An Awakening from a Dogmatic Slumber?


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It is sometimes said that Aristotle’s answer to weakness of will is building good habits. Socrates said that to know the good is to do the good. Aristotle objected that people might fail to do the good simply out of weakness of will (laziness, cowardice, etc.). Building good habits, says Aristotle is the key to overcoming weakness of will.  But I wonder if building good habits really is a prescription that works.
Imagine a couch potato who doesn’t have a very strong will. Suppose the couch potato knows that he ought to get off the couch and that its in his best interest to do so. Presumably, Aristotle would advise such a person to start building good habits in order to overcome the problem. He might start by getting up early, turning off the television, creating a schedule and working with a day planner, etc. He might even get off the couch and exercise in his living room. Over time, these habits would become more and more a part of his routine and over time he would become more productive.
But there is what Quine would call “an air of circularity” about this: doesn’t he need more strength of will to start a day planner and exercise and get up early in the first place? If the problem was weakness of will to begin with, won’t that become an obstacle to developing good habits? In short, Aristotle seems to be assuming the the solution to the problem lies in the premises that were introduced to solve it.
How then do you deal with weakness of will itself? Is there any one prescription that actually would work as the core to any w.o.w. problem? We could try pressing further with Aristotle’s solution: perhaps one could engage in will-building exercises. Perhaps one could chart one’s progress in incremental steps. Something tells me this wouldn’t get very far with an entrenched couch potato. But is Aristotle nevertheless right?

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Obama, Executive Orders, and Aristotle’s Stages of Government


The following article discusses the use of executive orders by President Obama. Donald Trump has said that he had no idea there was such a thing as an executive order and that he will repeal any attempt to limit gun ownership laws by an executive order (https://www.yahoo.com/politics/gop-targets-president-obamas-plan-for-executive-182618605.html). Some partisan media sites have stated that Obama has issued more EO’s than any other pres in history. The fact is that that honor goes to FD Roosevelt, with almost three times the number of any other president. He averaged 307 per year (note that there are only 365 days in a year) (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/orders.php). Since 1980, the highest number was issued by Ronald Reagan, who had a comparatively small 381 in his entire presidency. Obama has averaged 33 per year, a number that is lower than both Clinton and Bush II, who left office with a total of 291. To see the horrific depth of the misrepresentation of the facts regarding this, please have a look at the following article by factcheck.org. (http://www.factcheck.org/2012/09/obamas-executive-orders/)
Sites such as Snopes.com deserve to be discredited:(https://www.google.com/url…).

More concerning than the numbers though should be the way in which such orders are used by the President. This cuts across party lines and has to do with a problem emerging over the balance of power in the government. A political science professor I once had at SFSU made the claim that the executive branch in the Bush years began to cede power from congress and was beginning to take on more of an imperial look. One now hears voices in the GOP and right wing media calling Obama an “imperial” president. The underlying problem for Obama has been the consistent inaction of congress to even take up his proposed bills. The fact is that the 113th congress will be the least productive in history (see chart here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/president-obama-said-the-…/). Some might call the current EO, which seems to infringe upon the power of the Supreme Court to interpret laws an imperialistic abuse of power. If not one has to wonder whether the precedent set will be abused in the future. A further question is whether the president ought to take such unilateral action in a climate of desperate inaction. If not, should he undertake action when the added layer of the possibility of lobbyists (NRA, big business (oil, pharma, big health care) having a significant impact upon legislation is present? In other words, if the government has become dysfunctional should the President be granted the right to make it work? To do so might ultimately mean a threat to democracy in the sense of a government where the power ultimately in the representation of the citizenry. Perhaps there is some insight here into the way in Democracies move toward Monarchy onto tyrrany.

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Descartes’ Cogito and Hintikka


6/30/2013

 

It may be surprising for general readers to hear that Descartes’ famous “cogito” argument, which runs, “I think, therefore I am”, has been the subject of controversy among academics for the past few decades.  “What is there to dispute?”, one might wonder.  “Certainly”, it might be said, “Descartes must be right in saying that, if I am thinking, I must exist.  The one seems to be sufficient evidence for the other”.

Against this line of thought has arisen the following joke which seems to have proliferated in intro philosophy courses, and runs something like this:

Descartes walks into a bar.  The waiter asks, “Would you like a glass of Burgundy?”  Descartes answers, “I think not”, and vanishes in a puff of logical dust.

The line of thinking here is that if “Cogito, ergo sum” entails that whenever Descartes is thinking he should exist, it should also entail that if Descartes is not thinking, he does not exist.

The latter inference conceals a fallacy.  To see this clearly, consider what happens when the same type of reasoning is applied to the example red–>color.  Suppose the argument is that whenever I have red I can infer that I have a color. According to the argument pattern in the joke, it should also be the case that whenever I do not have red I do not have a color.  But this is obviously a mistake.  Moreover, it is an example of an invalid argument form (P->Q, ~P/~Q) which is an involves the fallacy of denying the antecedent.

Here are the steps, for convenience:

Consider this-

(1) Red –> Color

(2) ~Red

(3) ~Color  [Fallacy of denying the antecedent]

And now compare the same pattern to the one found in the Descartes joke-

(1) I think –> I exist

(2) I am not thinking

(3) Therefore, I do not exist [again, clearly a fallacy]

By contrast, note that when the argument is put into the form of modus tollens so that it runs, “I think -> I exist, I do not exist/I am not thinking” it comes out as a perfectly reasonable inference.  However, the inference, “if I am not thinking, then I do not exist” cannot be logically derived from  “I think, therefore I am”, except by introducing a fallacy.

 

Hintikka

We have an example above of an argument in which the cogito is treated as an inference.  At first glance it seems obvious that it should be.  This assumption has been challenged, however.  In a 1962 article titled, “Cogito, ergo sum: Inference or performance?” Jaakko Hintikka argued that the argument at least need not be considered as an inference and may be interpreted as a performance.  For example, Hintikka proposed the following reformulations of the cogito to bring out its performative aspect:

  1. “I am in that I think.”
  2.  “By thinking I perceive my existence.”

By claiming that the cogito can be treated as a performance, Hintikka is aligning it with a category of other statements like “I pronounce you man and wife” or “Let there be light”.  In each case, the sentence announces the action being performed.  In the case of the cogito, or so Hintikka would have it, in the performance of the action announced in 1 & 2, one will become aware that one exists.

When viewed as a performance, the argument should not be seen (so Austin stated) as having a truth value (i.e. being true or false) but should be evaluated in term of whether it is successful or not successful.  In other words, the success of 1 or 2 depends simply upon whether Descartes (or anyone else) is actually thinking.

Hintikka’s strategy becomes evident here: by recasting the cogito as a performance, the question of its cogency becomes less a matter of searching out the linkage between thinking and existing and more a question of simply performing a certain activity.

Argument

 Hintikka’s distinction between treating the cogito as either an inference or a performance generates a false dilemma.  I would like to argue that there is a way in which, by treating “I think, therefore I am” as an entailment the cogito can be viewed as both an inference and a performance without inconsistency.

[section explaining Hintikka’s motivation to be inserted here]

But how is this possible?  It was stated above that inferences have truth conditions while performatives are either successful or unsuccessful.  How then can they wind up in the same category?  The answer is that the cogito ought to be viewed as a statement that is true or false when it is uttered by someone.  This brings in both the performative and inferential aspects as follows: the statement as an inference is either true or false, but it is such that its truth or falsity depends upon whether the act of uttering it is actually (successfully) carried out.  Whenever this is done, whenever someone utters “I think, therefore I am”, the statement automatically becomes true if the person uttering it is using the statement in a self-referential way.  The fact that no one can deny the cogito, when uttered self referentially, makes it appear as though it were a statement (or proposition) and has independent standing as a true sentence; but, in fact, it is true whenever someone utters it.  The fact that the Latin word “cogito” may also be translated as “I am thinking” may be brought in as further support for this view.

This is not a trivial point in the context of assessing Hintikka’s argument.  First and foremost, it absolves scholars of the need to debate the relative merits of a performative vs. inferential view of the cogito, since they may be viewed, as explained above as working together synchonically.  I would argue that the cogito is an example of a case where the two mutually exclusive categories may overlap and actually reinforce one another.  By viewing the statement as an utterance we do not cancel out it inferential aspect.  Indeed, it is difficult to see how that might be possible with the word “ergo” present in the very formulation of the cogito.  Hintikka can only call the cogito a performance by eliminating the word; but arguably it is present even in his reformulations (see 1 and 2 above).  Certainly, one can reason, however banal it might now seem, that if one is thinking, one, in fact, must exist; but, moreover, it seems that Descartes must have had the discovery of the linkage between the two concepts in mind when he made the cogito the starting point of his attempt at constructing a purely deductive philosophical system.

 

 

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A Dialogue on Lockean Substratum


The following link is to a dialogue I wrote up on Lockean substratum.  You have to click on the link to see the PdF file.  I wrote it out long hand in a cafe since I have been experiencing technical difficulties with my laptop.

Dialogue on Lockean Substratum

 

Opinion on the notion of Substratum

Opinion: better alternatives than Aristotelian substratum may be found to ground the existence of the attributes of substances. One such is presented here, which is put forward as logically consistent and one that satisfies both the demands of Aristotelians and their Empiricist opponents.

The Issue~

Before Tina Turner sang, “We don’t need another Hero” Locke wrote in a similar way about the non-necessity of Aristotelian substratum. Why did people think that everyday objects needed a substratum to be sufficiently groundedontologically? Well, the reasoning can be taken as proceeding like this:

When we look at everyday objects, we can see that they have certain attributes, such as a certain height or color or weight.
These attributes can be said to have a certain order of dependence one upon another: for example, an object has a color only if it first has extension in space. Only if an object is extended in space, having at least two dimensions, it might be said, can it thereby have a color. This is true even in one’s imagination. Necessarily, if an object has a color it has a height and width, if not a depth and weight at a certain time.
But, the advocate of substrata would claim, extension is not enough to establish an object as a real entity by itself. Being a mere attribute of an object it cannot exist on its own.
The justification for #3 is related to #2 in the sense that it involves ontological dependence. This time the dependence is spoken of in terms of “inherence”. The argument goes as follows: (a) the qualities of an object such as its colors, which are a type of accident (see #1) cannot exist on their own without belonging to or inhering in a substance; (b) in the same way, the quantitative accidental attributes of a substance, such as its height or weight or length cannot exist apart from an object. Moreover, (c) the qualities and quantitative attributes of an object make up the sum total of an object’s internal attributes (i.e. those that are not relative and depend upon its internal attributes). But (d) all such attributes must inhere in something since they cannot exist on their own (see a-c). Hence (e) all such attributes must depend upon a further something that might ground their existence. That further something is what the Aristotelian would call a substratum.
The claim that this argument can be taken as a synopsis of the Aristotelian view on “Substance” perhaps needs some defense. This can be presented briefly, but I think conclusively, as follows.

The word Aristotle uses that is usually translated as “substrate” in the Categories is to hypokeimenon, or literally, “the underlying (something)”, which is often translated as “subject” (as in the grammatical subject of predicates). It should be seen at the outset that the term does double duty in the Categories as a term for a grammatical subject (as a subject for predicates) and for a subject in the sense of substance: e.g. Aristotle writes in Chapter 2 of the Categories, “By being ‘present in a subject’ I do not mean present as parts are present in a whole, but being incapable of existence apart from the said subject.” By introducing the notion of accidents as existing in a substance (the Greek word here is hypokeimenon as above) Aristotle is in effect shifting the ontological ground of his discussion from the consideration of the role of a subject as a bit of grammar to subject as a countable entity.

