Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Classical Greek Philosophy Blog

Hi Everyone,
Jordan has posted a question on Aristotle's four causes. Check it out by clicking on "comments" below or "Classical Greek Philosophy Blog" above.

To the right you can see a 5th-century Greek coin showing the owl of Athena (whom the Romans called 'Minerva'). Athena, named after the city of Athens, was the goddess of wisdom, but also of arts and crafts and of war. According to ancient Greek mythology, Athena sprang fully grown from the head of her father, Zeus, the ruler of all other gods in the Olympus. The owl is her sacred bird because it is a symbol of wisdom.


Jordan Freeman said...

In Aristotle's account of causation, its not clear to me why the "material cause" is any sort of cause at all. It is not as if the material had any sort of causal relation with anything else but moreso had some sort of causal process forced upon it.

The "formal cause" also seems to be not a cause at all but rather just a question of what the essence of the thing is. How does this amount to a cause for Aristotle?

The "efficient cause" appears to be a question of what or whom caused why but does not clearly demonstrate the causal relationship to me. Does it?

And the "final cause" seems to consider the purposes for which whateveror whomever brought that thing into being.

Its not clear how any of these amount to an explanation of a causal relationship or how they can determine this relationship if there is one.
Does anyone have any explanation as to how or why these uncover causal relationships between objects?

Anonymous said...

The easiest answer is, of course, the one that we've discussed in class (or at least I seem to remember discussing): The word "cause" is a misnomer. Aristotle isn't trying to explain the causal relationship for a thing, but simply trying to explain that a definition of the thing can be reached by identifying the four different areas: material, formal, efficient, and final.

Jordan Freeman said...

I don't think it is a misnomer in the sense that he intended something else. To examine causal relationships was his intention, I believe. He claims that "we think we know something only when we find the reason why it is so"(Aristotle. Ancient Greek Philosophy. Page 707). So it seems that he thinks that we do come to know things by way of examining its four different causes. So insofar as we can attain knowledge about something, we must examine the causal factors involved with that thing, I think is his claim.

Travis White said...

Actually Jordan, I think Anonymous is on to something when she or he mentions that Aristotle's "causes" are not "causes" as we typically conceive of causation today. Rather, they are perhaps more properly labeled 'explanations.' Aristotle believed that his "four causes" were necessary for a full *explanation* of any natural object. This is, if I remember my (somewhat minimal) Aristotle studies properly, a fairly standard reading of Aristotle.

Your characterization of final and formal causes appear to be basically correct, but not therefore problematic, given that Aristotle isn't concerned with *causes* (as we think of it) in those cases, but rather *explanations* of natural objects. (I.e., Why is this thing here and why is it the way it is?) Although, final cause might, I suppose, qualify as a cause given a counterfactual analysis of causation (if it were not for purpose A, B would not have come about; so, if ~A, then ~B, therefore, A is a cause of B).

I think there might be a misunderstanding when it comes to your understanding of Aristotle's efficient cause, however. From what I remember, efficient causes are what we would more commonly conceive of as causes today; viz., they are explanations that make reference to what brought a particular object about. For instance, my pushing a glass off a table is an efficient cause of the glass falling off the table.

I think that it might be the case that material and formal causes could be better understood by a more in-depth study of Aristotelian metaphysics--the difference between form and matter, essence and attributes and all that good stuff. But I am not going to try and get into all that! :-)

Travis White said...

A better example of efficient causation *for Aristotle*, of course would be the following. My crafting of, that is, *making* a glass is the efficient cause of that glass. (I was using *events* rather than natural objects as my causal relata in my example of counterfactual analysis because Lewis did, I guess.)

Jordan Freeman said...

Yea, I think you misunderstood my comments Travis. Sorry I don't think I was quite clear. I do agree that these "causes" by Aristotle are NOT causes at all. That is my point. Anonymous is right in saying that it is a misnomer, however, I do NOT believe it to be a misnomer for Aristotle in that Aristotle believed these to be causes. When I read the text, it seems he did believe these to be causes. But I do agree that they are not causes in the same sense as we use them today. I hope that is clear.

Anna Christina Ribeiro said...

Hi Everybody,

Well, I thought I should chime in here. As I mentioned in class, the word Aristotle is using in this context is "aition" (pl. "aitia"), which in Ancient Greek means both "cause" and "explanation", i.e. the reason why something is here, is the way it is, who has made it so and for what purpose, etc. So, yes, Aristotle thought of his four causes as causes, but in this broader sense of who/what is responsible for a thing's existing in those four senses.

