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Lecture Twelfth: Aristotle's View of Reason in its Theoretical Use

IN the last lecture I have shown that, although Aristotle regards reason as the form of man's life, he does not conceive of it as constituting a self or personality which equally manifests itself in all his feelings, thoughts and actions. In other words, he does not regard man as an organism, in which all the parts imply each other and the whole, because they are all the realisation of one principle. Rather he thinks of him as a combination of reason with an irrational element, which it cannot completely absorb or take up into itself.

But this view gives rise to a double difficulty: for, in the first place, it involves the severance of the theoretical from the practical life, of the life in which reason is purely self-determined and one with itself, from the life in which it determines a matter that is alien to itself: and, in the second place, it makes it impossible, even in the practical life, to arrive at any clear notion of the principle of activity. At times reason seems to be represented by Aristotle as constitutive of its own motives, and, therefore, as one with will; as when he declares that “reason always chooses the best,” and that “the good man is he who obeys reason.”1 But elsewhere reason is conceived as the faculty of the universal and not of the particular, a purely theoretical faculty which “moves nothing,”2 and must be determined to action by the appetitive part of man's nature, by which alone an object or end can be prescribed as desirable. Yet Aristotle would certainly not accept the doctrine of Hume that “reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions”—because apart from them, it cannot choose or reject anything. The natural passions are for Aristotle immediate impulses, which are always in excess or defect, and never, except by accident, in the proper proportion in reference to the good of man's being as a whole. Having no measure in themselves, they need a measure to come to them from without; and from what can it come save reason? Aristotle seems to come near the solution of the difficulty, when he detects in man a βούλησις or will of the good, that is, a desire for the satisfaction of our whole being, which is quite different from the particular passions; for this is clearly a desire, the contents of which could not be derived from anything but reason. Nay, more, the presence of such a desire in us must be regarded as giving a new character to all the other impulses; for, in virtue of it, all the particular ends of passion must be sought not for themselves but sub ratione boni, as means to the complete realisation and satisfaction of the one self to which they are all related. But Aristotle does not recognise this “will of the Good” as the essential impulse of a rational nature, which underlies all its other tendencies; he seems simply to mention it as one of the elements of our being which is to be placed beside its other desires. And when he comes to ask himself what is the nature of that act of self-determination which is implied in all moral action, he does not connect it in any special way with the will of the good, but defines it simply as a ‘deliberative desire,’ meaning a desire accompanied by deliberation as to the means of its satisfaction—a definition which leaves desire and reason as two separate elements which are connected only externally. Nor is it by any accident or oversight that Aristotle is drawn into this circular process, in which intelligence and will presuppose each other; it is the necessary result of his conception of human nature as a σύνθϵτον, a combination of disparate elements. If desire be taken as separate from intelligence, intelligence can only be, what Hume makes it, an instrument by which the means of satisfying desire is determined. Nor is it possible that any desire should be in itself rational; for, if reason be conceived as determining a motive, it seems to be leaving its own sphere and intruding into that of will, which ex hypothesi is closed to it. And Aristotle's final deliverance3—that reason is the real man, but yet that the life of reason is one which he lives not qua man, but as having something divine in him—only shows the perplexity to which he is reduced by the cross-currents of his thought.

