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Topic #E41

Aristotle, Physics II.1-3



9 January 2002

Scribe: Diane Tang


These minutes were not spoken; for another version, go to the spoken minutes



Prof. Hutchinson began the lecture by returning briefly into the Islamic age and made a historical connection.  He said that much Ancient philosophy was centered in Alexandria, an Egyptian city founded by Alexander, with the most important library in the world.  Important studies were made at Alexandria, mostly by Islamic.  Their studies focused not so much on the First philosophers whereas it focused on Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  Both Christianity and Islamic translated work of the great philosopher but both of their central point of reference was Aristotle.


Most ancient knowledge work was forgotten in the dark ages. Aristotle is a star over the ages; he who sometimes widely studies rose and fell; however unlike Plato, who always had a bright star.  Prof. Hutchinson then went on to read a poem from an early Islamic philosopher, Ali ibn Abi Talib:


Remember, Kumayl, knowledge is better than wealth because knowledge protects you while you have to guard wealth.  Wealth decreases if you spend it, but the more you spend knowledge the more it increases.  What you get through wealth disappears as soon as the wealth disappears, but what you achieve through knowledge will remain even after you.


O Kumayl!  Knowledge is power and it can command obedience.  A man of knowledge during his lifetime can make people obey and follow him and he is praised and venerated after his death.  Remember that knowledge is a ruler and wealth is its subject.


O Kumayl!  Those who amass wealth, though alive, are dead to realities of life, and those who achieve knowledge, will remain alive through their knowledge and wisdom even after their death, though their faces may disappear from the community of living beings, yet their ideas, the knowledge which they had left behind and their memory, will remain in the minds of people.


Ali ibn Abi Talib,  The Peak of Eloquence, aphorism #146, tr. anon.



Prof. Hutchinson went on to make a close connection with Arabic sage and the Invitation to Philosophy by Aristotle. The passage referring to drinking on page 18 is where the professor made us aware that it is seriously difficult to refer to the original text in Duning’s edition. This is because they are tiny fragments that have been cut down and put together as one big fragment.  This is when Prof. Hutchinson intervene the class to show us how to make a proper reference to this text, e.g.: Aristotle, Invitation to Philosophy, apud (according to) Iamblichus Protrepticus 88, ed. des Places). Prof. Hutchinson then showed us a photocopied page from the text of Aristotle.  He then told us to notice that this form of reference (e.g. 178b24-26) is standardly used by modern scholars.


Prof. Hutchinson then continued explaining the thoughts in the two paragraphs on page 18 of the Invitation of Aristotle.  Prof. Hutchinson found that there was a curious claim made by Aristotle.  He said that people who study philosophy are truly alive.  However in the Phaedo, Socrates in section 64b makes an odd claim that philosopher are closer to the dead rather than the living.  Because philosophers hang around dark and weird places, and have strange ideas, this is why people think that philosopher would be closer to death. Aristotle by contrast wants to claim that those true philosophers are alive.


Referring back to the passage from the Invitation to philosophy,  Prof. Hutchinson brought up the idea of enjoyment in itself.  Other people who don’t pursue wisdom are not actually enjoying their lives.  Only a few people have the knowledge of living.  People enjoy themselves while they are alive but according to Aristotle you need enjoyment in itself.


Again, any perfect and unimpeded activity has it enjoyment in itself; hence the activity of contemplation would be the most pleasant of all. Further, there is a difference between enjoying oneself while drinking and enjoying drinking; for there is nothing to stop a man who is not thirsty, or is not getting the drink he enjoys, from enjoying himself while drinking, not because he is drinking but because he happens at the same time to be seeing or being seen as he sits there.  So we shall say that such a man enjoys himself, and enjoys himself while drinking, by not that he enjoys himself because he is drinking, not that he is enjoying drinking.  So then in the same way we shall say that walking, sitting, learning, or any activity, is pleasant or painful, not because we happen to feel pain or pleasure in their presence, but because we are all pained or pleased by their presence.  So, similarly, we shall call that life pleasant whose presence is pleasant to those who have it; and we shall say that not all who happen to enjoy life are living pleasently, only those to whom living is itself pleasant and enjoy the pleasure that comes from life. 


