Aristotle: half naturalist and half platonic

As promised in the previous paragraph, here is the overall explanation of Aristotle’s philosophy. When the stagirite tries to explain the becoming with the four causes, he seems almost a naturalist, but then, expressing the concepts of act and power, Aristotle returns to the metaphysical path, already outlined by Plato. Affirming that substance is none other than the sinolus, that is the union between matter and form, Aristotle openly criticizes Plato, who claimed the existence of a fracture (chòrismos) between the ideal world and the physical world, which therefore translated into a division between the form of things (eidos) and the matter that constituted them (hyle), since ideas were the eidos without the hyle (if they had been constituted they would have been subject to becoming and therefore would no longer have been the true being ). The formal cause also follows in the footsteps of the naturalists, since the form distinguishes things independently of the material cause. Here he would even seem close to Democritus and he himself affirms that the real naturalistic research is that which the atomist did and not his teacher Plato. But just when it seems that with the stagirity nature, an artisan of itself, is about to take revenge on the Platonic demiurge, Aristotle begins again to follow the metaphysical path of the master. In fact, when it comes time to clarify what is more important between form and matter, Aristotle states that eidos is more important, because it is the distinctiveness of things, which makes the same hyle different things (an omelette and a poached egg). they have the same material cause, the egg, but they are distinct because they have a different formal cause, even if the material one is the same). life and works of Aristotle Here you can see the shadow of Plato returning with his theory of the ideas on the philosophy of the disciple: the form of Aristotle, in fact, seems to have all the characteristics of the idea of ​​Plato. In addition to being more important than matter, for Aristotle it is ungenerated and eternal. So with this conviction he also denies the naturalists, because the physis of Heraclitus, the great supporter of becoming, gave rise to ever-different forms through becoming. Furthermore, he also denies the possibility of an evolution as Anaximander had supposed. And Darwin himself, the discoverer of the theory of the evolution of the species, is pleased in one of his treatises because Aristotle has the same ideas as his and cites a fragment: in reality in this passage the Stagyrite had brought back a piece taken from of Democritus and on the next line, which Darwin did not read, he states that everything the atomist had reported about evolution was wrong. To the question “Who was born first, the chicken or the egg?” Aristotle replies “the hen”. This is because he refers to the concept of pre-eminence of the act with respect to the power, for which the act precedes the power: only a man in act can give rise to a child, that is to a man in potential, which in turn will give rise , once in place, to another child. And so ad infinitum. Therefore it is necessary that the form has always existed, because only man generates man. And so for the becoming to occur, it is necessary that there is something already in place for it to originate. But if it too had potential, then it would have to be moved by something in place. So there is a need for a principle that is pure act in order to trigger the mechanism of becoming, thus making the artisan nature of itself. At the same time this engine must also be immobile, because according to Aristotle everything that moves does so because it is moved by something else. Following this logic, we arrive at the definition of the immobile prime mover, responsible for the movement of the entire cosmos.

The first motionless engine:

Aristotle had affirmed that a substance formed by eidos without hyle was an extreme case, a metaphysical abstraction. And the prime mover also falls into this category. As previously said, it must be devoid of potentiality and must also be immobile, therefore it is not composed of hyle, because otherwise it would move and would also be subject to becoming, which would force the search for another prime mover. Being immobile and pure act, the last sphere, that of the fixed stars, desiring it as the object of its love, tries to imitate its state of rest by moving with uniform circular motion, which is the most perfect one, giving rise to a similar movement to all the other concentric spheres, earth included, and also becoming. Thus the motionless motor causes movement without touching, because if it touched it would be impure, but only by being coveted by the sphere of the fixed stars. But if he “reciprocated”, he would no longer be pure, therefore the immobile prime mover, already thought because eidos without hyle, can only aspire to itself. For this Aristotle defines it noesis noèseos, that is “thought of thought”. The prime mover, due to this “physical constitution”, coincides with the divine, with God. For this reason the scholastic philosophy dialogues and accepts Aristotelianism, in fact if I demonstrate in this rational way the existence of the divine, I also demonstrate the existence of God. Aristotle’s physics versus modern physics: the defeat of Aristotelian science Aristotle identified four types of change in nature: * according to substance (birth, death, corruption) * according to quantity (increase, decrease) * according to the quality (alteration, discoloration) * local or translation (the actual movement) The movement is then divided into natural (that is, of a natural element) and violent (that is procured). Natural movements are for Aristotle proper to the four traditional elements (fire, air, water, earth). In fact, each of them tends to a position, or natural place, different from the others: fire upwards, earth downwards, water and air towards intermediate positions (with the first lower than the other) . Aristotle thus explains phenomena such as a falling stone or a flame that tends upwards. The four elements make up the terrestrial world, that is, the planet Earth and the space immediately surrounding it. Beyond the confines of the moon, Aristotle affirms the existence of a celestial world, where there is by nature a fifth element, the ether, eternal and incorruptible. This subdivision is very reminiscent of Platonic hyperuranium, in which there were ideas, eternal and incorruptible. The cosmos is for him a set of concentric spheres of aether that move in uniform circular motion. The stars are set in one of these spheres, called the “sphere of the fixed stars”. With this statement Aristotle conceives space qualitatively; the different areas of the Universe, for him, are such because they are natural places of the four elements. Modern physics starting from the seventeenth century shakes off Aristotelianism, supported by the Church, which blocked any innovation in the scientific field if it went against Aristotle’s claims, preventing any scientific demonstration with two little words that seemed almost magical: “Ipse dixit” , which meant: so Aristotle said (literally “he said it”) and therefore this is true. Anything else was wrong. Well in the seventeenth century scientists succeeded in making numbers, scientific and rational demonstrations prevail, to the detriment of the theories supported by Aristotle. To his defense of him we can say that at the time he certainly did not have the same means as the physicists and mathematicians who refuted his physics, the result of a reasoning that could not be followed by real and precise instrumental feedback. The physics of the seventeenth century introduces the principle of inertia, according to which a body perseveres in its state of rest or uniform motion if no other external causes (forces) intervene to vary its motion. Thus Aristotle’s “Ab alio movetur” is denied. Furthermore, the space of modern science is no longer linked to natural places, but is isotropic: that is, each point is equal to any other and has the same properties. Newton’s law of universal gravitation tells us that a body is affected by the force of gravity that the earth exerts on bodies whether it is underground or above. A somewhat anachronistic example can clarify the differences. Artificial satellites, for example, according to Aristotle’s theories should tend to rise because they are in the natural place of the air, instead they remain stable in orbit because the force of gravity to which they are subjected balances with the centrifugal force that would bring them outside the gravitational field of the earth.

