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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Laws of nature as immovable animators

Discussing Book Lambda in my course on Aristotle's metaphysics. A central element of the book is the idea of an immovable substance and the associated notion of pure act (en-ergeia gar). In chapter 6 he says that without something which is capable of doing things but that it is not actually doing anything, then movement would not happen as nothing in act would putting things to work, making things active, in activity (am Werk). The immovable mover introduces movement into things that would be otherwise inanimate. Movement (kinesis) and also change in general (metabole) - movement is one of the three types of change according to Book Kappa, 11 - has to start somewhere, if it doesn't the universe would be no more than potentiality resting asleep (something akin to merely finkish dispositions). There should be a starting point (to avoid the infinite regresses that Aristotle dreads) and this cannot be something potential but has to be an act, a pure act, with no dunamis and therefore no matter. The idea of an immovable mover (or an unchangeable changer) that is always in activity but not primarily over itself could sound odd. Aristotle had his reasons for positing it. He claims that a chain of events has to start and a genuine start cannot be preceded by anything that was already potentially present. It is like a genuine deliberation explained through autonomy (Kant's Kausalität des Freiheit), if your deliberation is explained in terms of something else other than a starting point (say, your psychological predispositions etc), then it is not genuinely autonomous. The chain has to start with the deliberation and not be preceded by any tendency, capacity etc. The same for pure act: no potentiality can precede it without damaging its character of a starting point responsible for the chain (and for instilling animation in an otherwise inanimate world).

It is fruitful to compare the immovable mover to a nomological realist view that was quite popular in the 20th century. Ellis and Mumford claim that this is the typical metaphysics behind nomological realism. Mumford, for example, writes: "this view is an essentially Humean one where the laws animate an otherwise inert world of discrete qualities and particulars"(Laws in Nature, 151-2). Here laws introduce what is not actual and therefore not inert in a Humean world. For Hume, a world of actualities is not a world in work, in activity, but rather a disconnected discrete mosaic of items. For Aristotle, act is connected to activity and mere potentiality could sleep for ever. However, putting aside the differences, we can see the laws of nature in this nomological realist image as typically unchangeable, immovable, non-material, non-sensible and yet capable of animating the rest of the world. The laws of nature would be the immovable animators of a world otherwise inert made of a mosaic of particulars and qualities just as pure act in Aristotle is constantly in activity while never being subject to any change (movement, corruption or generation). Laws would also be quite a special element in the ontology - thought typically as transcendent to the governed rest and always as something that is immune to whatever else changes in the world. (It does sound like something made of immovable substance...).

of the laws of nature that

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