Now the ultimate cause of Aristotle's defective view of the unity of the life of man lies in the fact, that he identifies reason primarily with its conscious or reflective activity, the activity which creates science and philosophy. He cannot, therefore, attribute to it, or at least to it alone, that unconscious or unreflective activity which is implied in all our ordinary experience, both theoretical and practical. Hence he is obliged to explain that experience as a sort of blend between reason and sensation or desire, which has something in it essentially non-rational. It was, indeed, the general defect of Greek thought that, while it tended to exalt reason, what it comprehended under that name was rather the reflective power of the philosopher, the scientific man, and the statesman—who is like a scientific man in his mastery of the general principles of legislation and administration—rather than the self-consciousness and self-determination, which belongs equally to all men, and is, indeed, that which makes them men. Hence also Aristotle's view of the political and moral life was essentially aristocratic, though the aristocracy he recognised was not one of birth but of intelligence. Thus he regarded the Greek, with his quick perceptions and superior rational power, as a being almost of a different species from the barbarian; and he even refused to recognise the Greek artizan, who practised a ‘base mechanic trade,’ as fitted to discharge the functions of a citizen. The same ‘intellectualism ’—which made him look upon science as something that can be attained only by one who has risen above the contingency of particular facts—shows itself in his separation of the higher and more general functions of the State from the occupations of the tradesman, whose vocation is to supply the means for a life in which he does not partake. Hence, instead of the organic unity of society, we have a hierarchy in which the slaves and mechanics furnish the basis for the life of those citizenswho share in the administrative, judicial and legislative work of the State and enjoy its privileges; and these in turn supply the conditions for the still higher functions of the philosopher, who lives for contemplation alone. For contemplation is the only absolutely free activity, which never is a means to anything but itself.4

What, then, is the nature of this free activity, and how is it possible for Aristotle to speak of it in the terms he uses? How is it possible for him to regard science and philosophy as the purely self-determined activity of reason, an activity which is free from all the conditions to which practice is subjected? How does reason emancipate itself from the chains in which the will is bound? And, when it has so emancipated itself, what is the subject—matter with which it deals? Can the science, which abstracts from so much, still retain any real content for itself, and must it not necessarily lose itself in empty generalities? These questions are not perhaps capable of being answered in an unambiguous way, or without considerable balancing between opposite ways of understanding the language of Aristotle. But the attempt to deal with them is necessary to any one who would estimate fairly the results of his thought and the influence he had upon subsequent times, and, above all, upon the history of theology.

We may begin by guarding against a possible misunderstanding. Aristotle is by no means an empiricist, yet no one can doubt that he makes immediate experience the starting-point of his thought; and that, indeed, he conceives of all truth as being, if not based upon such experience, yet ultimately derived from it. No one could show greater interest in collecting facts, and in testing all the theories which they had suggested to previous writers or to the ordinary consciousness of men. Aristotle made many collections of data which were relevant to his special enquiries, nor was he impatient in chronicling such data, even when he could make no immediate scientific use of them. This is equally true in relation to the structure and processes of animal life, to the varieties of ethical sentiment, to the different kinds of political organisation and to the manifold forms of philosophical opinion. Aristotle's aim is always to take as complete a view as is possible of all the phenomena relevant to the subject he is investigating. Nor can he be said to have ever neglected—as Bacon supposes him and all the ancients to have neglected—to look for negative instances. On the contrary, his first effort is invariably to seek out any appearance of disparity or contradiction between the different phenomena, or between the aspects in which they have presented themselves to different persons. His principle and his practice are at the very outset to bring to light as many such difficulties as he can discover; and he even holds that we cannot be sure that we have reached the truth of the subject under investigation, unless we are able, by means of it, to explain not only the phenomena or opinions if they have a real basis, but also to show the reason of the mistake when they have none.5 A principle of science is thus supposed to emerge, in the first instance at least, as the result of a synthesis of the phenomena to be explained, and as the key to all the difficulties connected therewith. And if Aristotle be not aware of the necessity of our modern methods of analysis and experiment, and sometimes is too ready to assume that he has all the necessary data without them, at any rate he cannot be accused of failing to make his inductions as complete as possible, or of theorising without an attempt to realise all the difficulties of his subject.

