etyIn order to fully understand Aristotle’s views on a natural system, itis necessary to first explain some general principles of his philosophy.
It isin his work the Categories that Aristotle presents the concept of substance, aconcept which will serve as the foundation for much of his philosophical system.Substance, for Aristotle, is not a universal, but rather, it is the particular;substance is not a such, but a this. Thus, substance is neither in nor isit said of a subject (as are qualities). Rather it is that which makes thesubject numerically one; it is that which makes the subject the individual.Substance is “an individual man and or an individual horse.
“Aristotle stillclassifies universals as substances, for they define what constitutes thesubstance, and without these universals, a substance would not be what is.There are four characteristics of substances: a substance is a this, not aqualification or a ‘such’ (which stresses individuality); a substance has nocontraries to it (there are no opposites of a substance); a substance does notadmit more or less (there are not degrees of a substance); and a substance canadmit contraries while remaining numerically one.In the Physics, Aristotle addresses that which constitutes NaturalObjects as substances.
He states that all Natural Substances consist of bothform and matter. Matter is that out of which the substance arises and form isthat into which the matter develops. In building a table, the wood, nails, etc.,are the matter, and the idea of a table, what the end result will be, is theform, according to Aristotle. Matter and form are inseparable from each other;there is no ‘form’ apart from concrete things.
Aristotle explains that allsubstances contain within themselves the origin of their change and movement.He continues by stating that the change which can occur is due to four possiblenatural causes: formal cause, material cause, efficient cause, and final cause.Formal and material cause are self explanatory, in that it is the form or thematter of the substance which is responsible for the change within the substance.Efficient and final cause, however, will become more clear once we investigateAristotle’s ideas of actuality and potentiality.
We should begin the explanation of actuality and potentially by sayingthat form can be seen as the actuality of the substance while matter is thepotential for that form to exist. The best way to illustrate this is throughthe analogy of the building of a house. The materials, bricks and wood, shouldbe seen as the matter, the potentially to become a house. The end-result, thehouse, is the form, it is the potential made actual. The building of the houseitself, the movement, is analogous to the four types of causes Aristotle saysexist in substances.
In the case of this analogy the builder would be theefficient cause in that it is he/she who initiates the change. One could alsosay that there is a final or teleological cause taking place as well, that themotive is to build a house which serves the purpose of house-ness, namely thatthe house is one in which people can live. Through this analogy one can beginto see the nature of each of the causes which can exist within a given substance.Once we see how Aristotle’s ideas of actuality and potentially relate to hisideas of form and matter (matter is potentiality, form is it’s actuality), whichnecessarily relate to substance, we can almost begin the analysis of hisphilosophy on an ethical system. First, however, an introduction to the idea ofthe Unmoved Mover is necessary.
In accordance with Aristotle’s teleological view of the natural world,the Unmoved Mover is a purely actual thing which motivates all things towardthe good. All things try to achieve completeness, full actuality, orperfection; this implies that there must exist an object or state towards whichthis striving or desire is directed. This object or state is the UnmovedMover. This state of perfection must be one of pure actuality since it canhave no potential, being perfect; it must be non-natural since all naturalthings have potential. Thus, it is not moving, yet moves other things toattempt to achieve perfection; this thing is the final cause of the universe.
Knowing, now, that which moves all natural things towards the goods, we canbegin the analysis on Aristotle’s ethical system.In investigating Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, it is important toremember that just like the Physics, it is a teleological view, not on thenatural world, but on human nature, the end (telos) of which is the good.Everything that humans do is aimed at some end; this end is can either haveintrinsic or extrinsic worth.
This is to say that the acts of humans can eitherbe done for themselves (intrinsic) or can be done as a means to something else(extrinsic). The underlying goal of all our action, Aristotle calls the good,but along with the good, comes happiness. For Aristotle, then, all human arejust trying to be happy.
The good life, then, is a life of happiness; Aristotle says such a lifecan be achieved by excellence (arete) in two areas of virtue: intellectual andmoral. First, we will have to analyze moral virtue in order to understand fullythe notion of intellectual virtue. More or less, for Aristotle, the life ofmoral virtue, not being an exact science, is a life of moderation.
This is acommon theme with most all the ancient philosophers and authors (especially theplaywrights). It is practical wisdom which is not a priori, but rather it isa learned trade which varies from situation to situation; it can not be taught,it must be learned from experience. What, then, exactly is moral virtue? It isacting in accordance with our nature and our striving towards the good, bymeans of moderate actions is everyday life. Knowing this practical type ofreason, we can now examine the theoretical type of reason, intellectual virtue.Happiness is an activity, it is not a passive state for Aristotle.
Itis our potential which allows us to be motivated by the concept of the UnmovedMover, towards a state of perfection or perfect happiness. In order to achievethis state, a human, according to Aristotle, must partake in an activity whichis both sought for intrinsic purposes and is in itself perfect. Intellectualvirtue is this activity. It is a theoretical principle which each person knows a priori; it is the act of doing what is most natural for all humans to do, toreason. It is our nature according to Aristotle, to reason, and it follows thatif we achieve the perfectness or excellence (arete) in our nature, we achieveperfect happiness.
Specifically, for Aristotle, the best way to come close toachieving the perfect good is to act as a seeker of truth. The philosopher isthe way to go according to Aristotle; Philosophical thoght is the way toconsummate perfect happiness, but it doesn’t pay well. Category: Philosophy