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Cambridge University Press
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December 2010
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This volume of essays explores major connected themes in Aristotle's metaphysics, philosophy of nature, and ethics, especially themes related to essence, definition, teleology, activity, potentiality, and the highest good. The volume is united by the belief that all aspects of Aristotle's work need to be studied together if any one of the areas of thought is to be fully understood. Many of the papers were contributions to a conference at the University of Pittsburgh entitled 'Being, Nature, and Life in Aristotle', to honor Professor Allan Gotthelf's many contributions to the field of ancient philosophy; a few are contributions from those who were invited but could not attend. The contributors, all longstanding friends of Professor Gotthelf, are among the most accomplished scholars in the field of ancient philosophy today.


'This outstanding collection of ten essays pays handsome tribute to Allan Gotthelf for his many years at the center of scholarship on Aristotelian philosophy of biology and science.'

Source: Bryn Mawr Classical Review

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  • 1 - Teleology, Aristotelian and Platonic
    pp 5-29
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    Aristotle was Plato's student for two decades before founding his own school. Plato, like nearly every other thinker in and well after antiquity, associated teleology with conscious purpose. To make the world a purposive structure just is to posit an intelligent mind as its cause. In positing a detached and self-absorbed god, one who is above any inclination to intervene in our world, Aristotle sounds surprisingly similar to Epicurus. The goal of life, as Plato's followers expressed his idea, is 'to become as like god as possible'. This chapter describes how Aristotle's treatment of plants as inverted human beings has its origin in Plato's elevation of human beings to the status of inverted plants. It considers two areas in which Aristotle's teleology seems to me to reflect his Platonic beginnings. One is the role of the craft model; the other is global teleology.
  • 2 - Biology and metaphysics in Aristotle
    pp 30-55
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    Biology, for Aristotle, is an autonomous theoretical science. Biology is separate from and autonomous with respect to metaphysics. Since this relation of autonomy and separateness is symmetrical, if biology is separate from and autonomous with respect to metaphysics, for Aristotle, then metaphysics is equally autonomous and separate from biology. General metaphysics is only concerned with the study of what is qua being and the proper attributes of what is qua being, and none of the other sciences is concerned with this. This chapter explores some of the more important claims already mentioned according to which Aristotle would appear to violate his strictures concerning the autonomy both of metaphysics and biology. The predication of a biological species or genus of a primary substance, as understood in the Categories, is reduced, in the Metaphysics, to a predication of form of matter.
  • 3 - The unity and purpose of On the Parts of Animals 1
    pp 56-77
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    This chapter talks about the unity and structure of Aristotle's investigation of animals, and its place in his wider investigation of nature. The investigation is framed not as exploring methods for an inquiry into animals, but for an inquiry into nature. On the Parts of Animals I is regularly characterized as lacking any overall sense of unity and purpose. These characterizations are sometimes supported by statements about radical differences in style from one section to the next and by conjectures about parts being written for different purposes or at different periods of Aristotle's philosophical career. He begins simply by stipulating that it is correct that those animals with parts that differ only in degree or by more and less should be designated as kinds, while those with features that are analogous have been "kept apart".
  • 4 - An Aristotelian puzzle about definition: Metaphysics Ζ.12
    pp 78-96
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    This chapter explores and elaborates a puzzle about definition that Aristotle raises in a variety of forms in APo. 2.6 in Metaphysics Z.I2, and again in Metaph. H.6. It gives some indications that Aristotle rejects the idea that an account of essence reached through division is one that captures the ousia or being of that item. Literacy and musicality are attributes that may be possessed by certain substances, and if and when a substance is characterized by both of these simultaneously it is both a literate thing and a musical thing. The substance could have existed without being either literate or musical and could continue to exist as the very same substance even were he to lose the attributes by virtue of which he is correctly called musical and literate.
  • 5 - Unity of definition in Metaphysics Η.6 and Ζ.12
    pp 97-121
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    Aristotle is looking for basic entities, whose being is fully determined by their essence and not by other entities which claim priority. Aristotle discusses three sorts of examples: substantial forms, material composites, and categorial properties. Aristotle investigates the unity of definition in Metaphysics Z.I2, and that is the place to look for help with the unity of form in H.6. He explicitly distinguishes genus-differentia combinations from accidental compounds. Metaphysics Z.I2 presents itself as Aristotle's first attempt to explain the unity of definition, and he explicitly denies that a genus is related to its differentia in the way that a particular white man is related to whiteness. Aristotle turns to categorial properties: substantial kinds, qualities, quantities, and other properties. Aristotle's proposal about the manifestation of categorial properties again extends his solution for the unity of form.
  • 6 - Definition in Aristotle's Posterior Analytics
    pp 122-146
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    Two of them contributed more than the others to the shaping of a new conception of the Posterior Analytics, which, according to the author, is still alive and active, namely the papers by Jonathan Barnes and Jacques Brunschwig. Aristotle first developed his doctrine on demonstration in the Posterior Analytics before he built up a 'general syllogistic' in the Prior Analytics. Barnes considers two of the requirements for the premises that make, in Aristotle's view, a demonstration scientific: immediacy and universality. These requirements seem to be taken from the developments in syllogistic in the Prior Analytics, but Barnes shows that even in the case of universality, apodeictic can fly with its own wings, without any help from syllogistic. The paper by Brunschwig shares with that by Barnes the same chronological perspective, but Brunschwig insists much more on the gaps that are internal to the Posterior Analytics.
  • 7 - Male and female in Aristotle's Generation of Animals
    pp 147-167
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    Aristotle's theory is not that the male provides the form and the female the matter of the generated animal, but that the male, in an act analogous to what one can call fertilization, begins the process by which the female grows within herself and bears their mutual offspring. It is this process, the process of the generation of animals, in relation to which Aristotle speaks of the male as the formal and the female as the material principle, and in relation to which he identifies the male as active and the female as passive. The author suggested that if Aristotle's theory of animal generation depicts the father as providing the form of an animal and the mother its matter, it is a theory inconsonant with his larger metaphysical views. With very few exceptions, Aristotle does not characteristically describe the male as providing the form of the animal.
  • 8 - Metaphysics Θ.7 and 8: Some issues concerning actuality and potentiality
    pp 168-197
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    Aristotle's strategy in Metaphysics ϴ appears relatively clear: he begins by examining a basic sense of 'capacity' and 'actuality' in which the active power to produce a change in something else is called a 'capacity' and the change it produces (an activity) is called 'an actuality'. This chapter offers a reading of parts of ϴ.7 and of certain lines in ϴ.8. It sketches Aristotle's answers to the questions, commenting on their significance for his account of matter and substance. Aristotle, in introducing talk of actuality and potentiality, provided a way of conceptualizing matter and form so as to make his teleological commitments perspicuous and explicit. The nature of the matter and the composite are clear to us once one can follow Aristotle's advice and see them as teleologically explained and defined by the presence of the relevant goal-laden actuality. Aristotle's master-builder exemplifies the kind of intelligibility sought.
  • 9 - Where is the activity?
    pp 198-211
  • (An Aristotelian worry about the telic status of energeia)
  • View abstract