Aristotle, Invitation to Philosophy, ap. Iamblichus Protrepticus 88, ed. des Places


Then a student asked a question: ‘what about the value of creating artistic things?’  Prof. Hutchinson then proceeded to answer the question and gave two answers.  The  first of which he explained that philosophy is a narrow subject. And that the Ancient world is comprised of everything, all learned in different sizes.  This included things that were taught in other department not just on one subject.  Now a days it is arguable that modern art expresses truth.  Aristotle believed that creative art was created by artisans who were thought to be of lower class, (as was the case until the Italian renaissance).  But now it is the contrary, artists are held to be intellectuals, and have a higher status. This would be a concept that Aristotle would not understand, because it only occurred a few centuries ago.


The root of the word theoretical, is Theoria.  It is important to be clear that in NE Book 10, Aristotle specifies that what is best is not to find out the truth, but to enjoy as awareness of it.  The research done was not to find the truth, but to enjoy it. To have within oneself the vision of how reality is structured.  Scientist in the Modern period on the contrary aim at producing more and more useless facts.  To have and gain knowledge is the end, but Aristotle never stopped gaining it.  Prof. Hutchinson then again referred to the Government and how Mr. Harris’s main idea of society, is to produce more millionaires. 


A student commented and said that Aristotle was satisfied, but kept looking.  He enjoys the truth to keep going . He enjoyed the research.  Then Prof. Hutchinson added to this comment by saying that Aristotle argues that philosophy is easier than other subjects, but this argument itself is very hard. ( Invitation, 68/69)  Aristotle says in NE Book 10 that an advantage to philosophy is that you don’t need much,  just a lot of time, friends, and occasionally dinner.


A student then asked a question if philosophy was just for the high class?  Prof. Hutchinson then reply that The Invitation of Philosophy is rhetoric, that it is the battle of the books.  Aristotle as well as Isocrates replies must be in general terms because they wanted philosophy to be a privilege to know.  Isocrates wanted to make aware that philosophy is a privilege for its audience.  Again, rhetorical stresses that the philosophy written is to be able to satisfy every soul who would read it.  There is also a theme that comes up in every piece of work.


The theme in Physics Book 2 chap 1-8 is of nature that is always doing something at random.  In the reading it explains the causes of nature.  First, Prof. Hutchinson explained to the class that physics is often misleading.  This is because quite frequently people associate physics with calculus and mathematics.  Informing us that in the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton was the Chair of natural philosophy of Cambridge.  Professor then went on to say that physics in a broad sense is a science.  Therefore not only did Newton associate himself with the sciences but also with the arts.  Aristotle did a study of nature, he studied the reason of natural philosophy.  He had four material elements: earth, fire, air, and water.  This is when Aristotle came to comprise his work and agree, accepts and adopts Plato’s view of astronomy.  Aristotle held that the cosmic region above the moon was not liable to change.  But up to the level of the moon where the changes occur is what Aristotle wanted to explain.


Aristotle’s doctrine of the four kinds of cause has proven to be potentially misleading; this is the classic statement of it.


In one way, then, that out of which a thing comes to be and which persists, is called a cause, e.g. the bronze of the statue, the silver of the bowl, and the genera of which the bronze and the silver are species.  In another way, the form or the archetype, i.e. the definition of what the thing is, and its genera, are called causes (e.g. the relation of 2:1, and generally number, is the cause of the octave), and the parts of the definition.  Again, the primary source of the change or rest; is called a cause e.g. the man who deliberated is a cause, the father is cause of the child, and generally what makes of what is made and what alters is a cause of what is altered.

(Physics, Book II, chap 3, 194b23-32)


If there is a correct explanation it must take one of the following four forms.  Not that there are four causes.  The breach effect would come into play because not all events need four causes. It can be one or more of the four.


Things in events can be explained in different ways.  Prof. Hutchinson used an example of his little boy asking him “ Daddy why is that a dog?”. He then continued and explained that there are different causes and can be explained in different ways.  Then he went on that say that there are purposes all over in life.  Aristotle says that things are for certain purposes.  Plato’s view is that the purposes we find in the natural world all have a reference to human beings; Aristotle by contrast, discovered purposes in nature, too, but generally these purposes are phenomena in organisms.   This serves purposes of that organism itself.