Category Archives: Aristotle – On the Knowledgable

Lecture on -Aristotle: On the Knowledgeable- part five

In any case, on Aristotle’s account you dont understand anything fully. You dont have a Epistemic with respect to something. Unless you are able to comprehend the four causal modalities. And McLuhans tetrahedron is a tool to do exactly this. To understand what a thing is, is centrally to know what a thing is for. The number of things we can know, is based on the number of questions we can ask. Of which there are the following:

– Does a thing exists?
– If it exists, to what degree does it exists
– In what relation does it stands to other things
– And what is it for.

This is the central part of the aristotelian programm wether its going to be in the domain of Knowledge or in the domain of ethics, or politics. In the domain of politics the question is: Whats the polis for? In the domain of ethics, its going to be “what kind of beeing am I, and in the light of that, how do the actions of mine either realize what is potential within me or stultify what is potential within me.” These potentialities are in a manner of speaking “What am I here for? And how do I live my life in such a way as to honor that central fact of my being?

Now, the developed knowledge that we have leads us to an understanding that the things of the universe, including the living things of the universe do intentiat a design feature, a plan, they fit in. Nature does not do things without a purpose. So, when you find a reliably accruing phenomenon. The ultimate question you are asking at the epistemic level the ultimate question you are asking after you satisfied yourself that “well, it is made of stone, marble or got wood …” The ultimate question is “How does this fit into things? What is it for? What purpose does it serve? What is its functions?” The explanations are to be functionalist explanations. But functionalist in a rather enlarged sense. By bringing metaphysical insights into the physical realm, the transformation’s catalyst, in and of itself culture waves the fabric of its destiny by the process of cultural evolution.

You do know if the outset, that nothing with patterns and design is going to come about accidental. Aristotle said “If the art of shipbuilding where in the wood, we would have ships by nature.” Let me repeat that, its a statement in the physics “If the art of shipbuilding where in the wood, if there would just something about wood, such as it you left it around long enough, a great boat would develop with three tiers of oas man or letter sails…and all that. No, says Aristotle, that is’nt. You dont get ships like this, the art of shipbuilding is not something that is intrinsic to wood.

You need to wood to make ships but wood just constitutes the material cause of a ship. You need also a workman to know where to put the loas in the lap. But this is also of efficient causation. The art of shipbuilding is in the shipdesigner. And the art of shipbuilding is in the shipdesigner in the sense of the shipdesigner knowing what ships are for. What function do they going to serve. And it would be useless to think that knowledge ends with some consideration of material composition. This is an almost off hand replay to Demokrites, its not enough to say that the ultimate constituency of reality are atomic particles. Thats simply an account of the materiality of the universe. But that surely is a very very paired down form of knowledge and certainly nothing that raises to the level of Epistemy. But in practical terms does not need to. You don’t need to run a perfect business. Running a business is good enough. And then successfully maybe the next step.

Surely developed knowledge embraces not only the material, efficient and formal causes, “but that for the sake of which these causes where recruited in the first instance” That for the sake of which. There is something else in Aristotles Philosopy of Explanation or Philosphy of Science, that is worth noting. Because Aristotle on this count is sometimes missunderstood.

Aristotle does argue that a fairly scientific explanation is one that is capable of producing a universal principle of which the thing to be explained is an instance. Something that is always what it is, that is always the case. (Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist)
You understand an event, when you can show to be an example of some universal principle of which it is an instance. But when Aristotles writting on Biological subject, as opposed to purely physical types of events, when he is writing on biological and particularly of psychological and social phenomenon, he always puts in a qualifier, its almost like a placemark in his treaties, the expression in greek is “os happy otole” Which I think is best rendered as “For the most part, or by enlarge, or in generell”

So I wouldn’t want you to come away with the view that aristotle model of explanation requires of an explanation that it always be correct to end place after the decimal, covered by an unswerving, determined physical law if there is any noisyness of the phenomenon you are on the wrong track, Aristotle teaches and teaches centrally to expect precision only to the extend that the subject adhand admids of it. And to seek no more precision that what the subject adhand will admid of. We do not ask for probable reasoning from a mathematician. Nor do we ask for certainty for a shoecarpenter. So when it comes to those phenomena, those complex social and politcial and moral events and undertakings and disspositions and characteristics overwhelmed by the complexities of daily life.

