of the richness, depth, and breadth of de Groot’s project, I will mention at the end what I think are the most important ways that the research should be developed and extended—the next areas of Aristotle studies that should incorporate these views and methods. (shrink)
Isocrates' Antidosis ("Defense against the Exchange") and Aristotle's Protrepticus ("Exhortation to Philosophy") were recovered from oblivion in the late nineteenth century. In this article we demonstrate that the two texts happen to be directly related. Aristotle's Protrepticus was a response, on behalf of the Academy, to Isocrates' criticism of the Academy and its theoretical preoccupations. -/- Contents: I. Introduction: Protrepticus, text and context II. Authentication of the Protrepticus of Aristotle III. Isocrates and philosophy in Athens in the 4th century IV. (...) The Protrepticus of Aristotle as a response to the Antidosis of Isocrates V. Conclusion: dueling conceptions of philosophy, still dueling. (shrink)
Aristotle is commonly considered the inventor of teleology, although the exact term "teleology" originated in the eighteenth century. If teleology means the use of ends and goals in natural science, then Aristotle should be regarded rather as a critical innovator of teleological explanation. Teleological notions were widespread among his predecessors, but Aristotle rejected their conception of extrinsic causes like mind or god as the primary causes for natural things. Aristotle's radical alternative was to assert nature itself as an internal principle (...) of change and an end, and his teleological explanations focus on the intrinsic ends of natural substances---those ends that benefit the natural thing itself. To these he contrasted incidental ends of natural things, such as possible uses of the thing which do not serve its own functions and interests. ;Aristotle holds that natural science is knowledge that comes about through demonstration of the causes of natural kinds. Most important is "the cause for the sake of which"---the end. The identification of a natural end initiates the process of explanation and constitutes the basis for all objective knowledge about natural kinds---stars, elements, plants, and animals. The determination of the ends of natural kinds also indicates how other causal factors, such as matter and necessity, are to be integrated into an explanatory account of their parts and behavior. ;Aristotle's teleology was subsequently conflated with incompatible "teleological" notions, including proofs for the existence of a providential or designer god, vitalism and animism, opposition to mechanism and non-teleological causation, and anthropocentrism. I aim to correct these misrepresentations through an investigation of Aristotle's methodological statements, as well as the explanations actually offered in the scientific works. I argue that Aristotle's aporetic approach avoids the dilemma between backwards causation and anthropomorphism that is frequently leveled against teleology. ;Although Aristotle's philosophy sometimes suffers from failed extrapolation of teleological principles, still it succeeds in challenging the anthropocentric conception of nature, and rising above the banausic perspective which views all natural things as instruments for human ends, to a loftier viewpoint from which natures can be observed and appreciated as their own goods. (shrink)