Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Christoph Horn (ed.), Aristotle's Metaphysics Lambda - New Essays. Proceedings of the 13th Conference of the Karl and Gertrud-Abel Foundation Bonn, November, 28th-December 1st, 2010. Philosophie der Antike, 33. Boston; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016. Pp. xi, 311. ISBN 9781501510915. $112.00.

Reviewed by Lloyd P. Gerson, University of Toronto (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The present volume is a solid addition to the many valuable contributions to the study of Aristotle's Metaphysics Book Lambda seemingly inspired by the meticulous chapter-by-chapter commentary on that work by those participating in the Symposium Aristotelicum volume on Lambda edited by David Charles and Michael Frede (Oxford, 2000). Among the many problems that have always faced students of this text, the two central issues concern the internal unity of the Book and its place within the Metaphysics as a whole. The first problem is glaringly evident in the seeming disconnect between chapter 1-5 on the one hand, and 6-10 on the other. The second, which may or may not be solvable without solving the first, is whether or how the account of the Unmoved Mover in that Book fulfills the various programmatic statements made by Aristotle in other Books regarding the science of what is variously indicated by him to be concerned with "substance," "wisdom," "principles and causes," "being qua being," and "theology." A subordinate problem, not the focus of any paper in this volume, is how the account of multiple movers in chapter 8 coheres with the account of the unicity of the Unmoved Mover in chapters 6, 7, and 9-10, but also in 8 itself. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that, even if we could determine that Lambda (or an earlier version of it) was written prior to the central Books, it is entirely possible that the Lambda we have was intended to fulfill or contribute to the fulfillment of the project announced in Book Epsilon, chapter 1. In that case, we are still left with the reconciling of theology and a perhaps more universal science of being. As the editor notes, Book Lambda is not an "organic part of this extensive work." But that still leaves open the question of whether or not it is an organic part of a unified science whose establishment Aristotle evidently seeks.

The ten papers in this volume are:

Matteo Di Giovanni and Oliver Primavesi, "Who Wrote Alexander's Commentary on Metaphysics Lambda? New Light on the Syro-Arabic Tradition"
Enrico Berti, "The Program of Metaphysics Lambda (chapter 1)"
Christof Rapp, "The Principles of Sensible Substance in Metaphysics Lambda 2-5"
Michel Crubellier, "What the Form Has to Be and What It Needs not Be (Metaphysics Lambda 3)"
Marco Zingano, "Individuals, Form, Movement: From Lambda to Z-H"
Stephen Herzberg, "God as Pure Thinking. An Interpretation of Metaphysics Lambda 7, 1072b14-26"
Silvia Fazzo, "Unmoved Mover as Pure Act or Unmoved Mover in Act? The Mystery of a Subscript Iota"
Alberto Ross, "The Causality of the Prime Mover in Metaphysics Lambada"
Maria Liatsi, "Aristotle's Silence About the Prime Mover's noesis"
István Bodnár, "Cases of Celestial Teleology in Metaphysics Lambda"
Christoph Horn, "The Unity of the World-order According to Metaphysics Lambda 10"

The paper by Di Giovanni and Primavesi is the longest and most historically complex. This paper examines the 19th century contention that the extant Greek commentary on Lambda ascribed by some to Michael of Ephesus (fl. early to mid 12th century CE) cannot be traced back to the partially extant commentary of Alexander of Aphrodisias. The main reason for this is that there seem to be inconsistencies between this commentary and the commentary of Averroes who quotes a portion of the commentary by Alexander. The conclusion of this very detailed study is that Averroes' commentary probably does go back to Alexander, but only in its revision by later Neoplatonic commentators, including the removal of Book 2 of Metaphysics from its place after Book 1.

Berti addresses the question of the relation between Lambda and the program set forth in Gamma, Epsilon, Zeta. He argues that Lambda is a separate "Prinzipienlehre" that is neither physics nor theology, though one based on a physical rather than a logical or dialectical method. Berti takes this doctrine to be set in opposition to the Prinzipienlehre of Plato, that is, of the derivation of all things from the One and Indefinite Dyad. He speculates that Book Alpha elatton might be an introduction to this new line of research, and that perhaps Book Nu may, too, belong to this "Ur-metaphysik." In thus separating Lambda from the central Books and thereby rejecting the view of Burnyeat and others that Lambda is in effect a summary of Zeta, chapter 1, Berti claims to have discerned a critical distinction made by Aristotle between theoria, on the one hand and sophia or philosophia on the other, assigning the first term to the Ur-metaphysik and the second to the program in the central Books.

Rapp's paper is a careful analysis of the course of the argument in Lambda, chapters 2-5. Rapp takes the concluding line of chapter 5 to give us the explicit theme of these four chapters: the principles and causes of sensibles. The examination is done according to an account of the principles of change, form, matter, and privation. The thematic thread of 2-5, then, leaves open the question of the principles of unchangeable things, and the problem of whether or how there can be identical principles for both. The connection, Rapp thinks, is made by distinguishing principles of change from principles of changeable things, qua things, not qua changeable. There is a further link with the introduction of an efficient cause of the change of changeable things added to the principles and causes, and the conclusion in chapters 6-10 to an Unmoved Mover. But the sense in which the Unmoved Mover is a principle or cause in analogical, not literal. For there is no generic unity between the realm of the changeable and the unchangeable. Thus, Lambda should not be viewed as an earlier version of the project in the central Books nor as a competing project.

