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Skinner, the psychologist most associated with the idea of behavior modification, that a class of his once trained him to lecture always from one corner of the room, by smiling and nodding whenever he approached it, but frowning and faintly shaking their heads when he moved away from it. That is the way we acquire habits. We slip into them unawares, or let them be imposed on us, or even impose them on ourselves. A person with ever so many habits may still have no character.

Habits make for repetitive and predictable behavior, but character gives moral equilibrium to a life. The difference is between a foolish consistency wholly confined to the level of acting, and a reliability in that part of us from which actions have their source. It should now be clear though, that the habit cannot be any part of that character, and that we must try to understand how an active condition can arise as a consequence of a passive one, and why that active condition can only be attained if the passive one has come first.

So far we have arranged three notions in a series, like rungs of a ladder: at the top are actives states, such as knowledge, the moral virtues, and the combination of virtues that makes up a character; the middle rung, the mere dispositions, we have mentioned only in passing to claim that they are too shallow and changeable to capture the meaning of virtue; the bottom rung is the place of the habits, and includes biting your nails, twisting your hair, saying "like" between every two words, and all such passive and mindless conditions. What we need to notice now is that there is yet another rung of the ladder below the habits.

We all start out life governed by desires and impulses. Unlike the habits, which are passive but lasting conditions, desires and impulses are passive and momentary, but they are very strong. Listen to a child who can't live without some object of appetite or greed, or who makes you think you are a murderer if you try to leave her alone in a dark room.

How can such powerful influences be overcome? To expect a child to let go of the desire or fear that grips her may seem as hopeless as Aristotle's example of training a stone to fall upward, were it not for the fact that we all know that we have somehow, for the most part, broken the power of these tyrannical feelings. We don't expel them altogether, but we do get the upper hand; an adult who has temper tantrums like those of a two-year old has to live in an institution, and not in the adult world.

But the impulses and desires don't weaken; it is rather the case that we get stronger. Aristotle doesn't go into much detail about how this happens, except to say that we get the virtues by working at them: in the give-and-take with other people, some become just, others unjust; by acting in the face of frightening things and being habituated to be fearful or confident, some become brave and others cowardly; and some become moderate and gentle, others spoiled and bad-tempered, by turning around from one thing and toward another in the midst of desires and passions.

The latter word, that can be translated as being-at-work, cannot mean mere behavior, however repetitive and constant it may be. It is this idea of being-at-work, which is central to all of Aristotle's thinking, that makes intelligible the transition out of childhood and into the moral stature that comes with character and virtue. The moral life can be confused with the habits approved by some society and imposed on its young.

We at St. John's College still stand up at the beginning and end of Friday-night lectures because Stringfellow Barr -- one of the founders of the current curriculum -- always stood when anyone entered or left a room.

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Philosophical fiction

What he considered good breeding is for us mere habit; that becomes obvious when some student who stood up at the beginning of a lecture occasionally gets bored and leaves in the middle of it. In such a case the politeness was just for show, and the rudeness is the truth. Why isn't all habituation of the young of this sort? When a parent makes a child repeatedly refrain from some desired thing, or remain in some frightening situation, the child is beginning to act as a moderate or brave person would act, but what is really going on within the child?

I used to think that it must be the parent's approval that was becoming stronger than the child's own impulse, but I was persuaded by others in a study group that this alone would be of no lasting value, and would contribute nothing to the formation of an active state of character. What seems more likely is that parental training is needed only for its negative effect, as a way of neutralizing the irrational force of impulses and desires.

We all arrive on the scene already habituated, in the habit, that is, of yielding to impulses and desires, of instantly slackening the tension of pain or fear or unfulfilled desire in any way open to us, and all this has become automatic in us before thinking and choosing are available to us at all.

This is a description of what is called "human nature," though in fact it precedes our access to our true natural state, and blocks that access. This is why Aristotle says that "the virtues come about in us neither by nature nor apart from nature" a, What we call "human nature," and some philosophers call the "state of nature," is both natural and unnatural; it is the passive part of our natures, passively reinforced by habit.

Virtue has the aspect of a second nature, because it cannot develop first, nor by a continuous process out of our first condition. But it is only in the moral virtues that we possess our primary nature, that in which all our capacities can have their full development. The sign of what is natural, for Aristotle, is pleasure, but we have to know how to read the signs. Things pleasant by nature have no opposite pain and no excess, because they set us free to act simply as what we are b, , and it is in this sense that Aristotle calls the life of virtue pleasant in its own right, in itself a, , A mere habit of acting contrary to our inclinations cannot be a virtue, by the infallible sign that we don't like it.

Our first or childish nature is never eradicated, though, and this is why Aristotle says that our nature is not simple, but also has in it something different that makes our happiness assailable from within, and makes us love change even when it is for the worse.

And the road to these virtues is nothing fancy, but is simply what all parents begin to do who withhold some desired thing from a child, or prevent it from running away from every irrational source of fear. They make the child act, without virtue, as though it had virtue. Assume a virtue if you have it not. That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat Of habits evil, is angel yet in this, That to the use of actions fair and good He likewise gives a frock or livery, That aptly is put on.

Refrain tonight, And that shall lend a kind of easiness To the next abstinence; the next more easy; For use almost can change the stamp of nature Hamlet is talking to a middle-aged woman about lust, but the pattern applies just as well to five-year-olds and candy. We are in a position to see that it is not the stamp of nature that needs to be changed but the earliest stamp of habit. We can drop Hamlet's "almost" and rid his last quoted line of all paradox by seeing that the reason we need habit is to change the stamp of habit.

A habit of yielding to impulse can be counteracted by an equal and opposite habit. This second habit is no virtue, but only a mindless inhibition, an automatic repressing of all impulses. Nor do the two opposite habits together produce virtue, but rather a state of neutrality. Habituation thus does not stifle nature, but rather lets nature make its appearance.