By the ambiguities inherent in the case. What we look for are general presepts, which are right by enlarge in general and for the most part “os happy otole“. The last word can’t be written in this area, as it is written in mathematics. This I should say, read in a certain light, is a rather liberating conception, in relation to the teachings of the academy. If we take the teachings of the academy as aiming ultimatly toward a kind of “mathematicalness necessity” aiming toward “a degree of precision and purity” representet by something like the Pythagorean theorem.

Well, for goodness sake, progress in the social and biological and psychological and political domains would be impossible. We just know, I mean, we know at a common sense level that you never going to have a a2 plus b2 equals c2 when it comes to phenomena of this sort. And whats Aristotle is insisting is, look those very phenomena by there very nature, they never going to admid of that. That is no reason to give up. What you look for is what is the case generally for the most part, by enlarge … Nature does nothing without a purpose. So there will be pattern and design and reliability in all of things that realy are consequential in the natural realm and we are part of that realm. And when you can solve that realm because of the very nature of things.

Expect no more precision in your explanation than what the phenomena themselves would allow. But there will be enough to precision and reliability for explanation to rais to the level of a systematic understanding. Whats required there is an exercise of the senses, and exercise of reason, the recognition that the data of experience must be incorporated into intelligible wholes. Those intelligible wholes are in the form of causal accounts. And a causal account is incomplete until it reaches the very point and purpose of the phenomenon itself. What is the point of something.

In the ancient greek, the point is the logos. If we had a law dispute between us, the point of that dispute would be called the logos of that dispute. And when the greek is translated in the grand grand good book “In the beginning was the word.” Well, the greek word is logos. And that might have been translated “In the beginning was the point of it all”. The plan that would be realized, do you say, the intelligent design that the balance of human life and human history would instantiate. In the beginning was the point, and aristotle is very helpful in getting us to the point. Thanks. <end>

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Lecture on -Aristotle: On the Knowledgeable- part four

Of course the margin at that point might say, “Look, lots of things can be worked, I mean this looks like something special”. Well you might go to say “well look, not only do you need something thats able to take on a certain shape. But in order for, to be that kind of thing it has to take on a recognizable shape. It has to has a Form, that reveals the fact, that indeed it is a representation of something it, it stands for something, it is a something of a certain kind – it is a cup, a person its a puppy etc.

And to the extend that you cant help of that unless it formaly incorporate these special features, we can say that the very form of the item is constitutive of its causal grounding. And thats what Aristotle would mean by the formal cause.

Now of course, a bile of bricks is not a house. So what you got to do, you got to start biling up the bricks and you but cement between them and so on. And when it comes to the fountain of the rivers, somebody or some group has to stand there with hammer and chisel and start working that stuff into an identifiable shape. And each blow of the hammer on the chisel is having some definit effect on the matter that it thus beeing struck. And blow by blow by blow by blow, that material is beeing changed. And each one of those interaction is the efficient cause of ultimately the fountain of the rifers. Its the billiard ball coliding to the otherbilliard ball and the other one moves. The efficient cause.

No the margin at this point might say, how do you know where to hit this thing. At that point Aristotle would be inclined to say, “Hey look, you don’t know where to hit this block of matter unless you already have the mind, as it where, what it is you are trying to bring about. That is unless, you got Bernini there with this goal, in the greek the TELOS, this end or goal, the fountain of the rivers. There simply is’nt any basis on which on to attack or approach this.

Thus the ultimate understanding of the cause of this thing, its just that plan, the intelligent design that the thing itself realizes. And Aristotle refers to this, the final cause. And what he mean by the final cause that it is the final thing realized in time but it is the first consideration in conception.

