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Category: Aristotle

second installment Aristotle for Everybody

by Andrea Elizabeth

Is it art or nature? Aristotle says art unless it occurs in nature by itself. A fire started by lightning is natural, a fire purposely, not accidentally, started in a fireplace is art. The author says Robinson Crusoe pitted man against nature, but Aristotle was more interested in man with nature. I wonder if this was due to there being less technology in Aristotle’s day.

To me the lines are more blurred. Some houses are natural, which Aristotle denies, such as caves and beaver dens. And even man-made houses use natural materials, so art is more about organizing and controlling nature than making something unnatural. Then what is the difference between a city, a farm, and an uninhabited natural area? I would say the amount of human organization. The science behind skyscrapers utilizes a more atomic understanding of nature than that behind farming, but atomic processes, albeit not understood, are still occurring in cultivation. This is evident in the author’s discussion of green vs. red tomatoes. A natural process, but what if a man shines an ultraviolet light on tomatoes without the sun? Art, right? But it’s the same chemical process. Metallurgy and gunpowder concocting are natural processes. Glass made when lightning hits sand is an example of how new substances can occur in nature. Volcanoes also make new things. So acts of God can be similar to acts of man. The Calvinists would say that acts of man = acts of God. I am not sure, but since God made chemical properties, did he also mean for all the combinations to be discovered? Possibly, but man’s free-will purposefulness is the balancing component. What is unnatural then? That which is bad. Lightning hitting a dry forest can be considered bad, as can lava flows, but forestry is now understanding that fires can be beneficial. And Hawaii is a beautiful place. Historically man has respected where “dangerous” processes occur and avoided them. Recently man says he can control nature with dams and earthquake proof structures in the midst of them. It is pretty amazing how relatively few casualties occur in America with these acts of God.

I suppose with the population as it is high tech resource management is necessary. But I think a necessary evil because it is soooooooooooooooooooooooooo depressing. This is why good stories have a non-tech setting, such as Harry Potter and Revenant, which I still haven’t seen. And Star Wars is cool because of the force and Luke ditching computer guidance.

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Aristotle for Everybody

by Andrea Elizabeth

As my daughter, son and I were on our 1 1/4 hour drive home from Denton yesterday evening, my husband called and said he downloaded Aristotle for Everybody on his audible account and was finding it interesting. I was surprised, and don’t recall if he said what prompted it. But what surprised me more was that my daughter was listening on speakerphone and said she wanted to listen to it. She said she thinks it’s interesting. She knew Aristotle was the student of Plato and the teacher of Alexander the Great, but I have never heard her express interest in philosophy before. My kids haven’t really engaged in talking about it with me, and I have given up on monologues with them. So we listened for the remaining 45 minutes of the trip, and then I asked her if she liked it. And she said yes. This morning she said she wants to use it for her required “informational book report”. Cool!

My impression so far: I wonder if Aristotle was OCD wanting to classify everything as he does. This hyperclassification and boundary making also struck me in C.S. Lewis’ “Out of the Silent Planet”. Though there was in AFE an acknowledgment of overlaps, such as immobile crustaceans that act like plants, and that may have been by the author, not Aristotle, I was impressed by a recent PBS documentary that talks about the interdependent relationships they are discovering between minerals and life, such as limestone being made by shell fish, and the role of bacteria in processing iron and such.

My cosmology 2; or, On respecting rocks

by Andrea Elizabeth

See this documentary on Netflix (source of info below) instant streaming to behold how in touch this artist is to nature’s telos.

Rivers and Tides

Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time(2003) NR

This astonishing documentary from Thomas Riedelsheimer shadows renowned sculptor Andy Goldsworthy as he creates works of art with ice, driftwood, leaves, stone, dirt and snow in open fields, beaches, rivers, creeks and forests. With each new creation, he carefully studies the energetic flow and transitory nature of his work. The film won the Golden Gate Award Grand Prize for Best Documentary at the 2003 San Francisco International Film Festival.

My cosmology with help from Aristotle; or, against chaos

by Andrea Elizabeth

I believe and don’t believe in a hierarchy of being. Of course man is supreme above animals, plants, and inanimate objects, but man isn’t human if he doesn’t respect those under him. The artist or craftsman knows how to bring life and health to rocks (building blocks), minerals (paint), plants (wood, or gardens or proper land management), and animals (free or tame. See this documentary on the last wild horses in America and the controversy over the Bureau of Land Management’s roundups).

