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What makes our world a world of things at all? We are taught that a moving thing, if nothing disturbs it, will continue moving forever. Do you believe that? It is certainly true that a heavy thing in motion is as hard to stop as it was to set in motion, and that we cannot step out of moving automobiles without continuing, for a while, to share their motions.
But these are evidences of persistence of motion, not at all the same thing as inertia of motion. There is no evidence of the latter.
In principle there cannot be, because we cannot abolish all the world to observe an undisturbed moving thing. There is a powerful and in its way, beautiful, account of the world which assumes inertia, appealing to those experiences which suggest that motion at an unchanging speed is a state no different from that of rest. The hidden premise which leads from that step to the notion of inertia is the assumption that rest is an inert state. If it is not, the same evidence could lead to the conclusion that an unchanging speed is a fragile and vulnerable thing, as unlikely and as hard to come by as an unchanging anything.
How can a balloon remain unchanged? It does so only so long as the air inside pushes out no harder and no less hard than the air outside pushes in. Is the air inside the balloon at rest? Can it be at rest as long as it is performing a task?
Can the balloon be at rest if the air inside it cannot be? It can certainly remain in a place, like other apparently inert things, say a table. If you pulled the legs from under a table the top would fall, and if you removed the top the legs would fall. Leave them together and leave them alone and they do not move, but is the table at rest? Surely no more so than a pair of arm wrestlers, straining every muscle but unable to budge each other, can be said to be resting. But can't we find an inert thing anywhere in the world?
How about a single lump of rock? But if I throw it in the air it will return to find a resting place. It seems to rest only when something blocks it, and if I let it rest on my hand or my head, something will make me uncomfortable. Can the rock be doing nothing? And if we cannot find inertia in a rock, where could it be?
An animal is either full of circulating and respirating or it is rotting, and the same seems true of plants. But what in the world is not animal-like, plant-like, rock-like, or table-like?
From Aristotle's wondering and wonderful perspective, everything in the world is busy just continuing to be itself. This is not a "theory" of Aristotle's; it is a way of bringing the world to sight with the questioning intellect awake.
Try that way of looking on for size: the world has nothing to lose for ceasing to be taken for granted. Consider an analogy. Ptolemy is content to say that Venus and Mercury happen to have the same longitudinal period as the sun and that Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn all happen to lag just as far behind the sun in any time as they have moved in anomaly. Lucretius whom we may substitute for Aristotle's favorite materialist, Empedocles thought that cats and dogs and giraffes just happened to come about by accumulation, like the sands on the beach.
Lucretius' failure to wonder at a giraffe, his reduction of the living to the blind and dead, is, from Aristotle's standpoint, a failure to recognize what is truly one, what is not just a heap, what is genuinely a thing. The least thoughtful, least alert way of being in the world is to regard everything which remains itself as doing so causelessly, inertly.
To seek a cause for the being-as-it-is of any thing is already to be in the grip of the question Aristotle says must always be asked. That everything in the world disclosed to our senses is in a ceaseless state of change, most of us would grant. That the world nevertheless hangs together enough to be experienced at all is a fact so large that we rarely take notice of it.
But the two together--change, and a context of persistence out of which change can emerge--force one to acknowledge some non-human cause at work: for whichever side of the world--change or rest, order or dissolution--is simply its uncaused, inert way, the other side must be the result of effort.
Something must be at work in the world, hidden to us, visible only in its effects, pervading all that is, and it must be either a destroyer or a preserver.
The World as Cosmos That much seems to me to be demonstrable, but the next step is a difficult one to take because the world presents to us two faces: the living and the non-living. The thinghood of living things consists in organized unity, maintained through effort, at work in a variety of activities characteristic of each species; but a rock or a flame or some water or some dirt or some air is a thing in a much different way, unified only by accidental boundaries, indifferent to being divided or heaped together, at work only in some one local motion, up or down.
Which is the aberration, life or non-life? For Aristotle the choice need not be made, since the distinction between the two forms of being only results from a confusion. Flesh, blood, bone, and hair would seem inorganic and inanimate if they were not organized into and animated as, say a cat. But earth, air, fire, and water, all of it, is always organized into and animate as the cosmos.
The heavens enclose an organized body which has a size, a shape, and a hierarchical structure all of which it maintains by ceaseless, concerted activity. You may think that in believing this, Aristotle betrays an innocence which we cannot recover. But not only Aristotle and Ptolemy, but also Copernicus and Kepler believed the visible heaven to be a cosmos, and not only they, but also, amazingly, Newton himself. In our century, Einstein calculated the volume of the universe, and cosmology has once again become a respectable scientific pursuit.
Moderns, for whom the spherical motion of the heavens no longer indicates that the heavens have boundaries, draw the same conclusion from the fact that there is darkness. Anyone who would take the assertion that his outlook is modern to include the denial that there is a cosmos would make a very shallow claim, one having more to do with poetic fashion than with reasoned conviction.