Jordan Freeman said...

Yea, that was the impression I got. I hope I got it across. It appears to be an account of causation by him.

Anna Christina Ribeiro said...

Hi Everyone,
Here's an interesting discovery--article from the NY Times. To view it online, go to

A Layered Look Reveals Ancient Greek Texts

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Published: November 27, 2006

Correction Appended
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Ken Cedeno for The New York Times

Professor Judson Herrman examines the Archimedes Palimpsest.
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Ken Cedeno for The New York Times

The Archimedes Palimpsest.
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Ken Cedeno for The New York Times

The camera used at the Walters Art Museum to make images of the writing underneath the medieval script.
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Ken Cedeno for The New York Times

From the left, William Christens-Barry of Johns Hopkins University and Roger Easton of the Rochester Institute of Technology enter data, as Keith Knox of the Boeing Corporation takes computer images.

BALTIMORE — An ambitious international project to decipher 1,000-year-old moldy pages is yielding new clues about ancient Greece as seen through the eyes of Hyperides, an important Athenian orator and politician from the fourth century B.C. What is slowly coming to light, scholars say, represents the most significant discovery of Hyperides text since 1891, illuminating some fascinating, time-shrouded insights into Athenian law and social history.

“This helps to fill in critical moments in ancient classical Greece,” said William Noel, the curator of manuscripts and rare books at the Walters Art Museum here and the director of the Archimedes Palimpsest project. Hyperides “is one of the great foundational figures of Greek democracy and the golden age of Athenian democracy, the foundational democracy of all democracy.”

The Archimedes Palimpsest, sold at auction at Christie’s for $2 million in 1998, is best known for containing some of the oldest copies of work by the great Greek mathematician who gives the manuscript its name. But there is more to the palimpsest than Archimedes’ work, including 10 pages of Hyperides, offering tantalizing and fresh insights into the critical battle of Salamis in 480 B.C., in which the Greeks defeated the Persians, and the battle of Chaeronea in 338 B.C., which spelled the beginning of the end of Greek democracy.

The palimpsest is believed to have been created by Byzantine monks in the 13th century, probably in Constantinople. As was the practice then, the durable and valuable vellum pages of several older texts were washed and scraped, to remove their writing, and then used for a medieval prayer book. The pages of the older books became the sheaths of a newer one, thus a palimpsest (which is pronounced PAL-imp-sest and is Greek for “rubbed again”).

After the Christie’s sale the manuscript was left at the museum by the private collector for conservation and study. This year imagers at Stanford University used powerful X-ray fluorescence imaging to read its final pages, which are being interpreted, transcribed and translated by a group of scholars in the United States and Europe.

The new Hyperides revelations include two previously unknown speeches, effectively increasing this renowned orator’s body of work by 20 percent, said Judson Herrman, a 36-year-old professor of classics at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa. He is one of a handful of classicists who have written doctoral dissertations on Hyperides.

Hyperides lived from 390 or 389 B.C. until 322 B.C. and was an orator who made speeches at public meetings of the citizen assembly. A contemporary of Aristotle and Demosthenes, he wrote speeches for himself and for others and spoke at important political trials. In 322 B.C. Hyperides was executed by the Macedonians for participating in a failed rebellion.

“It’s a spotlight shining on an important moment in history,” said Mr. Herrman, currently a fellow at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Until the new leaves were found in the palimpsest, most scholars believed only fragments of Hyperides survived beyond the Classical period. The mystery of Archimedes’ treatise on combinatorics, the Stomachion, was solved in 2003 by deciphering the palimpsest. Now W. Robert Connor, the president of the Teagle Foundation, which provides education and financial resources for education, called the discovery of new Hyperides text a “tour de force of the first order.”

A combination of high-tech imagery and old-fashioned deciphering, sometimes letter by letter, was used to resurrect the older text, revealing a slice of Athenian history in the days after its devastating defeat by Philip II, king of Macedonia and the father of Alexander the Great, Mr. Connor said. “The number of times you get a new text is very small,” Mr. Connor, a former professor of classics at Princeton said. “It’s like hearing an old violin played at a superb level.”

Cecil Wooten, a professor of classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who attended a Hyperides presentation by Mr. Herrman on Nov. 13, called the discovery “interesting and significant.”

