Chapter Four

The Place of the Good in Aristotle's Natural Teleology

in Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy
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  • Copyright © 1988 Allan Gotthelf. Revised from the paper read November 19, 1987, at Clark University, as part of the Tenth Annual Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy. 1. Gotthelf 1976/77, reprinted with a long "Postscript 1986" as Gotthelf 1987a. Cf. Gotthelf 1980, 19876. 2. By the "goodness" of X here and throughout I mean merely X's being good (in whatever way, and for whatever subject, if any, it is). I do not mean to restrict the term to moral virtue.

  • 3. Cooper 1982, p. 197 (1987, p. 245). 4. Kahn 1985, p. 197. 5. Or peanov ("better") or eo ("well"), etc. Cooper lists several of these passages in 1982, p. 197n1 (1987, p. 245n4).

  • 6. At this point in my Colloquium lecture I presented an overview of my inter- pretation of Aristotle's natural teleology, drawing heavily on section I of the Postscript 1986 to the reprinting of my 1976/77 essay in Gotthelf and Lennox 1987. Much of Dory Scaltsas' discussion concerns this now omitted portion, but as these pages have already appeared in print, it does not seem appropriate to reproduce them here. Interested readers may find the material in Gotthelf 1987a, pp. 230-234, and Dr. Scaltsas has kindly agreed to adjust his references to that

  • source. Later in the paper I introduce those aspects of that discussion which are most directly relevant to my rejection of the normative analysis of Aristotelian ends, and I comment on Dory's remarks in n29 below and in the Appendix which follows the body of this paper. 7. Here Kahn footnotes my 1976/77 paper. 8. 1044b34-1045a3; tr. Furth. Cf. De An. 1.4 408bl8-24: "The intellect seems to be born in us as a kind of substance and not to be destroyed. For it would be

  • destroyed if at all by the feebleness of old age, while as things are what happens is similar to what happens in the case of the sense-organs. For if an old man acquired an eye of a certain kind, he would see as well as even a young man. Hence old age is not due to the soul's being affected in a certain way, but to this happen- ing to that which the soul is in, as is the case in drunkenness and disease" (tr. Hamlyn, emphasis added). 9. Some such view of form is presented in Preus 1979. By "independent" I mean here and elsewhere "not itself defined or analyzed in terms of the notion of an end."

  • 10. This passage together with 1228bl8ff. suggests the identity of the class of things good ipuaei with the more frequently mentioned class of things good å1OOç (for references, cf. Cooper 1975, p. 127n37). 11.1095b9ff. 12. 1113a29-33; cf. 1138bl8-34, 1139a26-31, 1140b4-6, 20-21, etc., and generally Cooper 1975, ch. 2. 13. Something like this must be the meaning of Aristotle's remark at 1098a8-10: "a so-and-so and a good so-and-so have a function which is the same in kind," though this is an unorthodox use of "same in kind." A few lines later Aristotle

  • (or some scholiast) explains "well" in terms of "excellence"-"any action is well performed when it is performed in accordance with the appropriate excellence" (a14-15)-but in 2.6 excellence is itself explained in terms of "well": "every excel- lence both completes (à.1t01:eÂ.Ei) the thing of which it is the excellence, making it [be] itself well, and makes (ajto8t8footv) the function of that thing be done well" (1106al5-17; I have modified the first part of the Ross/Urmson translation). See also On Youth and Old Age 469a28-31, quoted below p. 122. 14 Balme 1987b. 15. "PA 2, 654al9; 3, 662a33, b3, 7; 4, 677al6, 678a4-16, 683b37, 684a3, 685a28, 687b29, 691b1; Resp. 476al2" (Balme 1987b, p. 277n5). The rest of the note, on "the valuable" (Ti.�LOV), will be discussed below.