The question against chaos is what about when things go wrong. If one doesn’t believe in determinism, what does one do with disasters, collisions, and lost things? I believe there is trauma when these things occur. A planet’s moon does not like being shattered by an asteroid. Things inherently want to be healthy. This does not mean that inanimate objects have a rational mind or soul, but somehow they enjoy health. Erosion and chisels hurt rocks, but a rock in the artist’s hand hopes for glory in spite of the pain. Not pain that involves nerve cells and receptors, and not God’s pain so much by extension to His creation, but some sort of existential pain. Rocks, plants, and animals know what it means to exist well. They shine when it happens.

When disasters happen, there are healing forces at work that can cause new life to spring forth from the rubble. I tend now to think that the forces are predetermined, but not the results. The results are contingent on the circumstances, not a prearranged plan. Climate, for instance, is designed to work a certain way at certain altitudes, etc. There is a healthy way of being in all circumstances whether they exist in the far reaches of space, or Death Valley. I’ve been to Death Valley in August, which I would not recommend. A couple of beautiful oases provide some relief, but what about the scorching rubble one finds where nothing at all will grow but the number of splitting rocks? One person’s hell is another person’s health spa. I bet the rocks around Scotty’s Castle are proud, or at least amused.

Thank you, Dr. Bradshaw

by Andrea Elizabeth

In the next chapter of Aristotle East and West, “The formation of the eastern tradition”, Dr. Bradshaw shifts sources in his discussion of energeia from the Neoplatonists to the Old and New Testaments and the eastern Fathers, St. Athanasius and the Cappadocians: Sts. Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzen. Here’s the transition:

Most of the texts discussed in the previous chapter remained unknown to the West during the Middle Ages. It is not surprising that the magical papyri, Hermetica, and the works of Iamblichus and Proclus went untranslated; rather more surprising is that the same is true of the works of Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Clement, Origen, and Athansius, with the exception of Origen’s De Principiis and some exegetical treatises. All told, of the works we have discussed the only one that played a role in the formative stages of western thought was the New Testament, which of course was available in the Vulgate of Jerome. There we find energeia translated as operatio and energeia as operari. Although these renderings were probably the best available, they do not possess the same fluidity of meaning as the original. To think of the divine operations as forces or active powers that can be shared in by human activity would not normally occur to a Latin reader. This is not only because the major works in which the expansion of meaning took place were not translated into Latin; it is also because operatio does not share the association of energeia with actuality, much less with the fusion of activity and actuality that we have traced in earlier chapters. This is why, when the works of Aristotle were translated in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, energeia had to be rendered in different contexts by three different terms: operatio, actus, and actualitas. Although this division was inescapable given the resources of Latin, it tended to obscure the unity of the single concept (or family of concepts) underlying these diverse terms.

Because of these limitations, the notion of participation in the divine energeia made little impression on western thought. In the Greek-speaking East, however, it took on increasing importance. This becomes particularly clear when it is viewed in conjunction with more directly metaphysical uses of the concept of energeia. We have already seen examples of the interplay between metaphysical and religious conceptions in the Hermetica, Iamblichus, and Proclus. The parallel developments among Christian authors are even more complex. They begin during the Trinitarian debates fo the fourth century. There we find energeia coming into prominence as a key term for understanding God’s activity in the world particularly in opposition to the divine ousia. At about the same time there is a renewed and more vigorous application of the Pauline teaching about participation in the divine energeia. Since this renewal occurs in a context established by the contrast between energeia and ousia, it takes on resonances not envisioned by St. Paul; in particular, to participate in the divine energeia comes to be understood as a kind of divinization. The union thus achieved between the more directly metaphysical (or Trinitarian) and religious (or Pauline) strands oof thought ultimately becomes a distinguishing work of Dionysius the Areopagite, who incorporates these themes from the fourth century into a hierarchical vision of reality derived largely from Proclus. (p. 154,155)

I have not done, nor intended to do justice to full explanations of any of the terms or teachings of those mentioned above. I commend this comprehensive book to anyone seeking to understand the divine energies, the divine essence, and in this chapter, the apophatic knowledge of the Trinity better. After discussing the neo-Arianism of Eunomius and St. Athanasius’ then the Cappadocian Fathers’ awesome responses in the section called ‘The Trinitarian Controversy’, ‘The Divine Names’ goes into these same Fathers’ explanations of how we know God, who is unknowable. For Gregory of Nyssa, “a name is not an arbitrary label but conveys a positive impression of the thing named. […] (p. 161) Again, he goes much deeper into this, but I can only give a glimpse. One of the things that has repeatedly puzzled me in studying the philosophical designation of God as above being in contrast to the “being verb” used in the burning bush is explained!