The description from Book VII of the Physics of the way children begin to learn applies equally well to the way human character begins to be formed: we settle down, out of the turmoil of childishness, into what we are by nature. We noticed earlier that habituation is not the end but the beginning of the progress toward virtue.

If the human soul had no being-at-work, no inherent and indelible activity, there could be no such moral stature, but only customs. But early on, when first trying to give content to the idea of happiness, Aristotle asks if it would make sense to think that a carpenter or shoemaker has work to do, but a human being as such is inert. His reply, of course, is that nature has given us work to do, in default of which we are necessarily unhappy, and that work is to put into action the power of reason. Later, Aristotle makes explicit that the irrational impulses are no less human than reasoning is.

Responsible human action depends upon the combining of all the powers of the soul: perception, imagination, reasoning, and desiring. These are all things that are at work in us all the time. Good parental training does not produce them, or mold them, or alter them, but sets them free to be effective in action. This is the way in which, according to Aristotle, despite the contributions of parents, society, and nature, we are the co-authors of the active states of our own souls b, Now this discussion has shown that habit does make all the difference to our lives without being the only thing shaping those lives and without being the final form they take.

Quantitative relations are so far from any serious human situation that they would seem to be present only incidentally or metaphorically, but Aristotle says that "by its thinghood and by the account that unfolds what it is for it to be, virtue is a mean. Courage ; Cowardice is -3 while Rashness is In our number language Those who do not sink this low might think instead that Aristotle is praising a kind of mediocrity, like that found in those who used to go to college to get "gentlemen's C's.

Aristotle points out twice that every moral virtue is an extreme a, , , but he keeps that observation secondary to an over-riding sense in which it is a mean. Could there be anything at all to the notion that we hone in on a virtue from two sides? The protagonist is not a human being, but a border collie named Nop. The author describes the way the dog has to find the balance point, the exact distance behind a herd of sheep from which he can drive the whole herd forward in a coherent mass.

When the dog is too close, the sheep panic and run off in all directions; when he is too far back, the sheep ignore him, and turn in all directions to graze. While in motion, a good working dog keeps adjusting his pace to maintain the exact mean position that keeps the sheep stepping lively in the direction he determines.

Now working border collies are brave, tireless, and determined. They have been documented as running more than a hundred miles in a day, and they love their work. There is no question that they display virtue, but it is not human virtue and not even of the same form. Some human activities do require the long sustained tension a sheep dog is always holding on to, an active state stretched to the limit, constantly and anxiously kept in balance. Running on a tightrope might capture the same flavor. But constantly maintained anxiety is not the kind of stable equilibrium Aristotle attributes to the virtuous human soul.

I think we may have stumbled on the way that human virtue is a mean when we found that habits were necessary in order to counteract other habits. This does accord with the things Aristotle says about straightening warped boards, aiming away from the worse extreme, and being on guard against the seductions of pleasure. Alone, either of them is a vice, according to Aristotle.

The glutton, the drunkard, the person enslaved to every sexual impulse obviously cannot ever be happy, but the opposite extremes, which Aristotle groups together as a kind of numbness or denial of the senses b, 8 , miss the proper relation to bodily pleasure on the other side. It may seem that temperance in relation to food, say, depends merely on determining how many ounces of chocolate mousse to eat. Aristotle's example of Milo the wrestler, who needs more food than the rest of us do to sustain him, seems to say this, but I think that misses the point.

Natural philosophy

The example is given only to show that there is no single action that can be prescribed as right for every person and every circumstance, and it is not strictly analogous even to temperance with respect to food. What is at stake is not a correct quantity of food but a right relation to the pleasure that comes from eating. Suppose you have carefully saved a bowl of chocolate mousse all day for your mid-evening snack, and just as you are ready to treat yourself, a friend arrives unexpectedly to visit. If you are a glutton, you might hide the mousse until the friend leaves, or gobble it down before you open the door.

If you have the opposite vice, and have puritanically suppressed in yourself all indulgence in the pleasures of food, you probably won't have chocolate mousse or any other treat to offer your visitor. If the state of your soul is in the mean in these matters, you are neither enslaved to nor shut out from the pleasure of eating treats, and can enhance the visit of a friend by sharing them.

What you are sharing is incidentally the 6 ounces of chocolate mousse; the point is that you are sharing the pleasure, which is not found on any scale of measurement. If the pleasures of the body master you, or if you have broken their power only by rooting them out, you have missed out on the natural role that such pleasures can play in life. In the mean between those two states, you are free to notice possibilities that serve good ends, and to act on them.

It is worth repeating that the mean is not the 3 ounces of mousse on which you settled, since if two friends had come to visit you would have been willing to eat 2 ounces. That would not have been a division of the food but a multiplication of the pleasure. What is enlightening about the example is how readily and how nearly universally we all see that sharing the treat is the right thing to do. This is a matter of immediate perception, but it is perception of a special kind, not that of any one of the five senses, Aristotle says, but the sort by which we perceive that a triangle is the last kind of figure into which a polygon can be divided.

The childish sort of habit clouds our sight, but the liberating counter-habit clears that sight. This is why Aristotle says that the person of moral stature, the spoudaios , is the one to whom things appear as they truly are. The mean state here is not a point on a dial that we need to fiddle up and down; it is a clearing in the midst of pleasures and pains that lets us judge what seems most truly pleasant and painful. Achieving temperance toward bodily pleasures is, by this account, finding a mean, but it is not a simple question of adjusting a single varying condition toward the more or the less.

The person who is always fighting the same battle, always struggling like the sheep dog to maintain the balance point between too much and too little indulgence, does not, according to Aristotle, have the virtue of temperance, but is at best selfrestrained or continent. In that case, the reasoning part of the soul is keeping the impulses reined in. But those impulses can slip the reins and go their own way, as parts of the body do in people with certain disorders of the nerves. It is the old story of the conflict between the head and the emotions, never resolved but subject to truces.