“Although Hyperides is a very important fourth-century Greek orator, one of the canon of 10, we have very little of his speeches, and much of that is fragmentary,” Professor Wooten said in an e-mail message.

Michael Gagarin, a professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin, said, “Every bit we get is important.” Mr. Gagarin, a major scholar on ancient Greek law, noted that Hyperides wrote many speeches and had a leading reputation in antiquity, but only about six of his speeches survive.

“This obviously will contribute a great deal more,” he said. “I eagerly await seeing the text.”

In one recently discovered speech, Hyperides talks about the number of boats (220) — a number not previously clear— belonging to the Greek side in the Salamis battle, Mr. Judson said. In another speech, after the Battle of Chaeronea, he argues that the tragic defeat was the result of chance, not bad policy. In a political case Hyperides supports the Demosthenes policy that led to the Athenian defeat.

“For we chose the noblest policy and we believed it necessary to free the Greeks by taking on the risks ourselves, just like before,” Hyperides argues in a passage translated by Mr. Herrman and transcribed by Natalie Tchernetska of Riga, Latvia, a project scholar and specialist in Greek palimpsests, whom Mr. Herrman credits with first identifying the material.

“One must assign the start and the suggestion of every risk to those who make the motion, but the outcome of these things is to be assigned to chance,” Hyperides argues in the speech. “Diondas proposes the opposite happen: not that Demosthenes be praised for his policy but that I give a defense because of chance.”

Professor Herrman said the material also gives new information about inheritance laws in Athens and suggests a different timing for the Demosthenes case.

Historians had always believed that the trial of Demosthenes took place before the battle of Chaeronea, which Athens lost to the Macedonians, but the newly discovered speech shows that it was after the battle, Mr. Herrman said. “We had no idea of what the content of the trial was,” he said. “Now we have an Athenian view of their own defeat.”

Mr. Herrman recently visited the Walters, where he was able to look at the small, barely legible pages of the palimpsest under a microscope. He also met with Mr. Noel; Abigail Quandt, the senior conservator of manuscripts and rare books; and specialists in imaging techniques. “Three weeks ago I discovered I can read things in person that I can’t get on the digital images,” Mr. Herrman said.

Ms. Quandt said she took almost four years to take the palimpsest apart. The day of Mr. Herrman’s visit, pages of the text were laid on a table where fiber optic lights on either side revealed aspects of the manuscript. Ultraviolet, strobe and tungsten lights were used to enhance the visibility of the text. After computer processing, the hypertext appeared red, and the prayer book text appeared black.

The palimpsest contains about 120 printed pages of Archimedes text, in addition to the Hyperides material, a philosophical commentary on Aristotle, a neo-Platonic philosophical text, pages from a liturgical book on the life of a saint and at least five pages so well-erased it is impossible to determine what they are, Mr. Noel said.

Most of the palimpsest has been translated, and it will probably be available to scholars by 2008, followed by an exhibition at the museum, Mr. Noel said. The entire list of scholars for the Archimedes Palimpsest project, as well as detailed reports on the finding, can be found at archimedespalimpsest.org.

“This book is the most important palimpsest in the world,” Mr. Noel said. “We’re learning about the nuts and bolts of ancient medieval history and gaining a new understanding of the early history of the calculus and of our understanding of ancient physics. The prayer book is made up of five other books. Another of these books seems to be an early Christian — second or third century — commentary on ancient views of the soul and why they were incorrect.”

Correction: Nov. 28, 2006

An article in The Arts yesterday about the discovery of a text by the ancient Greek orator and politician Hyperides misstated in some copies the century in which he lived. It was the fourth century B.C., not the fourth century. The article also misstated the surname of a classics professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who commented on the discovery. He is Michael Gagarin, not Gargan.
More Articles in Arts »

Suzanne Bauguess said...

O.k. I have problems with the Unmoved mover.

I think the UM is a tidy way to package up Aristotle's telogical view of the world. But the idea seems too fantastical.

1) No change/eternal- solves the problem, "if all substances are perishable, then everything is perishable." - but what about Dark Matter?

2) Circular Motion- Centripical force is continuous only when there is no other force acting upon it....i.e. there is always some competing force so it depends on how long we wait until the galaxy fully disperses and stops moving. Also Immaterial things do not have centripical force.

