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The Pythagorean Table of Opposites, Symbolic Classification, and Aristotle

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 May 2015

Owen Goldin*
Affiliation:
Marquette University E-mail: owen.goldin@marquette.edu

Argument

At Metaphysics A 5 986a22-b2, Aristotle refers to a Pythagorean table, with two columns of paired opposites. I argue that 1) although Burkert and Zhmud have argued otherwise, there is sufficient textual evidence to indicate that the table, or one much like it, is indeed of Pythagorean origin; 2) research in structural anthropology indicates that the tables are a formalization of arrays of “symbolic classification” which express a pre-scientific world view with social and ethical implications, according to which the presence of a principle on one column of the table will carry with it another principle within the same column; 3) a close analysis of Aristotle's arguments shows that he thought that the table expresses real causal relationships; and 4) Aristotle faults the table of opposites with positing its principles as having universal application and with not distinguishing between those principles that are causally prior and those that are posterior. Aristotle's account of scientific explanation and his own explanations that he developed in accordance with this account are in part the result of his critical encounter with this prescientific Pythagorean table.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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