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 Important Quotations from Aristotle, with commentary

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PostSubject: Important Quotations from Aristotle, with commentary   Sat Aug 06, 2016 3:27 pm

Important quotations from Aristotle, with commentary:

1. “To attempt to prove that there is such a thing as nature would be ridiculous; for it is evident that there are many things of the sort we have described.  To prove what is evident from what is not evident betrays an inability to discriminate what is known because of itself from what is not. (It is clearly possible to suffer from this inability: someone blind from birth might still make deductions about colors). And so such people are bound to argue about [mere] names and to understand nothing” (Phys. II, 1, 193a2-9).

This is a response to the atomists, who proposed to explain what is evident (ordinary objects) with reference to what is not evident (atoms).  Aristotle had little patience with that sort of thing.

2. “In another way, the form – i.e. the pattern – is a cause.  The form is the account of the essence … and the parts that are in the account” (Phy. II, 3, 194b27-29).

In his discussion of “form”, Aristotle sustains some of the philosophy of both Socrates and Plato: Socrates’s emphasis on the definition (or “account”) of terms, and Plato’s emphasis on the immaterial “form”.  Aristotle’s notion of form is different from Plato’s, however, since he thinks forms are immanent in material objects.  This is why forms are compared to the object’s “shape”.  Sometimes a form will not simply be a shape, however.  Since you are human, your form is what accounts for all your characteristics, including your ethical views and your personality.  Your form, then, would be the shape of your body AND the “shape” of your mind.

3. “If then there is to be a house, such-and-such things must be made or be there already or exist, or generally the matter relative to the end, bricks and stones if it is a house. But the end is not due to these except as the matter, nor will it come to exist because of them. Yet if they do not exist at all, neither will the house, or the saw—the former in the absence of stones, the latter in the absence of iron—just as in the other case the premisses will not be true, if the angles of the triangle are not equal to two right angles. The necessary in nature, then, is plainly what we call by the name of matter, and the changes in it. Both causes must be stated by the physicist, but especially the end; for that is the cause of the matter, not vice versa” (Phys. II, 9, 200a25-35, trans. Richard J. Blackwell, Richard J. Spath & W. Edmund Thirlkel).

Here we see that matter is not the most important cause of the nature of things; rather, Aristotle prioritizes the “final cause”.  The final cause is essential to the object’s nature; the matter is accidental.  Thus, we could imagine two knives made out of different materials, but we cannot imagine a knife that was not for cutting.  The final cause makes something what it is.

4. "All human beings by nature desire to know. A sign of this is our liking for the senses; for even apart from their usefulness we like them for ourselves—especially the sense of sight, since we choose seeing above practically all the others, not only as an aid to action, but also when we have no intention of acting. The reason is that sight, more than any of the other senses, gives us knowledge of things and clarifies many differences among them” (Meta. I, 1, 980a21-25).

Aristotle’s Metaphysics begins with an absolutely ringing endorsement of the senses.  This is in stark contrast to Plato.  Aristotle wants to make it clear, right away, that he believes that the senses play a very important role in the acquisition of knowledge.

5. “For human beings originally began philosophy, as they do now, because of wonder, at first because they wondered at the strange things in front of them, and later because, advancing little by little, they found greater things puzzling – what happens to the moon, the sun, and the stars, how the universe comes to be.  Someone who wonders and is puzzled thinks he is ignorant ... since, then, they engaged in philosophy to escape ignorance, they were evidently pursuing scientific knowledge for the sake of knowing, not for any further use” (Meta. I, 2, 982b13-22).

This is just a marvelous quotation Aristotle uses to express the difference between philosophy and technology.  Technology aims at manipulating the world; philosophy aims at understanding it.

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