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Ancient Philosophy


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Aristotle Posterior Analytics

From Inquiry to Demonstrative Knowledge: New Essays on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics edited by J. H. Lesher (Academic Printing and Publishing)  ISBN 9781926598017. Aristotle's Posterior Analytics is regarded as an original work that determined the course of philosophy of science — and to some extent of science itself — for two millennia. Nevertheless the work poses many challenges to the scholar. How does the demonstrative syllogism that is the focus of Aristotle's interest in the APo relate to the non-syllogistic accounts of phenomena that we find in his scientific treatises? How do the accounts of knowledge, definition, and explanation put forward in the APo stand in relation to other elements in Aristotle's philosophy — his accounts of substance, the four causes, the distinctions between actuality and potentiality, form and matter, processes and activities, etc? How exactly do we know the first principles of scientific inquiry: why should we suppose that we have access to some non-demonstrative way of knowing, why in explaining how we can know first principles does Aristotle focus instead on how we form concepts, and what could it possibly mean to say that 'while we perceive the particular, perception is of the universal'? The distinguished contributors to this volume address all of these questions and more. The volume sets a new standard for the interpretation and assessment of one of Aristotle's most important philosophical works.

Reviewed by Christopher Shields, University of Oxford for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Published as consecutive numbers of the journal Apeiron, these conference proceedings reproduce papers delivered at the Duke-UNC-Chapel Hill Conference in Ancient Philosophy held in 2009 on the topic of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. These papers are intended for specialists in Ancient Philosophy and, more narrowly, for those with a research focus on Aristotle's account of epistêmê (science, or knowledge, or perhaps branch of knowledge -- several of the papers query the meaning of the term in Aristotle's use and so also its most suitable rendering in English). Despite its narrow focus, given the liveliness and accessibility of several of its papers, the volume may prove of interest to a wider audience, including philosophers of science and epistemologists concerned with questions of first principles.

The volume comprises five papers, each followed by a commentary, some more and some less independent of their target papers; a brief, useful introduction by the editor; and three indices, of passages, of modern names, and of subjects. Greek words are sometimes transliterated and sometimes not, depending, it seems, upon the preferences of the authors. (Some manifest both preferences.) The volume is reasonably well produced, though below the standard of a single, continuous treatise, with some inconsistencies in formatting, again, it seems, depending upon the preferences of individual authors.

The contributors and their primary contentions, in brief:

(1) In 'Aristotle's Natural Science: the Many and the One,' James Lennox draws attention, crisply and fairly, to a tension in Aristotle's presentation and practice of epistêmê: while often speaking as if all natural science were somehow single in content and method, Aristotle equally calls attention to the subject-specific peculiarities of methods suited to distinct branches of natural science (so Meteorologica I 1 and De Partibus Animalium I 1), thus leaving the impression that he finds less unity of method in practice than he would ideally like in theory. Lennox's judiciously tentative conclusion: 'at some point Aristotle realized that the goal of a unified knowledge . . . was not to be achieved by means of a single, undifferentiated method of investigation' (21). In her equally judicious comments, Gisela Striker provides reason for supposing both that the divergence Aristotle encounters in practice is only to be expected given the differences in his subject matters and that this need not upset his general drive towards unity in method unduly.

(2) When reading the Posterior Analytics, one forms the impression that the scientist succeeds by fastening on static, unalterable features of reality: the premises of demonstrations, the sorts of deductions used to lay bare the causal structures of the world in scientific explanation, must be necessary, more intelligible than their conclusions, and universal in scope (APo 71b16-25, 74b5). Yet when describing animals and their activities, Aristotle spends a great deal of time reflecting on patterns of development and on processes of various sorts. In 'Aristotle's Syllogistic Model of Knowledge and the Biological Sciences: Demonstrating Natural Processes,' Mariska Leunissen contends that this sort of emphasis should not be thought to represent a significant discontinuity within Aristotle's conception of epistêmê. On the contrary, already in Posterior Analytics II 12 Aristotle shows himself concerned to account for change and development within epistêmê; so, the picture of static necessity and invariance within the Posterior Analytics is overdrawn. Allan Gotthelf endorses the general tenor of Leunissen's argument, and indeed finds her account of the sort of attention Aristotle devotes to the chronological order of generation in his Generation of Animals 'virtually flawless' (72). Even so, he finds ample room to disagree with her treatment of the extraordinarily difficult 'teleological syllogism' and its role in tensed explanation in Aristotle.