A soul with separate, self-contained rational and irrational parts could never become one undivided human being, since the parties would always believe they had divergent interests, and could at best compromise. The virtuous soul, on the contrary, blends all its parts in the act of choice. This is arguably the best way to understand the active state of the soul that constitutes moral virtue and forms character. It is the condition in which all the powers of the soul are at work together, making it possible for action to engage the whole human being.

The work of achieving character is a process of clearing away the obstacles that stand in the way of the full efficacy of the soul. Someone who is partial to food or drink, or to running away from trouble or to looking for trouble, is a partial human being. Let the whole power of the soul have its influence, and the choices that result will have the characteristic look that we call "courage" or "temperance" or simply "virtue.

A person of character is someone you can count on, because there is a human nature in a deeper sense than that which refers to our early state of weakness. Someone with character has taken a stand in that fully mature nature, and cannot be moved all the way out of it. But there is also such a thing as bad character, and this is what Aristotle means by vice , as distinct from bad habits or weakness. It is possible for someone with full responsibility and the free use of intellect to choose always to yield to bodily pleasure or to greed.

Virtue is a mean, first because it can only emerge out of the stand-off between opposite habits, but second because it chooses to take its stand not in either of those habits but between them. While the tenets of his thought have their home in poetry, they are expressed with the force of logic. The Parmenidean logic of being thus sparked a long lineage of inquiry into the nature of being and thinking. Parmenides recorded his thought in the form of a poem. In it, there are two paths that mortals can take—the path of truth and the path of error.

The first path is the path of being or what-is. The right way of thinking is to think of what-is, and the wrong way is to think both what-is and what-is-not. The latter is wrong, simply because non-being is not. In other words, there is no non-being, so properly speaking, it cannot be thought—there is nothing there to think. It is only our long entrenched habits of sensation that mislead us into thinking down the wrong path of non-being. The world, and its appearance of change, thrusts itself upon our senses, and we erroneously believe that what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell is the truth.

But, if non-being is not, then change is impossible, for when anything changes, it moves from non-being to being. For example, for a being to grow tall, it must have at some point not been tall. Since non-being is not and cannot therefore be thought, we are deluded into believing that this sort of change actually happens. Similarly, what-is is one.

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If there were a plurality, there would be non-being, that is, this would not be that. Parmenides thus argues that we must trust in reason alone. In the Parmenidean tradition, we have Zeno c. Zeno seems to have composed a text wherein he claims to show the absurdity in accepting that there is a plurality of beings, and he also shows that motion is impossible. Zeno shows that if we attempt to count a plurality, we end up with an absurdity. If there were a plurality, then it would be neither more nor less than the number that it would have to be.

Thus, there would be a finite number of things. On the other hand, if there were a plurality, then the number would be infinite because there is always something else between existing things, and something else between those, and something else between those, ad infinitum. Thus, if there were a plurality of things, then that plurality would be both infinite and finite in number, which is absurd F4. The most enduring paradoxes are those concerned with motion.

It is impossible for a body in motion to traverse, say, a distance of twenty feet. In order to do so, the body must first arrive at the halfway point, or ten feet. But in order to arrive there, the body in motion must travel five feet. But in order to arrive there, the body must travel two and a half feet, ad infinitum. Since, then, space is infinitely divisible, but we have only a finite time to traverse it, it cannot be done. Presumably, one could not even begin a journey at all. Achilles must first reach the place where the slow runner began.

This means that the slow runner will already be a bit beyond where he began. Once Achilles progresses to the next place, the slow runner is already beyond that point, too. Thus, motion seems absurd. Anaxagoras of Clazomenae c. Closely predating Plato Anaxagoras died around the time that Plato was born , Anaxagoras left his impression upon Plato and Aristotle, although they were both ultimately dissatisfied with his cosmology Graham He seems to have been almost exclusively concerned with cosmology and the true nature of all that is around us.

Before the cosmos was as it is now, it was nothing but a great mixture—everything was in everything. The mixture was so thoroughgoing that no part of it was recognizable due to the smallness of each thing, and not even colors were perceptible. He considered matter to be infinitely divisible. That is, because it is impossible for being not to be, there is never a smallest part, but there is always a smaller part. If the parts of the great mixture were not infinitely divisible, then we would be left with a smallest part.

Since the smallest part could not become smaller, any attempt at dividing it again would presumably obliterate it. The most important player in this continuous play of being is mind nous. Although mind can be in some things, nothing else can be in it—mind is unmixed. We recall that, for Anaxagoras, everything is mixed with everything. There is some portion of everything in anything that we identify.

Thus, if anything at all were mixed with mind, then everything would be mixed with mind. Mind is in control, and it is responsible for the great mixture of being. Everlasting mind—the most pure of all things—is responsible for ordering the world. Anaxagoras left his mark on the thought of both Plato and Aristotle, whose critiques of Anaxagoras are similar. He was most excited about mind as an ultimate cause of all. Yet, Socrates complains, Anaxagoras made very little use of mind to explain what was best for each of the heavenly bodies in their motions, or the good of anything else.

That is, Socrates seems to have wanted some explanation as to why it is good for all things to be as they are Graham Aristotle, too, complains that Anaxagoras makes only minimal use of his principle of mind. It becomes, as it were, a deus ex machina, that is, whenever Anaxagoras was unable to give any other explanation for the cause of a given event, he fell back upon mind Graham It is possible, as always, that both Plato and Aristotle resort here to a straw man of sorts in order to advance their own positions.

Indeed, we have seen that Mind set the great mixture into motion, and then ordered the cosmos as we know it. This is no insignificant feat. Ancient atomism began a legacy in philosophical and scientific thought, and this legacy was revived and significantly evolved in modern philosophy. In contemporary times, the atom is not the smallest particle. Etymologically, however, atomos is that which is uncut or indivisible. The ancient atomists, Leucippus and Democritus c.

