May 15, 2000
I have been occupied lately with metaphysical ideas; so it seemed like a natural step to go back to (as far as I know) the earliest text to use the term. For a week or so I have been reading the first chapter idly, and it seems to stand up pretty well, more legible than I have found Aristotle to be in other attempts I have made. So I am going to make an actual go of reading the book.
An interesting thing happens at the beginning of the book; the first sentence is "All men by nature desire to know." I would expect to see at the beginning the question that he will be investigating; this could instead be interpreted as a justification of what motivates the investigation. Aristotle moves from describing the human thirst for knowledge to distinguishing between humans and non-human animals -- the difference, he says, is that "the animals other than man live by appearances and memories, and have but little of connected experience."
I see "connected experience" as being rooted in narrative -- here I am drawing on ideas from Jaynes' The Origen of Consciousness. Narrative creates a link between memories and the present moment, makes us aware of the flow of time. (Also here I could draw in Pynchon's concept of "temporal bandwidth", and say that a non-human animal has an extremely narrow bandwidth.)
One other note about the first chapter; Aristotle says, "The physician does not cure man, except in an incidental way." This is drawing a distinction between class and instance in a way that I don't think Plato quite had a handle on; also it is a very cool phrasing.
May 16, 2000
In Chapter 3, Aristotle makes his first argument against monism; he briefly discusses Thales and the Eleatic philosophers, who believed only the elements exist, i.e. in the fundamental unity of reality. Aristotle says,
When these men and the principles of this kind had had their day, as the latter were found inadequate to generate the nature of things men were again forced by the truth itself, as we said, to inquire into the next kind of cause. For it is not likely either that fire or earth or any such element should be the reason why things manifest goodness and beauty... or that those thinkers should have supposed it was; nor again could it be right to entrust so great a matter to spontaneity and chance. When one man said, then, that reason was present -- as in animals, so throughout nature -- as the cause of order and of all arrangement, he seemed like a sober man in contrast with the random talk of his predecessors.
The "one man" is Anaxagoras; Aristotle is saying that he was the first to speak of reality as composed of two fundamental "causes", the elements (physical reality) and reason (spirit or intention).