3) Not material - because one of the four causes of change.... But the progression of potential to actuality is the product of material things. Example- DNA directs the cell divisions in all living matter to produce the adult form. Pure actuality cannot be the goal unless "pure actuality" is programmed and successfully translating into the object.

4) pure thought- I understand Aristotle's reasoning on understanding itself.

So mainly I think that the ever increasing explanations as the result of the 4 causes is better than the UM. explanations can be continually revised and connected. but the UM seems to be an ethereal god that has some scientific properties and contains aspects to unify Aristotle's theories.

If someone sees this clearly, then please help out!

Jordan Freeman said...

1) Dark matter is still matter, but is is such that it doesn't reflect or emit electromagnetic radiation. So it will still perish presumably. But it won't perish in the sense that it will go out of existence. Matter cannot be created or destroyed so the particles will most likely decay into gamma rays or alpha rays or something of the sort. Some sore of energy in other words.

2) I think you are referring to centripetal motion, i.e., motion that is directed towards the center during the course of circular motion. This actually considered a "faux force" as there is not an actual force here. Furthermore, it is not clear that the universe will disperse and slow down, rather, there is a sort of limit, and I can't remember the name right now, but the limit is such that if critical mass density(I think) is exceeded, the universe contracts back into itself, known as the "Big Crunch". The other option is the universe expands indefintely.

I'm not quite sure if any of that helps, good questions though!

Jordan Freeman said...

To elaborate further on 2. I am mistaken as far the centripetal force being a fake force, rather, it is an acceleration towards the center. The centrifugal force is the "fake" force. "...if a body rotates about a fixed force center, the only real force on the body is the force of attraction towards the center (and gives rise to the centripetal acceleration). An observer moving with the rotating body, however, measures this central force and also notes that the body does not fall toward the force center. To reconcile this result with the requirement that the net force on the body vanish, the observer must postulate an additional force--the centrifugal force. But the 'requirement' is aritificial..."(Thornton, Stephen. Marion, Jerry. Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems)

Anna Christina Ribeiro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna Christina Ribeiro said...

Those Greeks... here's another discovery, again from the NY Times. This oldest of computers dates to about 2 centuries after Aristotle.

(I was trying to upload the picture (hence my deleting the previous attempt), but it seems that pix can only be uploaded to posts, not to comments. A silly rule if indeed it is one--if you know how to change it, please let me know. You may click on the NY Times link below to see it.)

An Ancient Computer Surprises Scientists
Published: November 29, 2006


A computer in antiquity would seem to be an anachronism, like Athena ordering takeout on her cellphone.

But a century ago, pieces of a strange mechanism with bronze gears and dials were recovered from an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Greece. Historians of science concluded that this was an instrument that calculated and illustrated astronomical information, particularly phases of the Moon and planetary motions, in the second century B.C.

The Antikythera Mechanism, sometimes called the world’s first computer, has now been examined with the latest in high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography. A team of British, Greek and American researchers was able to decipher many inscriptions and reconstruct the gear functions, revealing, they said, “an unexpected degree of technical sophistication for the period.”

The researchers, led by Tony Freeth and Mike G. Edmunds, both of the University of Cardiff, Wales, are reporting the results of their study in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

They said their findings showed that the inscriptions related to lunar-solar motions and the gears were a mechanical representation of the irregularities of the Moon’s orbital course across the sky, as theorized by the astronomer Hipparchos. They established the date of the mechanism at 150-100 B.C.

The Roman ship carrying the artifacts sank off the island of Antikythera around 65 B.C. Some evidence suggests that the ship had sailed from Rhodes. The researchers speculated that Hipparchos, who lived on Rhodes, might have had a hand in designing the device.

In another article in the journal, a scholar not involved in the research, Fran├žois Charette of the University of Munich museum, in Germany, said the new interpretation of the Antikythera Mechanism “is highly seductive and convincing in all of its details.” It is not the last word, he concluded, “but it does provide a new standard, and a wealth of fresh data, for future research.”

Historians of technology think the instrument is technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterward.

The mechanism, presumably used in preparing calendars for seasons of planting and harvesting and fixing religious festivals, had at least 30, possibly 37, hand-cut bronze gear-wheels, the researchers reported. An ingenious pin-and-slot device connecting two gear-wheels induced variations in the representation of lunar motions according to the Hipparchos model of the Moon’s elliptical orbit around Earth.

