The Relation between Logic and Ontology in the Metaphysics
Weigelt, Charlotta, The Review of Metaphysics
THE QUESTION CONCERNING THE RELATION between logic and ontology in Aristotle's thought has recently attracted renewed attention, as several scholars have found reason to reconsider the argumentative structure of the seventh book of the Metaphysics. What initially provoked discussion was Myles Burnyeat's study A Map of Metaphysics Zeta and its suggestion that, in order to understand the aim and direction of that particular book, we should distinguish between two different levels of discourse within it, the one "logical" and the other "metaphysical" in kind. (1) Whereas the logical level of discourse explores such concepts and principles that must be assumed by any ontology whatsoever, the metaphysical level conveys precisely Aristotle's ontology with its specific assumptions as regards the nature of reality. Burnyeat's proposal has been met with approval by many scholars, who, though they sometimes prefer a different terminology from his, in general agree that the suggested distinction provides us with a useful tool for the interpretation of this notoriously difficult book. (2) For example, if part of Aristotle's discussion here is "logical" in the sense of not presupposing any specific metaphysical notion of substance, then this may explain why he refrains from drawing upon his own concept of form in what seem to be pivotal passages as regards the inquiry into substance, but instead speaks with a more or less Platonic tongue. (3) Accordingly, recognizing two distinct levels of argument in the discussion of substance might also enable us to shed new light on Aristotle's attitude toward Plato, and perhaps even toward the tradition in general, in ontological matters.
This approach toward Aristotle's logic has found several proponents in the recent literature. More precisely, it is a rather common belief today that Aristotle's logic can be regarded as a kind of prolegomenon to his ontology, providing a "general essentialism" (4) which serves as a basis for the metaphysical inquiry into substance. One apparent consequence of this belief is the recurrent attempt to come to grips with the problems facing the discussion of substance in the Metaphysics, not least that of deciding whether substance as form is to be understood as a particular or universal entity, by means of distinguishing between different kinds of predication, so that form is allowed to be predicated of matter but not of its object. (5) In this way, one assumes that the question of ousia, at least in important respects, may profitably be treated as a question of logic. (6)
In this article, I will elaborate a different view of the so-called logical level of discourse in the Metaphysics as well as of its relation to ontology. While not denying that Aristotle refrains from introducing his own ontological theory in his logical discussion, I will nevertheless suggest that the latter, far from being free from metaphysical presuppositions, is on the contrary in conflict with the ontology presented at the metaphysical level, in such a way that it has implications for the nature of substance which Aristotle cannot accept straight off. More precisely, the idea is that Aristotle himself discovers problems that emerge out of the logical perspective, so that a major task of the inquiry at the ontological level is precisely to come to grips with these problems. In the first part of the article, which seeks to determine the aim and nature of "logical" discussions, I suggest that the conflict between different levels of discourse should be understood as a conflict between different approaches to ontology pursued by Aristotle in the Metaphysics, all of which are not of his own making but primarily retrieved from the tradition. This means that a major problem Aristotle is facing in the Metaphysics, notably in Book 7, is that of reconciling different extant discourses on reality within his own project, so that each of them is granted its proper, delimited place. The difficulty of this task is what makes this book so difficult to understand.
Having given a brief review of the project of the Metaphysics and the role it grants to logical arguments, I turn in the second part to the defense of the principle of noncontradiction elaborated in Book 4, regarded as a logical reflection that is absolutely decisive for Aristotle's project, in that its task is to secure the very possibility of ontology. In part three, I proceed to a discussion of the ontological results of Book 4, especially the idea that the model of predication can serve as a basic principle in the subsequent search for ousia. After an evaluation of the tasks and problems these ontological Findings pose to Aristotle, I discuss in part four his attempt to respond to this situation at the ontological level, which here is taken to involve a turn toward nature as the basic thematic field of metaphysics. I will then suggest that this level also needs to be differentiated, so that one distinguishes between the metaphysical analysis of things into matter and form on the one hand, and the teleological interpretation of this distinction on the other. The teleological level is thought to represent Aristotle's most far reaching attempt to transgress the boundaries of logic, since it is only with this step that it becomes possible to properly comprehend the unity of substance. Finally, I will conclude by asking whether it might not be the case that the possibility of resolving the problem of unity is attained at the price of losing the possibility of providing a scientific explanation of substance, and that this is a major reason why the explication of substance developed in the Metaphysics has to involve different levels of articulation, that is, both the logical and the metaphysical level of discourse.
When suggesting that Aristotle's logic in some way or other serves as a basis for his ontology, the critics who have taken part in the debate on Book 7 actually concur in what has long been a major assumption within the phenomenological tradition of Aristotelian scholarship, initiated by Heidegger. But, whereas the former group of scholars do not seem to pay much attention to the question of why Aristotle would have structured his ontological investigations in this way, (7) this question comes into the foreground in phenomenology. This is due to its focus on the epistemological conditions of ontological research. Accordingly, in Heidegger's view, the reason why Aristotle could let logic, understood in the broad sense as a reflection upon logos, constitute a philosophical point of departure is that his ontological investigation sets out not simply from the world "in itself" (whatever that could mean) but from the way in which it is experienced and articulated. (8) We shall see, I hope, that an examination of the way in which Aristotle makes use of his logic in the Metaphysics strengthens the phenomenological approach to it.
