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)
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)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)