Aristotle’s Clarification of “Nature”
Ahh! The teacher of teachers. The great Aristotle. In this lecture, Koterski turns to Aristotle and his ideas that have influenced natural law. The focus in this lecture is first on Aristotle’s four causes, his theory of change, and our reasoning abilities.
Aristotle’s four causes are the material, the formal, the efficient (or agent), and the final cause. Each of these causes is a necessary part, on Aristotle’s view, of explaining how things come to be and how they act. This is relevant for natural law theory because Aristotle argues that the final cause—the ultimate purpose/goal/end of an entity is within the entity itself. Each being has a final cause to which all its actions and activities are ultimately directed. But this end is not imposed from with out or made up, it is a natural part of the entity.
This theory of the four causes also helps to make sense of change. Aristotle doesn’t want to deny Heraclitus’ idea that the world is dynamic and constantly changing, but he also recognizes that Parmenides was on to something in thinking that something has to stay the same for there to be identity. On Aristotle’s view, change is a real phenomenon, but it is something that happens to a particular thing that doesn’t change. When an animal grows, it changes—but the “it” essentially stays the same. Change is process where something stays the same and something is different. The final end remains the same for a particular being, but it has to change to move and develop towards that end.
Lastly, Koterski gets into Aristotle’s ideas on language and reasoning. Language, on Aristotle’s view, is the manifestation of rationality. It is the way in which one can come to grasp abstractions, make judgments, and form chains of reasoning. This, too, is helpful for natural law theory because it points to a natural feature of humans—our ability to speak. This ability shows even further our deeply rational nature.
Also, Aristotle’s work shows that one can reason from observation and experience to discover the real nature of things. It shows that we gain knowledge through observation and reflection but are not trapped at this level and can move into a deeper and more thorough understanding of the world and our own nature.
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