They were to some degree responding to Parmenides and Zeno by indicating atoms as indivisible sources of motion. Atoms—the most compact and the only indivisible bodies in nature—are infinite in number, and they constantly move through an infinite void. In fact, motion would be impossible, says Democritus, without the void.

If there were no void, the atoms would have nothing through which to move. Atoms take on a variety, perhaps an infinite variety, of shapes.


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Some are round, others are hooked, and yet others are jagged. They often collide with one another, and often bounce off of one another. Sometimes, though, the shapes of the colliding atoms are amenable to one another, and they come together to form the matter that we identify as the sensible world F5. This combination, too, would be impossible without the void. Atoms need a background emptiness out of which they are able to combine Graham Atoms then stay together until some larger environmental force breaks them apart, at which point they resume their constant motion F5.

Why certain atoms come together to form a world seems up to chance, and yet many worlds have been, are, and will be formed by atomic collision and coalescence Graham Once a world is formed, however, all things happen by necessity—the causal laws of nature dictate the course of the natural world Graham Much of what is transmitted to us about the Sophists comes from Plato. Thus, the Sophists had no small influence on fifth century Greece and Greek thought. Broadly, the Sophists were a group of itinerant teachers who charged fees to teach on a variety of subjects, with rhetoric as the preeminent subject in their curriculum.

A common characteristic among many, but perhaps not all, Sophists seems to have been an emphasis upon arguing for each of the opposing sides of a case. Thus, these argumentative and rhetorical skills could be useful in law courts and political contexts. However, these sorts of skills also tended to earn many Sophists their reputation as moral and epistemological relativists, which for some was tantamount to intellectual fraud.

One of the earliest and most famous Sophists was Protagoras c. Plato, at least for the purposes of the Protagoras , reads individual relativism out of this statement. For example, if the pool of water feels cold to Henry, then it is in fact cold for Henry, while it might appear warm, and therefore be warm for Jennifer. The idea of communication is then rendered incoherent since each person has his or her own private meaning.

That is, the question of whether and how things are, and whether and how things are not, is a question that has meaning ostensibly only for human beings. Thus, all knowledge is relative to us as human beings, and therefore limited by our being and our capabilities. It is implied here that knowledge is possible, but that it is difficult to attain, and that it is impossible to attain when the question is whether or not the gods exist. We can also see here that human finitude is a limit not only upon human life but also upon knowledge. Thus, if there is knowledge, it is for human beings, but it is obscure and fragile.

Along with Protagoras was Gorgias c. Perhaps flashier than Protagoras when it came to rhetoric and speech making, Gorgias is known for his sophisticated and poetic style. He is known also for extemporaneous speeches, taking audience suggestions for possible topics upon which he would speak at length. His most well-known work is On Nature , Or On What-Is-Not wherein he, contrary to Eleatic philosophy, sets out to show that neither being nor non-being is, and that even if there were anything, it could be neither known nor spoken.

It is unclear whether this work was in jest or in earnest. If it was in jest, then it was likely an exercise in argumentation as much as it was a gibe at the Eleatics. If it was in earnest, then Gorgias could be seen as an advocate for extreme skepticism, relativism, or perhaps even nihilism Graham Socrates B. We cannot be sure if or when Xenophon or Plato is reporting about Socrates with historical accuracy. Xenophon, in his Memorobilia , wrote some biographical information about Socrates, but we cannot know how much is fabricated or embellished. Socrates was the son of a sculptor, Sophroniscus, and grew up an Athenian citizen.

Similarly, Aristophanes presents Socrates as an impoverished sophist whose head was in the clouds to the detriment of his daily, practical life. While Xenophon and Plato both recognize this rhetorical Socrates, they both present him as a virtuous man who used his skills in argumentation for truth, or at least to help remove himself and his interlocutors from error.

He did so by asking them questions, often demanding yes-or-no answers, and then reduced their positions to absurdity. He was, in short, aiming for his interlocutor to admit his own ignorance, especially where the interlocutor thought that he knew what he did not in fact know.

Thus, many Platonic dialogues end in aporia, an impasse in thought—a place of perplexity about the topic originally under discussion Brickhouse and Smith This is presumably the place from which a thoughtful person can then make a fresh start on the way to seeking truth. Socrates practiced philosophy openly, did not charge fees for doing so and allowed anyone who wanted to engage with him to do so. Xenophon says:. Socrates lived ever in the open; for early in the morning he went to the public promenades and training-grounds; in the forenoon he was seen in the market; and the rest of the day he passed just where most people were to be met: he was generally talking, and anyone might listen.

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Memorabilia , Book I, i. Often his discussions had to do with topics of virtue—justice, courage, temperance, and wisdom Memorabilia , Book I, i. This sort of open practice made Socrates well known but also unpopular, which eventually led to his execution. Lycon about whom little is known , Anytus an influential politician in Athens , and Meletus, a poet, accused Socrates of not worshipping the gods mandated by Athens impiety and of corrupting the youth through his persuasive power of speech. In his Meno , Plato hints that Anytus was already personally angry with Socrates.

This is not surprising, if indeed Socrates practiced philosophy in the way that both Xenophon and Plato report that he did by exposing the ignorance of his interlocutors. Socrates claims to have ventured down the path of philosophy because of a proclamation from the Oracle at Delphi. The god replied that no one was wiser than Socrates. Socrates, who claims never to have been wise, wondered what this meant. As a result of showing so many people their own ignorance, or at least trying to, Socrates became unpopular 23a.

This unpopularity is eventually what killed him. Both Xenophon and Plato 40b claim that it was this daimon who prevented Socrates from making such a defense as would exonerate him. That is, the daimon did not dissuade Socrates from his sentence of death. At any rate, Xenophon has Socrates recognize his own unpopularity. Socrates practiced philosophy, in an effort to know himself, daily and even in the face of his own death.

