Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Toward an Integrated Approach to Aristotle as a Biological Philosopher

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Toward an Integrated Approach to Aristotle as a Biological Philosopher

Article excerpt

I

EVER SINCE BALME'S GROUNDBREAKING WORK on the subject, there has been substantial progress in our understanding of the importance of biology in Aristotle's philosophy. (1) Despite a certain reluctance to incorporate treatises on animals into the undergraduate curriculum, (2) it is now inadvisable to avoid any reference to Aristotle's biological work when discussing most aspects of his thought. (3) The new tendency of scholarship on Aristotle's biology employs various methodologies but, in the main, argues for the importance of Aristotle's biological treatises on the basis of the assistance they might provide for understanding some of the more intractable problems in Aristotle's thought.

The philosophical issues examined in relation to biology, then, are already determined by reference to other nonbiological texts. After the problems arising in more canonical texts have been clarified, the reader is invited to turn to the biological treatises in the hope of finding some solutions. Thus, for example, the biological treatises are resorted to in seeking a solution to interpretative logjams or issues left unresolved and obscure in the Posterior Analytics. (4) Aristotle's systematic study of animals has also been used to throw light on "concepts at the centre of his metaphysical analysis of substance" and "[les] dilemmes bien connus des livre centraux de la Metaphysique." (5)

The approach to Aristotle's biology that looks for comprehensive solutions to well-established problems usually brings with it a clear agenda. Often the biological texts are treated as evidence for established interpretations. (6) But although entrenched views can sometimes be supported by these less familiar texts, a more fundamental reappraisal is often the more appropriate response to the insights provided by the biology. One of the most prominent examples relates to syllogistic demonstration, which, although advocated in the Posterior Analytics as the only road to scientific truth, does not appear explicitly in any biological work. The biology, along with other Aristotelian scientific texts, were initially resorted to by modern commentators in order to discover whether Aristotle applied his syllogistic in the actual practice of scientific investigation. (7) Study of the biological works on this basis sometimes manifests itself as an attempt to find Analytics-type demonstrations, even if these appear in a more "relaxed" form. (8) More often, however, scholars are willing to see different methodologies operating in the biological and logical treatises. (9) After many years of close study, it is now generally agreed that Aristotle must have changed his mind, or at least modified his views, about scientific methodology, and this presents considerable difficulties for those who wish to use the biology to clarify the Posterior Analytics.

Perhaps it is because many long-standing problems have not been successfully resolved by using the biological texts in the traditional way that a new approach, which gives the biology a more equal philosophical status, has recently started to take a more prominent position in the scholarship. (10) Instead of focusing on how the biological texts might help us to strengthen or refine our views of Aristotle's philosophy, some scholars have suggested that the biological texts themselves might be capable of changing our frame of reference. James Lennox, for example, in his "Material and Formal Natures in Aristotle's De Partibus Animalium," (11) bases his discussion on a philosophical issue internal to one biological text. In the Parts of Animals, Aristotle states that nature is both matter and form and that both must be studied by the natural scientist. Lennox sets out to clarify the meaning of this statement before speculating about what consequences Aristotle's study of animal natures might have for the interpretation of Aristotle's thought more generally.

   [A]ttempting to preserve the unity of the composite by strongly identifying
   matter and form in the actual composite may have trouble accommodating the
   dynamic interaction of material and formal natures in the explanations we
   have looked at, as well as the extensive role played by material natures in
   those explanations. … 
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.