BMCR 1999.06.10

Beiträge zur antiken Philosophie. Festschrift für Wolfgang Kullmann

, , , Beiträge zur antiken Philosophie. Festschrift für Wolfgang Kullmann. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1997. 317.

In his introduction to Wolfgang Kullmann’s work, Ernst Vogt prints a photograph of the New University in Freiburg, where Kullmann was Professor of Greek from 1975 until 1996: the door is flanked by statues of Homer and Aristotle. And indeed these two Greeks have dominated Kullmann’s working life as a little under half of the 110 items on the bibliography given here show. Both his Doctorate and Habilitation were devoted to Homer, but after his Wissenschaft und Methode. Interpretationen zur aristotelischen Theorie der Naturwissenschaft (1974), Kullman has a claim to be one of the founding fathers of the recent debates about nature and science in Aristotle; his latest contributions have been collected and completed (at least provisionally) in his monumental Aristoteles und die moderne Wissenschaft (1998). Homer is not the subject of any of the articles in the volume under review here, but Aristotle takes up rather more than half of them: Joseph Owens analyses the relations between thing, existent and unit at Metaphysics IV 1003b22-29; D. J. Jacob writes on fictional time as the distinguishing feature of tragedy in the Poetics; Mario Mignucci gives a mereological defence of some supposedly deficient aspects of Aristotle’s theory of predication; Jonathan Barnes defends a strong reading of the thesis that every deduction is purely categorical ( Analytica Priora A 23); Wolfgang Wieland discusses Aristotle’s interest in proofs based on contradictory premises ( Analytica Priora B 15); Marcello Gigante gives a learned update on the School of Aristotle; Enrico Berti contrasts Aristotle’s conception of mixed constitutions with Plato’s and Cicero’s.

Partly because Kullmann has left the deepest mark on the literature in this area and partly because of your reviewer’s proclivities, we will devote a little more time to the five articles connected with Aristotle’s conception of nature. In her article on the use of nature in ethical or political discussions in Aristotle and afterwards, Julia Annas suggests that we should have a mixed response to Aristotle’s arguments (esp. in Politics ἰ, depending on the concept of nature involved. She distinguishes “mere nature” as the basic (human) material to be developed, a conception which is not normative, in contrast to nature as an end: this, the principle of change familiar from Physics II 1, itself serves as a norm. Ethical or political practices and institutions can be seen as the products of unimpeded human nature in this second sense. It is here that Annas defends Aristotle most strongly: such a conception of nature has a large critical potential, and can be used to attack the status quo — an insight of great value (if perhaps not entirely novel) both for reading the Politics and generally thinking about nature and ethics. Thus Aristotle’s argument against “unnatural” money making can be appreciated as noticeably idealistic. But another concept of nature militates against this idealism, namely nature as the usual, and Annas sees this at play in the notorious arguments about slavery and the “state”: both are natural simply because they were usual for Aristotle. Annas notes that the arguments on this basis for slavery fail since there are many cases of unjust slavery, as Aristotle himself is clearly aware. Nonetheless, she gives Aristotle the credit for seeing that some kind of justification of slavery is necessary (a burden of proof he does not take on himself with other power relations, noticeably that between men and women).

Perhaps one can do a little more to defend Aristotle by remembering that he thought of nature as a concept with different aspects systematically related: he conceived of a connection between “mere nature” or matter, and form or origin of change. Both matter and form are nature, but, since only the complete something is actually what it is, the form is actually the nature in question. Obviously only some kinds of matter (Annas’ “mere nature”) can serve certain ends; and equally, only some things, some material things, have such principles of change in themselves that they can fulfil such norms or not. And if such things happen usually, that is because of both the principle of change and the suitability of the mere nature to instantiate or fulfil such ideals. Whereas one must agree (with relief) that Aristotle has no real defence of chattel slavery, his defence of the idea that people only have limited abilities (their function, or what they are good for), and profit from having the opportunity to use these abilities, seems much more hopeful. After all, his idea of natural slavery also gives him a way of criticising the status quo, while preserving what he saw as a justifiable aspect of it.