(3) In 'The Place of the Posterior Analytics in Aristotle's Thought, with Particular Reference to the Poetics,' Richard McKirahan explores the perennial question of the relationship between model and practice in Aristotelian science. As he observes, 'A traditional problem is how to account for the fact that none of Aristotle's scientific work follows the APo model. This is clearly true' (76). After setting forth some developmental hypotheses about the order of Aristotle's writings, McKirahan argues that even if the Posterior Analytics is an early work of Aristotle's, there is little reason to suppose that he abandons its primary prescriptions as he engages in his scientific inquiries. Instead, although no work fully respects the straightjacketing demands of the Posterior Analytics, many clearly bear its marks and indeed will not be fully understood without appreciating that fact. McKirahan's unlikely -- and delightfully illuminating -- suggestion for a test case is a work he fairly calls an 'outlier' in this debate: the Poetics. C. D. C. Reeve offers an informed set of criticisms, together with a series of rich suggestions of his own about the role of dialectic in and out of epistêmê. Both papers repay careful study and together they constitute rich and productive exchange about Aristotle's conception of epistêmê in the Posterior Analytics and its relation to the rest of his corpus.

(4) The remaining two papers deal with the final chapter of the Posterior Analytics. In this chapter, Aristotle describes a process of knowledge acquisition, according to which knowers move from perception to memory, from memory to experience (empeiria), and from experience to a grasp of first principles (nous) (APo. 100a10-b6). Scholars have puzzled how it should be possible, according to Aristotle, to move from perception to the unmediated apprehension (nous) of first principles in this way. Knowledge of first principles puts us in touch with necessary and universal features of reality; perception trades in the particular and contingent.

Miira Tuominen explicates this process in 'Back to Posterior Analytics II 19: Aristotle on the Knowledge of Principles.' She proposes to deal with the difficulties many have located in the chapter by understanding it in relation to the whole of the Posterior Analytics: 'my aim is to illuminate how I see APo II 19 and its account of how we come to know the principles in the context of the whole treatise and how, I think, reading the chapter in that context alleviates, or perhaps rather circumvents, some qualms concerning it' (119). J. H. Lesher finds himself in broad agreement with Tuominen's overarching thesis, but turns critical attention on her treatment of a key but elusive crux of the chapter, in which Aristotle offers a battle analogy to explain how settled states (hexeis) come to be present in us on the basis of experience and so ultimately on the basis of perception (APo. 100a10-12). The final purport of this analogy is no doubt permanently contestable. Even so, Lesher does much to illuminate it by discussing its terms in philologically informed detail.

(5) The remaining paper on the last chapter of the work, 'Άσθησις, μπειρία, and the Advent of Universals in Posterior Analytics II 19' by Gregory Salmieri, connects the chapter to Aristotle's discussions of universality in Posterior Analytics I 4-5 and 24 as well as to discontinuous remarks scattered throughout the whole of the second book. He plausibly urges in addition that a proper elucidation of the chapter requires that attention be paid to Aristotle's cognitive diction in De Anima iii. David Bronstein offers acute critical comments, effectively closing the volume with a fruitful set of questions for future research into the chapter.

As will be appreciated from these summaries, the two dominant themes of the volume are: (i) Aristotle's approach to epistêmê in theory and implementation; and (ii) Aristotle's fascinating if frustrating genetic account of how knowledge of necessity eventuates from perception within the framework of a thoroughgoing empiricism. Both topics receive extended, instructive discussion.

The volume offers a welcome mix of established and younger scholars, all writing at the state of the art and all engaging issues of abiding interest pursuant to the rich and demanding text of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics.

Excerpt: Aristotle's Posterior Analytics has been hailed as 'one of the most brilliant, original, and influential works in the history of philosophy', a work that 'determined the course of philosophy of science — and to some extent of science itself — for two millennia' (Jonathan Barnes, Aristotle's Posterior Analytics [Oxford 1975], xiii). Nevertheless, the Posterior Analytics (henceforth APo) cannot be said to have attained the saphêneia or 'clarity' Aristotle identified at Rhetoric 1404b as the chief merit of discourse. It is unclear, for example, how the demonstrative syllogism that is the focus of Aristotle's interest in the APo relates to the non-syllogistic accounts of phenomena we find in his scientific treatises. It is also unclear how the accounts of knowledge, definition, and explanation put forward in the APo stand in relation to other elements in Aristotle's philosophy — his accounts of substance, the four causes, the distinctions between actuality and potentiality, form and matter, processes and activities, etc. The explanation of how we know the first principles, with which the APo concludes, is especially obscure: why should we suppose that we have access to some non-demonstrative way of knowing, why in explaining how we can know first principles does Aristotle focus instead on how we form concepts, and what could it possibly mean to say that 'while we perceive the particular, perception is of the universal'?

