Colloquium 8

Aristotle and Parmenides: An Interpretation of Physics A8

in Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy
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Colloquium 8

Aristotle and Parmenides: An Interpretation of Physics A8

in Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy


Copyright © Michael J. Loux. From the paper read April 23, 1992, at Clark University as part of the 14th Annual Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy. 1. In attempting to understand Aristotle's response to the Parmenidean argu- ment, one is struck by the fact that recent literature on A.8 seldom attempts to work through the difficult text of A.8. Those writing on the chapter typically provide inferential reconstructions of Aristotle's reply to Parmenides. As philo- sophically interesting as those reconstructions are, they tend to leave large chunks of the text unexplained. This paper is an attempt to identify the line of argument Aristotle actually employs in A.8. Its method is unabashedly that of extended philosophical commentary. I do not claim to have explanations of every line of the chapter, but I hope the paper goes some distance towards delin- eating the main contours of the argument of A.8. I make no apologies for my somewhat tedious attention to the details of Aristotle's response to Parmenides since I believe that clarity on the text of A.8 is a prerequisite to more general philosophical reflection of the sort that has typified recent literature on this chapter.

2. This account is meant merely as an initial attempt at providing a sense for the expression 'comes to be from' and not as a reconstruction of Aristotle's own use of this expression. The fact is that we find both an ordinary prephilosophi- cal use and a technical, philosophical use of 'comes to be from' at work in A.7- A.9. Aristotle explicitly denies that in its nonphilosophical use 'x comes to be from y' is equivalent to 'y comes to be x'. See 190a25-26, where he insists that the former, but not the latter formula applies in the case where a chunk of bronze gets worked up into a statue, and 190a23 where he states the reverse for the case of a man's gaining the skills of a musician. But although he enters these two caveats, he is willing, in the interests of accommodating the Parmenidean use of 'comes to be from' to apply to all cases of change, to concede a philosophical use of this term that applies even in the case of a man's becoming musical. See, for example, 190a32-33. Furthermore, although the kind of case presented by the bronze is one that continues to occupy Aristotle's attention after Physics A (see, e.g., Metaphysics Z.7 and 0.7), his denial of the applicability of the 'y comes to be x' formula for the case of the statue is presented within the context of an argu- ment that this formula is, in fact, the paradigmatic way of capturing the meta- physical structure of a coming to be.

3. Waterlow 1982, p. 8.

4. See, for example, Code 1976, pp.159-186. See, especially, pp.163-166.

5. 317b2-4. 6. See, for example, Lear 1988, pp. 57-58.

7. 191b13-14. 8. See Code 1976, pp. 163ff.; and, Lewis 1991, pp. 228ff.

9. See 185a2lff., 185b25ff., and 186a32-35.

10. 191a23 and 191b33-34.

11. See 1015b16-34, 1017a7 23 and 1017b26-1018a4. For discussion of this dis- tinction see Lewis 1982, pp. 1-36; Lewis 1991, Chapters 3-5; and, Matthews 1982, pp. 223-240.

12. 190b25-27. 13. For a comprehensive discussion of the difficulties in interpreting Aristotle's use of this locution, see Lewis 1991, pp. 236-243. 14.189b34-190a3.

15. 1 do not mean to suggest, however, that we can provide the complete iden- tity-conditions for a change exclusively by reference to its form. Aristotle's very sophisticated account of identity-conditions for change is given at 227b22-228a3.

16. 83a2-18.

17. 83a6 and 13. Actually, Aristotle's example here is a log rather than a man.

18. Lewis 1991, pp. 228-236.

19.190b25-26. 20. 73b5-9, 81b23-29, and 83b2-18.

21. See Ross 1936, pp. 495-496. 22. This is a point that Charlton makes; but while he sees the traditional

manuscript reading as defensible, Charlton follows Ross's emendation. See Charlton 1970, pp. 80-81.

23. See, for example, B.3 which distinguishes 1Co,tà avw[iepnxo5 causes and generic causes. See also the distinction between what is primary and what is 1C<1tà w�(ie(inxo5 in the definition of nature at 192b20-24. 24. See Code, "Aristotle's Response to Quine's Objections to Modal Logic," pp. 159-162 and p. 174 and Lewis, Substance and Predication in Aristotle, pp. 210- 216.

25. 91b24-25.

26. In this paper I have been concerned exclusively with the first of the two ways of responding to the Parmenidean argument identified in A.8. At the end of the chapter Aristotle points to the second line of response when he tells us that "the same things can be said by way of actuality and potentiality." Although Aristotle does not develop this response, it presumably agrees with the first in identifying an ambiguity in the premises of the argument, claiming that under one reading they are true, but under the other, false, and arguing that under the second (but not the first) reading, those premises yield the Parmenidean conclu- sion. The response is most readily reconstructed by reference to the sample characterizations that (a) and (b) generalize. It concedes both that the musical, for example, comes to be from what can be said to be musical and that it is appropriate to speak of the musical coming to be from what is not; and it goes on to argue that neither concession is problematic. What is actually musical comes to be from what is potentially musical; but that does not entail that one and the same coming to be both occurred and failed to do so. That result would follow only if it were the case that what is actually musical comes to be such from being actually musical. Likewise, what is actually musical comes to be from what is not actually musical; but that is not a case of something coming to be ex nihilo; for what was, prior to the change, not actually musical was some- thing else ( a man) that was potentially musical. So like the first response, this response not only shows what is wrong with the Parmenidean argument, but also how the argument could have been the source of puzzlement it was.

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