He and Crito first establish that doing wrong willingly is always bad, and this includes returning wrong for wrong 49b-c. Then, personifying Athenian law, Socrates establishes that escaping prison would be wrong. In it, he famously claims that philosophy is practice for dying and death 64a. Indeed, he spends his final hours with his friends discussing a very relevant and pressing philosophical issue, that is the immortality of the soul. Socrates is presented to us as a man who, even in his final hours, wanted nothing more than to pursue wisdom.

Euthyphro, a priest, claims that what he is doing—prosecuting a wrongdoer—is pious. Socrates then uses his elenchos to show that Euthyphro does not actually know what piety is. Socrates, we are told, continued this practice even in the final hours of his life. Plato B. He grew up in a time of upheaval in Athens, especially at the conclusion of the Peloponnesian war, when Athens was conquered by Sparta. We cannot be sure when he met Socrates. Taylor 3. He also seems to have spent time with Cratylus, the Heraclitean, which probably had an impact primarily on his metaphysics and epistemology.

At last I came to the conclusion that all existing states are badly governed and the condition of their laws practically incurable, without some miraculous remedy and the assistance of fortune; and I was forced to say, in praise of true philosophy , that from her height alone was it possible to discern what the nature of justice is, either in the state or in the individual, and that the ills of the human race would never end until either those who are sincerely and truly lovers of wisdom [that is, philosophers] come into political power, or the rulers of our cities, by the grace of God, learn true philosophy.

Letter VII. Plato saw any political regime without the aid of philosophy or fortune as fundamentally corrupt. This attitude, however, did not turn Plato entirely from politics. He visited Sicily three times, where two of these trips were failed attempts at trying to turn the tyrant Dionysius II to the life of philosophy. He thus returned to Athens and focused his efforts on the philosophical education he had begun at his Academy Nails 5.

Since Plato wrote dialogues, there is a fundamental difficulty with any effort to identify just what Plato himself thought. Plato never appears in the dialogues as an interlocutor. If he was voicing any of his own thoughts, he did it through the mouthpiece of particular characters in the dialogues, each of which has a particular historical context. As John Cooper says,. Cooper xxii. Both of these words are rooted in verbs of seeing. Thus, the eidos of something is its look, shape, or form.

But, as many philosophers do, Plato manipulates this word and has it refer to immaterial entities. Why is it that one can recognize that a maple is a tree, an oak is a tree, and a Japanese fir is a tree? What is it that unites all of our concepts of various trees under a unitary category of Tree? The forms can be interpreted not only as purely theoretical entities, but also as immaterial entities that give being to material entities.

Each tree, for example, is what it is insofar as it participates in the form of Tree. That is, if anything can be known, it is the forms. Since things in the world are changing and temporal, we cannot know them; therefore, forms are unchanging and eternal beings that give being to all changing and temporal beings in the world, if knowledge is to be certain and clear. In other words, we cannot know something that is different from one moment to the next.

The forms are therefore pure ideas that unify and stabilize the multiplicity of changing beings in the material world. The forms are the ultimate reality, and this is shown to us in the Allegory of the Cave. We are to imagine a cave wherein lifelong prisoners dwell. These prisoners do not know that they are prisoners since they have been held captive their entire lives. They are shackled such that they are incapable of turning their heads.

Behind them is a fire, and small puppets or trinkets of various things—horses, stones, people, and so forth—are being moved in front of the fire. Shadows of these trinkets are cast onto a wall in front of the prisoners. The prisoners take this world of shadows to be reality since it is the only thing they ever see. If, however, we suppose that one prisoner is unshackled and is forced to make his way out of the cave, we can see the process of education. At first, the prisoner sees the fire, which casts the shadows he formerly took to be reality.

He is then led out of the cave. After his eyes painfully adjust to the sunlight, he first sees only the shadows of things, and then the things themselves. After this, he realizes that it is the sun by which he sees the things, and which gives life to the things he sees. The sun is here analogous to the form of the Good, which is what gives life to all beings and enables us most truly to know all beings.

This dialogue shows us a young Socrates, whose understanding of the forms is being challenged by Parmenides. Parmenides first challenges the young Socrates about the scope of the forms. It seems absurd, thinks Parmenides, to suppose stones, hair, or bits of dirt of their own form c-d. The forms are supposed to be unitary. The multiplicity of large material things, for example, participate in the one form of Largeness, which itself does not participate in anything else.

In other words, is the form of Largeness itself large? If so, it would need to participate in another form of Largeness, which would itself need to participate in another form, and so forth. In short, we can see that Plato is tentative about what is now considered his most important theory. Indeed, in his Seventh Letter , Plato says that talking about the forms at all is a difficult matter.

The forms are beyond words or, at best, words can only approximately reveal the truth of the forms. Yet, Plato seems to take it on faith that, if there is knowledge to be had, there must be these unchanging, eternal beings. We can say that, for Plato, if there is to be knowledge, it must be of eternal, unchanging things. The world is constantly in flux. It is therefore strange to say that one has knowledge of it, when one can also claim to have knowledge of, say, arithmetic or geometry, which are stable, unchanging things, according to Plato.

Moreover, like Cratylus, we might wonder whether our ideas about the changing world are ever accurate at all. Our ideas, after all, tend to be much like a photograph of a world, but unlike the photograph, the world continues to change. Thus, Plato reserves the forms as those things about which we can have true knowledge. How we get knowledge is difficult. How will you aim to search for something you do not know at all? If you should meet with it, how will you know that this is the thing that you did not know? If so, then it seems that one cannot even begin to ask about X.

In other words, it seems that one must already know X in order to ask about it in the first place, but if one already knows X, then there is nothing to ask. The theory of recollection rests upon the assumption that the human soul is immortal. At any rate, Socrates shows Meno how the human mind mysteriously, when led in the proper fashion, can arrive at knowledge on its own.

