One and Many in Aristotle's Metaphysics

One and Many in Aristotle's Metaphysics

One and Many in Aristotle's Metaphysics

One and Many in Aristotle's Metaphysics

Synopsis

The problem of the one and the many is central to ancient Greek philosophy, but surprisingly little attention has been paid to Aristotle's treatment of it in the Metaphysics. This omission is all the more surprising because the Metaphysics is one of our principal sources for thinking that the problem is central and for the views of other ancient philosophers on it. The Central Books of the Metaphysics are widely recognised as the most difficult portion of a most difficult work. Halper uses the problem of the one and the many as a lens through which to examine the Central Books. What he sees is an extraordinary degree of doctrinal cogency and argumentative coherence in a work that almost everyone else supposes to be some sort of patchwork. Rather than trying to elucidate Aristotle's doctrines -- most of which have little explicitly to do with the problem, Halper holds that the problem of the one and the many, in various formulations, is the key problematic from which Aristotle begins and with which he constructs his arguments. Thus, exploring the problem of the one and the many turns out to be a way to reconstruct Aristotle's arguments in the Metaphysics. Armed with the arguments, Halper is able to see Aristotle's characteristic doctrines as conclusions. These latter are, for the most part, supported by showing that they resolve otherwise insoluble problems. Moreover, having Aristotle's arguments enables Halper to delimit those doctrines and to resolve the apparent contradiction in Aristotle's account of primary ousia, the classic problem of the Central Books. Although there is no way to make the Metaphysics easy, this very thorough treatment of the text succeeds in making it surprisingly intelligible. Halper's One and Many in Aristotle's Metaphysics: The Central Books was originally published in 1989 by Ohio State University Press. The reprint of this work includes a new Introduction by the author. Further, The Central Books is part of a Trilogy whose two other as of yet unpublished works Alpha -- Delta and Iota -- Nu will be released by Parmenides Publishing in 2008 and in 2010 respectively.

Excerpt

A book on texts as difficult and controversial as the central books of the Metaphysics could be expected to come in for criticism. What was less predictable was that some reviewers and scholars seemed to misapprehend the thesis and approach of One and Many in Aristotle’s Metaphysics: The Central Books. One reviewer seemed to have trouble even discerning what the thesis is and took my reconstructions of Aristotle’s arguments to be my defense of his philosophy. Other readers mistook my preliminary claims for conclusions, argued against claims quoted from the book but misunderstood, or failed to appreciate the different sorts of unity that are at work in Aristotle’s arguments. Still others, having confined their attention to some particular passage, ignored what I argued about its context in order to deny that the text itself compels my interpretation. In retrospect, it was a mistake on my part to force readers to wade through a long and dense book to discover its conclusions, especially when those conclusions resist easy formulations. A more pointed discussion at the book’s beginning might have helped readers avoid some difficulties. Thus, it is well to sketch here, by way of introduction to this new edition, the book’s thesis and its approach to the Metaphysics and to mention, in a general way, without argument, some consequences that emerge from this approach.

A great deal has been written on the central books over the past decade and a half, far too much to address in a brief introduction. But a few words might contribute to my sketch. It has recently become popular to advance “deflationary” or minimalist readings of Aristotle’s texts, possibly with the thought that his positions are easier to defend if they have less content. This book has sometimes been a target for such interpreters. My principal objection to this approach is that often it does not contribute toward resolving serious metaphysical problems: to show that a brief text can be understood without invoking a problem, does not necessarily make that problem go away and may well remove the best possibility we have of seeing how Aristotle would resolve it. Likewise, to understand the problems of the central books only in terms of logical or linguistic notions like predication or meaning, as some scholars continue to do, is to neglect the important physical dimension of ousia and the metaphysical problems, especially problems about actuality, that arise from it. Rather than clarifying our way of thinking and speaking about the world, Aristotle is, in my view, making substantial and interesting claims about the physical world in the central books. Suffice it to say, then, that this new literature has not shaken my confidence in the soundness of the approach and interpretation developed here.

Whereas most treatments of Aristotle’s works aim to come to grips with . . .

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