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Thursday, 25 April 2013

Four stages for metaphysics

Started my course on Aristotle's Metaphysics. We're discussing a book each week. Yesterday my reading of book Alpha focused on the four primordial causes postulated by Aristotle as four requisite stages where every metaphysics has to play. These four stages are
1. The sphere of ousia or quiddity (the realm of forms or formal causes),
2. The sphere of hypokeimenon or yle (the realm of the substrata),
3. The sphere of the engine, or the realm of modification (where efficient causes are located) and
4. the realm of ends (and final causes).
A metaphysics cannot be complete without having something to say about these four spheres - not enough to present the constituents of things, it has also to state how things develop into each other, how they fold, how they reduce to each other, how movement takes place in to what aim. These are interesting dimensions to consider different metaphysics; in particular 1 and 2 that don't need to be understood in terms of matter and form, but only in terms of substances and substrata. (Hence, the contrasts between, say, Scotus and the materialists are within sphere 2.) In fact, Aristotle's criticism of his predcessors is pitched in terms of insufficient attention given to at least some of these four stages. Hence, Thales or Anaximenes (also Diogenes and Heraclitus) didn't have much to say about anything but the second sphere while the Pithagoreans had little to say about anything other than sphere 1. Plato, of course, had problems relating sphere 1 and sphere 2: the third man, the proliferation of forms to deal with things, the difficulties with participation (metexis).

It is interesting to consider some modern strands metaphysics in these terms. I thought of metaphysics that would postulate no ousia (becoming metaphysics like Whitehead's and his actual entities) and those postulating no hypokeimenon (Leibniz's monadology). Whitehead keeps the rejection of substrata while rejecting substances. In fact, the four stages are intertwined while separated. Aristotle has the merit of seeing the scene as a plot and a multistage plot at that. None of these stages can be just swept under the carpet of convention - by saying, for example, with the early Carnap, that it is no more than a mode of speech - because the plot is such that no stage is immune to the conventionality of the others. The four stages are much more than an assertion about the nature of causality, it is about the nature of metaphysics. Indeed, this is why causality is often taken to be the touchstone of the whole enterprise.

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