This is recollection. Again, the forms are the most knowable beings and, so, presumably are those beings that we recollect in knowledge. Plato offers another image of knowing in his Republic. True understanding noesis is of the forms. Below this, there is thought dianoia , through which we think about things like mathematics and geometry. Below this is belief pistis , where we can reason about things that we sense in our world. The lowest rung of the ladder is imagination eikasia , where our mind is occupied with mere shadows of the physical world de.

In any case, real knowledge is knowledge of the forms, and is that for which the true philosopher strives, and the philosopher does this by living the life of the best part of the soul—reason. Plato is famous for his theory of the tripartite soul psyche , the most thorough formulation of which is in the Republic.

The soul is at least logically, if not also ontologically, divided into three parts: reason logos , spirit thumos , and appetite or desire epithumia. Reason is responsible for rational thought and will be in control of the most ordered soul. Spirit is responsible for spirited emotions, like anger.

Appetites are responsible not only for natural appetites such as hunger, thirst, and sex, but also for the desire of excess in each of these and other appetites. Why are the three separate, according to Plato? The argument for the distinction between three parts of the soul rests upon the Principle of Contradiction. Just because, however, that person might desire a drink, it does not mean that she will drink at that time.

In fact, it is conceivable that, for whatever reason, she will restrain herself from drinking at that time. Since the Principle of Contradiction entails that the same part of the soul cannot, at the same time and in the same respect, desire and not desire to drink, it must be some other part of the soul that helps reign in the desire b. The rational part of the soul is responsible for keeping desires in check or, as in the case just mentioned, denying the fulfillment of desires when it is appropriate to do so.

Why is the spirited part different from the appetitive part? To answer this question, Socrates relays a story he once heard about a man named Leontius. Despite his disgust issuing from the spirited part of the soul with his desire, Leontius reluctantly looked at the corpses. Socrates also cites examples when someone has done something, on account of appetite, for which he later reproaches himself.

The reproach is rooted in an alliance between reason and spirit. Reason, with the help of spirit, will rule in the best souls. Appetite, and perhaps to some degree spirit, will rule in a disordered soul. The life of philosophy is a cultivation of reason and its rule. The soul is also immortal, and one the more famous arguments for the immortality of the soul comes from the Phaedo. This argument rests upon a theory of the relationship of opposites. Hot and cold, for example, are opposites, and there are processes of becoming between the two.

Hot comes to be what it is from cold. Cold must also come to be what it is from the hot, otherwise all things would move only in one direction, so to speak, and everything would therefore be hot. Life and death are also opposites. Living things come to be dead and death comes from life. But, since the processes between opposites cannot be a one-way affair, life must also come from death Phaedo 71c-e2. The souls must always exist in order to be immortal. We can see here the influence of Pythagorean thought upon Plato since this also leaves room for the transmigration of souls.

The disordered souls in which desire rules will return from death to life embodied as animals such as donkeys while unjust and ambitious souls will return as hawks 81ea3. The best life is the life of philosophy, that is the life of loving and pursuing wisdom—a life spent engaging logos. The philosophical life is also the most excellent life since it is the touchstone of true virtue. Without wisdom, there is only a shadow or imitation of virtue, and such lives are still dominated by passion, desire, and emotions.

On the other hand,. The soul of the philosopher achieves a calm from such emotions; it follows reason and ever stays with it contemplating the true, the divine, which is not the object of opinion. Nurtured by this, it believes that one should live in this manner as long as one is alive and, after death, arrive at what is akin and of the same kind, and escape from human evils.

Phaedo 84a-b. The Republic begins with the question of what true justice is. Socrates proposes that he and his interlocutors, Glaucon and Adeimantus, might see justice more clearly in the individual if they take a look at justice writ large in a city, assuming that an individual is in some way analogous to a city ca. The guardians will rule, the auxiliaries will defend the city, and the craftspeople and farmers will produce goods and food for the city. The guardians, as we learn in Book VI, will also be philosophers since only the wisest should rule.

This tripartite city mirrors the tripartite soul. How is it that auxiliaries and craftspeople can be kept in their own proper position and be prevented from an ambitious quest for upward movement? Maintaining social order depends not only upon wise ruling, but also upon the Noble Lie. The Noble Lie is a myth that the gods mixed in various metals with the members of the various social strata. The guardians were mixed with gold, the auxiliaries with silver, and the farmers and craftspeople with iron and bronze a-c. He even seems to recognize this at times. For example, the guardians must not only go through a rigorous training and education regimen, but they must also live a strictly communal life with one another, having no private property.

Adeimantus objects to this saying that the guardians will be unhappy. In anticipation that such a city is doomed to failure, Plato has it dissolve, but he merely cites discord among the rulers d and natural processes of becoming as the reasons for its devolution. Not even a constitution such as this will last forever. Yet, it is possible that the lust for power is the cause of strife and discord among the leaders. In other words, perhaps not even the best sort of education and training can keep even the wisest of human rulers free from desire.

Yet, just as he challenges his own metaphysical ideas, he also at times loosens up on his ethical and political ideals. Socrates, to his own pleasure, rubs his legs after the shackles have been removed 60b , which implies that even philosophers enjoy bodily pleasures. Phaedo recounts how Socrates eased his pain on that particular day:. I happened to be sitting on his right by the couch on a low stool, so that he was sitting well above me. He stroked my head and pressed the hair on the back of my neck, for he was in the habit of playing with my hair at times.

Plato, with these dramatic details, is reminding us that even the philosopher is embodied and, at least to some extent, enjoys that embodiment, even though reason is to rule above all else. Aristotle B. He was the son of Nichomacus, the Macedonian court physician, which allowed for a lifelong connection with the court of Macedonia. After serving as tutor for the young Alexander later Alexander the Great , Aristotle returned to Athens and started his own school, the Lyceum. Aristotle walked as he lectured, and his followers therefore later became known as the peripatetics , those who walked around as they learned.