The question of the cosmos has not been made obsolete, and the very least we must admit is that the appearance of an inorganic, inanimate nature is not conclusive and would result from our human-sized perspective whether there is a cosmos or not. If the world is a cosmos, then it is one more instance of the kind of being that belongs to every animal and plant in it. And if that is so, there is nothing left to display any other kind of being. Try it: take inventory.
What is there? The color red is, only if it is the color of some thing. Color itself is, only if it is some one color, and the color of a thing. The relation "taller than" is, only if it is of two or more things. What has being but is not a thing must depend on some thing for its being. But on the other hand a mere thing, mere matter as we call it, using the word differently than Aristotle ever does, is an impossibility too.
Relatively inert, rock-like being is the being of a part of what comes only in wholes--cosmos, plant, or animal. And all man-made things must borrow their material from natural things and their very holding-together from the natural tendencies of the parts of the cosmos.
To be is to be alive; all other being is borrowed being. Any comprehensive account of things must come to terms with the special being of animals and plants: for Lucretius, living things are not marvels but a problem which he solves by dissolving them into the vast sea of inert purposelessness.
All other being is, in one way or another, their effect. He is asking for their cause. The answer, as well, must be the same, and just as Aristotle concludes that nature is form, he concludes that being is form.
Does the material of an animal make it what it is? Yes, but it cannot be the entire or even principal cause. If there is anything that is not simply the sum of its parts, it is an animal.
It is continually making itself, by snatching suitable material from its environment and discarding unsuitable material. Add some sufficiently unsuitable material, like arsenic, and the sum of parts remains, but the animal ceases to be. The whole which is not accounted for by the enumeration of its parts is the topic of the last section of theTheaetetus, where Socrates offers several playful images of that kind of being: a wagon, a melody, the number six, and the example discussed at most length, which Aristotle borrows, the syllable.
Forms, Wholeness, and Thinghood Aristotle insists that the syllable is never the sum of its letters. Socrates, of course, argues both sides of the question, and Theaetetus agrees both times. Let's try it ourselves. Take the word "put", p-u-t. I think you will find that, as long as you attempt to add sound to sound, you will have a grunt surrounded by two explosions of breath. When you voice the whole syllable as one sound, the a is already present when you begin sounding the p, and the t sound is already shaping the u.
Try to pronounce the first two letters and add the third as an afterthought, and you will get two sounds. I have tried all this, and think it's true, but you must decide for yourself. When I pronounce the syllable "put", I must have in mind the whole syllable in its wholeness before I can voice any of its parts in such a way as to make them come out parts of it.
Now a syllable is about as transitory a being as one could imagine: it is made of breath, and it is gone as soon as it is uttered. But a craftsman works the same way as a maker of syllables.
If he simply begins nailing and gluing together pieces of wood, metal, and leather, he is not likely to end up with a wagon; to do so, he must have the whole shape and work of the wagon in mind in each of his joinings and fittings.
Even so, when he is finished, what he has produced is only held together by nails and glue. As soon as it is made, the wagon begins falling apart, and it does so the more, the more it is used. All the more perplexing then, is the animal or plant. It is perpetually being made and re-made after the form of its species, yet there is no craftsman at work on it.
It is a composite of material and form, yet it is the material in it that is constantly being used up and replaced, while the form remains intact.
The form is not in any artist's imagination, nor can it be an accidental attribute of its material. But what is form? Where is it? Is it a cause or is it caused? Most important of all, does it have being alone, on its own, apart from bodies? Does it emerge from the world of bodies, or is a body a thing impossible to be unless a form is somehow already present for it to have? Are they perhaps equal and symmetrical aspects of being, inseparable, unranked?
Just as ultimate or first material, without any characteristics supplied by form, cannot be, why should not a pure form, not the form of anything, be regarded as its opposite pole and as equally impossible?
Or have we perhaps stumbled on a nest of unanswerable questions? If form is the first principle of the science of physics, might it not be a first principle simply, behind which one cannot get, to which one may appeal for explanation but about which one cannot inquire?
Aristotle says that if there were not things apart from bodies, physics would be first philosophy. It consists in the uncovering of beings not disclosed to our senses, beings outside of and causal with respect to what we naively and inevitably take to be the whole world. Now it is agreed that some of what is perceptible arethings, and so one must search first among these. For learning occurs in all things in this way: through what is by nature less known toward the things more known.
And just as in matters of action the task is to make the things that are good completely be good for each person, from out of the things that seem good to each, so also the task here is, from out of the things more known to one, to make the things known by nature known to him.
Now what is known and primary to each of us is often known slightly, and has little or nothing of being; nevertheless, from the things poorly known but known to one, one must try to know the things that are known completely. It will do no good to move in circles. Similarly, if we cannot discern the goal of wisdom, we can at least begin examining the things that stand in our way.
