Friday, January 15, 2010

Dreaming Aristotle.

The acorn has a the potential to become an oak tree. It may not succeed but given various conditions it can actualize that form. A cat cannot become an oak tree. If the animal dies and rots the soil can fertilize the oak tree but that is not the same. It does not contain within it an unactualized form. Nothing about a cat can be enmattered such that it will become an oak tree.

I like Aristotle's ethics. I like them because I feel as if using them I can actually aim for being a good person, as averse to simply knowing the appropriate thing. In a given situation I will talk as if I am a Utilitarian, but in my moments of reflection I think as a Virtue ethicist to the degree that I can. In my reflective moments I realise that a month's study of the Ethics isn't really enough for a forgetful creature like myself, but no matter.

My Medieval History teacher keeps talking about causes for the renaissance. There are various types of causes necessary for a renaissance, he says. He talks as if he has read Aristotle. I do not think, however, that he has done so. I dislike self-help books, but I find the Aristotle in them interesting. Self-actualization is a lovely concept. Why? Because it's got Aristotle in it. The only trouble is the Self-help people confuse it. A sparrow has the potential to fly. If it does not there is something wrong with it. If I have the potential to make friends but never manage to actualize it I cannot defend myself with, well I had great potential! Potential says nothing. It cannot speak. Lack of actualization can make us less human, but potentials are equal to everyone and do not make us more human.

The same goes for many people. People keep talking about actual and potential, various causes, the nature of the caused, the essential qualities of things, and so on. But I don't think they have read Aristotle. Aristotle is in our way of thinking. Hume may come along and talk about cause and effect. We may have overthrown Aristotilian logic and science and cosmology, but we still dream Aristotle. I often have vivid dreams. I have dreampt of streets and buildings but I have never dreampt of using a computer or being in a car. I think it is the same way with Aristotle. Our knowledge and our tools advance but unless we overhaul our entire conceptual framework we will still have Aristotle in there. We give him breath and voice two thousand years after his body is gone to dust. Now that is immortality!

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