When Alexander died in , and the pro-Macedonian government fell in Athens, a strong anti-Macedonian reaction occurred, and Aristotle was accused of impiety. He fled Athens to Chalcis, where he died a year later. Unlike Plato, Aristotle wrote treatises, and he was a prolific writer indeed. He wrote several treatises on ethics, he wrote on politics, he first codified the rules of logic, he investigated nature and even the parts of animals, and his Metaphysics is in a significant way a theology.

His thought, and particularly his physics, reigned supreme in the Western world for centuries after his death. Aristotle used, and sometimes invented, technical vocabulary in nearly all facets of his philosophy. It is important to have an understanding of this vocabulary in order to understand his thought in general. Like Plato, Aristotle talked about forms, but not in the same way as his master. For Aristotle, forms without matter do not exist. I can contemplate the form of human being that is, what it means to be human , but this would be impossible if actual embodied human beings were non-existent.

Similarly, we cannot sense or make sense of unformed matter. There is no matter in itself. Matter is the potential to take shape through form. Form is thus both the physical shape, but also the idea by which we best know particular beings. Form is the actuality of matter, which is pure potentiality. A thing is in potentiality when it is not yet what it can inherently or naturally become. An acorn is potentially an oak tree, but insofar as it is an acorn, it is not yet actually an oak tree. When it is an oak tree, it will have reached its actuality—its continuing activity of being a tree.

The form of oak tree, in this case, en-forms the wood, and gives it shape—makes it actuality a tree, and not just a heap of matter. When a being is in actuality, it has fulfilled its end, its telos. All beings by nature are telic beings. The end or telos of an acorn is to become an oak tree. If it reaches this fulfillment it is in actuality, or entelecheia, which is a word that Aristotle coined, and is etymologically related to telos. It is the activity of being-its-own-end that is actuality.

This is also the ergon, or function or work, of the oak tree. The best sort of oak tree—the healthiest, for example—best fulfills its work or function. It does this in its activity, its energeia, of being. This activity or energeia is the en-working or being-at-work of the being. To know a thing thoroughly is to know its cause aitia , or what is responsible for making a being who or what it is. For instance, we might think of the causes of a house. The material cause is the bricks, mortar, wood, and any other material that goes to make up the house.

Yet, these materials could not come together as a house without the formal cause that gives shape to it. The efficient cause would be the builders of the house. The final cause that for which the house exists in the first place, namely shelter, comfort, warmth, and so forth.

Diogenes: The Most Eccentric Philosopher

We will see that the concept of causes, especially final cause, is very important for Aristotle, especially in his argument for the unmoved mover in the Physics. The soul is the actuality of a body. Alternatively, since matter is in potentiality, and form is actuality, the soul as form is the actuality of the body a Form and matter are never found separately from one another, although we can make a logical distinction between them. For Aristotle, all living things are en-souled beings. Soul is the animating principle arche of any living being a self-nourishing, growing and decaying being.

Thus, even plants are en-souled a Without soul, a body would not be alive, and a plant, for instance, would be a plant in name only. There are three types of soul: nutritive, sensitive, and intellectual. Some beings have only one of these, or some mixture of them. If, however, a soul has the capacity for sensation, as animals do, then they also have a nutritive faculty b Likewise, for beings who have minds, they must also have the sensitive and nutritive faculties of soul.

A plant has only the nutritive faculty of soul, which is responsible for nourishment and reproduction. Animals have sense perception in varying degrees, and must also have the nutritive faculty, which allows them to survive. Human beings have intellect or mind nous in addition to the other faculties of the soul. The soul is the source and cause of the body in three ways: the source of motion, the telos, and the being or essence of the body b The soul is that from which and ultimately for which the body does what it does, and this includes sensation.

Sensation is the ability to receive the form of an object without receiving its matter, much as the wax receives the form of the signet ring without receiving the metal out of which the ring is made. Mind nous , as it was for Anaxagoras, is unmixed a Just as senses receive, via the sense organ, the form of things, but not the matter, mind receives the intelligible forms of things, without receiving the things themselves.

More precisely, mind, which is nothing before it thinks and is therefore itself when active, is isomorphic with what it thinks a To know something is most properly to know its form, and mind in some way becomes the form of what it thinks. Just how this happens is unclear. So, mind is not a thing, but is only the activity of thinking, and is particularly whatever it thinks at any given time. This work is an inquiry into the best life for human beings to live. The life of human flourishing or happiness eudaimonia is the best life.

Thus, it is possible for one to have an overall happy life, even if that life has its moments of sadness and pain. Happiness is the practice of virtue or excellence arete , and so it is important to know the two types of virtue: character virtue, the discussion of which makes up the bulk of the Ethics , and intellectual virtue. Character excellence comes about through habit—one habituates oneself to character excellence by knowingly practicing virtues.

To be clear, it is possible to perform an excellent action accidentally or without knowledge, but doing so would not make for an excellent person, just as accidentally writing in a grammatically correct way does not make for a grammarian a One must be aware that one is practicing the life of virtue. If, says Aristotle, human beings have a function or work ergon to perform, then we can know that performing that function well will result in the best sort of life b The work or function of an eye is to see and to see well.

Just as each part of the body has a function, says Aristotle, so too must the human being as a whole have a function b This is an argument by analogy. So, the happiest life is a practice of virtue, and this is practiced under the guidance of reason. Examples of character virtues would be courage, temperance, liberality, and magnanimity. One must habitually practice these virtues in order to be courageous, temperate, and so forth. For example, the courageous person knows when to be courageous, and acts on that knowledge whenever it is appropriate to do so a Each activity of any particular character virtue has a related excessive or deficient action a The excess related to courage, for example, is rashness, and the deficiency is cowardice.

