Combining Philosophers

Ideas for Aristotle, Allan Gibbard and Deborah Achtenberg

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11 ideas

8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 1. Powers
Heavy and light are defined by their tendency to move down or up [Aristotle]
     Full Idea: It is the nature of light and heavy things to tend in certain directions, and this is what it is to be light or heavy; to be light is defined by an upwards tendency, and to be heavy is defined by a downwards tendency.
     From: Aristotle (Physics [c.337 BCE], 255b14)
     A reaction: The discredited 'teleological' view of gravity, and yet if we define 'heavy' in Newtonian terms we are in danger of circularity, and of proposing laws which are bafflingly imposed from outside. Hence the 'New Essentialists' prefer Aristotle's view.
Potentiality is a principle of change, in another thing, or as another thing [Aristotle]
     Full Idea: Potentiality [dunamis] is a principle of change either (a) for something else or (b) for the thing that it is in qua something else.
     From: Aristotle (Metaphysics [c.324 BCE], 1046a10)
     A reaction: Gill emphasises that it is partly an active principle of change. It seems like an ability to affect, or to be affected.
Active 'dunamis' is best translated as 'power' or 'ability' (rather than 'potentiality') [Aristotle, by Gill,ML]
     Full Idea: When Aristotle uses the word 'dunamis' in the active sense, we might prefer the translation 'power', 'ability', or 'capacity' to 'potentiality'. He uses the same word to indicate both active power and passive responsiveness.
     From: report of Aristotle (Metaphysics [c.324 BCE], Theta) by Mary Louise Gill - Aristotle on Substance Ch.6
     A reaction: This gives licence to a direct link between Aristotle's account of potential and modern ascriptions of powers in scientific essentialism.
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 2. Powers as Basic
The main characteristic of the source of change is activity [energeia] [Aristotle, by Politis]
     Full Idea: Aristotle undoubtedly considered the central characteristic of the ultimate cause of change to be activity [energeia].
     From: report of Aristotle (Metaphysics [c.324 BCE], Bk 12) by Vassilis Politis - Aristotle and the Metaphysics 8.8
     A reaction: Aristotle identifies this, of course, with his 'God', but it strikes me that the word 'power' (as in Molnar) seems to capture Aristotle's concept. We just need some fundamental active force to get the whole shebang going.
Actualities are arranged by priority, going back to what initiates process [Aristotle]
     Full Idea: One actuality always has temporal priority over another, going back to that which always, and in a primary way, initiates process.
     From: Aristotle (Metaphysics [c.324 BCE], 1050b05)
     A reaction: I am not clear from the context whether he is referring to things which have fundamental powers, or whether he is referring to the one great First Cause.
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 4. Powers as Essence
Sight is the essence of the eye, fitting its definition; the eye itself is just the matter [Aristotle]
     Full Idea: If the eye were an animal, sight would have been its soul, for sight is the substance or essence of the eye which corresponds to the formula, the eye being merely the matter of seeing; when seeing is removed it is no longer an eye,except in name.
     From: Aristotle (De Anima [c.329 BCE], 412b18)
     A reaction: This is a drastic view of form as merely function, which occasionally appears in Aristotle. To say a blind eye is not an eye is a tricky move in metaphysics. So what is it? In some sense it is still an eye.
Giving the function of a house defines its actuality [Aristotle]
     Full Idea: Those who propose that a house is 'a receptacle to shelter chattels and living beings', or something of the sort, speak of the actuality.
     From: Aristotle (Metaphysics [c.324 BCE], 1043a16)
     A reaction: This, with Idea 16752, endorses the idea that the function is the essence of something. The eye is natural, the house is an artifact. This seems different from the concept of form implied elsewhere. He says materials of a house are just potential.
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 5. Powers and Properties
Potentiality in geometry is metaphorical [Aristotle]
     Full Idea: Potentiality in geometry is spoken of metaphorically.
     From: Aristotle (Metaphysics [c.324 BCE], 1019b31)
     A reaction: The point here is that if one wanted to give an account of properties in an active way (perhaps in accord with causation, as Shoemaker suggests), then the properties of mathematics could also be included in this Aristotelian way.
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 6. Dispositions / d. Dispositions as occurrent
The Megarans say something is only capable of something when it is actually doing it [Aristotle]
     Full Idea: There is a popular view in Megara, that x is capable of being/doing the F only when it actually is/does the F. So the non-builder is no bearer of a potentiality for building - but only when the builder is engaged in his building.
     From: Aristotle (Metaphysics [c.324 BCE], 1046b28)
     A reaction: This Megaran view is the extreme denial of dispositions are real features of the world. They seem to reduce to mere descriptions, when the reality is the actual activity itself. Megarans would now be called 'actualists'.
Megaran actualism is just scepticism about the qualities of things [Aristotle]
     Full Idea: In the Megaran view, there will be nothing cold or hot or pleasant or perceptible at all unless someone is currently observing it. So this Megaran wisdom turns out to boil down to rehashed Protagoras.
     From: Aristotle (Metaphysics [c.324 BCE], 1047a10)
     A reaction: I don't think you can defeat the rejection of modal features of reality that easily. The Megarans might, I suppose, be called verificationists. What is the semantic value of a statement about potential?
Megaran actualists prevent anything from happening, by denying a capacity for it to happen! [Aristotle]
     Full Idea: I take it that anything deprived of its potential lacks capacity. But then anything not currently happening will lack the capacity to happen. ...Our brilliant Megaran friends will now have done away with all process and generation!
     From: Aristotle (Metaphysics [c.324 BCE], 1047a15)
     A reaction: The reply, implied in Idea 15490, is that you answer this by examining more closely exactly what is meant by a 'capacity', and showing that it can only boil to down to what is actual.