One way that Aristotle has of saying that nature is a norm, or teleological, is to say that nature does nothing in vain, and produces the best thing possible (e.g. de Generatione Animalium V 8 788b20, de Incessu Animalium 2, 704b12-18, de Partibus Animalium (PA) III 1 661b18, IV 13 695b17). James Lennox devotes his essay to this maxim of Aristotle’s natural science, following an earlier suggestion of Allan Gotthelf’s. The idea is to show how this maxim can serve as an axiom in Aristotle’s “zoology”, an axiom in the way in which these are taken in the Analytica Posteriora (APo) (e.g. I 72a15-25); here of course Lennox and Gotthelf are pursuing interests shared by Kullmann in showing the unity of Aristotle’s thought from the early dialectic to the (at any rate) later “biological works”. Not that all readers have been convinced: Geoffrey Lloyd, for one, has stuck to the attractive view that it is extremely artificial to want to read the later works primarily in terms of the APo: An important text for the view that these maxims are reflective and not meant as substantive axioms is de Respiratione 3 471b24-29: Aristotle’s predecessors were hampered by their ignorance of anatomy and by not assuming that nature produces things for an end, Lennox quotes this text without drawing the general conclusion that would seem to be warranted. It seems significant that the maxims occur in investigations, rather than in the context of axiomatisation. That is not to deny that the relevant APo type of science might include premises about the forms of living things, but these are not axioms in the relevant sense. One candidate for such an axiom in natural science might be the definition of nature as a general principle, but again, it is difficult to see how Aristotle would fit this into a formalisation of that science, since he does not tell us.

One prominent logical tool in Aristotle’s science is “division”, part of his Platonic inheritance that he thoroughly reformed, as is clear in the wide range of his discussions (above all Metaphysics Z 12, PA I 4, Apo II 5, 13). Gotthelf pursues a question raised some time ago by David Balme: what happens to division after PA I 4? He suggests it is used at the explanatory level. The prescription Gotthelf follows is that given in PA I 645b1-3: first divide the attributes in each genus, and then divide their causes (cf. also I 5 645a36-b14). He then tries to show how this prescription is followed in large parts of the PA: the way in which certain parts are explained is by showing how their differentiations are related to the genus they are in. A central text for these questions is the reference to (tables of) Divisions in APo II 14; and it is these that could be used in PA II-IV.

Let us leave aside the question of demonstration, a ticklish point for Aristotle’s views on division; Gotthelf says nothing about the relation between division of explanations and the proof of these explanations. But there are various questions here about the relations between explanation (using Aristotle’s “causes”) and division. One pointer may be mentioned here. It is a commonplace, and one that Gotthelf mentions, that PA is about the parts of animals, and not about kinds of animals. Yet clearly the kind an animal belongs to is closely related to the kinds of part that belong to that animal. And APo II 14 mentions Dissections alongside Divisions : these are often taken to be two separate (and unconnected) works. But it is a common complaint of Aristotle’s about his predecessors that they were ignorant of things’ innards; and such ignorance leads to an ignorance of the explanations of the things (cf. the text from de Respiratione referred to in our discussion of Lennox). So if divisions are to be used in explaining animals, it would be as well if these divisions were closely linked to knowledge of anatomy.

