Critical reviews of Aristotle's Metaphysics

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jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 10 Apr, 2010 08:02 pm
Here is a question about Aristotle's metaphysics.

We all know now that despite Aristotle's great learning and insight, his Physics is thoroughly outmoded. Such ideas as objects 'wanting' to be nearer the earth, objects of different masses falling at different speeds, and objects requiring continued energy to keep moving, are often given as text-book examples of the misconceptions that the ancients had about relatively straightforward questions.

Now in the case of physics, it is fairly easy to correct such errors by the experimental method and verification of the results, which in the subject of physical masses is very straightforward (up to a point, anyway). Among Galileo's achievements were the proofs that many of the basic assumptions of Aristotle's physics were incorrect.

So I have often wondered if it might be the case that Aristotle's metaphysics might also contain elementary errors which are analogous to those found in his Physics?

I am interested because, on the whole, metaphysics has been relegated to academic study in the modern world, which has left many gaps, in my opinion, in modern thinking. There are many concepts in Aristotle which may still be directly relevant to the modern outlook - I am thinking especially of the related ideas of telos and entelechy in the biological sciences. I have also noticed that contemporary Thomist philosophers such as Gilson and Maritain have a depth of thought in metaphysical thinking which is found practically nowhere else in modern philosophy.

So the question is: are there critical reviews of Aristotle's metaphysics which have attempted to update his metaphysics in light of subsequent developments in philosophy and science? Or is it more the case that he is generally identified with the Scholastic tradition, and as such only of interest to Catholic intellectuals, academics, and historians?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 10 Apr, 2010 08:47 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;150409 wrote:
Here is a question about Aristotle's metaphysics.

We all know now that despite Aristotle's great learning and insight, his Physics is thoroughly outmoded. Such ideas as objects 'wanting' to be nearer the earth, objects of different masses falling at different speeds, and objects requiring continued energy to keep moving, are often given as text-book examples of the misconceptions that the ancients had about relatively straightforward questions.

Now in the case of physics, it is fairly easy to correct such errors by the experimental method and verification of the results, which in the subject of physical masses is very straightforward (up to a point, anyway). Among Galileo's achievements were the proofs that many of the basic assumptions of Aristotle's physics were incorrect.

So I have often wondered if it might be the case that Aristotle's metaphysics might also contain elementary errors which are analogous to those found in his Physics?

I am interested because, on the whole, metaphysics has been relegated to academic study in the modern world, which has left many gaps, in my opinion, in modern thinking. There are many concepts in Aristotle which may still be directly relevant to the modern outlook - I am thinking especially of the related ideas of telos and entelechy in the biological sciences. I have also noticed that contemporary Thomist philosophers such as Gilson and Maritain have a depth of thought in metaphysical thinking which is found practically nowhere else in modern philosophy.

So the question is: are there critical reviews of Aristotle's metaphysics which have attempted to update his metaphysics in light of subsequent developments in philosophy and science? Or is it more the case that he is generally identified with the Scholastic tradition, and as such only of interest to Catholic intellectuals, academics, and historians?


I would have thought that analytic philosophy updates Aristotle insofar as that was possible. For example, analytic philosophy discusses the notion of purpose in the light of what we understand about explanation. Aristotle's notion of mind as a function of the body is expanded upon in Gilbert Ryle's seminal, The Concept of Mind, which as been described as "aristotelian". Of course, Aristotle's logic has been transformed by propositional logic, and set theory. So that the answer to your question is, certainly.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 10 Apr, 2010 09:49 pm
@jeeprs,
But I can't help but feel that analytical philosophy has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

But let's wait and see what others have to say.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 10 Apr, 2010 09:55 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;150429 wrote:
But I can't help but feel that analytical philosophy has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

But let's wait and see what others have to say.


Or kept the baby, and thrown out the bathwater.
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Sun 11 Apr, 2010 10:02 am
@kennethamy,
jeeprs;150409 wrote:
Here is a question about Aristotle's metaphysics.

We all know now that despite Aristotle's great learning and insight, his Physics is thoroughly outmoded. Such ideas as objects 'wanting' to be nearer the earth, objects of different masses falling at different speeds, and objects requiring continued energy to keep moving, are often given as text-book examples of the misconceptions that the ancients had about relatively straightforward questions.