The functions of the mechanism were determined by the numbers of teeth in the gears. The 53-tooth count of certain gears, the researchers said, was “powerful confirmation of our proposed model of Hipparchos’ lunar theory.”

The detailed imaging revealed more than twice as many inscriptions as had been recognized from earlier examinations. Some of these appeared to relate to planetary as well as lunar motions. Perhaps, the researchers said, the mechanism also had gearings to predict the positions of known planets.

Dr. Charette noted that more than 1,000 years elapsed before instruments of such complexity are known to have re-emerged. A few artifacts and some Arabic texts suggest that simpler geared calendrical devices had existed, particularly in Baghdad around A.D. 900.

It seems clear, Dr. Charette said, that “much of the mind-boggling technological sophistication available in some parts of the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman world was simply not transmitted further,” adding, “The gear-wheel, in this case, had to be reinvented.”

Related Web Link
Decoding the Ancient Greek Astronomical Calculator Known as the Antikythera Mechanism (Nature)

Suzanne Bauguess said...

2)I think this is because the galaxy net force=0. Not the body net force.

1) I think that matter cannot be created or destroyed in a closed system...open system it can be converted to heat/energy and transfered or dispersed.

Anyway. Back to Aristotle's UM.

Would Aristotle consider the UM a primary or secondary substance? Obviously secondary, so if primary have the ontological priority then aristotle provides a considerably "weak/secondary" entity for the conclusion to his "empirical studies."

Jordan Freeman said...

1) Matter CANNOT be created or destroyed. The closed vs open system distinction is irrelevant. E = MC^2 highlights the interchangeability of mass and energy. Mass is not destroyed, it is dissipated into heat, radiation, etc. So your distinction actually means the same thing, that is, they are equivalent. In either case matter is being conserved.

2) There is no galaxy net force that I am aware of.

Suzanne Bauguess said...

Some Questions.

1) Concerning categories substantial/accidental change
-A problem, discussed in class, is substantial change implies two different ideas for primary substances 1) particular (butterfly) 2) general matter. So general matter undergoes substantial change to form a butterfly. Does Aristotle need this non-specific matter? Can this matter merely be specific matter to this butterfly. i.e. the genes of the butterfly result in the substantial change of catepillar to butterfly.
-The only problem I can think Aristotle having with this is that substances do not have degrees of existence. But the primary (butterfly/genes) can always exist, it just depends if the enviroment provides the correct aitia to allow change.

Jill Ledermann said...

In the nicomachean ethics, Aristotle makes reference to habiuation as a necessary part to becoming virtuous in character. However, if one continuously performs acts until they do so out of habit, then it seems that person may only be performing said acts because he or she is used to them. That is, the person is only doing these things out of habit, and not out of his or her own full will. Is this a potential problem for Aristotle?

jordan Freeman said...

That's a great question, Jill. I wonder about this myself. If someone just does something out of habit, well, it seems they are doing so only because they are use to it. I have many habits that I perform daily without exactly thinking about them beforehand. Such as tying my right shoe first. I don't do this conciously as in I think to myself "Tie your right sure first", rather, I do it since I am use to doing it. So someone who acts courageously out of habituation would seem to be doing so due to being used to it. I definitely think this might be a problem for Aristotle.

Anonymous said...

"Tie your right sure first" is supposed to be "Tie your right shoe first"--Sorry.

Jill Ledermann said...

Another question:

In doing research on Aristotle, I came across some information I didn't really understand. It stated that the proof given by Aristotle for the necessary existence of the Unmoved Mover (besides the issue of infinite regress) is:

1. if something is moved, it is capable of being somthing else
2.if the UM had movement, it would be the first movement.
3.However, since the UM created the first movement, it cannot have taken part in it.
4.If it were to have taken part in it, it would not have been the first cause.
5. Therefore, the existence of the UM is necessary.

Though I am quite sure I get all of my research from reputable sites, I am not convinced that this information may be mistaken. Is it? One fallacy of the argument is to assume there is an UM in the premises. (#3) And also in premise 3 -- what is to say that the UM could not have created AND taken part in the first movement? Also, in premise 1, is the property of movement a sufficient condition to require that is also be changeable? Can something be moved and still remaini the same thing?

Anyway, the whole argument seems odd to me. Am I missing something?

Sarah said...

I can tell from this post that like myself we are all intrigued by Greek Philosophy. Take a look at this post that I came across on Peterman's Eye. Notes all the most famous greek gods. Enjoy!


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