The question of whether and how God can be named is thus tantamount to the question of what can be known about God. Philo of Alexandria had already reached the conclusion that because God is unknowable He has no proper name, and a similar teaching may be found in the Hermetica. It is an idea with both Biblical and philosophical roots. Biblically, it is grounded in the mysterious nature of the divine name revealed in Exodus 3:14, “He Who Is,” as well as other passages that treat the divine name as a mystery. Philosophically, it is grounded in the principle that God as the source of being for other things must Himself be “beyond being,” and therefore has no form that would enable a name to gain descriptive purchase. Philo seems to have been particularly influenced by the statement of the Parmenides that the One which does not partake of being has no name. He understands the name revealed from the burning bush to Moses, not as an obstacle to this view, but as conferming [typo?] it: what this name indicates is that God alone has true (that is, underivative) being, and hence that He has no name. Among Christians prior to the Cappadocians, a similar view can be found in Clement of Alexandria, who devotes a chapter of his Stromata to the unknowability of God. Among his arguments is that since God is indivisible, He is without dimensions and has no limit, and is therefore “without form or name.” (p. 162)

Dr. Bradshaw just gets better after this in explaining the relationship to names and powers and essence and condescension. I’m not finished with this section yet, and in a few more pages there’s another section on “Participation Revisited” that I am looking forward to.

Me on Derrida on Aristotle and Michelangelo

by Andrea Elizabeth

It’s not just about David in the marble, but also about the chips that fell, that were swept into the landfill, that ended up under a parking lot.

A feminist would put something else of David’s under a parking lot.

I would have taken less of the chips away.

Fig leaf for the cast of Michelangelo’s David, Plaster, Perhaps by the firm of D. Brucciani & Co, About 1857, Museum no 1857-161:A

The story goes that on her first encounter with the cast of David at the Museum, Queen Victoria was so shocked by the nudity that a proportionally accurate fig leaf was commissioned. It was then kept in readiness for any royal visits, when it was hung on the figure using two strategically placed hooks. In a photograph of the Art Museum taken around 1857-9 the figure of David is shown wearing a fig leaf. The fig leaf is likely to have been made by the Anglo-Italian firm D. Brucciani & Co., based in London.

Male nudity was then a contentious issue. A letter sent to the Museum in 1903 by a Mr Dobson complained about the statuary displayed: ‘One can hardly designate these figures as “art” !: if it is, it is a very objectionable form of art.’

In relation to Mr Dobson’s complaint, the then director Caspar Purdon Clarke noted: ‘The antique casts gallery has been very much used by private lady teachers for the instruction of young girl students and none of them has ever complained even indirectly’ (museum papers, 1903).

Tin fig leaves had been used during the early years of the Museum on other nude male statuary, but later authorities at South Kensington were dismissive of objections. Nowadays, the fig leaf is no longer displayed on the David. Instead, it is housed in its own case on the back of the plinth of the figure.

So much for nowadays.

The western progression

by Andrea Elizabeth

Before moving on to energeia in the East, I’ll jot down some quotes that somewhat subtly, in my mind, point to the emergence of Absolute Divine Simplicity and the filioque in the West.

Ultimately both Father and Son are esse and operari (or agere). The difference is that the Father is originally and purely esse, and agere in only a hidden and inward manner; the Son is esse in a secondary and derivative way, and principally and manifestly agere. Victorinus makes this commonality the basis for his central contention that the Father and Son are consubstantial, although distinct. (p. 111,112)

Victorinus’ more considered view is that the self-intellection of the Father has a kind of triadic structure involving life as well as intelligence, and that properly speaking it is the Holy Spirit who is intellegere while the Son is vivere. Commenting on John 16:14, where Christ says of the Spirit, “He shall glorify me, for He shall receive of me and shall announce it unto you,” Victorinus writes:

He says “He shall receive of me” because Christ and the Holy Spirit are one movement, that is, act which acts (actio agens). First there is vivere and from that which is vivere there is also intellegere; indeed, Christ is vivere and the Spirit is intellegere. Therefore the Spirit receives from Christ, Christ Himself from the Father. (p. 114)