Since excellence is rare, most people will tend more towards an excess or deficiency than towards the excellent action. For example, if one tends towards the excess of self-indulgence, it might be best to aim for insensibility, which will eventually lead the agent closer to temperance. Friendship is also a necessary part of the happy life. There are three types of friendship, none of which is exclusive of the other: a friendship of excellence, a friendship of pleasure, and a friendship of utility b Likewise, the friendship of excellence is the least changeable and most lasting form of friendship b The friendships of pleasure and use are the most changeable forms of friendship since the things we find pleasurable or useful tend to change over a lifetime a For example, if a friendship forms out of a mutual love for beer, but the interest of one of the friends later turns towards wine, the friendship would likely dissolve.

Again, if a friend is merely one of utility, then that friendship will likely dissolve when it is no longer useful. Since the best life is a life of virtue or excellence, and since we are closer to excellence the more thoroughly we fulfill our function, the best life is the life of theoria or contemplation a This is the most divine life, since one comes closest to the pure activity of thought b It is the most self-sufficient life since one can think even when one is alone.

What does one contemplate or theorize about? Some have criticized Aristotle saying that this sort of life seem uninteresting, since we seem to enjoy the pursuit of knowledge more than just having knowledge. For Aristotle, however, the contemplation of unchanging things is an activity full of wonder. Seeking knowledge might be good, but it is done for the sake of a greater end, namely having knowledge and contemplating what one knows.

For example, Aristotle considered the cosmos to be eternal and unchanging. So, one might have knowledge of astronomy, but it is the contemplation of what this knowledge is about that is most wonderful. The end for any individual human being is happiness, but human beings are naturally political animals, and thus belong in the polis, or city-state. Indeed, the inquiry into the good life ethics belongs in the province of politics. Since a nation or polis determines what ought to be studied, any practical science, which deals with everyday, practical human affairs, falls under the purview of politics ab The last chapter of Nicomachean Ethics is dedicated to politics.

Aristotle emphasizes that the goal of learning about the good life is not knowledge, but to become good a5 , and he reiterates this in the final chapter b Since the practice of virtue is the goal for the individual, then ultimately we must turn our eyes to the arena in which this practice plays out—the polis. Laws must be instituted in such a way as to make its citizens good, but the lawmakers must themselves be good in order to do this. Human beings are so naturally political that the relationship between the state and the individual is to some degree reciprocal, but without the state, the individual cannot be good.

In the Politics , Aristotle says that a man who is so self-sufficient as to live away from a polis is like a beast or a god a That is, such a being is not a human being at all. In Book III. The three good constitutions are monarchy rule by one , aristocracy rule by the best, aristos , and polity rule by the many. These are good because each has the common good as its goal. The worst constitutions, which parallel the best, are tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy, with democracy being the best of the three evils.

These constitutions are bad because they have private interests in mind rather than the common good or the best interest of everyone. The tyrant has only his own good in mind; the oligarchs, who happen to be rich, have their own interest in mind; and the people demos , who happen not to be rich, have only their own interest in mind.

Yet, Aristotle grants that there is a difference between an ideal and a practically plausible constitution, which depends upon how people actually are b The perfect state will be a monarchy or aristocracy since these will be ruled by the truly excellent. Since, however, such a situation is unlikely when we face the reality of our current world, we must look at the next best, and the next best after that, and so on. Aristotle seems to favor democracy, and after that oligarchy, but he spends the bulk of his time explaining that each of these constitutions actually takes many shapes.

For example, there are farmer-based democracies, democracies based upon birth status, democracies wherein all free men can participate in government, and so forth ba The male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind. Where then there is such a difference as that between soul and body, or between men and animals as in the case of those whose business is to use their body, and who can do nothing better , the lower sort are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master.

Whereas the lower animals cannot even apprehend reason; they obey their passions. Politics b For Aristotle, women are naturally inferior to men, and there are those who are natural slaves. In both cases, it is a deficiency in reason that is the culprit. It is difficult, if not impossible, to interpret Aristotle charitably here.

For slaves, one might suggest that Aristotle has in mind people who can do only menial tasks, and nothing more. Yet, there is a great danger even here. We cannot always trust the judgment of the master who says that this or that person is capable only of menial tasks, nor can we always know another person well enough to say what the scope of his or her capabilities for thought might be. So even a charitable interpretation of his views of slavery and women is elusive. Motion is not merely a change of place. It can also include processes of change in quality and quantity a For example, the growth of a plant from rhizome to flower quantity is a process of motion, even though the flower does not have any obvious lateral change of place.

The change of a light skin-tone to bronze via sun tanning is a qualitative motion. In any case, the thing in motion is not yet what it is becoming, but it is becoming, and is thus actually a potentiality qua potentiality. The light skin is not yet sun tanned, but is becoming sun tanned.

This process of becoming is actual, that is that the body is potentially tanned, and is actually in the process of this potentiality. So, motion is the actuality of the potentiality of a being, in the very way that it is a potentiality. In Book 8. There could not have been a time with no motion, whatever is moved is moved by itself or by another.

Rest is simply a privation of motion. Thus, if there were a time without motion, then whatever existed—which had the power to cause motion in other beings—would have been at rest. If so, then it at some point had to have been in motion since rest is the privation of motion a Motion, then, is eternal. What moves the cosmos?

This must be the unmoved mover, or God, but God does not move the cosmos as an efficient cause, but as a final cause. That is, since all natural beings are telic, they must move toward perfection. What is the perfection of the cosmos? It must be eternal, perfectly circular motion. It moves towards divinity. Thus, the unmoved mover causes the cosmos to move toward its own perfection. It is also arguably his most difficult work, which is due to its subject matter. This work explores the question of what being as being is, and seeks knowledge of first causes aitiai and principles archai. First causes and principles are indemonstrable, but all demonstrations proceed from them.

They are something like the foundation of a building.