There is, however, another aspect of Aristotle's conception of science. All induction is with a view to deduction or demonstration, and these, for Aristotle, are two processes which are quite independent of each other. Hence, in order to deduction, we must first, by means of induction and dialectical discussion, attain to some general principle from which inferences may be drawn. Farther, all this process of discussion only gives occasion for the intuitive action of reason, which grasps the principle of the subject, and perceives its self-evidencing character. We might, therefore, say that Aristotle starts from the a posteriori to find the a priori; in other words, that he begins with a view of truth as a mass of separate phenomena, which seem to be given to the mind from without, and that he regards the intellectual comprehension of these data as attained only when the mind finds itself in its objects, or grasps as their explanation a principle which needs no evidence but itself. The process is otherwise described by Aristotle as one in which we advance from what is first to us to that which is first in the nature of things. This regress from phenomena to their principles is, however, a preliminary process, and the proper movement of science begins with these principles and seeks to show by demonstration all that is involved in them.

Now we might at first be disposed to interpret this as meaning simply that the scientific man finds the starting-point of investigation in the immediate appearances of sense, that he soon discovers that these appearances, in the first view of them, are inconsistent and even contradictory to each other, but that, by bringing them together and comparing them, he rises to an explanation, which enables him to remove their apparent inconsistency and bring them all into agreement with each other. But this is not what Aristotle says. He does not expect that science will ever be able to explain the particulars of sense from which it starts; for, in his view, science, as such, deals with the universal and the necessary, while the particulars of sense have in them an element of contingency which cannot be referred to any such principle. The world, indeed, is conceived by him as consisting in a multitude of individual things, in each of which some specific principle is manifested; but this specific principle is not supposed to account for all that we find in the individual things, still less for all that happens to them. It cannot in this way explain anything that results from the particular material basis in which the form of the species is realised, or from the external relations into which the particular object is brought, but only the properties that are necessarily involved in the form and can be logically proved to be so involved. And, as logical proof for Aristotle means simple deduction, it would seem to follow that a science must be made up of universal judgments, which are analytically deducible from each other. It is probable that Aristotle was misled in some degree by the example of mathematics, and that he did not realise,6 what Kant afterwards showed, that there is a synthetical movement of thought in every step of the process by which the science of mathematics is built up. It is true that he calls attention to the fact that mathematics has not to do with substances, but only with special aspects of them which are abstracted from their other aspects. And he also points out that there are many such aspects of substances, e.g. their motion, which may be made the subjects of special sciences. Still he seems to contemplate it as the ideal of a science, that it should be based upon the definition of a substance—a definition which expresses the form realised in such a substance—and that its demonstrations should result in the exhibition of all the propria which are analytically deducible from that definition.7

Now it is hardly necessary to say that Aristotle's actual efforts at scientific construction do not conform to this type. He is not content, in practice, to seek for some abstract principle or definition of the object in question, and then to derive everything analytically from it. What he usually does is, first, to establish by induction and dialectical reasoning some very general view of the subject of investigation, and then to distinguish different elements within it, and to endeavour, by further inductions and inferences, to determine their relations as parts of a whole which is one with itself through all its differences. He thus proceeds not from the concrete to the abstract, but from the abstract to the concrete, not by analysis and formal deduction, but by differentiation and integration; or, in other words, by the evolution of differences and the reconciliation of them or the discovery of their relative character. In fact, there is no other way in which scientific investigation can possibly proceed if it would lead to any profitable result. For what in all cases investigation must seek after is to exchange the vaguely determined wholes of our immediate empirical consciousness for that clear articulation and necessary connexion of the different elements or aspects of a subject, or, in other words, for that systematic completeness and unity, which we call science. If we would determine the nature of any whole, says Aristotle himself on one occasion,8 we must divide it into its elementary parts and endeavour to define each of them separately: but, in practice at least, he is never content to conceive any real whole as the mere sum of the parts or as the resultant of their action and reaction upon each other, but seeks to discover how the relative independence of the parts is consistent with, and subordinated to, the unity of the whole. Thus in the Politics he regards the separate families as the elementary parts, or primitive cells, out of which the State is made up, but he is not content to treat the State as a multitude of families acting externally upon each other; rather he maintains that ‘the State is prior to the family,’ or in other words, that it is the higher ethical unity of the State, which first enables us to comprehend fully the function of the family as a constituent part of it.