Unless you have the intelligent plan to begin with, non of the rest of this causal modality will operate to any fact. So all of the other causal modalitys, choosing the right material, giving it its certain shape, striking blows… All of this are done for the shake of something, and what they are done for the sake of is the original plan or design or pattern or goal. And that kind of causal explenation is generally refered to as a Teleological explenation. You explain an event by showing its purposes, or plans or designs that that even realizes or instantiates when brought about.

Teleological explanation to not have to presuppose some actually intelligent divine beeing with a plan. Evolutionary theory is teleological in that certain characteristic, phenotypic properties of organisms are what they are because they serve certain purposes integral to the life of the organism. And you understand fins, and wings and maiding behaviour in terms of survivialistic considerations. These are teleological explanations, tho they are not what might be called a genitally teleologically, they dont assume that there is a super entity with a TELOS that is than realised by giving creatures characteristics of this sort.

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Lecture on -Aristotle: On the Knowledgeable- part three

Now that capacity to traffic in universal proposition to deal with cognitive items that are universal and necessary, abstract. Thats what epistemonica to do. Its a special feature of rationality. And its the sort of thing that fits us out uniquely for among other things the rule of law. Because after all what is the rule of law, except the ability some universal precept to an individual instance do you say. And its in virtue of this rationality that we become fit for a mode of political and social and civic life. Otherwise unavailable within the kingdom of life.

Now given that we have this faculties and powers. How is aristotle going to understand and approach the problem of knowledge. For aristotle, to know something is essential to know the cause of something. “Happy is the man who know the causes of things” as the acient maxim. A full understanding to posses what in the greek is called episteme. To have that kind of systematic scientific understanding of things is to know the causes by which things like that are brought about. Aristotle get back very very briefly without even mentioning it, to the Mino Problem.

And you could see the difference between Aristotle and Socrates or Platos approach to these. Aristotle says look: “When we say that someone knows that a right angle triangle has 180 degrees. This can be known in one of two ways. Smith may know that a triangle has 180 degrees because he has a messuring instrument and he messures the angels and he sees that the triangle has 180 degrees. Jones knows that this triangles has 180 degrees because Jones knows that by definition triangles are three sided figures circumscribing 180 degrees. So what Jones knows. Jones know to be universally true of all things that are triangles and Smith knows only in the particular case of this triangle. Now what is the difference between Jones and Smiths knowledge. Smith has the knowledge of a fact based on an experience. Jones has a genuine form of episteme with respect to triangles.

Jones realy knows what a triangle in and of itself is. Smith just happens to know something about that triangle. So on Aristotle account “Developed knowledege is a knowledge of the regulative princibles and laws that govern the affairs of things. Its not simply a factual knowledge this or that”.

But of course to say that knowledge requires a understanding of the causes of things is to raise a question of about well just what is a cause. The greek word is used indifferently acros cases. The greek word is AITIA. But as Aristotle is quick to point out in the metaphysics and elsewhere and in the physics. And in his logical writings. “Cause is not a unifical term, there actual has rather different senses”.

Now, this is something that can be easily confused. Let me take as an example some statue of busk. Something that all tourist will know about. Everybody goes to Rome and its not long after they land in the airport that they tell the taxi driver take me to the Piazza Navona where all americans will congregate and how very very expensive cups of coffee and take a look at Berninins Fountains of the Rivers. This is sort of s shrine. You have not been there unless you sad there, pays those prizes and looked at that rather rhetorical, large ver very muscular congruous of figures. Now suppose what you trying to establish, suppose you came from mars or somewhere and you poped out in the B.N, right in front of the rivers and you raise the question: Whats the cause of that?

