Alexander Pruss on the Explanatory Power of Aristotelian Forms

June 13, 2007

Over the last couple months I’ve been thinking about the idea of forms and essences and other like things that seem to have been relegated to the dustbin of the history of philosophy. I’ve written here before about essences, trying to get clear about some of the problems they involve. One of those problems was the fact that essences provide virtus dormativa explanations that don’t seem to do any theoretical work. Well, I found a neat article by Georgetown Prof. Alexander Pruss which does some interesting work comparing Aristotle and Hume on this point.

I would have a few nits to pick with Pruss’s presentation. For instance, there is a translation issue involved regarding Aristotle’s use of the word aition, which is usually translated as “cause” in English, but the Greek can also bear the sense of “explanation”. Pruss emphasizes that Aristotle’s forms are “causes,” but doesn’t note that Aristotle’s concept of cause/explanation might be a bit different from ours here. I’m not sure this hurts any of Pruss’s arguments, but it makes me hesitate a bit. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting read and I commend it to your attention.


Henry of Ghent’s Doctrine of Analogy: Its Origins and Interpretations

May 29, 2007

Whoo boy! Feels good to finally finish my Master’s Thesis. If for some reason the preceding post didn’t slake your thirst, you can read the whole thing here:

Henry of Ghent’s Doctrine of Analogy

Let’s all just hope that it passes!


The Transcendence or Immanence of the Good in Aristotle’s Theology

May 10, 2007

“We must consider also in which of two ways the nature of the universe contains the good, and the highest good, whether as something separate and by itself, or as the order of the parts. Probably in both ways, as an army does; for its good is found both in its order and in its leader, and more in the latter; for he does not depend on the order but it depends on him. And all things are ordered together somehow, but not all alike,-both fishes and fowls and plants; and the world is not such that one thing has nothing to do with another, but they are connected. For all are ordered together to one end . . .”   Metaphysics, XII, 10.

On Essences

aprilis 2, 2007

I spend my days walking to and fro throughout the internet. One recurring theme that I have seen the last couple days has been a general dismissal, based on ignorance or tomfoolery, of “essentialism”. Everybody dislikes essences. ‘Essence’ is a dirty word in identity politics. It’s a useless relic of by-gone stupidity in biology. It’s the black logical heart of technology/ontotheology/metaphysics, according to Heidegger. Telling someone you believe in essences is liking telling him that you club baby seals because your Martian overlords told you to. It’s exactly this sort of groupthink on the part of bien pensant literary/social/gender theorists and avant garde theologians that makes it self-evidently clear to them that “Essentialism is Dead” (Though it’ll never get a Time cover obit).

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Johnathan Lear on Aristotelian ‘Natures’

February 1, 2007

“Since the seventeenth century it has been customary to treat so-called virtus dormativa explanations with scorn. A virtus dormativa explanation gets its name from Molière’s play Le Malade imaginaire, in which a foolish doctor is asked how a certain powder induces sleep. He replies that it has a virtus dormativa — a power of inducing sleep. The heart of the objection to virtus dormativa explanations is that they are not explanations at all. To say that a powder causes sleep because it has a power to bring on sleep is to explain nothing: it is just to repeat that the powder causes sleep.

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