The effect is such that the discussion of the hypokeimenon-subject of the second chapter of the Categories naturally bridges over into Aristotle’s further discussion of ousia-subject in the fifth chapter. It is significant that Aristotle has an entitative sense of “subject” in mind in the second chapter because it lays the foundation for a dualism between substance and accident that follows from his claim (quoted above) that accidents cannot exist on their own (chapter 2), although a substance can (implicit in chapter 2 where he identifies subjects as unitary things such as individual horses and men in contrast to things that are present in a subject, and explicit in chapter 5 where Aristotle says that the ability to subsist is one of the primary differentiating characteristics of a substance).

The non-reducibility of accident to substance follows from this duality: one subsists while the other merely “exists in” (see 4 a and b above). But this in turn yields the further result that no collection of accidents can yield a substance. This reasoning is, quite arguably, implicit in Aristotle’s distinction between accidental and substantial change in the first Chapter of his lectures on Physics. It is this non-reducibility that provides the basis for the Lockean critique of Aristotle’s notion of substance.

It is, of course, fairly well established that Locke, in the end, decides to keep substrata in his inventory of “the things that are”. But he does so only after presenting a very compelling empiricist counterargument that has left many wondering whether he could actually be serious about maintaining that there are such things as substrata in the universe. His counterargument can be related to the dualism between substance and accident mentioned above.

Essentially, Locke’s argument works on the irreducibility of accident to substance that underlies that dualism. In Book II, ch. xxiii of his “Essay” Locke points out that if it were asked wherein qualities (secondary qualities) inhere in a substance one could answer that they inhere in the quantitative features of an object (in Locke’s terminology, their primary qualities). But if one were to press further and ask wherein the primary qualities of an object inhere, one could only answer that it must be an unknown something-something the senses do not perceive. It can be seen here that Locke is attempting to be a consistent empiricist in claiming that the notion of substratum is unfounded: since it cannot be sensed, it violates the basic criterion for what any good empiricist would accept into his or her ontology.  This type of argument might be called the “Indian argument” for short, since it has been referred to as such in the secondary literature.

Thus, the issue substratum theory poses comes to this: one can either say with Aristotle that a substratum is necessary as a ground or support for things that cannot exist on their own, or one can side with Locke’s empiricist argument against substrata (the indian argument) in saying that no such entity can be admitted into one’s ontology on empiricist grounds. Moreover, to admit substrata into one’s ontology is implicitly to move from a monistic position (materialism or phenomenalism) to a dualistic one (materialism plus an immaterial entity): since only “qualities” in Locke’s terminology, or “accidents” in Aristotle’s can by their very nature, be perceived, substrata, or substances without attributes must be taken to be imperceptible by their very nature. Hence it follows that for the substratum theorist, there must be at least two basic kinds of things: those that are perceptible and those that are imperceptible by their very nature. In admitting substrata into his ontology, Locke basically affirmed his commitment to a kind of dualism that in many respects mirrored Cartesian dualism, and for similar reasons (e.g. non-reducibility), has engendered dissatisfaction ever since.

Thesis~

The argument I would like to advance in response to this issue is that it is unnecessary to suppose substrata as a ground for accidents/qualities. This position prompts two lines of inquiry: firstly, can the quantitative features of an object exist on their own or do they require something wherein they may exist? I.e., how does one overcome the common sense view that says things like a particular height or weight must inhere in an object in order to have any reality? Does this not inescapably prompt the need to suppose the existence of a substrate wherein their existence may be grounded? Secondly, if the quantitative features of an object can somehow be taken to be the fundamental ground of being of an object and this in turn implies either a materialistic or phenomenalistic monism, can such a monism do all the metaphysical work the alternative dualism with its supposed substratum was able to do? An affirmative answer to the latter question can be justified through resolving the problems posed by the first line of inquiry: basically, a satisfactory monism will be able to do all the metaphysical work that the alternative dualism was able to do without supposing a fundamentally imperceptible substratum. Since substrata have this characteristic, they would seem to deserve the title of “occult entity” as much as any others of the same ilk and their elimination would seem to be desirable from both an epistemic and an empirical point of view if one happens to be committed to empirical principles in drawing up the inventory of one’s ontology. Let’s proceed then to see what can be done to eliminate substrata.

Supporting arguments~

Simply put, the key to eliminating substrata is to let the term “substance” indicate an entity that essentially includes all its attributes (or qualities or accidents) in its concept. This might be taken to be a Leibnizian view of substance. The next move is to see that, taking on the idea of the attributes of a substance as fundamentally dependent beings, they imply a substance. Thus, we are left with the following set of logical relationships between substances and their attributes: necessarily, if there is an attribute, then there is a substance; but, moreover, only if there is a substance can there be an attribute. If one wants to know wherein an attribute exists, it may be answered that it exists in or belongs to a substance; but only if there is a substance may there be an attribute at all. The latter justifies the idea that substance can function as the ground of existence for attributes, while the former affirms the basic desire to say that attributes must exist in something other than themselves.

This view of things fits perfectly well with any empiricist/phenomenalist view of perception that begins with particular percepts as a basic epistemic starting point. Consider an object; let’s say, a book, for example: the book may be considered a substance, while its color or height may be considered as belonging to it as a substance. The substance in this case is an independent entity but not one that is devoid of attributes. Indeed, as above, the existence of substance can be taken to pre-suppose the existence of attributes in a non-circular manner. Here again, the perceptible phenomenal attributes belong to the book as to a substance that grounds their existence; but that substance in turn sufficiently implies the existence of at least one attribute.

This may seem rough and ready given the long standing persistence of this metaphysical issue. But it should be enough merely to ask the reader to consider the logic that prompts the series of moves presented above. Consider that in posing the definition of substance presented here (seemingly out of thin air?) as an alternative to substratum theory, what has been shown is the non-necessity of substratum theory, provided that the version of the relationship between substances and their attributes is not self contradictory and can be said to be basically sound. The two paragraphs immediately above can be taken as answering to both of those requirements.

The desire to reify substance, to make it into a separate entity apart from its attributes, seems to follow from a mistake in thinking that whatever substance is, it must be something independent not only from other substances but also from its own attributes. It might be thought, for example, that since a substance may undergo a change in its attributes (for example changing from short to tall) it must be independent from its attributes. But this assumption is non-necessary from a logical standpoint: it may be said, alternatively, that substance sufficiently implies the existence of at least one attribute while the existence of an attribute necessarily implies a substance. Moreover, the irreducibility arguments above for an independent substance need only lead to the conclusion that a substance should be distinguished from its attributes from a conceptual standpoint: clearly, attributes must be fundamentally different from substances in some way, but that need not imply a total independence in re from one another. The above way of construing their inter-relationship allows for conceptual dependence on a logical basis with greater fidelity to the epistemological basis for that dependence than substratum theory offers.

In conclusion, the definition of substance presented above allows for a way to conceive of substance that satisfies the demand for both irreducibility required by Aristotelians and other substance dualists and the epistemological grounding in perception sought by phenomenalists or materialists. It makes the two compatible by simply distinguishing conceptual independence from interdependence in re in a way that is logically valid and, arguably, sound. As a viable alternative, it argues against the need to construe substances as substrata.

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Art and its critics: an opinion on the role of the critic


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What is the role of the critic?  How should criticism interact with an art form?  These are questions that have been asked and answered in various ways before.  In what follows, I would like to draw from my own personal experience as someone who has been writing on jazz for a little over a year.  I do not wish to claim absolute originality for any of my thoughts, but only the originality of them as my own personal observations, based upon the particular context of my experiences.  I invite comments and criticism from readers that may further the discussion.  In the course of these thoughts about the role of the critic I have also been led to say a few things about the relationship between art and philosophy, and moreover, about the relationship between science and philosophy.  My belief about the relationship between the artist and the critic is that when they work together best, the one acts to push forward the thought of the other.  The particular way in which that positive interaction comes about will be the subject of what follows.

In the case of non-linguistic arts (such as music or painting) when the critic puts into words a description of a non-linguistic art form, the result is a kind of translation that involves a jump from something communicated at a sensual level to one that engages the understanding in a rational reconstruction of the “sense” of that sensuality.  Embedded in this description is a more general assumption about what critics ought to be doing.  It may be spelled out clearly as the assumption that critics ought, at some point, to make an effort to interpret art, and not merely evaluate it in terms of whether it is agreeable to their personal tastes.  From a long-term perspective, tastes may vary, and while it may be interesting to read about the tastes of different critics, or of different critics over time, the more enduring and more valuable critical work is the work that shows us how a way of seeing or feeling can perhaps be linked to a way of  thinking or understanding.  Critical work that takes on that kind of task is critical work that engages in the project of interpretation.  An interpretation, despite the seemingly arbitrary nature of art, can be refined over time to the point where a world view begins to be articulated through reflection upon art.  It may also be the work of multiple hands.

This point seems to call for an explication of the role of the artist in relation to the critic.  The view I would like to propose is that the artist presents in art a way of seeing that can introduce listeners or viewers to new ways of seeing.  New ways of seeing, in turn, push interpreters toward ever new ways of thinking and understanding.  Thus, art can be seen as an embryonic stage in the march toward the development of systematic philosophies.  All art seems to have a way of seeing embedded in its creation.  That way of seeing is typically not rigorously drawn out in terms of a systematically ordered set of concepts.  That wouldn’t be “art”, but something else, like a mature form of criticism or a philosophy perhaps.

But to anticipate a possible objection, does philosophy always begin with art?  In one sense the answer will be “No”, but with a way of seeing, and with the project of articulating that way of seeing.  This, it seems to me, is the point at which philosophy divides itself from science (to the extent that a division based upon modern practices in the universities must be rationalized): whereas science takes the elements of the empirical world as its starting point, philosophy takes a way of seeing involving an act of interpretation as its starting point.  But there was also a “yes” answer.  What, then, is the way in which philosophy always begins with art?

The “yes” answer to this question involves embracing the thesis that what makes art “art” is simply the intentional act of seeing it as art.  For example, I am sitting in a café at this moment and there is a coffee cup on the table.  I may decided to look upon it as a scientific object, in which case I will be interested in its empirical properties with a mind toward some sort of classification or seeking answers to questions like “Why does it appear white?” or “What might be the best material for a coffee cup?”.  But, if my interest is an artistic one, I will look upon it in a different way, with a different set of intentions.  I might decide that it is a beautiful object, or I might decide that a different sort of lighting could help its appearance.

The point is that any object can be considered as art inasmuch as any object can be looked upon from an artistic point of view or with the intention of evaluating it from an artistic perspective.  Seeing an object as art, furthermore involves the possibility of seeing it as representing a way of seeing.  To return to the coffee cup, it might seem far fetched that a coffee cup could represent a way of seeing; but if one considers centuries of work that has been done on ancient artifacts, whether Greek, Etruscan, or Egyptian, one cannot help but admit the possibility of seeing a worldview in such creations.  That critics would like to articulate the sense of that worldview might be considered the starting point toward a philosophical viewpoint.  Here, it may be realized, the progression does not go from one medium or subject matter to another.  The progression is rather from the presentation of a viewpoint toward a systematic articulation of that viewpoint.