You ask knowing person to account for that. Well understand that a lot of answers entirely cracked can be given to that question. One answer might be this. “Look, to have anything like this you’ve got to have some kind of material that will retain shape. You can’t get something like this if the universe consisted only of air. Or if the universe consisted only of fluids.” If what you mean by cause, is that which in absence of which something could not be. Than surely one of the causes of the fountain of the rivers is the material of which it is made. Absence that kind of of matter, you cant have that kind of thing. And thats what Aristotle means the material cause of something.

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Lecture on -Aristotle: On the Knowledgeable- part two

So we already see in the very opening of the metaphysics a common sense naturalistic perspective in this work which is probably the most saddle of aristotle philosophical writtings. This is going to be a work of great great deepth and will leave ample room for misunderstandings and misconstrues. But as an opening statement.

The opening statement of the metaphysic is a veritable vindication of knowledge gleaned by perception. This is not going to be enought. But thats the starting point for our “journey towards the truth is a sensory awareness of the world around us”. In fact in other works, aristotle will define animal as that “which has sensation”. The very princible that establishes an entity as an animal entity is a sensory principle. And this again for quiet common sense reason. What animal have to do is gain information through the sense organs in virtue of which they are able to adopt to the requirements as they face the world. Aristotle is going to invest perception with many many powers and possibilities.

In doing this he will grant to the animal kingdom rich perceptual ressources but will denie the animal kingdom the ultimat rational ressource that is the special attribute of the human psychy. That degree of rationality. This is not so much aristotle depreciating the animal kingdom. As aristotle elevating the role of perception in the affairs of life and adaptation to the demands of the environment. So human beeings have this desire to know and we take delight in our senses for practical utilitarian principles there is something joyful for us of the experience that we have of the world. The experience of gaining knowledge. Now we can do this in virtue of the fact that we are constituted biologicaly in such way as be able to pick up information from the external world. Thats what the sense organs are all about. And this leads us to aristotles understanding of the varies powers that the animal kingdom comes equipped with. And a scheme of classification that will distinguish between and among animal types in terms of the powers that the animal have. The powers or faculties that they have. Powers and Faculties in Greek would be DYNAMES. A dynames would be power. The english word dynamic is entomological related to that. But what we mean by facualty or power is what the word DYNAMES tries to convey.

Now aristotle again begins with the common sense biologist position. What is the fundamental power in virtue of which a living thing has live? That is, what is it that the soul as it where the psyche of an entity must posses by way of DYNAMES such that life itself becomes possible? At the most fundamental level there must be a nutrative power. There must be some means by which the creature can obsorb nutritional elements from the environment and through that grow and survive. There must be a nutrative faculty or power. Anything alife has at least that. And thats essential for the life of the individual creature. For the survival of that whole class of creatures there must also be a reproductive power. There must be some means by which a given organism is capable of dubilcating its kind or bringing its kind about. At the most fundamental level of psychic power or psyche faculties we find nutrative and reproductive capacities in the kingdoms of life.

Added to this where living systems are more complex, and this includes plants, there is also a locomotive power. The entity is capable of some degree of movement. There are also plants who do this. So as we get everymore complex in the kingdom of live we move from the nutrative and reproductive to the n. r. and locomotive. The animal kingdom begins when as aristotle, when you get sensation. The power of perception. The power of acting as it where knowingly, consciously I attempted to say, reacting to events in the external world. So now we have a nutritive, reproductive, locomotive, perceptive and a sensitive faculty. And these are all powers of the soul. And when aristotle in his treatises on the soul gives his definition of the soul, “What is the soul” he says “By soul I mean, By psyche I mean the archesoa – the first principle of living things the principles according to which a thing if it is alife comes to have life. So he is not treating the soul as something beyond the natural. He is treating the soul as a generic term for those processes that are life-giving, life-sustaining and mediating of a wise as such powers and faculties as movements and sensation.