The living and the soul

Aristotle’s biological studies form the basis of modern scientific zoology; they also have a great influence on his thinking. Aristotle enunciates the concept of species identifying it with that of formal cause; shape is therefore the set of characteristics for which a dog is defined as a dog and not a horse or a goat. The final cause is also identified with the species: the purpose of each animal species is in fact to preserve itself. Aristotle also studies the soul. He defines it as the vital principle of every living thing and states that it is inconceivable as separate from the body: body and soul constitute the synolon of the living organism. Three faculties are attributed to the soul: nutritional, sensitive, rational. The nutritional faculty presides over nutrition and reproduction; the second is proper to organisms endowed with more or less developed senses, the third, on the other hand, is the door to rational knowledge and it is only human. Vegetables have only the nutritional faculty, the animals the nutritive and the sensitive, men all three. Aristotle refutes Plato about the rigid separation between sensible knowledge (considered deceptive by Plato) and rational knowledge. For Aristotle, sensitive knowledge is the beginning of a process that takes place with rational knowledge. To know, in fact, it is necessary to perceive. The sensation occurs through the five senses; the sensible object takes place when it is perceived, but it is only potentially up to that moment. Furthermore, for the characteristics perceivable by several senses (such as size) there is a synthesis between the five senses called common sense.

Ethical and dianoetic virtues

For Aristotle all the actions of men have as their end one good, which in turn serves the achievement of another; however, there is a good that must be sought as an end in itself, the supreme good. This supreme good is identified with happiness and eudaimonia, that is, “being in the company of a good demon”. Happiness does not consist of earthly goods such as honor, wealth or pleasure; happiness is the prerogative of man like rational knowledge, therefore it coincides with the exercise of reason at the level of excellence. In short, happiness coincides with virtue. The virtues of man for Aristotle are divided into ethics, proper to the sensitive component of the soul, and dianoetics, proper to the rational one. Ethical virtues are acquired through habit and will, they are therefore a virtuous “disposition” of the soul that is obtained (implemented) through the constant exercise of virtuous actions (otherwise the virtues remain in power). In this Aristotle criticizes Socrates and Plato and their ethical intellectualism, according to which the knowledge of good necessarily leads to a life lived by only doing good deeds, since even evil cannot be done if one knows the good. According to Aristotle, on the other hand, in order to do good, the will to do it is fundamental. The ethical virtue consists, ultimately, in the will to do good. It is also the midpoint between the two extremes, excess and defect: parsimony, for example, is achieved by avoiding greed and lavishness; courage instead avoiding cowardice and recklessness from time to time. The right measure is relative, in relation to the person who performs it. Therefore the virtuous man is the mediocre, understood as a strong person who is able to resist extremism. Justice is identified with virtue as the search for balance; Aristotle distinguishes two connotations in it. Distributive justice wants goods to be assigned in proportion to merits; regulatory justice restores the balance between citizens when it is violated (for example in the case of a theft). The dianoetic virtues, on the other hand, are the manifestation of the excellence of the rational faculty of the soul. Within it, Aristotle draws a distinction: he identifies a scientific component that is limited to the theoretical knowledge of what cannot be otherwise from how it is and a calculating component that applies to what can be otherwise from how it is and what is therefore in our power. The dianoetic virtues are: 1. Own to the scientific faculty: * Epistème (science) which is aptitude for demonstration; * Noùs (intelligence) which is willing to know the principles; * Sophia (wisdom) which includes the previous ones; 2. Own of the calculating faculty: * Tèchne (art); * Phrònesis (wisdom). Wisdom and wisdom establish two different types of happiness: wisdom is within everyone’s reach, wisdom belongs to the philosopher. For Aristotle, wisdom is the greatest virtue as it represents the part of the soul for which it is comparable to god (as noesis noeseos).

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