Four-Eighths Hephaistos: Artifacts and Living Things in Aristotle

History of Philosophy Quarterly 14 (1):77 - 98 (1997)
There is considerable dispute in the literature as to how much, in Aristotle's universe, living things and artifacts really have in common. To what extent is the relation between form and matter in living things comparable to the relation between form and matter in artifacts? Aristotle no doubt employs artifact-analogies rather frequently in describing the workings of living things. But where does the usefulness of these analogies reach its limits? In this paper, I argue that Aristotle's artifact-analogies are frequently over-extended in such a way that important asymmetries between living things and artifacts are lost in the process. One such asymmetry of crucial importance is the relation between form and matter. Although form and matter in living organisms and artifacts alike are related via hypothetical necessity, it does not apply to both in the same way. I consider particular examples of body-parts and argue that, in each case, a particular kind of matter is picked out by hypothetical necessity. In this way, living things contrast with artifacts which are related via hypothetical necessity only to a disjunction of suitable material; each member of the disjunction is related to the form in question only contingently. In the case of living things, on the other hand, Aristotle is not committed to Multiple Realizability, in contrast to what the functionalist interpretation of Aristotle has claimed.
Keywords Aristotle  Matter  Form  Living things  Artifacts  Multiple Realizability  Functionalism  Four elements  Hypothetical necessity
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