Finally, I would like to introduce the thought that the relationship between the artist and critic is a macrocosm of what occurs in each one of us when we attempt to understand the world on the basis of the information that the senses deliver to our intelligence.  We work toward an understanding of the world, and of ourselves in relation to the world, seemingly as an extension of our innate drive toward survival.  Those poles seem to interact as follows: we begin with a sensuous kind of understanding that later reaches a fuller articulation once it has been subject to the task of adhering to logical consistency.  Once the latter is achieved, a kind of philosophy may be said to have come into bloom.

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Art, Interpretation, and Understanding


Art, Interpretation, and Understanding

It is not uncommon these days to hear people say, when the subject arises, that there can be no answer to the question, “What is art?” If we begin by considering modern art, there does not seem to be any distinction between the sorts of objects that can be considered art objects and those that cannot. This is partly due to the fact that artists in the early 20th century set out to expand the public’s perception of what art can be. Is a urinal an art object? Duchamp thought so. Is a pile of newspapers in the MOMA art? Why not? Do objects become art objects by being placed in a museum? Cannot even simple everyday objects be seen as art?

And yet, is it plausible that there should be no way to differentiate art objects from others? I would like to approach this issue by first supporting the thesis that what fundamentally differentiates art objects from others is not a difference in the objects themselves, but a difference in our way of seeing them. It would follow that if we are to truly understand art, we must understand what constitutes an artistic point of view. In what follows, I will explore this thesis in an effort to lay the groundwork for answering a question that is sometimes taken to be intractable.

In the process, I will make a further attempt to set out what differentiates the project of interpreting art from that of acquiring scientific knowledge. These two components, which relate to answering the question of what kind of thing art is and how it may be differentiated from other things may be used to yield a working definition of art.  Moreover, the results of this investigation will have a bearing on the way that we view what it means to communicate, interpret and understand the world around us for ourselves and for others.

Generic considerations about the nature of art~

Consider a coffee cup. If I wish to understand it from a scientific standpoint, I will typically begin by bracketing all my feelings about it, such as whether it is pleasing to look at or whether it reminds me of a certain friend, or many other things that might occur to me but that are considered irrelevant to approaching it scientifically. Instead, I would typically focus on such things as its size, weight, chemical composition, its material components, etc.: in short, all the attributes that can be said to belong to it as an “object” that can be understood from an objective standpoint in the sense of a point of view that can be shared by others.

If I were to approach it as art, the same object that was being considered scientifically is now transformed by the simple act of looking upon it from an aesthetic standpoint, or aesthetically. I now pay attention to its colors, to its shape, whether they are pleasing or not, and whether it falls into a category of recognized artistic styles. Is it related to the Bauhaus school? Is it “modern”? Is it a “classic” style? What set of associations does it seem intended to invoke? Each style may bring about an aesthetically based response in me that would not arise from considering it from a scientifically trained point of view.

This example merely brings to our awareness the everyday experience that there is such a thing as an aesthetic or artistic point of view and that it differs from the scientific one.
But moreover, it seems that there is no obstacle to considering any object from an aesthetic standpoint if any object may be considered as art.

It seems that language, more than anything else (mistakenly) leads us into thinking that objects, by some intrinsic property they might possess, either are or not art. We are taught to refer to objects such as the Mona Lisa, or to a bronze sculpture as art; but, in truth, since we may consider any object as an art object, there does not seem to be any one property or set of properties in an object that makes it art, nor can any criterion be proposed that would prevent us from seeing an object as an art object.  If we seek for a general definition of art by examining the properties of an object in a scientific manner, there is nothing in an object can assist us in differentiating what is art from what is not art. In order to find the key to the differentiation one must look rather to the genesis of the way in which we see objects as objects as a certain kind of entity.  Understanding a way of seeing as a way of seeing, moreover, involves reflecting on the way in which we view the world interpretively as something more primary in us than either scientific method or an educated aesthetic viewpoint.

Toward a definition of Art: differentiating art from what is non-art~

In another way of speaking, the differentiation we are after will involve an awareness of an “adverbial” bias to our way of seeing and knowing.  We do not simply “see”, but see “scientifically” or experience an object “aesthetically”.  This realization suggests the conclusion that a basic part of understanding the world from a philosophically well grounded standpoint will involve an awareness of how objects stand to us once we have first become aware of ourselves as interpreting and not merely sensing observers.

To return to the main line of argumentation, we come now to an important question: what primarily differentiates the aesthetic point of view from other ways of seeing or being involved with objects around us? One might say that there are at least three basic characteristics: first, and most generally, the aesthetic standpoint can be distinguished from the scientific one by virtue of the fact that it involves, necessarily, an admittance of one’s affective responses (of the sort mentioned above) into one’s evaluation of an object as an art object. It shares this with other points of view such as when one views an object hungrily or thirstily.

Secondly, what is to be considered as art must be something that can be presented as art.  This presentation, in turn, functions as an invitation to view the object as art.  In the case of something like a pile of stones, something that is not made but only found in nature, the act of making may be nothing more than a “dubbing” or a pronouncement like “behold: this is art” that leads to the consideration of the object as an art object.

But, thirdly, the aesthetic viewpoint can be further differentiated according to a particular interpretive viewpoint that may arise in connection with it. I would like to propose that the aesthetic point of view is unique in that it admits (though it does not necessitate) an interpretive standpoint that does not arise in connection with other points of view or ways of being involved with things.  It will be the aim of what follows to describe this interpretive standpoint.  In doing so, a better sense of just what aesthetic seeing is will be brought to light.

Art and the sciences

Since the act of interpreting seems to have something in common with the scientific viewpoint and since, moreover, it was said that there was something unique about interpretation within the aesthetic viewpoint, it will be important to distinguish aesthetic interpretation as an aesthetic way of seeing from a scientific mode of seeing and interpreting, which has the aim of arriving at scientific knowledge.                  

An initial distinction has already been alluded to above.  Certainly, what modern scientific methodology sets apart as relevant data are the relevant objective facts, which can usually be circumscribed within the scope of quantifiable data (witness modern psychology).  The aesthetic standpoint, by contrast, seems to require a different apparatus, including one’s subjective reaction to the art object; and, at times, some concern with the intention of the artist or author in creating his artwork may play an important role.  Neither of these concerns are allowed to arise as legitimate kinds of data within a purely scientific standpoint.

Data

This type of scientific viewpoint may be labeled the modern empirical-scientific standpoint, so as to distinguish it from a further kind of “scientific” standpoint that might be called the classical epistemic-scientific standpoint.  This latter point of view is one that was developed at what is often considered to be the infancy of western culture.  It is the kind of epistemic standpoint that Plato and Aristotle developed according to which anything, whether it be a goose, a rosebud, or even such things as justice and love, can be made accessible to the understanding through a process of classification and division.  The foundation and guiding principle of this classification and division is ultimately the goal of defining each thing in such a way that it can be distinguished from all other things.  This way of conceptualizing what it means to know or understand something is so deeply ingrained in our very way of discussing those terms that it is difficult to conceive of another way of understanding them that does not lead into it at some point.  Since understanding is usually held to be a matter of both relating one thing to other things and of telling them apart, we seem to be led inexorably into the whirlpool of episteme when we wish to discuss “understanding” and “knowledge”.

Aesthetic interpretation, especially if it involves an effort toward systematic interpretation, may find itself unavoidably drawn into this whirlpool, and with mixed results.  On the one hand, it allows for a systematic treatment of the affective elements (for example, the reader’s response to a novel) that the interpretation of art must accept and which the empirical-scientific standpoint cannot admit.  It accomplishes this by treating such elements as concepts that may be related to other concepts (for example, the reader’s response to various elements in the text).  A certain unity of meaning is, moreover, held to emerge from a blending of such elements with others that may be taken to be more or less the facts of what is presented.  For example, if one sets out to interpret Picasso’s Guernica, not only the figures presented and their historical context will be relevant to grasping a sense of the painting, but also a reflection upon the way in which one is affected by the way in which they are presented, and not only this, but perhaps some attempt to divine what Picasso must have intended in that presentation may be relevant to its interpretation.

An Image from Picasso’s Guernica

On the other hand, there is that within the aesthetic standpoint, something within affectivity itself that resists conceptualization, and to that extent resists the epistemic model of understanding.  Indeed, if the epistemic model is taken to be the only model for understanding, then there is that in art that cannot be understood.  This aspect of art, its affective element, has a greater importance for its interpretation than might at first be recognized.  One could not get very far in understanding Guernica without first grasping, at a very basic affective level, such things as shock, horror, and revulsion; nor could one truly comprehend Chekhov’s “Lady with a Dog” without first being able to relate to emotions such as the desire, desperation, and long sought fulfillment that make up the elements of his story of fin amor.  A good writer or artist may even be judged, as was the case with Tolstoy and others, to be a master of his art precisely because he understood such emotions and was able to make his audience feel them and weave them together into experiences perhaps hitherto unknown as such to his reader.

Yalta: the setting for Chekhov’s, “The Lady with the Dog”.

It is not that the epistemic approach fails, so much as the fact that its success depends upon what cannot revealed by pure episteme alone.  In this respect, its projected definitions of love, loss, etc. fall short in a crucial respect.  It even seems quite reasonable to say that inasmuch as a definition for such terms fails to invoke the essential affective qualities, the kind of approach to knowledge classical episteme involves leads away from its essential attributes.  Hence, art comes to have what appears to be a doxastic, open-endedness with respect to the extent to which the interpretation of it can be said to be conclusive.

On the other hand, inasmuch as art can be said to reveal, of itself, what is essential to such inner experiences, it may be said to get nearer to what is essential to them than a purely conceptual approach can reveal.  Herein may be seen certain limitations of both Platonic and Aristotelian approaches to knowledge.  More than this, the present discussion can be linked to contemporary debates on the nature of consciousness that affirm it to be something inaccessible from a purely scientific standpoint.  Thomas Nagel’s “What’s it like to be a bat” and David Chalmer’s discussion of zombies are two prominent examples.  According to these lines of argument, the qualitative aspects of our inner experiences  are said to be inaccessible from an empirical-scientific standpoint precisely because that qualitative aspect in some ways resists objectification.  More precisely, it falls short of being able to answer the question of “what it is like” to have such experiences as smelling a rose or hearing a pleasant melody.

It seems that this epistemic failure is due not only to the fact, that there is that in art which resists objectification.  The empirical-scientific approach fails to a certain degree, due to the fact that (as was explained above) even within the conceptual sphere, such affects cannot be made into conceptual objects as Plato’s Forms and their Aristotelian descendants may be said to have been.  It seems rather that what is essential to them must be invoked within the subject and experienced on a bodily level in some way by art itself and in those who would understand art-to the extent that it can be “understood”.

Finally, to the extent that aesthetic interpretation, properly understood, uniquely involves an attempt to “understand” in terms of affectivity (inasmuch as it must involve an interpretive standpoint which acknowledges the fundamental role of the affective side of art), we may be said to have arrived at an aspect of the interpretation of art that sets it apart not only from purely “scientific” perspectives, but differentiates it from other ways of grasping or “understanding” something.

This critique of an over-reliance on the empirical-scientific point of view that has become so second nature to us in our age may be summed up by saying that we lack access, from that point of view, to what is revealed by a properly aesthetic point of view.  But, moreover, it may be seen that these two viewpoints represent two distinct aspects of human experience.  In what follows, the idea will be explored that art has a unique role in bringing together these two aspects of human experience, and subsequently, in teaching us what it means to be human in the fullest sense: a sense that projects toward overcoming alienation from oneself and from humanity by reunifying these two sides of our experience.

