Notebook, 1993--


Ancient Greek Philosophy

Judgment or Proposition
Ten categories
Basic principles
'Theoretical spirit of man'

Born in 384 B.C. at Stagira in the Chalcidice of Macedonia, his father was Nicomachus who was friend and physician to Amyntus II, grandfather of Alexander the Great. He received the traditional education in music, gymnastics, and other subjects, especially in Homer who was the basis of all Greek education. But the turning point in his life for intellectual development was his entrance to the Academy of Plato in 367/6 B.C. at the age of 18. He attended the Academy for a full 20 years, that is, until the death of Plato in 347 B.C. There he mastered the philosophical and scientific knowledge of his time exhaustively.

In 343/2 B.C. he was invited by Philip, King of Macedon, to Pella to undertake the tutorship of Alexander who was then 13 years of age. Thus Alexander, a political and military genius, had the good fortune to have as his teacher a philosophical genius who had been in turn the student of Plato and indirectly of Socrates. This unusual chain of three philosophers, terminating in the political and military genius of Alexander was unparalleled in the history of mankind. Aristotle transplanted his enthusiasm for science and philosophy to the young Alexander and gave him a political and ethical mind of his own. The ideal of the Platonic state, that is, the training of a receptive young prince who would apply his precepts of philosophy when he became ruler of his kingdom, was undoubtedly a thought [p. 173] that had passed through the mind of Aristotle when he undertook the training of Alexander.

In 335 B.C. Aristotle returned to Athens where he founded his own school of philosophy known as the Lyceum, a sacred precinct dedicated to Apollo Lyceius. The Lyceum was later named the Peripatos and the students the Peripatetics, for they were accustomed to carrying on discussions while strolling in the circular arcade [Peripatos] of the Lyceum. This strolling resembles the modern study group or research group more than did the Platonic Academy.

The news of Alexander's death resulted in revolutions in nearly all Greek cities against Macedonian rule and the persecution of the Macedonophiles. Aristotle was one of the first targets of this persecution and the charge of 'disrespect' was the excuse for charging him. He therefore left Athens and went to Chalcis where he had some property inherited from his mother. A year later, in 322 B.C., he died at the age of 63.

The works of Aristotle include: 1] his books on Logic which were later grouped together under the inclusive name of the 'Organon', for they dealt with the general method of research. The most important of these are the 'Categories', 'On Interpretation', 'Analytica Priora', 'Analytical Posteriora', etc. 2] the Natural and Physiological works such as 'Physic Acroasis', 'Physica', 'On the Heavens', 'On the Soul', and so on. 3] the work 'Metaphysica' consisting of fourteen books. This title comes from Andronicus of Rhodes, a peripatetic philosopher of the first Century B.C. who called it so because in the series of manuscripts it came after the 'Physica'. The Aristotelian name of the work is 'First Principles of Philosophy'. 4] and finally, the ethical and political works referred to as the 'Nicomachean Ethics', 'Eudemian Ethics', 'Politica', and 'On the Polities', 'Rhetoric', and the 'Poetics'.

Aristotle was the first and the foremost of the great systematic philosophers. He organized scientific knowledge into branches which until his time were not separate and independent sciences, and thus was responsible for the birth of many separate sciences and branches of philosophy. But his exclusive creation, to which he owes his fame and reputation, is the science of Logic. He developed it as a separate branch of philosophy which until this day is the primer of a philosophical education. Whereas Socrates strove to clarify the concept, Aristotle attempted to explore the meaning of judgment or proposition. The principal characteristic of judgment is whether it is true or false. Judgment consists of the pair of concepts, the verb "is' or another verb, a copula, which of course exists only in our thinking and not in the things themselves. Judgment or proposition, however, is not [p. 173] only a copula but a separation of the meanings in which case it is expressed by the negative 'not'. The meaning of judgment corresponds, according to Aristotle, to the ontological behaviour of the objects. In other words, judgment is true when within itself the intellect unites elements that are in reality also copulated. Judgment is false when the intellect or mind joins things which in reality are apart, that is, knowledge through judgment understands or grasps an objective state of things. The meaning of judgment and the behavior of objects which we judge move in parallel. Syllogism consists of more judgments. Syllogism can be productive [predication] and inductive. In the former instance it is motivated by the general and moves to the special, in the latter case the reverse process takes place.

Every judgment consists of two concepts, the subject and the predicate or object. Each of these falls, according to Aristotle, in a certain 'category'. The category is a manner of description. Whatever is said in one sentence, indicates either one substance or one quantity, or one quality, or one relationship, and so on. In the sentence, for example, 'The horse is black and large', the horse can be characterized as the substance, black can be described as the quality, and large as the quantity. Aristotle drew up a list of ten categories. These categories are of the nature of logic and ontological. Those that are logical are manners, forms of speech, ontologically they are genders of being, which belong to things. Substance is the first and the basic category. This is the subject or predicate, that is, the foundation on which all other things are related.

Lastly, all judgments or propositions and therefore all the syllogisms are supported by certain basic principles, respected by every man, who maintains that he thinks logically. These principles are four in number: identity, contradiction, the adequate word, and the excluded third. Supreme, according to Aristotle, is the principle of contradiction. In accordance with this precept, it is impossible for some thing to be and not to be at the same time, that is, two conflicting judgments cannot be true at the same time, such as, 'the snow is white, the snow is not white'.