  • 18. Man is brought in here more as a transition to explaining the organization of the rest of the treatise around man (646a8ff.) than as exemplifying something fundamental to the claim he exemplifies. 19. What is required over and above sensation for "living well"? If having a share of the divine is a necessary condition, then probably reason is (though bees are once said to have something of divinity in them, too: cf. GA 761a5), and maybe having a share of living well means having a share of happiness, as per EN 1095al8-19. If having some divinity is only a sufficient condition, we are even more in the dark as to what the significance of "living well" is here. The exploration of "the well" as such may help us with this. See below, p. 128n27. 20. De An. 434b22-29, 435b17-25 (cf. 420b19-22); Sens. 436bl3-437al7.

  • 21. Cf. 434b22-29, 435b4-25. The argument that their presence is after all neces- sary leads Richard Sorabji (1980, pp. 157-158) to dismiss them as true examples of 'luxury organs." 22. De An. 416bl4 and surroundings. 23. In the passage from IA 8 quoted above, note the i8�a ouaia at 708all-12.

  • 24. Cf. Sorabji 1980, pp.157-158. 25. Lennox 1985, pp. 149-154.

  • 26. 706bl4-16. The "parts" (jiopia) mentioned at the end of the sentence are the parts of the body designated by upper/lower, front/back, etc., i.e. the places (cf. bll and what precedes it). It is a difficulty for this interpretation that Aristotle says that the Platonic way of looking at it is œÂ.Ó"yroç, and that his way is xaXSx^ which would seem to suggest that the two approaches are on a par. xvi does sometimes mean "in fact," and I count on that, and an assumed Aristo- telian tone of voice, in endorsing Balme's and Lennox's reading of the passage; on xai cf. Denniston 1954, p. 317.

  • 27. On this picture those forms which rise above the basic minimum for sur- vival as animals could be said not just to live but to live well. Why the line is drawn where it is would, however, still remain unclear: why, for instance, on this picture, did Aristotle not view plants as living and all animals as living well? I don't have a clear answer to this. I would like to think the issue in not an important one, and varies with the context, much as the criterion for which animals are "complete" (reMa) and which are not does (cf. Gotthelf 1987b, p. 182n43); but I don't find any evidence for that.

  • 28. 731b18-732al; 415a23-b7; 336b25-34.

  • 29. 1072b10-16; emphasis added. The omitted words, quoted in Dory Scaltsas' comments, distinguish three senses of "necessary"; the relevant sense is clearly "that which cannot be otherwise but is absolutely necessary." Dory suggests that the relevant one is "that without which the good (to clu) is impossible" but that cannot be right. It would make the prime mover's existence contingent on the existence of other good things (or refer to the epistemological necessity within Aristotle's system that without the prime mover one could not explain the good- ness of the world—but the parallel passage in Metaph. 5 5 makes clear, if it needs making clear, that that cannot be meant). The necessity of the prime mover's existence has just been inferred (apa: 1072bl0) from the preceding lines, and in those lines Aristotle has argued that the prime mover "can in no way be other- wise than it is" (1072b8; compare o<)8a� with å1tÀcÎx; at bI0). 1072bl3-30 is difficult but does not count against the interpretation of the good here offered. On grounds that are not entirely clear, Aristotle assumes that the prime mover's activity will be like our own best activity, then infers from its ability (and necessity) to be engaged in this activity always that its activity will be better than ours, in fact best of all. This is surely compatible with (even if it does not entail) the dependence of goodness on actuality.