But, though the actual science of Aristotle does not agree with his logical ideal, it would be a mistake to suppose that this ideal is without influence upon his philosophy. On the contrary, his logical ideal is the counterpart of his conception of individuality as involving, so to speak, a nucleus of specific determination in each individual substance, which is embedded in a mass of accidents. In other words, Aristotle sharply divides the individual as an object of sense from the universal principle which is realised in it, and which enables us to make it an object of science. He separates the individual as having a specific character from the individual as this particular being in its particular environment. Nor does it carry us much farther that in one passage in the Metaphysics he speaks as if there were a definite form and a definite matter for every individual,9 so long as the form and the matter are not conceived as essentially and entirely relative to each other, that is, so long as the latter is conceived as in any sense accidental or as the source of accidents. For, so long as the separation of these two factors of reality is maintained, we are obliged to regard the true nature of the individual as consisting in that which he is, or would be, apart from all relation to other individuals. Nor can we, on Aristotle's principles, consider this as a mere distinction of the different points of view from which we regard the individual, as, on the one hand, a separate being, and as, on the other hand, a part of a more comprehensive individuality. Aristotle, indeed, seems at times to encourage this conception, as when he tells us that an individual human being, when severed from society, is no more worthy of being called a man than a hand, when separated from the body, would be worthy of being called a hand. Are we then to say that there are different degrees of substantiality or individuality, and that a civic society is a higher kind of substance than an individual man? Could the Aristotelian philosophy allow of such a conception of substance or individuality?

There are some passages in Aristotle in which this conception is at least suggested. Thus in the seventh book of the Metaphysics10 he raises the question how a substance can be defined. To define it, he argues, we must resolve it into its elements; but what can these elements be? They cannot be substances, for substances by their very nature as individuals are separated from each other, and different substances cannot be contained in one substantial unity. Yet they cannot be other than substances, for it is impossible to suppose a substance made up of qualities or relations. It would appear, therefore, that a substance cannot be resolved into any elements at all, and, therefore, cannot be defined. Yet the substance is just that which we seek to define; indeed, it is on the definition of it that all demonstrative science is based. Aristotle ends with the promise of a further discussion of the subject, a promise which is nowhere adequately fulfilled.11

Yet there are passages in this chapter which seem to suggest that what from one point of view may be regarded as an individual substance or self-determined whole—say, an individual man—may from another point of view be regarded as a res incompleta, an imperfect individuality, when we realise his essential relation to other individuals in society.12 If, however, Aristotle had ever entered upon his course of explanation, he would have been carried on, like Plato, from the individual to the State and from the State to the world, and he would have been able to find absolute individuality only where Plato found absolute universality, in the universe as a whole or in God as its principle. In other words, he would have been obliged to regard all other individual substances but God or the universe as imperfectly individualised, and he would have been compelled at the same time to treat the conception of the contingent or accidental as existing only from the point of view of the part. But to have done this would have been to go quite beyond the general principles which he acknowledges in all his speculations. Aristotle, indeed, as we shall see, holds that there is in God a unity which transcends and comprehends all the forms of things, a unity of the intelligible world; but he never imagined that any such unity is to be found in the world of experience.

To discover Aristotle's view of the highest kind of unity to which science can attain, we must turn to the De Anima, where he treats it mainly from the point of view of the subject of knowledge. In that treatise he discusses the position of intelligence in relation to the complex nature of man, and endeavours to explain its nature as a universal faculty which yet is subjected in its development to the conditions of man's finite life. For while, as I have stated above,13 it is the characteristic of reason to be determined by nothing but itself, yet it cannot act or develop itself in man without the aid of sensuous perception and imagination. It must, therefore, be capable of receiving impressions, and, indeed, of receiving impressions from all the objects which can be known by it; yet, on the other hand, these impressions must not alter its own nature or do anything except to give it occasion to determine itself. How is it possible to combine such opposite conditions? To discover Aristotle's answer to this question, it is necessary to follow somewhat closely the pregnant and somewhat obscure utterances in which he sets before us his view of the rational life of man.