In an attempt to develop answers to questions such as these the organizers of the 2009 Duke-UNC-Chapel Hill Conference in Ancient Philosophy assembled a group of leading students of Aristotle's thought and invited them to address three main questions: (1) 'How does the APo model of scientific knowledge, focused as it is on the construction of syllogisms, relate to the scientific accounts Aristotle presents elsewhere, especially in the biological treatises?' (2) 'How do the arguments and views presented in the APo relate to other aspects of Aristotle's philosophy?' and (3) 'How do the remarks in the concluding chapter of the

APo concerning perception, memory, experience, and the grasp of the universal add up to an explanation of how we come to know first principles?' The presentations and responses that make up this volume offer answers to these questions.

In his paper James Lennox discusses the problem created by the fact that, while Aristotle consistently describes 'natural science' (phusikê epistêmê) as a single science, his investigation of nature comprises a number of self-consciously distinct inquiries. Not only are they distinct in subject matter but, as Aristotle regularly comments, they have distinct principles and methods. The primary purpose of Lennox's essay is to present this problem in a clear and detailed way, rather than to provide a compelling solution to it. However, Lennox presents evidence that Aristotle was deeply concerned about the issue. Meteorology I 1 raises a question about whether the methods of inquiry shared by the study of the heavens, elemental transformation, and meteorology are sufficient for the investigation of animals and plants. The existence of On the Parts of Animals I strongly suggests that Aristotle's response to that question is 'No; those methods must be supplemented significantly', for it outlines methodological norms that appear to be specific to the study of animals, a task which would be mysterious if Aristotle believed that the Physics provided everything needed for an investigation of animals.

In her comments Gisela Striker accepts Lennox's claim that several methodological passages in Aristotle's biological works seem to call into question the unity of natural science as a single discipline in accordance with the theory set out in the APo. She argues, however, that one should not be too surprised to find some differences between Aristotle's official doctrine and his actual scientific practice. The relations between the various branches of the study of nature turn out to be more complicated that Aristotle may have initially thought, but this need not be seen as a threat to the unity of natural science as opposed to, say, metaphysics or political science.

Traditionally, Aristotle's theory of scientific demonstration has been thought to pertain only to eternal and stable matters of fact, thus being particularly suited for dealing with the properties of mathematical figures (mathematics being the paradigmatic demonstrative science). The natural science model of demonstration Aristotle introduces in the first book of the Parts of Animals, on the other hand, pertains to processes or developments — that is, to attributes coming to hold of certain animals or their parts as the result of the operation of teleology or material necessity. Aristotle thus appears to employ two different models of demonstration in his treatises, which has led some scholars to believe that Aristotle is a methodological pluralist, whose theory and practice concerning scientific demonstration cannot be reconciled with one another. In her paper Mariska Leunissen argues that there is no radical break between the two models, and that already in the APo Aristotle explains how to incorporate time and change into the syllogistic structure of demonstration. In arguing for this continuity, Leunissen considers texts from the APo (especially II 12) that indicate Aristotle's concern with demonstrations of processes and traces their influence on Aristotle's theory and practice in the biological treatises (Generation of Animals V for simultaneous natural processes and Parts of Animals I-II and Generation of Animals II for consecutive processes).

Allan Gotthelf endorses Leunissen's view that the models of demonstration that APo II 12 provides for propositions that incorporate time and change illuminate the demonstrative practice in the biological works, and that, indeed, they may have been a source for the sketch of the latter in Parts of Animals I. Nevertheless, he questions Leunissen's account of the movement in Aristotle's thought from APo II 11 to APo II 12, because he does not accept her deflationary view of the general structure of teleological explanation. Though APo II 11 might superficially suggest otherwise, Gotthelf holds that the final cause is indeed the middle term of the fundamental demonstrative syllogism capturing a teleological explanation, both in the II 11 case and in the actual practice in Parts of Animals II-IV. Yet he regards Leunissen's enlightening central claim regarding APo II 12's role as sound and applauds her creative application of it to the temporally focused explanations in the Generation of Animals.

Richard McKirahan's paper supports the view that even if Aristotle wrote the APo early he did not abandon it; some of the APo's leading ideas continued to influence his scientific thought, even though he did not arrange his scientific works in the specific format described in the APo. McKirahan begins his study by identifying the kinds of work that need to be done in order to constitute an Aristotelian science. First is the distinction between the research phase (fact-gathering) and the organizational phase in which we determine which facts are principles and then form the demonstrations. To find scientific principles we must first find which facts follow syllogistically from which, then we must determine which candidate demonstrations provide true explanations of their conclusions, then find which propositions are premises of demonstrations but not conclusions, and then, finally, reduce such propositions into the correct kinds: definitions, existence claims, and axioms. How can we reconcile the above procedure, which produces immediate premises, with Aristotle's view that premises are in genus+differentia form? The solution is to revise the notion of differentia to include all the immediate attributes of the definiendum. Parts of Animals I 2-3 confirms that Aristotle eventually adopted this view, and the Poetics shows that he sought definitions that could be used to prove further conclusions. Chapter 6 of the Poetics begins with a definition of tragedy which grows out of the preceding account, and most of the remaining discussion is based on that definition and on the conclusions of proofs it facilitates. Much of the discussion and virtually all the framework of the account of the nature of tragedy reflect the account given in the APo, while the other elements are made to fit into that scheme.