  • 30. Cf. Pol. 2, 1261b9-10: 'Surely the good for each thing is what preserves each thing." The scale of value and wellness might derive from the connection between goodness and actuality: those beings or faculties are more valuable whose life is most fully actual most of the time. Something like this might be the force of the De Caelo passages Charles Kahn discusses (Kahn 1985), if one gives them a more "minimalist" and naturalistic reading than Kahn is willing to. The anonymous reader of the earlier version of this paper asks what content there is to the surely Aristotelian proposition that the full actuality of a living thing is its good, if goodness is defined in terms of actuality, as I claim it is. It is perhaps clearer in this draft than it was in the foregoing that I do not mean goodness to be exhausted by actuality: as I suggest in the text just above, the assertion that some state of a living organism is good for it is an assertion that it contributes to the full actuality of that living organism and that that full actuality is something aimed at by that organism. What that comes to, on my view, is that the (full set of) soul-capacities whose exercise constitutes the organism's actuali- ty are irreducible capacities for form, in the sense described in Gotthelf 1987a. Thus, to the reader's question, "Is the [teleological] explanation complete when we say 'X occurs because X contributes to the full actuality', or is the latter's goodness the reason why it is an end for the sake of which X occurs?," I answer: neither. For the teleological explanation to be complete one must add to the schema "X occurs because X contributes to the full actuality" the clause "and the full actuality is something aimed at"-i.e., on my view, "and is the object of an irreducible UvaiLt;." For the way irreducible ÔUVål1ElÇ generate teleological explanations, see Gotthelf 1987a, pp. 231-232. The reader asks too whether I think the analysis of goodness in terms of actu- ality and aims is "Aristotle's deliberate position or...simply all that A. needs in order to apply his teleology in the ways he does in the Physics and biological works." It is Aristotle's deliberate position, I think, but to establish that I would have to provide a fuller discussion of the relevant passages in Metaphysics and in Nicomachean Ethics 1 and 10 than I have. I take the argument of this paper to be a prima facie case for the stronger thesis. The reader asks, finally, whether the eternal motion caused by the prime mover is not an eternally continuous actuality, and thus whether the unique goodness of the prime mover derives rather from its thinking than from its actu- ality. I would like myself to think that the outermost sphere's eternal motion is an eternally continuous actuality and thus that Aristotle has no real need for the prime mover in his system (as he may have thought when writing parts of De Caelo), but I don't think in writing 12 and the central books of the Metaphysics Aristotle thought so. More precisely, I think he viewed the sphere's eternal motion as he viewed all motion: as an "incomplete actuality." This is part of what I have in mind in saying below that a full discussion of these issues requires a

  • dose look at the discussion of actuality in Metaphysics 8 6, because it is there that Aristotle distinguishes full actualities from incomplete ones, classing think- ing under the former and motion under the latter. Cf. 1048bl8-36 and Kosman 1969 and 1984. 31. I use "state" as an all-purpose term and not as designating a el;t5 rather than an ivipyeta; in fact the "state" in question will always be an evepyeia. 32. Cf. Gotthelf 1987a, Postscript 1986, sec. I.

  • 33. Most of the passages cited or referred to at the beginning of this paper as evidence for the normative analysis occur as part of dialectical or other contexts in which Aristotle is moving to rather than from his teleological theory. Only the De Somno passage assumes the theory, and in that case there is no reason, given the argument of this paper, not to take its use of good to determine end as heuristic. John Cooper's insistence that "unless one bears the connection between goal and good clearly in mind one will fail to understand much that Aristotle says about natural teleology, and many applications he makes of it" (above p. 114) is apparently based, in part at least, on the following considera- tions : (i) his analysis of the first argument in Physics 2.8; (ii) the occurrence of explanations by reference to "the better," and the variety of types of such expla- nation ; and (iii) the occurrence of explanations by reference to "the honorable." I discuss (i) in Gotthelf 1987a, p. 222n38, and (ii) and (iii) in this paper, above. (On (ii) see also Gotthelf 1987a, p. 234.) Employment of Woodfield's analysis to understand Aristotle is complicated by Woodfield's peculiar stipulation, in dis- cussing teleological descriptions of intentional actions, that "S believes that G is a good" in his analysis means no more than "S wants to do G" (1976, pp. 204, 207). This creates problems for the claim that Woodfield offers a unified analysis that could be of help in understanding Aristotle. On these problems, and on Woodfield 1976 generally, see Wright 1978 and Nissen 1984. The close connec- tion between desire (in the human case) and 8uvay5 (in the biological) provides the key to understanding the way in which Aristotle's own analysis is in fact unified (cf. Phys. 199al8-20 and Gotthelf 1987a pp. 214nl9 and 232).

  • 34. I would like to thank Dory Scaltsas, and everyone else who participated, for the lively discussion that capped our Colloquium session, as well as David Balme, William Charlton, Mary Louise Gill, Aryeh Kosman, James Lennox, and an anonymous reader, for helpful written comments on that version of this paper. For a response to Dory's comments, see the Appendix which follows.

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