And there is always the question of Aristotle’s causes: are they real “causes” or merely reflective “explanations”? In the two essays by Gotthelf and Lennox, in effect a robust realism is pleaded for. Some reasons, arising from the actual use of Lennox’s maxim, have been mentioned for thinking explanations a little less real, rather a matter of reflection, depending on our approach to things. Carlo Natali traverses this terrain in his essay, based particularly on his reading of the second book of the Metaphysics (esp. 994a3): he comes to the conclusion that the causes are real relations in the world, and not merely figments of our explanatory needs. He analyses the general concept of a cause as that which is primary for the existence of something: to say that A causes B is to assert an asymmetrical relation of dependence between A and B; the direction of dependence varies with the varying causes. Particularly his attempt to say what causes in general are for Aristotle is of value, although he teeters on the brink of saying that a cause is a principle, which is perhaps not very helpful. While your reviewer is keen to preserve Aristotle’s realist reputation, he also would like to secure the place of reflection in Aristotle’s scientific endeavour; and it seems good to ask, even if forms are real, to what extent they also serve as orientation for natural philosophy. Such a role is suggested by the maxims discussed by Lennox, and would not be precluded by their reality.

And, for my final point about Aristotle: why read him today at all — a question that Georg Wöhrle tackles in his contribution and that forms the connecting thread through Kullmann’s own latest book on Aristotle mentioned above. Wöhrle, who focuses on (rather embarrassing) prejudices of many modern scientists about Aristotle, suggests that modern biologists should develop their antiquarian and aesthetic interests, and so be drawn to read “the biological works”. This reader at least was left feeling that these interests will serve as untempting bait; but if one is impressed by Aristotle’s conceptual rigour then perhaps one would do better using this as a selling point. There is one very special reason, not mentioned by Wöhrle, that modern biologists should read Aristotle, namely that he is (very nearly) unique in being a metaphysician interested in “life sciences”. It is not mere chance that many fans are interested in the ways these topics do or do not work together in Aristotle’s thought.

The interests of Kullmann’s other well-wishers range from the Presocratics to early China. Walter Burkert writes on οὐ μᾶλλον in Democritus and Leucippus; Hans Schwabl discusses later allegories of Athena and her role for Plato; Hellmut Flashar defends the use of the laws in Plato’s Crito; Giovanni Reale views the masks at play in Socrates’ speech on Eros in Plato’s Symposium, Thomas Szlezák expounds the Eleatic Stranger’s teaching of Theaitetos in the Sophist; Michael Reichel treats us to Xenophon’s ( Cyropedia 2.2) reaction to Plato’s criticism of poetry; Eckhard Lefèvre analyses Cicero’s use of Plato at Cato 6-9; Tiziano Dorandi suggests why the tradition reconciles Demetrius of Phalerum with Xenocrates; Klaus Oehler interprets the difference between Cartesian and ancient views of consciousness.

To end let us consider Geoffrey Lloyd’s efforts at a comparison between ancient China and Greece. Lloyd has been working with the Sinologist Nathan Sivin for a number of years on a project comparing Chinese and Greek developments, and his essay here is a glimpse of the status quaestionis. Lloyd discusses the differing roles for “reality-appearance distinctions”. There is a good case to be made for seeing such distinctions as being central to Greek preoccupations from Hesiod onwards, which Lloyd sketches briefly. Despite the widespread interest in such reality-appearance distinctions in very various cultures, Lloyd argues persuasively that in China such a distinction was not a central articulating structure; this title must be awarded to yin-yang and the five phases (wuxing), an analysis of things developed, as Lloyd notes, very late (2nd C. B.C.). And in these concepts there is no appearance-reality gap; instead the Chinese were interested in self-cultivation and the transmission of a textual canon in a school. This contrasts with the Greek taste for argument. However, the distinction does occur in China, and one would be interested in an analysis of the role of such a distinction e.g. in Zhuangzi (genuine texts from the book of this name predate the pervasive use of yin-yang and the five phases). There, such a distinction is emphatically denied in stories such as the famous one with the butterfly (at the end of Qiwulun): Zhuangzi does not know if he is the butterfly dreaming Zhuangzi, or Zhuangzi dreaming the butterfly. There may be a connection between Zhuangzi’s denial of this distinction and his denial of the possibility of discussion on a mutually agreed basis. Parmenides, after all, thinks there is an argument to distinguish between truth and opinion, and, without a commitment to argument, appearance reality distinctions may well seem trivial.