Crubellier, too, argues for the independence of Lambda 2-5, particular chapter 3, from the main line of investigation in the central Books. He focuses on the principle of synonymy, that is, the principle that things are generated from other things of the same name. Crubellier proposes that this text is particularly directed against Plato's account of causality in the "autobiography" of Socrates in his Phaedo. Aristotle, according to Crubellier, is searching for a solution to the problem that led Plato, against Anaxagoras, to say that the true cause of something being large or beautiful is the Form of Largeness or Beauty, not, say, the builder or the parents. Insofar as this analysis captures the goal of chapter 3, it leaves open the causal role of the Unmoved Mover in chapters 6-10 who cannot be synonymous with anything it supposedly causes.

Zingano thinks that Book Lambda generally is to be located midway in the development from a doctrine of substances in the Categories and the doctrine of substance in Books Zeta-Theta of the Metaphysics. Zingano argues that, whereas in the Categories sensible individuals are primary substance, in the central Books of the Metaphysics form has priority over the composite owing to the latter's being enmattered. Book Lambda is midway between these two fundamentally different positions because, while it retains the primacy of individuals, it explores the possibility of a causal connection between sensible and non-sensible substances or individuals. Zingano rejects the idea that this causal connection is the focal reference of Book Gamma; rather, the only causal connection employed is that between properties of a substance and the substance itself, a very different sort of causal connection. So, the causal connection that Lambda develops is that of a cause of motion, with the Unmoved Mover being the cause of the motion of everything else.

Herzberg's paper is the first in the volume concerned with chapters 6-10, the proof for and deduction of the properties of the Unmoved Mover(s). He argues against the most frequently sustained position that our thinking or theoria is not the same kind of activity as that of the Unmoved Mover. The fundamental difference is that our thinking does not occur without imagination or phantasia, whereas that of the Unmoved Mover cannot possibly require imagination at all. There is, indeed, an affinity between human and divine thinking, which is precisely that each is self-thinking or cognitive identity with the knowable. More precisely, the active part of thinking, which for us does not occur without the passive or receptive part, is divine thinking, the divine in us. Thus, the active or agent intellect in us is not the Unmoved Mover itself but the divine element in us. Herzberg's argument concludes with an appeal to Nicomachean Ethics Book 10, chapter 8, on the divinity of human contemplation.

Fazzo's paper focuses on a particular textual issue, but has far-reaching implications. She questions the text at 1072a26 where Aristotle concludes that the Unmoved Mover is energeia, arguing that errors in transmission occlude the fact that the correct reading is energeia(i) with an iota subscript, indicating the dative. So, the claim that the Unmoved Mover is "in act" was changed to indicate that the Unmoved Mover is "pure act." If this is true, then Book Lambda does not complete the project of identifying the primary sense of "being" as "pure act"; rather, the Unmoved Mover is permanently in act. Fazzo argues that for Aristotle it makes no sense to say that a substance—even the immaterial substance that the Unmoved Mover is —is act. Fazzo rejects the traditional inference that since Aristotle identifies form and act in Book Theta, an ontologically separate form would be "pure act." She attributes the "correction" of the text to "Neoplatonizing" commentators.

Ross defends the traditional reading of Lambda according to which the causality exercised by the Unmoved Mover is exclusively final. He is particularly concerned to argue against a number of scholars who have in the past fifteen years or so tried to show that there is a sense in which the Unmoved Mover is an efficient cause. This study focuses on chapter 6-10 and those passages that could be taken to indicate efficient causality. Ross collects seven specific objections to the traditional interpretation including those that rest upon the textual assertion that the Unmoved Mover is kinētikon and poiētikon. Ross presents a detailed refutation of the claim that final causality alone cannot account for the use of these terms. He does not, however, address the problem that for many led to the rejection of the traditional interpretation in the first place, namely, that as final cause alone, the Unmoved Mover is not obviously identifiable as the focus of the science of being qua being that, in Book Epsilon, is identified with theology.

Liatsi takes a minimalist approach to the very old question of the content of the Unmoved Mover's thinking. She distinguishes formal and material lines of interpretation, according to which the Unmoved Mover is either "pure self-consciousness" or eternally thinking all that is thinkable. She opts for the former interpretation, rejecting the latter as a Christian accretion. The paper is a nice complement to Ross's paper, since if her argument is correct, it makes it all the more difficult to see in what sense, if at all, the outermost sphere of the heavens aims to emulate the Unmoved Mover, to say nothing of the claim that its life is one to which we can aspire.

Bodnár's paper is the only one devoted to the very difficult chapter 8, in which Aristotle considers the multitude of unmoved movers governing the heavenly spheres. In particular, he aims to show the connection between the Unmoved Mover and the mover of the outermost sphere. He explores the various cases of relative or qualified unmoved movers in the corpus, including animals and the arts, arguing that each sphere is a self-contained teleological system. Each unmoved mover moves the sphere as object of desire, presumably analogous to the way a soul moves a body on behalf of fulfilling its own desire. Perishable sublunary things imitate this type of celestial motion, principally by reproduction according to kind. The pervasive and complex universal teleological order is reflected in chapter 10, the conclusion of the Book.

Horn examines this universal order in his own contribution. He defends the interpretation of the unity of the cosmos as provided by the Unmoved Mover. Thus, the teleology is theological, a "divine design-argument." He tries to show that the unified teleology of the cosmos is not at odds with Aristotle's overall teleological doctrine according to which a goal is always indexed to a species or member of a species. If this is so, how can the multitude of species be unified in a cosmic teleology? The answer, according to Horn, is that the unity is just the order of the cosmos, not the achievement of individual living things, a sort of "ananthropocentric" perfectionism. This is a sort of "meta-teleology, " integrating the goal-directed behavior of all things. This view meshes nicely with the resolutely "impersonal" account of divine thinking in Liatsi.

All in all, this is a fine collection of essays, valuable for anyone seriously engaged with Aristotle's monumental metaphysical project.

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