At this point, it is important to bear in mind that "logic" in modern times has acquired a different sense as compared with antiquity, largely due to the development of symbolic logic in the last century, which has promoted a conception of logic as a separate discipline, to be sharply distinguished from metaphysics. (9) This step is not yet taken in Aristotle, though he no doubt is paving the way for it, not least in virtue of his distinction between different perspectives or modes of investigation, one of which he terms as exactly "logical" ([MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). However, it only takes a quick glance at the Categories, for example, to see that Aristotle's logic is anything but free from metaphysics; thus the notion of a distinction between logic and ontology in Aristotle does not by itself entail the possibility of maintaining an absolute boundary between the two. On the contrary, one of the points in using this distinction as an interpretative device in connection with Aristotle is that it eventually lets us discover the complex nature of the relation between logic and ontology in his works. (10)
In connection with the present problem regarding the status of logic in the Metaphysics, one does not normally identify logic with the study and analusis of inferences but understands it in a broader sense, inspired by Aristotle's use of the term [mat], as in the expression [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "to investigate logically." (11) A discourse that is [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] aims at the elaboration of certain formal principles and concepts, and as such, it could perhaps be described as a kind of meta-analytic discussion, in that it elucidates such principles that are presupposed by, for example, the analyses of inferences pursued in the Prior Analytics. Moreover, as noted above, it is generally agreed that, to the extent that Aristotle deals with ontological issues within the logical context, his aim at this stage is primarily to assess critically the views of his predecessors, rather than to advance a complete or fully developed ontology of his own, as is clearly the case in 7.6, where his "logical" discussion of essence takes on the form of a critical evaluation of Plato's theory of forms. Insofar as the confrontation with extant opinions and theories is part of Aristotle's inquiry into how we speak, as distinct from the examination of how things are, (12) his critique of already established theories is primarily directed toward their mode of articulation. For reasons to be further specified below, I will keep to the abovementioned interpretation of logic as a reflection on logos, on speech, or articulated experience, as I think it unites the various senses of logic now under consideration. Thus, the achievement of formal distinctions and principles will be made possible by a critical reflection on the tradition and its sayings. (13) Thus, a major reason that the logical discourse makes up a necessary starting point in philosophy, including ontology, is that it involves a dialogue with the tradition, which alone can provide philosophy with an overall framework of inquiry.
That Aristotle did not believe his own philosophy to be based on some kind of simple, presuppositionless inspection of reality, is today more or less generally acknowledged, not least because of an increased awareness of the important role played by dialectic in his works. (14) Even though Aristotle was not prepared to grant to dialectic the status of (first) philosophy, it is clear, not only from the Topics but even more so from the way in which his philosophical investigations are structured, that he thinks that the search for the basic principles of philosophy requires, as he says in the Topics, the examination of endoxa, the opinions commonly held by the wise and the many. (15) For, as he puts it in the Metaphysics, it is only on the basis of an examination of previous statements of the matter at hand that we may attain an understanding of our own project and the kind of questions it involves. (16) As already indicated, the view that the philosophical findings of Aristotle's works to a great extent are the outcome of a critical encounter with received opinion is also characteristic of the phenomenological approach to Aristotle. In this article, I will continue the course initially entered upon by Heidegger and try to show how reading Aristotle as a kind of protophenomenologist--instead of taking him to represent some sort of simple realism--can help us understand the project of the Metaphysics, and in particular the relation between logic and ontology. (17) But before arguing in favor of this approach in more detail, I will briefly sketch the overall framework of interpretation against which it is leaning.
The Metaphysics proposes to pose the question of being as being, interpreted as a question concerning the primary causes and principles of ousia. (18) Now, in what way might this very question have emerged from a "logical" discussion? If we turn to the first book of this work, we find that Aristotle achieves his understanding of ontology by exploring not only the views held by his philosophical predecessors, but also the opinions of the common man. Moreover, the statement made in Book 4 that there is a science that investigates being as being is confirmed by the observation that all the other sciences deal with a specific part of reality but not with reality as such. (19) Accordingly, it seems that we can distinguish between three different approaches to the question of being in the Metaphysics: apart from the historical way, which sets out from the earlier thinkers' diverse statements on the nature of being, there is also an everyday way, which investigates the popular opinions about reality. Finally, there is the scientific way, which considers how reality is examined by the particular sciences. These three approaches to reality are all thus based on different experiences of the world, each of which will be tested as Aristotle turns to the examination of the candidates for the role as ousia in Book 7, where they will be found to be at odds with each other. In Book 1, however, Aristotle is mainly trying to orient himself within these perspectives on the world, and so each of them is recorded as an initially plausible view in its own right, though the opinions of the common man are given some priority, due to Aristotle's conviction that the first and ultimate task of philosophy is to do justice to our normal, commonly shared understanding of the world. But even though the three logoi in question are not on the same level as regards their degree of theoretical articulation, from the point of view of Aristotle's project, they all belong within the realm of the given, that is, they constitute those previously established experiences of reality from which ontology has to take its point of …
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Publication information: Article title: The Relation between Logic and Ontology in the Metaphysics. Contributors: Weigelt, Charlotta - Author. Journal title: The Review of Metaphysics. Volume: 60. Issue: 3 Publication date: March 2007. Page number: 507+. © 2009 Philosophy Education Society, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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