3

The harmonious composition of the aesthetic and epistemic that arises when we feel we have “understood” a work of art may be termed “interpretation”.  As was said above, because the purely aesthetic is that which resists a purely epistemic approach to “understanding” or grasping a work of art, interpretation will have an element of doxastic open-endedness.  Thus, for example, if one reads Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” one cannot be said to have grasped the “meaning” of the story fully by simply arranging its plot in the proper order; nor could one do so by understanding all the words Tolstoy uses on a literal level; nor would even a full understanding of all the historical facts relevant to the story suffice.  It is, rather, something that surpasses all these that eludes the epistemic approach and provides art with its field of openness that is essential to its being art.  This field of openness, moreover, can only be grasped from an aesthetic viewpoint, and cannot be contemplated or accessed from a purely epistemic or scientific point of view.

This description of interpretation may be seen to have a certain allegiance to a Kantian approach to what occurs when one attempts to understand, in some sense, what is presented in the field of aesthetics.  Although it does not have any pretentions toward a transcendental viewpoint, it might be said to provide a foundation for a way to look at art as something that transcends the self.  Rationalists have traditionally attempted to transcend the self on a purely conceptual basis.  But part of the difficulty with this approach is that it does not allow the self (for example, the archetypal, isolated Cartesian self) to get beyond its own concepts.  Art provides for a fuller transcendence of the self by introducing a form of communication that requires an “understanding” of its terms to take hold on an affective, as well as an intellectual level.

Consider the process of creating a work of art.  If one were to set out to create a love story like Chekhov’s “Lady with a dog”, one would ordinarily have to combine epistemic elements that provide a basic sense of the facts upon which the story is based with elements that call up the affective side of what it means to fall passionately in love.  This may be called a form of communication.  Communicating on such a level requires a shared inner experience if it is to be effective.  It requires communication not only on a conceptual level that invokes a certain intended response in the reader on an affective level.

Thus, one may imagine a model, from the standpoint of the speaker, writer, or artist that begins with his own affective experiences, gets packaged in language that is epistemically accessible (or readily understood on a conceptual level), and, if understood properly, is interpreted in the appropriate way by being “understood” on both an aesthetic and epistemic level.  In this way, art may be said to perform the unique function of bridging a gap between self and other that occurs on an aesthetic level.  In this way, art may also be said to hold out the promise of enabling the self to transcend itself.  A successful case may be said to arise when one feels oneself to have interpreted properly not only what the artist intended to communicate, but also, inasmuch as the story is open to many interpreters, to something that applies to humanity in general and may be said to characterize what it means to fall passionately in love as a human experience.

And yet, there seems to be that in art which surpasses, or transcends even the intention of the artist.  This can occur in a number of ways.  For example, the artist may work without any explicit intention; or again, the meaning of a work of art may shift over time according to the standpoint of its interpreters; or, in general, the artist may not be aware of the full implications of their work.  In such cases, interpretation is no longer tied to intention in any straightforward way.  In such cases one may look for an “intention” that transcends the artist and may be said to belong to the artwork itself as something that it communicates.  But this type of “communication”, which is no longer interpersonal, reaches a level where it might be said to be transpersonal: i.e. to transcend the intention of the artist and to signify in such a way that its meaning transcends (although it does not absolutely exceed) the level of communication between persons.  In this way it attains the status of a symbol.

Moreover, as a symbol, the meaning of a work of art is always in some way relative to an interpreter inasmuch as its perceived meaning may be grounded in many different contexts.  I would like to call this capacity of a work of art to belong to many different contexts its meta-contextuality.  Any artwork may be said to have this quality inasmuch as it is looked upon as a symbol, with a concomitant implication of meta-contextuality.

The perceived meta-contextual quality of a work of art comes close to being at the core of what makes it truly a work of art.  The only thing lacking to such a characterization is that it does not exclude the possibility of meta-contextuality on a purely conceptual basis.  Some highly rationalistic conceptions of religion seem to come close to fitting this criterion.  What is needed as an addition to this characterization to make it fit the conceptual area that art occupies more precisely is the further differentiation that art necessarily involves the aesthetic, non-epistemic side of human experience.

Some final thoughts toward a definition of art~

As was said at the beginning of this section, art involves a form of communication in which the epistemic aspects of language are used to communicate non-epistemic, aesthetic ones.  It is the epistemic aspects of language that may be said to present us with regular examples of words being associated with referents.  According to an epistemic point of view, of which Quine, for example, might approve, such associations would be communicated with a minimal degree of vagueness.  But in the aesthetic realm, the ideal of pure referentiality and removal of all vagueness is impossible due to the privacy (i.e. the non-objective quality) of aesthetic intentions when they arise. Thus, inasmuch as a work of art may be said to necessarily involve such aesthetic intentions, art my be said to be essentially something that may be viewed as a meta-contextual symbol, which has the capacity to communicate to us, in a sense, not only on a conceptual level, but also on an aesthetic one.

This capacity, moreover, has the potential to educate us about the aesthetic aspects of what makes us human.  Inasmuch as its proper interpretation must involve a harmonizing of the epistemic and aesthetic, it will involve some attempt to harmonize both of these aspects of human experience, and thus assist us in discovering a complete, harmonious vision of what it means to be human.

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Opinion on the notion of substratum


Opinion: there is no need for the concept of “substratum” and a viable alternative may be posed to it.

 The Issue~

 

Do everyday objects need a a property-less substratum to be sufficiently grounded in their existence?  Well, the reasoning can be taken as proceeding like this:

  1. When we look at everyday objects, we can see that they have certain attributes, such as a certain height or color or weight.
  2. These attributes can be said to have a certain order of dependence one upon another: for example, an object has a color only if it first has extension in space.  Only if an object is extended in space, having at least two dimensions, it might be said, can it thereby have a color.  This is true even in one’s imagination.  Necessarily, if an object has a color it has a height and width, if not a depth and weight at a certain time.  These are necessary conditions for an object to be perceived as existing.
  3. But, the advocate of substrata would claim, extension is not enough to establish an object as a real entity by itself.  Being a mere attribute of an object and not a substance itself, it cannot exist on its own.
  4. The justification for #3 is related to #2 in the sense that it involves ontological dependence.  This  dependence is often spoken of in terms of “inherence”.  The argument goes as follows: (a) the qualities of an object such as its colors, which are a type of accident (see #1) cannot exist on their own without belonging to or inhering in a substance; (b) in the same way, the quantitative accidental attributes of a substance, such as its height or weight or length cannot exist apart from an object.  Moreover, (c) the qualities and quantitative attributes of an object make up the sum total of an object’s internal attributes (i.e. those that are not relative and depend upon its internal attributes).  But (d) all such attributes must inhere in something since they cannot exist on their own (see a-c).  Hence (e) all such attributes must depend upon a further something that might ground their existence.  That further something is what the Aristotelian would call a substratum.

The claim that this argument can be taken as a synopsis of the Aristotelian view on “Substance” perhaps needs some defense.  This can be presented briefly, but I think conclusively, as follows.

The word Aristotle uses that is usually translated as “substrate” in the Categories is to hypokeimenon, or literally, “the underlying (something)”, which is often translated as “subject” (as in the grammatical subject of predicates).  It should be seen at the outset that the term does double duty in the Categories as a term for a  grammatical subject (as a subject for predicates) and for a subject in the sense of substance: e.g. Aristotle writes in Chapter 2 of the Categories, “By being ‘present in a subject’ I do not mean present as parts are present in a whole, but being incapable of existence apart from the said subject.”  By introducing the notion of accidents as existing in a substance (the Greek word here is hypokeimenon as above) Aristotle is in effect shifting the ontological ground of his discussion from the consideration of the role of a subject as a bit of grammar to subject as a countable entity.

The effect is such that the discussion of the hypokeimenon-subject of the second chapter of the Categories naturally bridges over into Aristotle’s further discussion of ousia-subject in the fifth chapter.  It is significant that Aristotle has an entitative sense of “subject” in mind in the second chapter because it lays the foundation for a dualism between substance and accident that follows from his claim (quoted above) that accidents cannot exist on their own (chapter 2), although a substance can (implicit in chapter 2 where he identifies subjects as unitary things, such as individual horses and men, in contrast to things that are present in a subject, and explicit in chapter 5 where Aristotle says that the ability to subsist is one of the primary differentiating characteristics of a substance).

The non-reducibility of accident to substance follows from this duality: one subsists while the other merely “exists in” (see 4 a and b above) some further thing.  But this in turn yields the further result that no collection of accidents can yield a substance.  This reasoning is, quite arguably, implicit in Aristotle’s distinction between accidental and substantial change in the first Chapter of his lectures on Physics.  It is this non-reducibility that provides the basis for the Lockean critique of Aristotle’s notion of substance.

It is, of course, fairly well established that Locke, in the end, decides to keep substrata in his inventory of “the things that are”.  But he does so only after presenting a very compelling counterargument that has left many wondering whether he could actually be serious about maintaining that there are such things as substrata in the universe.  His counterargument can be related to the dualism between substance and accident mentioned above.

Essentially, Locke’s argument works on the irreducability of accident to substance that underlies that dualism.  In Book II, ch. xxiii of his “Essay” Locke points out that if it were asked wherein qualities (secondary qualities) inhere in a substance one could answer that they inhere in the quantitative features of an object (in Locke’s terminology, their primary qualities).  But if one were to press further and ask wherein the primary qualities of an object inhere, one could only answer that it must be an unknown something-something the senses do not perceive.  It can be seen here that Locke is attempting to be a consistent empiricist in drawing up such arguments: since substratum cannot be sensed, it violates the basic criterion for what any good empiricist would accept into his or her ontology.

 

 

Thus, the issue substratum theory poses comes to this:  one can either say with Aristotle that a substratum is necessary as a ground or support for things that cannot exist on their own, or one can side with Locke in saying that no such entity can be admitted into one’s ontology on empiricist grounds.  Moreover, to admit substrata into one’s ontology is implicitly to move from a monistic position (materialism or phenomenalism) to a dualistic one (materialism plus an immaterial entity): since only “qualities” in Locke’s terminology, or “accidents” in Aristotelean usage can by their very nature, be perceived, substrata, or substances without attributes must be taken to be basically imperceptible and therefore immaterial.  Hence it follows that for the substratum theorist, there must be at least two basic kinds of things: those that are perceptible and those that are imperceptible by their very nature.  In admitting substrata into his ontology, Locke basically affirmed his commitment to a kind of dualism that in many respects mirrored Cartesian dualism, and for similar reasons (e.g. non-reducibility), has engendered dissatisfaction ever since.

Thesis~

 

The argument I would like to advance in response to this issue is that it is unnecessary to suppose substrata as a ground for accidents/qualities.  This position prompts two lines of inquiry: firstly, can the quantitative features of an object exist on their own or do they require something wherein they may exist?  I.e., how does one overcome the common sense view that says things like a particular height or weight must inhere in an object in order to have any reality?  Does this not inescapably prompt the need to suppose the existence of a substrate wherein their existence may be grounded?  Secondly, if the quantitative features of an object can somehow be taken to be the fundamental ground of being of an object and this in turn implies either a materialistic or phenomenalistic monism, can such a monism do all the metaphysical work the alternative dualism with its supposed substratum was able to do?  An affirmative answer to the latter question can be justified through resolving the problems posed by the first line of inquiry: basically, a satisfactory monism will be able to do all the metaphysical work that the alternative dualism was able to do without supposing a fundamentally imperceptible substratum.  Since substrata have this characteristic, they would seem to deserve the title of “occult entity” as much as any others of the same ilk and their elimination would seem to be desirable from both an epistemic and an empirical point of view if one happens to be committed to empirical principles in drawing up the inventory of one’s ontology.  Let’s proceed then to see what can be done to eliminate substrata.