Now in the case of physics, it is fairly easy to correct such errors by the experimental method and verification of the results, which in the subject of physical masses is very straightforward (up to a point, anyway). Among Galileo's achievements were the proofs that many of the basic assumptions of Aristotle's physics were incorrect.

So I have often wondered if it might be the case that Aristotle's metaphysics might also contain elementary errors which are analogous to those found in his Physics?

I am interested because, on the whole, metaphysics has been relegated to academic study in the modern world, which has left many gaps, in my opinion, in modern thinking. There are many concepts in Aristotle which may still be directly relevant to the modern outlook - I am thinking especially of the related ideas of telos and entelechy in the biological sciences. I have also noticed that contemporary Thomist philosophers such as Gilson and Maritain have a depth of thought in metaphysical thinking which is found practically nowhere else in modern philosophy.

So the question is: are there critical reviews of Aristotle's metaphysics which have attempted to update his metaphysics in light of subsequent developments in philosophy and science? Or is it more the case that he is generally identified with the Scholastic tradition, and as such only of interest to Catholic intellectuals, academics, and historians?


I really like this analysis; it's very insightful and well constructed. As far as I understand the subject, particularly in regards to the mesh between the physics and metaphysics (which is problematic in itself because what we see Organon and Metaphysics is very very different in context even though it is supposedly by the same person), I read the principle features of Aristotle's physics based in causation, kinematics, theology, etc. Needless to say it's a problematic area. I think general misconceptions of ancient physics (not only Aristotle) are as numerous as the possible outcomes people could guess for any certain probability. But those are what make then invaluable and unique.

But you could very easily look at quite a few of Aristotle's works and find contradictions and errors within them. But I suppose that is the philosophers prerogative I suppose, to state something in one treatise and change his/her mind in the latter (and have us end up debating whether or not the mistake was implied in any case LOL!).

Here is a prime example. In Metaphysics book 4, Aristotle defines the program of "first philosophy." The science of "being qua being" is to be distinguished from such departments as science as mathematics and nature. But flip through the first few dozen pages of Organon and this mission statement is an obvious contradiction. The Aristotle of Organon makes it very plainly known that universal science is flat out rejected since it professes to deal with reality as a whole. So to put this in finer perspective. First philosophy [the science of being qua being (being as being in itself)] in which the Metaphysics is based, is all about claiming universality. And its also odd that the methods derived in Physics and Organon are not prevalent in MetaphysicsMetaphysics by Jonathan Barnes. Goes to say that even Aristotle was trying to update his own works and leaving a rather confusing legacy in the process.

As far as the general question, you can look at the numerous commentaries on Aristotle's Metaphysics throughout the scholastic period (and even before that but not to a great degree of consideration for "scientific" (used loosely) inquiry) to get well intentioned updates to the general philosophy. The must read of course is St. Thomas Aquinas's commentary (which I think you implicitly mentioned). It's so relative though with trying to update an ancient philosophy. Honestly, I think I could apply Douglas Hofstadter and Aristotle quite nicely together and then apply the abstract principles of first philosophy to his own confusing works. But I tend to favor philosophical isolationism, so that's my particular bias.
 
SamOrI
 
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2010 02:25 pm
@jeeprs,
There are still Aristotelian-Thomistic thinkers today. Edward Feser is one. There is also a movement called Analytical Thomism, which updates Thomistic (and, by extension, Aristotelian) thought and marries it with contemporary analytic philosophy. John Haldane is an example of an analytical Thomist.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Wed 21 Apr, 2010 03:32 pm
@jeeprs,
thanks! That blog of Edward Feser has a lot in it. I shall do some more reading. The argument between Thomism and Intelligent Design is also very interesting. (I'm with the Thomists, from what I know thus far.) Rather a good essay on it here: Thomas Aquinas vs the Intelligent Designers

---------- Post added 04-22-2010 at 07:35 AM ----------

Also have a look at Medieval History of Science and Religion
 
Oaken
 
Reply Thu 5 Sep, 2013 08:11 pm
Feser is first rate. Should be better known. Besides being a splendid explicator of Aristotle and Thomas, he's very much into contemporary questions of consciousness, science, a political philosophy (though he's much too conservative for my taste in politics :-)
 
 

 
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