As a footnote to the researches of Hadot, we may note one other way in which Boethius serves as a bridge between the Neoplatonism of Victorinus and medieval scholasticism. Near the end of De Hebdomadibus he states that “in Him (God) esse and agere are the same … But for us esse and agere are not the same, for we are not simple.” Although the simplicity of God was by the time of Boethius a firmly established point of Christian theology, Boethius seems to have been the first to explain that simplicity in terms of the identity in God of being and activity. In doing so he was merely extending to the Godhead a point Victorinus had established in relation to the Father and the Son. The identity of esse and agere in God became an integral aspect of the doctrine of divine simplicity in the Middle Ages. (Aristotle East and West, p. 117)

More Athens and Jerusalem

by Andrea Elizabeth

In the section, ‘Marius Victorinus’ of the chapter, “The Plotinian heritage in the West”, in Aristotle East and West, Dr. Bradshaw shows how this Christian philosopher understood the first two of the Triad including the One and the Intellect as a way to describe the Father and the Son, the first two persons of the Trinity. I’ll be looking to see if somehow the Soul or the World Soul gets compared to the Spirit, who as we sing is “everywhere present and fills all things”.

He also compares the Father/One to essence and the Son to One-Being.

What then is the relationship between the esse which is the Father and the öν[One-Being?] which is the Son? The answer lies in the second of the passages from the New Testament, the opening words of the Gospel of John: in principio erat verbum, et verbum erat apud deum. For Victorinus the verbum is of course the Son; more suprisingly, the principium is the Father, the beginning of all things. In saying that the verbum was in principio and apud deum (“in the bosom of the Father,” verse 18), St. John asserts that “initially” – that is, in the order of ontological priority – the Son  is present in potentiality in the Father. This potential öν comes forth as actual öν, and in so doing becomes the Logos. To say that the Logos is τò öν does not mean that the source of the Logos is not being (τò μη` öν) in any absolute sense, but only that it exists in a way other than that characteristic of τò öν. (p. 110)

So, does that mean that the voice coming from the burning bush to Moses was the pre-incarnate Word who is “I am”? This would solve the inconsistency regarding the existence of the Father who is above being, or beyond beingly being (Dr. John D. Jones), or now, being in another way, as Dr. Bradshaw put it above.

filled to overflowing

by Andrea Elizabeth

I don’t really get how the soul proceeds from the intellect or how the intellect proceeds from the One, but Plotinus’ statement that the soul “looks to its source and is filled,” (Aristotle East and West p. 81) rings true. This has some quotable elements too:

Now when anything else comes to perfection we see that it produces, and does not endure to remain by itself [not that God created out of necessity], but makes something else. This is true not only of things which have choice, but of things which grow and produce without choosing to do so, and even lifeless things, which impart themselves to others  as far as they can: as fire warms, snow cools, and drugs act on something else in a way corresponding to their own nature – all imitating the First Principle as far as they are able by tending to everlastingness and generosity. How then could the most perfect, the first Good, remain in itself as if it grudged to give of itself or was impotent, when it is the productive power of things? (Enneads, AE&W, p. 74 [as usual, content in brackets mine, parenthesis are usually contained in the text, except at the end when I source the material.])

The artistic and literary context of energeia

by Andrea Elizabeth

A slightly different nuance appears in his [Polybius] description of the people of Rome during the triumphal entry of Scipio: “they were reminded even more of their former peril by the vividness of the contents of the procession.” What the word conveys here is a sense of live, felt presence, a capacity to seize the attention of anyone within range to see or hear. This sense naturally lends itself to literary or artistic criticism. Alluding to the technique of sketching animals using stuffed bags as models, Polybius remarks that it adequately preserves their outlines but that “the clarity and vividness [italics mine instead of parenthetical Greek word for what I assume is energy] of the real animals is not present”. Later, describing the various types of writing to be found in Homer, he lays down as a rule: “Now the end aimed at by history is truth…, the end aimed at by rhetorical composition in vividness [same word], as when he introduces men fighting, while the aim of myth is to please or astonish”.

The use of the word in an aesthetic context can be paralleled from Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Chapter 111.10 of that work states as its purpose to describe “the way to devise lively and taking sayings.” After a brief discussion of metaphor and antithesis, it adds: “The words, too, ought to set the scene before our eyes; for events ought to be seen in progress rather than in prospect. (p.52,53)