Supporting arguments~

Simply put, the key to eliminating substrata is to let the term “substance” indicate an entity that essentially includes all its attributes (or qualities or accidents) in its concept.  This might be taken to be a Leibnizian view of substance.  The next move is to see that, taking on the idea of the attributes of a substance as fundamentally dependent beings, they imply a substance.  Thus, we are left with the following set of logical relationships between substances and their attributes: necessarily, if there is an attribute, then there is a substance; but, moreover, only if there is a substance can there be an attribute.  If one wants to know wherein an attribute exists, it may be answered that it exists in or belongs to a substance; but only if there is a substance may there be an attribute at all.  The latter justifies the idea that substance can function as the ground of existence for attributes, while the former affirms the basic desire to say that attributes must exist in something other than themselves.

This view of things fits perfectly well with any empiricist/phenomenalist view of perception that begins with particular percepts as a basic epistemic starting point.  Consider an object; let’s say, a book, for example: the book may be considered a substance, while its color or height may be considered as belonging to it as a substance.  The substance in this case is an independent entity but not one that is devoid of attributes.  Indeed, as above, the existence of substance can be taken to pre-suppose the existence of attributes in a non-circular manner.  Here again, the perceptible phenomenal attributes belong to the book as to a substance that grounds their existence; but that substance in turn sufficiently implies the existence of at least one attribute.

This may seem rough and ready given the long standing persistence of this metaphysical issue.  But it should be enough merely to ask the reader to consider the logic that prompts the series of moves presented above.  Consider that in posing the definition of substance presented here (seemingly out of thin air?) as an alternative to substratum theory, what has been shown is the non-necessity of substratum theory, provided that the version of the relationship between substances and their attributes is not self contradictory and can be said to be basically sound.  The two paragraphs immediately above can be taken as answering to both of those requirements.

The desire to reify substance, to make it into a separate entity apart from its attributes, seems to follow from a mistake in thinking that whatever substance is, it must be something independent not only from other substances but also from its own attributes.  It might be thought, for example, that since a substance may undergo a change in its attributes (for example changing from short to tall) it must be independent from its attributes.  But this assumption is non-necessary from a logical standpoint: it may be said, alternatively, that substance sufficiently implies the existence of at least one attribute while the existence of an attribute necessarily implies a substance.  Moreover, the irreducibility arguments above for an independent substance need only lead to the conclusion that a substance should be distinguished from its attributes from a conceptual standpoint: clearly, attributes must be fundamentally different from substances in some way, but that need not imply a total independence in re from one another.  The above way of construing their inter-relationship allows for conceptual dependence on a logical basis with greater fidelity to the epistemological basis for that dependence than substratum theory offers.

In conclusion, the definition of substance presented above allows for a way to conceive of substance that satisfies the demand for both irreducibility required by Aristotelians and other substance dualists and the epistemological grounding in perception sought by phenomenalists or materialists.  It makes the two compatible by simply distinguishing conceptual independence from interdependence in re in a way that is logically valid and, arguably, sound.  As a viable alternative, it argues against the need to construe substances as substrata.

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Aristotle’s four modes of perseity (Posterior Analytics I.4): Introduction (parts 3 and 4)

Perseity and Identification

{The texts in Aristotle’s corpus relevant to the following discussion have been placed at the end of the essay for ease of reference}

The general way in which the notion of persiety can be characterized has been explained above  (See Introduction I and II ).  Part 1 in the present series emphasized the difference between necessary and accidental connections, while Aristotle’s “said of all” was explored in part 2 as a criterion for necessity.  What remains to be seen is the way in which each of these two discussions help to situate the notion of an essential attribute, and prepare the way for a deeper understanding of the role that kath’hauto (per se) predicates play in Aristotle’s larger schema for organizing knowledge.

Argument

What I would like to argue, as a preliminary matter, is that kath’hauto predicates indicate that one term is related to another in such a way that it may be said to be entailed by the very possibility of the existence (or being) of another thing.  Thus, in the example given above, “point” bears a kath’hauto or per se relationship to “line” because it is one of the conditions necessary for there to be a line.  (See Note* below)  But the true importance of the role such predicates play, is that they serve to anchor one term to another, thus enabling a schema for identifying a certain subject/substance as one thing or another.  As will be seen, this has the further consequence that kath’hauto predicates help to give “atomic” subjects their atomicity.

In keeping with Aristotle’s recommended procedure for exploring a subject, we will proceed from what is better known to us toward a formulation that will be more intelligible in itself.  I will proceed to show how the identification of smallpox sorts with Aristotle’s overall scheme for identifying a thing as something or other, and in the process, make clear the role that kath’hauto predicates play within this framework.  In brief, my contention will be that they can be viewed as a necessary term or as a conjuction of necessary terms that are sufficient to identify a particular subject.  The precise way in which they are sufficient will have to be worked out as we proceed.  If all that I am about to say is correct, it will show the way in which Aristotle’s theories of research and syllogistic proof are actually quite compatible with modern scientific methods.  As will become clear, it is by emphasizing the role of identification in having an account of a thing that the theory of demonstration can come to be seen as useful for the purposes of scientific research.

The smallpox example

Suppose that you are a nurse working in a hospital.  One day someone comes into the hospital with the following symptoms: flu-like symptoms, including a headache, vomiting, and high fever.  Moreover, there are the beginnings of a kind of rash in the patient’s mouth, and the patients complains of a backache and overall fatigue.  What can be concluded from these symptoms?  Not much in the way of identifying their precise cause, since they could apply to many causes.  It is always possible that even all the syptoms together, which are the symptoms of smallpox, might not be enough to conclude that the patient has smallpox.  It could be the case, for example, that the rash in the patient’s mouth is due to an infection of some kind that is totally unrelated to the other symptoms.

These symptoms could be said to be the necessary conditions for having smallpox.  Note that these conditions/symptoms are not even sufficient when taken together or conjunctively to make an identification.  What is lacking are the truly characteristic markers that will yield such an identification according to which one can make a determination that what is before us is smallpox and not something else.

There are two ways that such an identification might be made.  One way would be to wait until further symptoms present themselves, such as the characteristic pustules that can yield a positive diagnosis.  Another way might be to give the patient a blood test whereby the virus that causes smallpox, variola major, can be identified.  In the case of the former method, the patient will become highly contagious and in 30% of cases death occurs.  Moreover, in the initial stages of the formation the characteristic pustules the disease may be mistaken for chickenpox.  These potential problems make it a much better idea to take a blood test.  The identification of variola major requires another set of conditions and chararcteristic markers, and the fact of identification will suffice for our purposes.

The Variola Major virusVariola Major

Now let’s apply this story about the identification of a virus to Aristotle’s tools for identification.  Aristotle’s tool kit includes such items as properties, predicates that are “said of all” or “in every case” of their subject, essential predicates (kath’hauto/per se predicates), generic predicates, and accidents.  Let’s consider these in order from least to best in terms of their capacity for identifying a subject.

Aristotle’s tool box

Accidents In terms of identification, true accidents serve very little purpose if any at all.  They are the attributes of a thing that may or may not belong to a subject.  They may be said to have various grades, from those that appear in many instances but not all to those that are purely fortuitous, such as being “next to a pillar” when said of a man (an example that appears in Renaissance texts).  Here I mean to speak of accidents in the strict sense, as those that may belong to a thing but by themselves indicate very little or nothing about what a thing is.  (I)  These would apply to the purely accidental features that a patient would present.  Perhaps the patient has a broken leg: in this case, since having a broken leg is unrelated to having smallpox, it is purely accidental.  It cannot be considered a symptom, and nothing can be inferred from it.

Properties Properties, again, come in various grades.  In the strict sense, a property is an attribute that belongs to one kind of thing and not another in every case.  Thus, properties play a comparatively important role in the identification of a thing although he says that they do not indicate the essence of a thing.  But Aristotle goes further and provides a criterion for property-hood.  The ability to learn grammar is a property of man (i.e. it applies to “man” alone and in every case) if and only if the following two propositions are both true:

(1) If x is a man, then x is able to learn grammar.

(2) If x is able to learn grammar, then x is a man.

(2) is more likely to be acceptable to readers than (1).  Sometimes, an attempt is made to resolve skepticism about (1) by appealing to the notion of the nature of a thing: that cases that do not fit are merely unnatural accidents.  I propose to clarify this somewhat by adding that one might think of a predicate such as “able to learn grammar” along the same lines as one can think of the predicate “living being”: not all things that are “man” are actually living beings, although it is a class of things that “man” may be said to belong to by nature. (II)  If one were to think of a typical member of the species homo sapiens and to try to find an attribute of that species that distinguishes it from any other, the ability to learn grammar, might (in the 4th Century BC at least) count as such a distinguishing mark. In the story above, the rash that appears in the mouth is a characteristic mark of smallpox. Chickenpox, by contrast, breaks out over the skin.  Hence, since smallpox breaks out first in the throat and mouth while chickenpox never does, the initial rash in the mouth may be thought of as a property of smallpox relative to chickenpox.  This is not quite the essence of smallpox, for which the virus, variola major seems a better candidate due to its priority.

Predicates that aresaid of all” were discussed above (III).  The main point to be remembered for our purposes here is that they are necessary conditions.  The fact that one predicate is said of another in every case means that one term is implied by another.  For example, since “point” may be said to belong to “line” in every case, “point” is implied by “line”.  It is important to note that such predicates are not essential predicates but only necessary ones.  Thus, although they directly precede Aristotle’s discussion of perseity in I.4, they are not the same as per se predicates.  They correspond to all the symptoms of smallpox in the smallpox example, since they signify the presence of smallpox in every case, although they are not sufficient by themselves to do so.

Generic predicates are those that are predicated as answering to the question, “what (sort of thing) is it?”, and thus characterize the ousia (or substance) of a subject.  They may be thought of as predicates that are said of a species in such a way that they fall in the same category as the species and are not accidents.  In terms of identification, they again mark necessary but not sufficient conditions.  For example, if there is a man there is necessarily an animal (or mobile being, or substance); but if there is an animal, there is not necessarily a man.

Finally, we come to kath’hauto-1 predicates.  Kath’hauto-1 predicates are essential attributes and hence indicate the presence of a certain subject in every case.  Unlike properties, Aristotle does not go as far as saying that they are convertible with their subject.  For this reason, they seem far more sound in terms of their logic than properties.  In this case, these would seem to correspond either to the characteristic pustules that smallpox produces, or to the variola major virus that causes smallpox.  Each can be construed as fitting the constraints Aristotle’s “line and point” example in I.4 provides, since in every instance where there is an instance of smallpox there is either the variola major virus or else the characteristic pustules.  Moreover, they fulfill the requirement that the implication “where there is smallpox there is variola major” must hold, although the converse might not hold in every case (this is also true of the line and point example).  Finally, it may be seen that variola major is related to smallpox in such a way that it could be said to be part of its definition.  Some kath’hauto attributes may be said to be kath’hauto in such a way that they are also part of the explicit definition of a thing although this need not actually be the case.  They may, in particular belong to the genus-differentia paradigm for definitions that Aristotle uses quite frequently in the corpus.