    Aristotle is seeking to establish that actuality or activity (energeia) is prior in substance (ousia) to potentiality. More precisely, he is trying to show that a given energeia is prior in ousia to the corresponding dunamis. The demonstration that energeia is prior in ousia to the corresponding dunamis is third in a battery of arguments showing that energeia is prior to dunamis in many ways. He is aiming to establish that energeia is prior in ousia to dunamis, by way of the intermediate theses that energeia is prior in respect of form, and that energeia is the telos of dunamis. Aristotle gives two considerations in favour of viewing transitive activity. First, this activity is in the patient, in what is being worked upon by the agent so as to produce the house. Secondly, the activity 'comes into being, and is, simultaneously with the house'.
  • 10 - Political community and the highest good
    pp 212-264
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    This chapter explains what Aristotle intends by the essentially "political" orientation of the activity of virtue, that is, of the activity constituting human happiness. Aristotle holds that to think assertively of something as being good is to be moved thereby toward it: this being moved is part of or an immediate effect of that thought itself. Due to the essential connection to motivation implied in the very act of understanding something good as good for oneself as a human being, this is a special sort of understanding. Aristotle's analyses and arguments in the Nicomachean Ethics about virtue and its place in a well-lived life. Aristotle reasonably thinks that that way of common living is impossible without the possession and use of the full knowledge of political science. His account in the Politics of the polis "as it exists according to nature" describes such a community.
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