Aristotle - Physics, causality, ethics or something else?

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Arjen
 
Reply Mon 8 Oct, 2007 02:12 pm
One thing that has always caught my attention when speaking of Aristotle were his ethics (or lack thereof). It puzzles me where he got his ideas, if not why he calls them ethical.

Aristotle's ethics are focussed around something which he calls "telos". The word means end, goal or purpose. In his ethics he states that the telos of being human is to do that for which a human was created. That would constitute a "good" life in his opinion. He states that the thing which separates humans from all other beings is the ability to reason. Therefore, he reasoned ( Wink ), the telos of humanity is to reason.

The entire theory puzzles me because I simply do not think that to reason is to lead a good life. I can only assume a man as smart as Aristotle should have noticed the flaw in his reasoning. Then again, I have the benefit of living after world war II. I simply take into mind Joseph Mengele and with him all theories concluding a man of reason to be a "good" man melts like Antarctica's icecaps. I bet people like this existed in that day and age...Dionysios for example.

Aristotle's ethics seem to be funded in his metaphysics. In his reasoning he speaks of three causes that point to the final cause (telos) in a causal way:

1) The material cause is that from which a thing comes into existence as from its physical components; the substratum.
2) The formal cause is the determination of the definitions of a thing, while at the same time being the general lawsthat govern it.
3) The efficient cause is that which causes change, or which brings something about.

These three causes natuarally beg the question what caused them in the first place. The final cause seems to answer both the former as well as the next question: "What is the final result?"
Aristotle's telos combines the two in the way that the cause of something is the purpose of it and therefore it's (desired?) end result. It makes the equasion round so to speak.

The thing that puzzles me about this is that Aristotle himself defines a cause as a necessary relation. That which causes something must always come before that which is caused. It, therefore, is also sufficient to cause it. If, indeed, the final cause is that which Aristotle calls telos, why is it not a necessary consequence of that final cause? Do we not, each of us, know of people who exist in a catatonic state or that are born braindead?

Perhaps there is something that I do not understand. I would appreciate any and all ideas in this matter.
 
Arjen
 
Reply Tue 9 Oct, 2007 03:09 pm
@Arjen,
To dot the I's:
I noticed I had made a mistake when Typing the first post. It is not in his metaphysics where Aristotle searches for his causes, but in his Physics. Hence the topictitle. I, unfortunately, forgot to replace it in the post itself though.
 
Pythagorean
 
Reply Wed 10 Oct, 2007 12:55 am
@Arjen,
Arjen,


I do know that the purpose of a thing is that which gives that thing its most natural identity, it's what defines its natural being.

A house for example is not ultimately a complex of sundry materials, rather it provides a place in which human beings live; the most natural or ultimate meaning of a house therefore is a place in which people live. The sundry materials of which the house is constructed are secondary to the real nature of the house as a dwelling place for human beings. So the 'telos' is the living-space for man, which inspires the architect to hire the under-labourers to construct out of matter a house which only has meaning by being lived in. Then the meaning of a house is further subordinated to the happiness or the "good" of its inhabitants.

For example, one would not say to someone to 'hand me that glass structure' when one is referring to a drinking cup - one would say instead to 'hand me that cup'. The ultimate identity or purpose of a natural thing is its final definition. Or else the purpose is subordinate to a greater purpose, -such as the health of a person who uses the cup to nourish their body with fluids.

So for Aristotle there is no such thing as an isolated particle of matter since then that isolated matter would posess no purpose. It is to the natural philosopher to discover the working unity of the existing 'parts' in nature.

Maybe one question one would ask is: to what extent should a 'brain-dead' person be considered a person? Or to what extent does being 'brain-dead' diminish the identity or definition of person-hood? This is for medical ethics the question par excellence. (*Since they wouldn't want to remove the feeding tubes from an 'actual' person.)

Also one might ask: to what extent do people who do not philosophize lose their value as human beings? Or to put it another way (for liberal ears) what human enhancements are those who do not philosophize missing out on? (To frame this question in an even more modern sense one might ask: should a man who squanders his life with recreational drug use be given the same level of esteem as the man who works diligently trying to discover a cure for childhood cancers? - Of course, for Aristotle as a philosopher, the saving of the lives of children with cancer would be subordinate to the philosophical 'good' of just knowing what the cure consists of, because the 'good' of philosophical knowledge lies not in its specialty but in its generalization.)
 
perplexity
 
Reply Wed 10 Oct, 2007 04:00 am
@Arjen,
Physics, causality and ethics are nothing but for the "something else" of perception.

:p
 
Arjen
 
Reply Wed 10 Oct, 2007 10:05 am
@perplexity,
That is a nice fact filled post Pythagorean. I posed the same question to my philosophy professor recently and he came up with roughly the same answer. I beg to differ however. I am under the impression that neither you, nor my philosophy professor understand the scope of the question. Allow me to clarify (I hope you would be willing to ponder the question some more):

- Aristotle defines a cause as being necessary and sufficient to both make something happen and be it's desired end result.
- Seeing as everything has several different aspects he concludes there are four causes for everything.
- One cause is not sufficient, but it is necessary. The four causes together are necessary.
- The end result is the most important cause, for it states what the desired end result is. It is the intention wherewith the coming-to-be of something was started (a.k.a. telos).
- Aristotle defines the telos of humans to be reason(ing).

The grand total of all these thoughts is that all humans are born to reason. It is their telos. The four causes being present (necessarily so because else it be no human) define that all humans will reach this reasoning state; their telos. However you and I both know that there are a number of people who never will because they are in a catatonic state, braindead or perhaps merely insane (which I presume can be so erratic to no longer be defined as reason). There must be a flaw in the reasoning. One of these is the flaw in my mind:

-Therefore some people will not reach thier telos. Therefore the telos reason is not a necessary result of the four causes and it cannot be the telos of humans.
- The four causes are not enough grounds for humans to reach their telos and perhaps there are more causes needed to accomplish this.
- The four causes are not enough grounds for humans to reach their telos and perhaps the four causes have nothing to do with the endresult of anything.
- The definition of either cause or telos is not accurate, or it is made up and has no grounds in "reality" (whatever that may be).

So, are these thoughts accurate or am I missing something?
 
Arjen
 
Reply Wed 17 Oct, 2007 11:48 am
@Arjen,
My philosophy professor has put in some work. He has concluded that the four grounds are not enough for humans to reach their telos (happines (eudaemonia)). There are also external factors at work:
- Normal lifespan
- Health
- Niet all too ugly
- Friends and family who care for the person in question

So, not everybody can reach the telos.
In this manner Aristotle decides that reason is in effect more important than eudaemonia itself. For by reasoning we can reach eudaemonia. So, reason is the more important because that part we can do ourselves.

Case closed I suppose.

It does mean, however that his cause-theories are flawed.
 
philosophy123
 
Reply Mon 22 Oct, 2007 04:30 am
@Arjen,
i think too tha its most natural identity
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