A final comment on this particular case should probably be made before moving on.  There is an order of priority among these elements that begins with kath’hauto attributes and extends to all the necessary conditions/symptoms.  Aristotle makes use of the notion of ontological dependency to establish this priority as a causal priority.  In this case, since, apparently, the presence of the variola major virus is the underlying cause of all the symptoms, the virus must first be present if they are to arise as symptoms of smallpox.  Moreover, the presence of variola major gives the symptoms a unity; it unites them to some underlying entity that makes them attributes of some particular kind of thing and not simply a collection of accidents. (III)  Hence, although one could perhaps make do with simply mentioning variola major to convey the idea of what kind of condition the patient is in, a full account would have to include the symptoms and could not omit them.

All these components may be arranged together on the following chart for ease of reference:

Synthesis

As the chart suggests, the search for a proper diagnosis/identification of a thing can be thought of as reducible to the project of apprehending an attribute that will serve to distinguish the thing in question from all other things. Let’s take a closer look at how this works:

There is a sense in which one must already know what one is looking for when one is attempting to identify a thing as something else (IV).  This is because identification fundamentally involves relating some present experience to pre-existing knowledge.  It means, in other words, being able to identify some particular before us as one that ought to fall under some concept (Aristotle gives an extended discussion of this aspect of what it means to know in the introductory chapter to the Posterior Analytics (I.1)).  In yet other words, it means, in an ideal case, that one has the tools to identify something in a “scientific” manner, which means being able to distinguish it from everything else.  This means having a knowledge of its essence.

Understanding the books of the Analytics as being basically about identification and creating patterns for identification bears on the question of what Aristotle’s intention was for them.  This has been debated somewhat recently, especially with regard to book I of the Posterior Analytics.  It has been said by some that demonstration is a tool for discovery.  I do not think this is correct.  The countervailing view propounded by Jonathan Barnes is that it is rather a didactic tool to be used in a school setting.  The view I am arguing for, that it is basically a pattern for identification, is compatible with this view, but gives its range of application a broader scope and shows how it may be of service to scientists working in the field.

Before moving on to the next section, which will continue the present synthesis, let’s take stock now of what has yet to be shown.  It remains to be seen whether Aristotle himself actually used the sort of schema for identification presented above.  This will be shown by taking account of what Aristotle says in Posterior Analytics II.13.  Furthermore, having shown Aristotle’s own process of identifying an object to be consonant with the method of the chart, it will become a much simpler to show that Aristotle’s whole theory of syllogism and demonstration may be related to the project of identifying an object.  Lastly, the overall objective of characterizing kath’hauto attributes will finally be fully realized when both these objectives have been achieved.

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Note*: I would like to suggest that the logic for conditions for being or existing in cases involving things that mathematical objects can be understood in terms of conditional statements.  Thus, in a statement like “if there is a line, then there is a point” the conditional should be read as saying “if there were a point, there would be a line”.  Thus, we can talk intelligibly about the conditions for existence in a hypothetical sense.  At present I dont have any other textual support for this reading than the text itself, which seems to require such an interpretation in order to account for this way of speaking about such objects.

(I) See the discussion of essence vs. accident in the first article in this series here.

(II) I think there are genuine problems for Aristotle when it comes to his example and to his formulation of properties in general.  It is sometimes said in defence that Aristotle’s notion of a species is not that of a set, but this too will not square with his criterion or with other criteria that appear in his corpus.  Aristotle is serious when he means “said of all” or “true in every instance“.  It seems that he could have made do with (2) alone and treated the fact that the ability to learn grammar applies only to man as an empirical fact.

(III) On the points of both priority and unity the reader may wish to see Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book Z, chapter 17.

(IV) Consider this in relation to “the problem of the Meno”.

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Posterior Analytics I.4 on kath’hauto attributes in the first and second senses of perseity:

Since the object of pure scientific knowledge cannot be other than it is, the truth obtained by demonstrative knowledge will be necessary. And since demonstrative knowledge is only present when we have a demonstration, it follows that demonstration is an inference from necessary premisses. So we must consider what are the premisses of demonstration-i.e. what is their character: and as a preliminary, let us define what we mean by an attribute ‘true in every instance of its subject’, an ‘essential’ attribute, and a ‘commensurate and universal’ attribute. I call ‘true in every instance’ what is truly predicable of all instances-not of one to the exclusion of others-and at all times, not at this or that time only; e.g. if animal is truly predicable of every instance of man, then if it be true to say ‘this is a man’, ‘this is an animal’ is also true, and if the one be true now the other is true now. A corresponding account holds if point is in every instance predicable as contained in line. There is evidence for this in the fact that the objection we raise against a proposition put to us as true in every instance is either an instance in which, or an occasion on which, it is not true. Essential attributes are (1) such as belong to their subject as elements in its essential nature (e.g. line thus belongs to triangle, point to line; for the very being or ‘substance’ of triangle and line is composed of these elements, which are contained in the formulae defining triangle and line): (2) such that, while they belong to certain subjects, the subjects to which they belong are contained in the attribute’s own defining formula. Thus straight and curved belong to line, odd and even, prime and compound, square and oblong, to number; and also the formula defining any one of these attributes contains its subject-e.g. line or number as the case may be.

Text on demonstration as relevant to identification (recognition of the particular as falling under some concept): (Posterior Analytics, I.1)

All instruction given or received by way of argument proceeds from pre-existent knowledge. This becomes evident upon a survey of all the species of such instruction. The mathematical sciences and all other speculative disciplines are acquired in this way, and so are the two forms of dialectical reasoning, syllogistic and inductive; for each of these latter make use of old knowledge to impart new, the syllogism assuming an audience that accepts its premisses, induction exhibiting the universal as implicit in the clearly known particular. Again, the persuasion exerted by rhetorical arguments is in principle the same, since they use either example, a kind of induction, or enthymeme, a form of syllogism. 

……..

If he did not in an unqualified sense of the term know the existence of this triangle, how could he know without qualification that its angles were equal to two right angles? No: clearly he knows not without qualification but only in the sense that he knows universally. If this distinction is not drawn, we are faced with the dilemma in the Meno: either a man will learn nothing or what he already knows; for we cannot accept the solution which some people offer. A man is asked, ‘Do you, or do you not, know that every pair is even?’ He says he does know it. The questioner then produces a particular pair, of the existence, and so a fortiori of the evenness, of which he was unaware. The solution which some people offer is to assert that they do not know that every pair is even, but only that everything which they know to be a pair is even: yet what they know to be even is that of which they have demonstrated evenness, i.e. what they made the subject of their premiss, viz. not merely every triangle or number which they know to be such, but any and every number or triangle without reservation. For no premiss is ever couched in the form ‘every number which you know to be such’, or ‘every rectilinear figure which you know to be such’: the predicate is always construed as applicable to any and every instance of the thing. On the other hand, I imagine there is nothing to prevent a man in one sense knowing what he is learning, in another not knowing it. The strange thing would be, not if in some sense he knew what he was learning, but if he were to know it in that precise sense and manner in which he was learning it.

Topics, I .5 where Aristotle presents the elements of his ontological “tool box”:

We must now say what are ‘definition’, ‘property’, ‘genus’, and ‘accident’. A ‘definition’ is a phrase signifying a thing’s essence. It is rendered in the form either of a phrase in lieu of a term, or of a phrase in lieu of another phrase; for it is sometimes possible to define the meaning of a phrase as well. People whose rendering consists of a term only, try it as they may, clearly do not render the definition of the thing in question,because a definition is always a phrase of a certain kind. One may, however, use the word ‘definitory’ also of such a remark as ‘The “becoming” is “beautiful”‘, and likewise also of the question, ‘Are sensation and knowledge the same or different?’, for argument about definitions is mostly concerned with questions of sameness and difference. In a word we may call ‘definitory’ everything that falls under the same branch of inquiry as definitions; and that all the above-mentioned examples are of this character is clear on the face of them. For if we are able to argue that two things are the same or are different, we shall be well supplied by the same turn of argument with lines of attack upon their definitions as well: for when we have shown that they are not the same we shall have demolished the definition. Observe, please, that the converse of this last statement does not hold: for to show that they are the same is not enough to establish a definition. To show, however, that they are not the same is enough of itself to overthrow it. 

A ‘property’ is a predicate which does not indicate the essence of a thing, but yet belongs to that thing alone, and is predicated convertibly of it. Thus it is a property of man to-be-capable of learning grammar: for if A be a man, then he is capable of learning grammar, and if he be capable of learning grammar, he is a man. For no one calls anything a ‘property’ which may possibly belong to something else, e.g. ‘sleep’ in the case ofman, even though at a certain time it may happen to belong to him alone. That is to say, if any such thing were actually to be called a property, it will be called not a ‘property’ absolutely, but a ‘temporary’ or a ‘relative’property: for ‘being on the right hand side’ is a temporary property, while ‘two-footed’ is in point of fact ascribed as a property in certain relations; e.g. it is a property of man relatively to a horse and a dog. That nothingwhich may belong to anything else than A is a convertible predicate of A is clear: for it does not necessarily follow that if something is asleep it is a man. 

A ‘genus’ is what is predicated in the category of essence of a number of things exhibiting differences in kind. We should treat as predicates in the category of essence all such things as it would be appropriate tomention in reply to the question, ‘What is the object before you?’; as, for example, in the case of man, if asked that question, it is appropriate to say ‘He is an animal’. The question, ‘Is one thing in the same genus as another or in a different one?’ is also a ‘generic’ question; for a question of that kind as well falls under the same branch of inquiry as the genus: for having argued that ‘animal’ is the genus of man, and likewise also of ox, we shall have argued that they are in the same genus; whereas if we show that it is the genus of the one but not of the other, we shall have argued that these things are not in the same genus. 

An ‘accident’ is (i) something which, though it is none of the foregoing-i.e. neither a definition nor a property nor a genus yet belongs to the thing: (something which may possibly either belong or not belong to any one and the self-same thing, as (e.g.) the ‘sitting posture’ may belong or not belong to some self-same thing. Likewise also ‘whiteness’, for there is nothing to prevent the same thing being at one time white, and at another not white. Of the definitions of accident the second is the better: for if he adopts the first, any one is bound, if he is to understand it, to know already what ‘definition’ and ‘genus’ and ‘property’ are, whereas the second is sufficient of itself to tell us the essential meaning of the term in question. To Accident are to be attached also all comparisons of things together, when expressed in language that is drawn in any kind of way from what happens (accidit) to be true of them; such as, for example, the question, ‘Is the honourable or the expedient preferable?’ and ‘Is the life of virtue or the life of self-indulgence the pleasanter?’, and any other problem which may happen to be phrased in terms like these. For in all such cases the question is ‘to which of the two does the predicate in question happen (accidit) to belong more closely?’ It is clear on the face of it that there is nothing to prevent an accident from becoming a temporary or relative property. Thus the sitting posture is an accident, but will be a temporary property, whenever a man is the only person sitting, while if he be not the only one sitting, it is still a property relatively to those who are not sitting. So then, there is nothing to prevent an accident from becoming both a relative and a temporary property; but a propertyabsolutely it will never be

Metaphysics VII.17:

“Let us state what, i.e. what kind of thing, substance should be said to be, taking once more another starting-point; for perhaps from this we shall get a clear view also of that substance which exists apart from sensible substances. Since, then, substance is a principle and a cause, let us pursue it from this starting-point. The ‘why’ is always sought in this form–‘why does one thing attach to some other?’ For to inquire why the musical man is a musical man, is either to inquire–as we have said why the man is musical, or it is something else. Now ‘why a thing is itself’ is a meaningless inquiry (for (to give meaning to the question ‘why’) the fact or the existence of the thing must already be evident-e.g. that the moon is eclipsed-but the fact that a thing is itself is the single reason and the single cause to be given in answer to all such questions as why the man is man, or the musician musical’, unless one were to answer ‘because each thing is inseparable from itself, and its being one just meant this’; this, however, is common to all things and is a short and easy way with the question). But we can inquire why man is an animal of such and such a nature. This, then, is plain, that we are not inquiring why he who is a man is a man. We are inquiring, then, why something is predicable ofsomething (that it is predicable must be clear; for if not, the inquiry is an inquiry into nothing). E.g. why does it thunder? This is the same as ‘why is sound produced in the clouds?’ Thus the inquiry is about thepredication of one thing of another. And why are these things, i.e. bricks and stones, a house? Plainly we are seeking the cause. And this is the essence (to speak abstractly), which in some cases is the end, e.g. perhaps in the case of a house or a bed, and in some cases is the first mover; for this also is a cause. But while the efficient cause is sought in the case of genesis and destruction, the final cause is sought in the case of being also. 