Now when you get to ever more complex organisms. You would not use the term. To these powers of the soul is added some kind of intellectual or intelligent power. The power problemsoving. And he grands this much to the animal kingdom. They have this in common with us. But he reserves to human beenings a psychic power or faculty of a very special kind, sometimes rendered in english as reason. But the word he uses in his treatises on the soul in for this power is not the greek word for reason, the word he uses is not NEWS, the word he uses first time around is epistemonica. And I dont want to tedious trying to define some of this ancient words. But by epistemonica one is referring to the means or the power or the cognitive abbility by which we comprehend universal propositions. That is to say a young child can learn anything you want the young child to learn about this or that, but at “too young at age the child will never learn about ALL these, ALL that – universals do you say. The child can learn that uncle Jack and ant Marry had died. But it would be very very difficult for a three year old that “all men are mortal” Do you say.

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Lecture on -Aristotle: On the Knowledgeable- part one

+++ ARISTOTLE: On the Knowledgeable +++

If I had to single out any event as evidence of extraterrestrial life of some civilization in a distant galaxy beyond the milky way that took great concerne for the slow progress of the human race and imagination it would well be the life of Aristotle. “For goodness sake those human beeings they dont seem to be getting on with that at all. Aristotle, why dont you go down and get things going.”

The sheer intellectual power of this man, expressing itself in Biology and Natural Science and Ethics and Politics and Metaphysics and Logic is without parallel in the history of scholarly thought. There is almost no academic subject, commonly thought that has not been stamped by his influence. Sometimes it steeped so durably that we had to spend a lot of time to get rid of that stamp and get on with things and perhaps progress beyond the point where arestotelian thought left the subject. No single lecture or even several lectures that I am going to devote to Aristotle can do justice to breath and deepth of his accomplishment.

He is the son of a physician, naturalistically inclined, interested in biology. He becomes a student in platos academy and he stays there for merly nearly twenty years. Thats not because he is slow learner. He stays within the platonic circle. There are evidences that his earliest writtings where in the dialoge form. These are no longer with us. In fact, such accounts we can but together of what he did write of the fields he was responsible for indicate that we only got the finnest fraction of the total works that came from that vital imagination. One answer to the question “What is the arestotelian position on x y or z is …, well do you mean in terms of what survived in his works or what may have been his position in works we may probably will never find. Find again.”

At the beginning of his metaphysics. Which is a formidable and significant work in so many ways its obviously one of the great works in the history of thought. One thing about that is particulary important that it is the first treatises that constitutes a critical history of philosophical thought on major subjects. The metaphysics is the work in which aristotle sets down a teaching of a wide range of pre-socratic philosophers as well the socratic-teachings themselves. He tries to, I think by enlarge, does give a fair hearing. He obviousley has its own prgramm and agenda and that is going to color-round his judgement of things. But this treatises is the earliest one we have by any philosopher in which there is a systematic presentation of the ideas dominant in the several schools of pre-socratic and generally hellenic philosophical thought. And the metaphysics is going to examine the assets and liabilities of these schools and try to build upon the assets and avoid the liability or defects. So it is important as an historical document tells us perhaps more than any other document just what the teachings of competing schools where.

But the work opens up on a new note. “All man by nature desire to know. An example of this is the delight we take in our senses. For even a part of there usefullness they are loved for there own sake. And non more than the sense of sight.”

All man by nature desire to know. He already exams that there is an inexplicable impulse within us to develop a knowledge of the world, to develop a knowledge period, a knowledge of things. And than he goes on with the quiet straight forward that is characteristically for him. The quiet straight forward matter of fact common sense position is “All man by nature desire to know. An example of this delight…” So here we are not going to have a philosophy that depreciates the evidence of sense. He is to much the biologist, to much the natural scientist, to much the man with two feeds on the ground to be dismissive of the information gleaned by the senses.

Not only that, but famously aristotle will argue that “nature produces nothing without a good reason for it”. That Change is not the operative principle in the universe and that things are to be understood in terms of the purposes they serve. Nature certainly would not have fit out, the animal kingdom with sensory organs for the sole purpose of the deceiving the entire animal kingdom. And indeed, if that had been the design of nature, the senses as organs of deception, creatures would not able to get from one side of the street to the other.

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