These books are a painstaking clarification of the being of the things disclosed to our senses. It is here that Aristotle most heavily uses the vocabulary that is most his own, and everything he accomplishes in these books depends on the self-evidence of the meanings of these expressions. It is these books especially which Latinizing translators turn into gibberish. Words like essence, individual, and actuality must either be vague or be given arbitrary definitions.
The words Aristotle uses are neither vague nor are they conceptual constructions; they call forth immediate, direct experiences which one must have at hand to see what Aristotle is talking about. They are not the kinds of words that books can explain; they are words of the kind that people must share before there can be books. That is why understanding a sentence of Aristotle is so often something that comes suddenly, in an insight that seems discontinuous from the puzzlement that preceded it.
It is simply a matter of directing one's gaze. And he is able to go on in Book 12 to discover a good deal about that being. One could, then, skip from the third chapter of Book 7 to Book 12, and, having traced being to form, trace form back to its source.
Aristotle would have done that if his whole intention had been to establish that the sensible world has a divine source, but had he done so he would have left no foundation for reversing the dialectical motion of his argument to understand the things in the world on the basis of their sources. Books provide that foundation. The constituents of the world we encounter with our senses are not sensations. The sensible world is not a mosaic of sensible qualities continuous with or adjacent to one another, but meets our gaze organized into things which stand apart, detached from their surroundings.
I can indicate one of them to you by the mere act of pointing, because it has its own boundaries and holds them through time. I need not trace out the limits of the region of the visual field to which I refer your attention, because the thing thrusts itself out from, holds itself aloof from what is visible around it, making that visible residue mere background.
My pointing therefore has an object, and it is an object because it keeps being itself, does not change randomly or promiscuously like Proteus, but holds together sufficiently to remain the very thing at which I pointed.
This way of being, Aristotle calls being a "this". If I want to point out to you just this red of just this region of this shirt, I will have to do a good deal more than just point. A table, a chair, a rock, a painting--each is a this, but a living thing is a this in a special way. It is the author of its own this-ness. It appropriates from its surroundings, by eating and drinking and breathing, what it organizes into and holds together as itself. This work of self-separation from its environment is never finished but must go on without break if the living thing is to be at all.
Let us consider as an example of a living this, some one human being. Today his skin is redder than usual, because he has been in the sun; there is a cut healing on his hand because he chopped onions two days ago; he is well educated, because, five years ago, his parents had the money and taste to send him to Harvard. All these details, and innumerably many more, belong to this human being. But in Aristotle's way of speaking, the details I have named are incidental to him: he is not sunburned, wounded on the hand, or Harvard-educated because he is a human being.
He is each of those things because his nature bumped into that of something else and left him with some mark, more or less intended, more or less temporary, but in any case aside from what he is on his own, self-sufficiently. What he is on his own, as a result of the activity that makes him be at all, is: two-legged, sentient, breathing, and all the other things he is simply as a human being.
There is a difference between all the things he happens to be and the things he necessarily is on account of what he is. Aristotle formulates the latter, the kind of being that belongs to a thing not by happenstance but inevitably, as the "what it kept on being in the course of being at all" for a human being, or a duck, or a rosebush.
What is a giraffe? Find some way of articulating all the things that every giraffe always is, and you will have defined the giraffe. What each of them is throughout its life, is the product at any instant for any one of them, of the activity that is causing it to be.
That means that the answer to the question "What is a giraffe? Stated generally, Aristotle's claim is that a this, which is in the world on its own, self-sufficiently, has a what-it-always-was-to-be, and is just its what-it-always-was-to-be.
This is not a commonplace thought, but it is a comprehensible one; compare it with the translators' version, "a per-se individual is identical with its essence. Matter and Form in Aristotle The living thing as it is present to my looking seems to be richer, fuller, more interesting than it can possibly be when it is reduced to a definition in speech, but this is a confusion. All that belongs to the living thing that is not implied by the definition of its species belongs to it externally, as a result of its accidental interactions with the other things in its environment.
The definition attempts to penetrate to what it is in itself, by its own activity of making itself be whole and persist. There is nothing fuller than the whole, nothing richer than the life which is the winning and expressing of that wholeness, nothing more interesting than the struggle it is always waging unnoticed, a whole world of priority deeper and more serious than the personal history it must drag along with the species-drama it is constantly enacting.
The reduction of the living thing to what defines it is like the reduction of a rectangular block of marble to the form of Hermes: less is more. Vanessa Jakeman. Erica Hall. Helen Naylor. Annette Capel. Michael Black. Home Contact us Help Free delivery worldwide. Free delivery worldwide. Bestselling Series. Harry Potter. Popular Features. New Releases. This edition includes great new features, including brand new 'Corpus spots' alerting students to common mistakes by PET candidates.
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