Lecture 2: Nature, Cause and Change in Aristotle’s Physics Nature. 1.1Matter and Form. 1.2.Potentiality and Actuality 2.Cause and Explanation. 3.Change. Aristotle’s Physics = . Aristotle’s theory of the nature of things – especially of change.
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Nature, Cause and Change in Aristotle’s Physics
1.1Matter and Form.
1.2.Potentiality and Actuality
2.Cause and Explanation.
Aristotle’s theory of the nature of things – especially of change.
Nature – things that grow - /
With the help of these he will argue for two more theses.
1*What a thing is – its nature – is its form, not its matter. (See for example 193b5)
2* What a thing is its complete actualisation its end or telos. II, 2, 194a 20 & 194a 27. (See also Politics 1252 b 30)
1. Matter and Form
This is the view that Aristotle disputes, namely that what a thing is fundamentally, is its matter.
(A part is not a bit. For Aristotle a part shares in the end of the whole.)
But these organs are themselves composites of matter – blood, flesh, bone – that is itself organised. (Animals are not heaps or agglomerates of stuff: they are organised matter. They contain an internal principle of organisation, which is its form.
2.Potentiality or power (dunamis) and actuality (energeia).
(Unlike an artefact. Polypropylene has certain physical characteristics due to its chemical and physical structure; but it does not contain the power to be moulded into a chair or boat.)
The natural growth of the organism is directed towards its final end or telos – acorn to oak tree, tadpole to frog.
“For whatever is the telos of the coming into existence of any being, that is what we call its nature: of man for instance or a horse or a household.” Politics 1252b33
This is why what a thing is, is its form or rather - we can be more specific – is the complete actualisation of this form in matter.
“The form has a better claim than the matter to be called nature. For we call a thing something, when it is that thing in actuality, rather than just potentially.” II, 1, 193b7
N.B. Of course Aristotle thinks that this form is real, not in our minds. Just like the form of a shell is in the shell. This is why, when we have the notion of a shell, we can understand its nature. Nature is intelligible in virtue of its form, not in virtue of its matter. Matter as such – formless stuff – is (or would be if there were any) unintelligible.
Substance and form. Natural forms are ontologically basic. Substance is determined by form and is the reality on which everything else depends. (C.f. modern science.)
Aristotle’s Four Causes aitia –
Four answers to the question why?
Aristotle’s Four Be(cause)s
Four ways of stating what a thing is.
We have already seen these four causes.
These are listed in II,3.
(The stuff or matter.)
(The model or account.)
What brings it into being.
The ‘in order to’. What a thing is for.
Aristotle does not justify this fourfold typology. Maybe he takes it to be a reflection of ordinary speech. Some think he gets it from Plato’s Timaeus.
Aristotle thinks that all these things can be causes.
Very different from modern notions of cause, and causal explanation.
1. No problem with overdetermination.
2. Causes are not events.
3. Not primarily concerned with prediction, but with form and order.