“The object of the inquiry is most easily overlooked where one term is not expressly predicated of another (e.g. when we inquire ‘what man is’), because we do not distinguish and do not say definitely that certain elements make up a certain whole. But we must articulate our meaning before we begin to inquire; if not, the inquiry is on the border-line between being a search for something and a search for nothing. Since we must have the existence of the thing as something given, clearly the question is why the matter is some definite thing; e.g. why are these materials a house? Because that which was the essence of a house is present. Andwhy is this individual thing, or this body having this form, a man? Therefore what we seek is the cause, i.e. the form, by reason of which the matter is some definite thing; and this is the substance of the thing. Evidently, then, in the case of simple terms no inquiry nor teaching is possible; our attitude towards such things is other than that of inquiry. 

“Since that which is compounded out of something so that the whole is one, not like a heap but like a syllable-now the syllable is not its elements, ba is not the same as b and a, nor is flesh fire and earth (for when these are separated the wholes, i.e. the flesh and the syllable, no l

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Filed under Aristotle's four modes of perseity: introduction (Parts 3 and 4)


A guide to Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics: part 1

(Scroll down for part 2)

[The reader may wish to read text of Posterior Analytics I.4  below before turning to the following remarks]

As a general introduction to Aristotle’s four modes of perseity, the first thing to be considered (other than where to find them (in Posterior Analytics I.4)) might be what their name indicates about the role they play in Aristotle’s system.

The basics

The phrase “modes of perseity” and the idea of one term applying to another “per se” comes down to us from medieval Latin sources as a rather accurate way to convey what was meant by Aristotle’s phrase “kath’ hauto”.  Both phrases express the concept of one thing applying to another “of itself”.  Aristotle means by this phrase to indicate a necessary relationship between two terms.  An example will serve to clarify what is meant here.

Consider Aristotle’s phrase, “point belongs (of itself) to line”.  There are two ways to understand this phrase: in one way, the relationship does not seem to be a necessary one: for, (it might be said) there may or may not be a line for a point to belong to; but, if, on the other hand, Aristotle is taken to mean that if there does happen to be a line, one can infer that there is a point, the necessity of the one applying to the other becomes immediately apparent (since, by definition, lines are made up of points).  This relationship can (and should) be considered as a conditional:

If there is a line, then there is a point.

Notice that there are two clauses: an “if” clause and a “then” clause.  For ease of reference, I will refer to these as “antecedent” and “consequent” respectively.

“Belongs to” as a way to express conditional propositions

Now, it may be wondered in some corners whether a conditional properly applies to Aristotle’s text here.  On this point, notice that Aristotle sometimes speaks “line” as the subject, and “point” as what is predicated of the subject (cf. 73b6ff.).  Now, obviously, one cannot go around saying “a line is a point”. The phrase Aristotle regularly uses is “belongs to” to express the relationship he is after.    This relationship seems most clearly understood as a conditional relationship.  “Belonging to” really is not the same thing as “being predicated of”: a point may belong to a line but not be predicated of a line or a line predicated of a point.  The argument need not be complex to show what Aristotle very likely has in mind.  In view of the tendency to think of all such relationships as predicative ones (especially if one reads the texts in translation) it seems important to make this clear.  This phrase might even be better expressed as “belongs necessarily to” to hit squarely upon the type of relationship Aristotle wishes to highlight in this chapter. 

Metaphysical considerations about this relationship

With these points out of the way, it should also be said, by way of introduction, that necessity is here contrasted with belonging (to a subject) accidentally.  This contrast should remind the reader that what Aristotle has in mind as the ground of the kind of inference given above is ultimately the thing, the subject-ground (hypokeimenon) to which a given attribute is said to belong necessarily.  It is because of what a line is, for example, that it necessarily includes a point.  What might be called the “ontological” aspect of a thing (our understanding of its being in the world as a systematically structured being) is always intertwined with the logic of the terms presented.  The conditional above further exemplifies this perspective.

This point helps to bring out the way in which Aristotle understands the role of ousia in such contexts.  Aristotle would urge that when we consider the necessary relationships we may perchance discover in language, we must distinguish those that are genuinely indicative of an ontologically well-grounded relationship from those that are not (1).   Logical relationships that indicate necessary ontological  relationships should be set apart from those that might be considered as merely fortuitous connections of language (2).  Those of the former kind (such as appear in the example above) ought, moreover, to be evaluated with respect to their source, and that source is always the things themselves that act and are acted upon in the world.

If one asks what the grounding factor is in things that we are looking for when we attempt to discover necessary relationships, the Aristotelian response would be that it is ousia.  ousia  may be thought of as what it is in a thing that underlies the necessary connections among the things (including events) we hope to explain.  It is in this ousia of things that Aristotle hopes to discover what grounds the appearances of our experience for which we seek an explanation.  It is no longer the aim of the philosopher, at this stage in the development of scientific thought, to discover such explanations in “the gods”, for instance; rather, experience itself is meant to serve as the basis for its own explanation.  Far from being an “occult entity” of some kind, ousia seems most sensibly regarded as a way of describing a thing from an ontological point of view, of the kind discussed above.

To return to the distinction between what is necessary and what is accidental as it applies directly to I.4, it is only the truly necessary connections we might discover that indicate something about the “nature” of a thing that coincides with the notion of its having an ousia.  The modes of perseity have the function of clarifying what such genuine connections might look like when they are discovered.  They present a logical criterion for such connections that allows them to be joined to other bits of knowledge. (3)

Finally, it should be seen that the clarification of the role of ousia as a source of necessity is the underlying subtext of I.4.  What he has to say about it in I.4 is of great significance for Aristotle’s overall characterization of knowledge and of what it means to know something (4).  ousia is the ultimate building block of Aristotle’s ontology (here understood as a broader schema of the way in which the being of things in general reveal themselves to us in their systematic inter-relations).  Such an ontology will have its basis not in general ideas such as “substance”, or “quality”, or “quantity”, but in the being in the world of basic entities.  The conditional above illustrates this: the fact that whenever there is a line there is also a point indicates something necessary or essential about the structure of the being of a thing; the fact that it is true in every case indicates that the relationship is a systematic one that may be used to further characterize its relationship to other things in a regular, consistent way.  Such systematic relationships are the basis for what is meant by episteme in its braodest sense: the systematic arrangement of regular and consistent relationships that yield a body of knowledge, or a “science”.

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(1) Consider the first chapter of Aristotle’s Categories in this light.

(2) For example, “cat” and the kind of “cat” one might meet on the streets of Milwaukee happen to be connected by language, but the connection is not one that Aristotle would consider to be grounded in the ousia of a thing.  They are homonyms, two things that happen to have the same name, but are substantially different.

(3) For example, one bit of knowledge, that there is a line, yields another, that there must be a point.  From the fact that there is a triangle, one may infer the existence of a line and a point.

(4) More will be said about this in further posts, particularly about the way that existence and necessity tie together to yield ousia.

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Some texts for consideration:

A) The opening paragraph of Posterior Analytics, I.4: Since the object of pure scientific knowledge cannot be other than it is, the truth obtained by demonstrative knowledge will be necessary. And since demonstrative knowledge is only present when we have a demonstration, it follows that demonstration is an inference from necessary premisses. So we must consider what are the premisses of demonstration-i.e. what is their character: and as a preliminary, let us define what we mean by an attribute ‘true in every instance of its subject’, an ‘essential’ attribute, and a ‘commensurate and universal’ attribute. I call ‘true in every instance’ what is truly predicable of all instances-not of one to the exclusion of others-and at all times, not at this or that time only; e.g. if animal is truly predicable of every instance of man, then if it be true to say ‘this is a man’, ‘this is an animal’ is also true, and if the one be true now the other is true now. A corresponding account holds if point is in every instance predicable as contained in line. There is evidence for this in the fact that the objection we raise against a proposition put to us as true in every instance is either an instance in which, or an occasion on which, it is not true. Essential attributes are (1) such as belong to their subject as elements in its essential nature (e.g. line thus belongs to triangle, point to line; for the very being or ‘substance’ [ousia] of triangle and line is composed of these elements, which are contained in the formulae defining triangle and line): (2) such that, while they belong to certain subjects, the subjects to which they belong are contained in the attribute’s own defining formula. Thus straight and curved belong to line, odd and even, prime and compound, square and oblong, to number; and also the formula defining any one of these attributes contains its subject-e.g. line or number as the case may be. 

B) The opening chapter of Aristotle’s Categories, and the first remarks Aristotle makes on Substance (ousia) (see part 5):

Part 1 

Things are said to be named ‘equivocally’ when, though they have a common name, the definition corresponding with the name differs for each. Thus, a real man and a figure in a picture can both lay claim to the name ‘animal’; yet these are equivocally so named, for, though they have a common name, the definition corresponding with the name differs for each. For should any one define in what sense each is an animal, his definition in the one case will be appropriate to that case only. 

On the other hand, things are said to be named ‘univocally’ which have both the name and the definition answering to the name in common. A man and an ox are both ‘animal’, and these are univocally so named, inasmuch as not only the name, but also the definition, is the same in both cases: for if a man should state in what sense each is an animal, the statement in the one case would be identical with that in the other. 

Things are said to be named ‘derivatively’, which derive their name from some other name, but differ from it in termination. Thus the grammarian derives his name from the word ‘grammar’, and the courageous man from the word ‘courage’.

Part 5 

Substance [ousia], in the truest and primary and most definite sense of the word, is that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject; for instance, the individual man or horse. But in a secondary sense those things are called substances within which, as species, the primary substances are included; also those which, as genera, include the species. For instance, the individual man is included in the species ‘man’, and the genus to which the species belongs is ‘animal’; these, therefore-that is to say, the species ‘man’ and the genus ‘animal,-are termed secondary substances. 

It is plain from what has been said that both the name and the definition of the predicate must be predicable of the subject. For instance, ‘man’ is predicted of the individual man. Now in this case the name of the species man’ is applied to the individual, for we use the term ‘man’ in describing the individual; and the definition of ‘man’ will also be predicated of the individual man, for the individual man is both man and animal. Thus, both the name and the definition of the species are predicable of the individual. 