In his comments on McKirahan's paper, David Reeve observes that the APo doesn't just describe a method of presenting achieved sciences, since nothing is a science until it is set out as a body of demonstrations from first principles. He then takes up McKirahan's view that dialectic is part of the preliminary or research phase of an APo science and that part of its is to determine which propositions follow syllogistically from which — but disagrees with both claims. Sciences identify their own first principles; dialectic defends them by solving the aporiai to which they give rise. Dialectic is not part of a science, although until a first principle has been rendered aporia-free by it, we do not have the nous of it that science requires. Reeve accepts McKirahan's thesis that something like the Parts of Animals account of the definition of species, which allows that there are many ultimate differentia, is at work in the APo. But until McKirahan explains why only some of the combinations of rhythm, words, and harmony constitute real unities, he hasn't shown that the similarities between definition in the Parts of Animals and in the APo aren't merely superficial.

Miira Tuominen takes up Aristotle's account of our knowledge of the principles of proofs given in APo II 19. She argues that a close reading of the chapter with the context of the whole treatise in mind helps to alleviate some qualms that have been raised with respect to Aristotle's account. Her main claim is that Aristotle in fact offers a comprehensible descriptive account of how we come to know the premises of proofs, even though the full details of this process are not explicitly spelled out. The crux of her argument is that intellect (nous) is, in the APo, reason's disposition that develops from the capacity to recognize generalities in perception. In its full-blown state this disposition grasps complex explanatory and essential relations between things and thus enables us to come to know the premises of scientific proofs. Aristotle's famous but obscure simile of the rout may be seen as a reflection of his oft- stated distinction between the order of being and the order of knowing. As the soldiers reconstitute the original arrangement, so the knowing soul comes to align itself with the order in which causes are prior to the things or phenomena that stem from them.

J. H. Lesher agrees with Tuominen's main thesis that the II 19 account of our knowledge of first principles is largely congruent with the characterization of scientific inquiry put forward in earlier portions of the APo. In explaining how we can know first principles Aristotle appears to assign an important role to the same capacity to extract the universal from the perception of particulars that played a role in finding answers to such questions as whether something exists, what it is, whether an attribute belongs to a subject, and why it does so. Lesher does not agree, however, that the rout simile at 100a12-13 is properly understood in terms of returning to some original place or condition. On his view, 'the starting point' (archê) to which something is said 'to come or go' (êlthe) is more plausibly identified as the starting point of art and scientific knowledge mentioned at 100a8, just prior to the introduction of the simile. Lesher also proposes: (1) reading ou saphôs at 100a15 as 'not in sufficient detail' rather than 'not clearly'; (2) understanding nous (at least here in II 19) as designating an achieved state of knowledge (or correct understanding) rather than a faculty of reason or intellect: and (3) reading Aristotle's account of how we know first principles as an argument intended to establish that we can acquire this special knowledge since doing so involves making use of the same capacities for perception and generalization we employ whenever we formulate general concepts or principles as a consequence of perceiving particular instances.

In the final paper, Gregory Salmieri makes several interpretive points about APo II 19. He argues first that aisthesis is often used in the chapter to refer not to the act of perceiving but to perceptual contents of the sort that can be stored in memory, i.e., to what Aristotle elsewhere calls phantasiai or phantasmata. He then defends a view of empeiria according to which it is not conceptual and he discusses how empeiria functions to generate hupolêpseis about particulars. Building on this account of the functioning of empeiria he suggests how the advance from empeiria to universals might be like what happens after a rout in battle.

David Bronstein identifies three questions he regards as unanswered by Salmieri's account: (1) What was Aristotle's aim in APo II 19, especially in 99b20-100a5? In other words, did Aristotle intend to explain fully how we acquire nous of principles as principles, or was his aim more modest than that? (2) How should we understand the crucial but puzzling phrase 'perception is of the universal' at 100a17-18? (3) How are we to understand the transition from experience to knowledge of universals: does this bring us directly to nous or merely to a stage that is preliminary to it?

Although questions about specific aspects of the APo remain to be answered, the essays in this volume collectively make a strong case for the systematic character of Aristotle's thought. The theory of the syllogism developed in the APo was not, as some have thought, inapplicable to the natural processes studied in his scientific treatises, nor was it unrelated to definition by genus and differentia. The II 19 account of how we come to know first principles also links up in important ways with the discussions of scientific explanation in earlier chapters of the APo and with the accounts of sense perception and memory found elsewhere in Aristotle's writings.



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