In his 'First Philosophy' or 'Metaphysics', Aristotle explores the nature of the real, the essential substance of the universe. It contains the basic principles of the Aristotelian system and his theory of the universe. In the monumental and epigrammatic opening phrase that 'All men naturally desire knowledge', and with the ascertainment that knowledge of the 'because' is superior than knowledge of the 'that', Aristotle defines the first philosophy as the knowledge of principles and the cause of all things. This knowledge is self-contained and does not serve another end, it is knowledge of knowledge. The other sciences are useful, and serve some purpose or aim, but this kind is the best which satisfies the theoretical spirit of man. The object of such knowledge is 'being-in-itself'. In examining the being, the first philosophy or metaphysics, as it was thereafter known, sought the principles of being as a being, for, as Aristotle said, only then will we have real knowledge, when we understand the first cause, that is, the principle of the things.

A basic pair of concepts in the philosophy of Aristotle is the couple 'matter-form'. This pair explains, in an entirely new way, both the physical and the historical 'becoming'. Every thing that becomes consists of a foundation, a substratum and a form. The procedure of becoming requires two things, the matter as a substratum and the form. By matter Aristotle means the single passive base of 'becoming', a principal wholly indefinite, whereas the form is that which makes a thing what it is. The form functions, shapes and defines the thing, that is, it is the activating principal . What is it that makes a piece of marble a statue? What is that which converts a piece of wood into furniture? Nothing else but the form. And both the matter and the form are transcendent and imperishable entities. Matter and form are never apart one from the other. Matter cannot exist without the form, and form cannot exist without the matter. The most important and the most valuable is of course form. This applies equally to the creations of man and to the creations of nature. On account of this superiority of form over matter, that is, the superior value of form, matter tends by nature to fall into form. Matter 'reaches out in desire' according to Aristotle, to form, for with it, it becomes complete, it is 'formed'.

A second, perhaps even more basic, pair of concepts in the Aristotelian philosophy is that of 'capacity or power-functioning or activity'. The 'power being' is some thing between being and not-being [concepts over which the pre-Socratic philosophers argued]. From the 'power being' and not from point nothing is it possible for the being to be created. With the introduction of the concept of 'power being' or capacity, Aristotle explains the procedure also of the organic becoming, that is, the generation of the forms of life, and the historical becoming, that is, the generation of the creations of man. The seed is the 'power being' and from this with the procedure of becoming results the functioning or 'activity being', that is to say, a specific form of animal or plant. Within this seed exists by virtue of 'power' the entire form of life which emerges when the procedure of becoming passes through the necessary stages and reaches its final object, that is, 'activity being'. The same occurs in art. A block of marble has an innate 'activity' of whatever will become 'power' when the sculptor gives the marble a certain shape. There is certainly a difference. The seed contains within itself the potential, or state of completion, as Aristotle puts it, which is motivated by virtue of its 'power' and 'activity', whereas the marble 'power being' is latent and requires the activity of the artist to convert it into 'activity being', that is, the work of art. The 'becoming' according to the great philosopher, is the passage from potency to actuality. Actuality is logically and ontologically prior to potency, hence the necessity of a first mover always in a state of actuality.

Aristotle harshly criticizes Plato's theory of ideas, and denied that the ideas were immaterial, self-contained matter, independent things. Nevertheless, we cannot say that he altered the Platonic idea from an immaterial to a material thing, that is, to an esoteric form of things. For as we have seen the concept of form is superior to the concept of matter, despite the fact that both are essential for the formation of the "substance". Substance is defined by Aristotle as both matter and form, that is, as a compound of the two, a compound that forms 'this something', the specific object or end. Nevertheless, the substance is distinguished by matter which is called 'power substance' and by form, the 'eidos' or appearance which is innate in the matter, and is deemed by Aristotle as the superior substance. It is true that the matter and the form are never divorced one from the other, they make up only a part of that which Aristotle called 'the something'. At all events, the 'why' of a specific being, of a 'this something' of a substance, lies in its form and not in the matter, and thus Aristotle does not completely reject the ideas of Plato, he merely places them in the things rather than putting them in the world of ideas as did Plato. [p. 175]

Aristotle defines man as a 'political animal', and characterizes the 'one not able to socialize or needing nothing for self-sufficiency' as a 'beast or a god'. He criticizes harshly Plato's ideas of an ideal republic. Aristotle attacks his ideas of communization and wealth-sharing, and instead of drawing an ideal form of state, as Plato, he describes what he believes to be the only three possible forms of government: monarchy, rule by the aristocracy, and the republic. In the first, power is concentrated in the hands of one man, in the second in the hands of a few, and in third in the hands of the people. The use of political power in the three possibilities may all be either good or bad, when in fact there result six types of government. The three beneficial are the monarchy, the rule by aristocracy, and the republic [of a mixed form of oligarchy and democracy]. The three worse kinds are the dictatorship, the oligarchy, and democracy [rule by the mob or the masses]. [pp. 173-175]

[Kyriazis, Constantine D. Eternal Greece. Translated by Harry T. Hionides. A Chat Publication. pp. 172-176]



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