With regard, on the other hand, to those things which are present in a subject, it is generally the case that neither their name nor their definition is predicable of that in which they are present. Though, however, the definition is never predicable, there is nothing in certain cases to prevent the name being used. For instance, ‘white’ being present in a body is predicated of that in which it is present, for a body is called white: the definition, however, of the colour white’ is never predicable of the body. 

Everything except primary substances [ousia]is either predicable of a primary substance or present in a primary substance [ousia]. This becomes evident by reference to particular instances which occur. ‘Animal’ is predicated of the species ‘man’, therefore of the individual man, for if there were no individual man of whom it could be predicated, it could not be predicated of the species ‘man’ at all. Again, colour is present in body, therefore in individual bodies, for if there were no individual body in which it was present, it could not be present in body at all. Thus everything except primary substances [ousia] is either predicated of primary substances [ousia], or is present in them, and if these last did not exist, it would be impossible for anything else to exist.

Part 2

Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, I.4: Aristotle’s phrase “said of all” (kata pantos)

I would like to comment on this section (for the text, see “A” below) of Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, I.4 by way of arguing that the truth conditions [see note (1) below] of Aristotle’s inferences, and especially their necessity, may be related to the four questions of Posterior Analytics, II.1-2.  How this works will be clarified in what follows.  If successful, this analysis will show exactly how the question of existence in II.1-2 is related to the question of essence.

Preliminarlies 

Aristotle opens his discussion of conditionals and necessity with an account of what is meant by “said of all”.  It should be made clear at the outset that when Aristotle says “said of all” in this context he really does mean to say that there are universals that hold absolutely, or as he says, not at one time but not at another (73a29).  This is important to recognize since it allows for a clearer vision of how necessity will ultimately be related to Aristotle’s notion of essence and ousia.  Indeed, as will become more apparent, ousia should be understood as based upon just such a foundation.

In this regard, much can be gleaned from taking a close look at Aristotle’s examples at the beginning of Ana. Post. I.4.  Consider the following:

(a) If animal is in every case implied by man [kata pantos anthropou], [then] if it is true to say “this is a man”, then it is also true to say “this is an animal”…..

(b) …and if there is a point in every line, and so forth. (73a30-33)

Clearly, both examples follow a certain pre-established format: first (with regard to (a)) there is the universal claim (either B is said of A in every case, or all B’s are “in relation to” A’s, or better still, “imply” B’s (to translate kata)); then there is the conditional, “if p, then q” (  as above) [note 2 (see below)]; lastly, (now looking at (b) there may be isolated out from the second step the further stipulation that q must follow from the truth of p: p implies q iff p is true.

What Aristotle means by “said of all” in the first step has already been discussed above.  The second two steps will prove more interesting.  It is not merely the simple fact that one thing may be said of another in every case that interests Aristotle; it is rather, as I would like to point out, the existential ground of truth of such conditionals.  This brings us to a discussion of the relationship between this text and Posterior Analytics II.1-2.

Posterior Analytics I.4, II.1-2, existence as a truth condition, and ousia.

Of particular significance for the purpose of comparing I.4 and II.1-2 is the fact that steps 2 and 3 immediately above require that that sort of conditional that will fulfill all the steps must be one that admits of modus ponens (note 3).  In other words, q must follow from the truth of p.  Only if p is true will q necessarily follow.  If q will necessarily follow, it can be inferred that in terms of the modern truth table for conditionals, only the first line (T/T/T) will fit all of Aristotle’s steps.  As will be seen further on, the deducibility of q from p fits nicely with the Aristotelian notion of ousia as a ground for predication.

Now, the next thing to consider is what it is that grounds the truth of q as necessarily following from p in the examples.  The most obvious and best candidate is the existence of the subject of the antecedent: for only if a man exists can it be inferred that an animal must necessarily exist.  The ground for necessity here is nothing more than the mere existence of the subject in question.  In keeping with the classical characterization of the Posterior Analytics as being concerned with the “matter” of propositions as opposed to their form, one can see in the present case that nothing contemplated here would be considered in a purely formal discussion of conditional inference.  Rather, we are, as was mentioned in the introduction, contemplating the ousia of things as a ground of necessity.

Now the link between existence (ei esti) and essence (or what answers to the question, “what is it?” or ti esti) can be made clear at this point as well as the connection with Posterior Analytics II.1-2 following a distinction:  where the subject of the consequent clause is an attribute of the subject of the antecedent clause, it may be taken to be an essential attribute and as constitutive of the essence of the antecedent subject; where, on the other hand, the consequent follows based upon a cause-effect relationship (note 4), the relationship may be characterized as essential-accidental according to the third and fourth modes of perseity (note 5).  Here of course, we are concerned with a subject-attribute relationship.  Where modus ponens can be applied to such a relationship, there one may the attribute to be constitutive of the essence of the subject of the antecedent clause.

This insight may be applied to the four questions of Posterior Analytics II.1-2.  The four questions, it may be recalled are: whether 1) A is a fact and 2) what the reason for that fact might be; one may also ask 3) whether a thing exists and 4) what the essence of the existent thing happens to be.  Without the foregoing example and explanation, it might be difficult to see the full significance of the existential question (apart from the existence of God perhaps), or how such a question relates to the question of essence.  It is clear how 1) and 2) are related; but it is less immediately apparent from the context of II.1-2 how 3) is immediately connects with 4).  The foregoing discussion reveals the secret to this mystery (note 6).  This is especially important since Aristotle never gives any clear example of such a relationship in Posterior Analytics II.8 where he takes up the subject of the relationship between demonstration and definition, but instead gives examples involving cause-effect relationships involving thunder and an eclipse.  This analysis serves the additional purpose of providing this missing piece to the puzzle of the Posterior Analytics.

 

(1) For a brief explanation of the notion of what is “truth conditional” click here.

(2) A short explanation of mp is here

(3) An efficient-material as opposed to a formal/final causal relationship is meant here of course.

(4) To be taken up in successive essays.

(5) The analysis above can also be applied to Posterior Analytics I.x.

Text A: Since the object of pure scientific knowledge cannot be other than it is, the truth obtained by demonstrative knowledge will be necessary. And since demonstrative knowledge is only present when we have a demonstration, it follows that demonstration is an inference from necessary premisses. So we must consider what are the premisses of demonstration-i.e. what is their character: and as a preliminary, let us define what we mean by an attribute ‘true in every instance of its subject’, an ‘essential’ attribute, and a ‘commensurate and universal’ attribute. I call ‘true in every instance’ what is truly predicable of all instances-not of one to the exclusion of others-and at all times, not at this or that time only; e.g. if animal is truly predicable of every instance of man, then if it be true to say ‘this is a man’, ‘this is an animal’ is also true, and if the one be true now the other is true now. A corresponding account holds if point is in every instance predicable as contained in line. There is evidence for this in the fact that the objection we raise against a proposition put to us as true in every instance is either an instance in which, or an occasion on which, it is not true. Essential attributes are (1) such as belong to their subject as elements in its essential nature (e.g. line thus belongs to triangle, point to line; for the very being or ‘substance’ of triangle and line is composed of these elements, which are contained in the formulae defining triangle and line): (2) such that, while they belong to certain subjects, the subjects to which they belong are contained in the attribute’s own defining formula. Thus straight and curved belong to line, odd and even, prime and compound, square and oblong, to number; and also the formula defining any one of these attributes contains its subject-e.g. line or number as the case may be.

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A reader’s guide to Plato’s Republic, books II-IV, Introduction to part 3: the education of the senses and the education of desire


Part two concerned the role of the virtue of temperance in the education of the guardians.  It remains to discuss more fully the role of eros, a factor in the life of the guardians that has more of less been taken for granted.  eros, which may be translated as either desire or love, may be thought of as that principle in us whereby we find ourselves naturally disposed to strive after something.  Although desire cannot be considered a virtue or excellence in itself, it is ordinarily, an essential element of excellence.   It is, moreover, a quality the luxurious city has to a “feverish” degree and which the more moderate city of pigs, by contrast, appears to lack.  Plato is careful to indicate that his initial city (the city of pigs) is bound together by the virtue of temperance (or moderation); but what Glaucon’s objection ushers in is the question whether true excellence can fully reside in a city of such rustic simplicity.  The objection presses forward the concern that in a simple rustic city excellences in art, science, and philosophical wisdom may not become fully developed in the way that they would in the more luxurious city.  Moreover, as regards the education of the guardians, where, in the simple rustic city would one find good soil to develop a desire for such sophisticated excellences?

On the other hand, it is clear that the kind of eros that pushes to excess (such as the feverish eros of the luxurious city) cannot by itself stand as a foundation for excellence without the virtue of sophrosune which, translates as temperance or moderation, but also “prudence”.  The right sort of virtue to cure an eros that pushes further and further to excess would seem to be the sort of sophrosune that connotes both prudence and simple moderation.  Moderation, it may be recalled, was the primary virtue of Socrates’ initial utopian society. “Prudence”, on the other hand, connotes more clearly the idea of practical wisdom. Thus, it seems fitting that it is the virtue of sophrosune, above all, with its connotations of both moderation and practical wisdom, that the guardians must possess if they are to act as physicians to the city’s fever. (See especially 430-431)

Hence, in attempting to set up a dialectic of opposites (so as to bring out the flow of the argument in the Republic), the proper “extremes” might be said to arrange themselves as follows:  Firstly, we have the opposition of the two cities: one represents an extreme of eros, a feverish state in which desire is added to desire until it leads to disharmony and disorder in the natural arrangement of things; the other city, while harmonious, does not seem to have reached its full potential inasmuch as it represents a rather primitive state of human existence brought about precisely by a lack of striving and exertion for more and better things.

This lack of striving, it seems to me, might be thought of as a kind of low-grade sophrosune, and to the extent that it applies to the initial city, it is not equal to what would be the higher-grade prudence that the Guardians must possess to attune a city always in danger of falling into disorder.  That prudence, as was said above, would require a practical wisdom beyond what is required for Socrates’ more temperate earlier city.  Thus, while the initial two cities may be opposed as opposites, the virtue of sophrosune the guardians possess seems to be precisely that kind of virtue that arises out of an opposition between two extremes.  It would seem, moreover, to arise out of having a better understanding of just what the potential of eros, desire, may or may not amount to.

Finally, the opposition between the need for moderation and the need for eros can also be considered as contributing to each other’s strength when their opposition is properly balanced by high-grade sophrosune.  One might think of an arch in this regard, in considering how the extremes balance and contribute to the realization of a higher excellence: on the one hand, desire and a disposition to strive for something are essential to excellence; on the other, such a disposition can run into excess unless it is restrained, balanced and guided by a higher sophrosune.  Here the dialectical opposition and the excellence that can arise from it suggests a framework very much like the image of the charioteer given in the Phaedrus.

The treatment of eros that will follow will illuminate the nature of eros within the framework suggested here of an opposition balanced by a higher virtue.  The different oppositions suggested by the simile of an arch given above will be brought out in the text by comparing Plato’s discussion of the education of the guardians with a “ladder” of eros that may be found in the Symposium.  The plan for what follows emerges directly from this intention:  firstly, the ladder of the Symposium will be presented and compared with the stages in the education of the guardians; then, this upward ascent will be examined with an eye to the way in which Republic II-IV and the ladder of eros in the Symposium complement and complete one another on the way to the realization of high-grade sophrosune.  Finally, I will add a few remarks of a more general scope on the way eros is conceived in the Platonic dialogues.

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Filed under A reader's guide to Plato's republic, The education of the guardians and eros