A Comprehensive View of Aristotle on Nature and Society :
In order to fully understand Aristotle's views on a natural system,
it is necessary to first explain some general principles of his
philosophy. It is in his work the Categories that Aristotle presents the
concept of substance, a concept 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 is it said of a subject
(as are qualities). Rather it is that which makes the subject
numerically one; it is that which makes the subject the individual.
Substance is "an individual man and [or] an individual horse."
Aristotle still classifies universals as substances, for they define what
constitutes the substance, and without these universals, a substance
would not be what is. There are four characteristics of substances: a
substance is a "this", not a qualification or a 'such' (which stresses
individuality); a substance has no contraries to it (there are no
opposites of a substance); a substance does not admit more or less (there
are not degrees of a substance); and a substance can admit contraries
while remaining numerically one.
In the Physics, Aristotle addresses that which constitutes Natural
Objects as substances. He states that all Natural Substances consist of
both form and matter. Matter is that out of which the substance arises
and form is that 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 the form, according to Aristotle. Matter and form
are inseparable from each other; there is no 'form' apart from concrete
things. Aristotle explains that all substances contain within themselves
the origin of their change and movement. He continues by stating that
the change which can occur is due to four possible natural causes: formal
cause, material cause, efficient cause, and final cause. Formal and
material cause are self-explanatory, in that it is the form or the matter
of the substance which is responsible for the change within the
substance. Efficient and final cause, however, will become clearer
once we investigate Aristotle's ideas of actuality and potentiality.
We should begin the explanation of actuality and potentially by
saying that form can be seen as the actuality of the substance while
matter is the potential for that form to exist. The best way to
illustrate this is through the analogy of the building of a house. The
materials, bricks and wood, should be seen as the matter, the potentially
to become a house. The end-result, the house, is the form, it is the
potential made actual. The building of the house itself, the movement,
is analogous to the four types of causes Aristotle says exist in
substances. In the case of this analogy the builder would be the
efficient cause in that it is he/she who initiates the change. One could
also say that there is a final or teleological cause taking place as
well, that the motive is to build a house which serves the purpose of
"house-ness", namely that the house is one in which people can live.
Through this analogy one can begin to 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 his ideas of
form and matter (matter is potentiality, form is it's actuality), which
necessarily relate to substance, we can almost begin the analysis of his
philosophy on an ethical system. First, however, an introduction to the
idea of the "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 toward the "good." All things try to achieve completeness, full
actuality, or perfection; this implies that there must exist an object or
state towards which this striving or desire is directed. This object or
state is the "Unmoved Mover." This state of perfection must be one of
pure actuality since it can have no potential, being perfect; it must be
non-natural since all natural things have potential. Thus, it is not
moving, yet moves other things to attempt to achieve perfection; this
thing is the final cause of the universe. Knowing, now, that which moves
all natural things towards the goods, we can begin the analysis on
Aristotle's ethical system.
In investigating Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, it is important
to remember that just like the Physics, it is a teleological view, not on
the natural 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 have intrinsic or extrinsic worth. This is to say that the acts
of humans can either be 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 are just trying to be happy.
The good life, then, is a life of happiness; Aristotle says such a
life can be achieved by excellence (arete) in two areas of virtue:
intellectual and moral. First, we will have to analyze moral virtue in
order to understand fully the notion of intellectual virtue. More or
less, for Aristotle, the life of moral virtue, not being an exact
science, is a life of moderation. This is a common theme with most all
the ancient philosophers and authors (especially the playwrights). It is
practical wisdom which is not "a priori," but rather it is a learned
trade which varies from situation to situation; it cannot be taught, it
must be learned from experience. What, then, exactly is moral virtue?
It is acting in accordance with our nature and our striving towards the
"good," by means of moderate actions is everyday life. Knowing this
practical type of reason, we can now examine the theoretical type of
reason, intellectual virtue.
Happiness is an activity, it is not a passive state for Aristotle.
It is our potential which allows us to be motivated by the concept of the
"Unmoved Mover," towards a state of perfection or perfect happiness. In
order to achieve this state, a human, according to Aristotle, must
partake in an activity which is both sought for intrinsic purposes and is
in itself perfect. Intellectual virtue 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, to reason. It is our
nature according to Aristotle, to reason, and it follows that if we
achieve the perfectness or excellence (arete) in our nature, we achieve
perfect happiness. Specifically, for Aristotle, the best way to come
close to achieving the perfect "good" is to act as a seeker of truth.
The philosopher is the way to go according to Aristotle; "Philosophical
thoght is the way to consummate perfect happiness, but it doesn't pay
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