In the first place, he declares14 that there is an analogy between reason and sense, in so far as both are capable of being affected, in some way, by objects, and so stimulated to apprehend them. Yet, as he contends such affection or stimulation only makes them realise what potentially they are. Hence in apprehending their objects, sense and reason may be said to be only apprehending themselves. But there is a two-fold difference between them. For, in the first place, each sense is confined to a definite object—the ear to sound, the eye to colour, etc.—and even that object it can apprehend only within certain limits of intensity. But reason has no limit to its capacity in either of these aspects: it is capable of apprehending all objects and under all conditions. Like pure matter, it is a potentiality for all the forms of things; for it has no nature of its own which could come between it and other things or prevent it from seeing them as they are. Hence it is not going beyond itself in knowing anything else. Rather in all knowledge it is realising its own nature and so coming to a consciousness of itself. We may therefore, say that it is absolutely impassive, in so far as in no exercise of its knowing faculty is it drawn beyond itself or subjected to a foreign influence. Rather in apprehending objects it ‘gains the mastery’ over them, and uses them to evolve its own powers. While, therefore, the data of sense may supply the first occasion for its action, the principle of its activity is always in itself, and we have to conceive all the process of its development as one of self-determination; or, as Aristotle puts it, of the determination of the passive by the active reason, Aristotle's conception of reason, however, as at once a universal receptivity and a pure activity, has given occasion to so much controversy that it seems desirable to quote his own words15

“Here,” he declares, “we have to bring in a distinction of elements or factors, which prevails throughout all nature. For in every kind of reality we find, on the one hand, a matter as the potentiality out of which it is produced, and, on the other hand, a cause or active principle which realises itself therein: and this distinction necessarily extends to the soul. There is then a reason, the characteristic of which is that it becomes everything, and a reason the characteristic of which is that it produces everything. And the latter exists as a positive source of activity,16 like light which turns potential into actual colour. Now it is this form of reason which exists separately, unmingled and impassive, its very being consisting in its activity; for that which is active is always superior to that which is passive, and the determining principle to the matter it determines. But science, in which active reason realise itself, is one with the reality which is its object; while the potentiality of science, though prior to actual science in time in the individual, is posterior to it even in time, if we speak generally. Nor must we suppose that the active reason sometimes thinks and sometimes does not think; it thinks always, though it manifests this its essential nature only when it has been separated; and it is of it alone that we can say that it is immortal and eternal. We however” (as the finite subjects in whom reason realises itself) “are liable to forgetfulness; for though the rational power which is in us cannot be affected by anything else, there is also in us a passive reason, which is capable of decay and death, and except by means of this passive reason we do not think anything.”

In this chapter we can see very clearly the difficulties under which Aristotle is placed in attempting to bring together the two aspects of man's intelligence, as a universal principle which yet must be conceived as developing itself in a finite individual subject. Reason, from the former point of view, is impassive and active and it can be determined by nothing but itself. Yet at first it exists in man only as a potentiality; and as a potentiality it would seem to be exposed to influences from without, while, as a universal potentiality, it would seem to be exposed to such influences from everything. How does Aristotle unite these two apparently contradictory characteristics of it? He does so, as I have already pointed out, simply by showing that all that such influences can do is to become the occasion, not of imposing anything upon reason, or putting anything into it from without, but only of calling out its power of determining itself. Its universal potentiality or openness to everything—which at first sight looks like emptiness, and seems to involve its being subject to every impression—is really a capacity of overpowering every such impression, and finding itself in everything. “It must therefore, since it apprehends all things, be pure and unmingled, that it may overcome all objects, that is, that it may know them.”17

But this, again, raises the question, how objects are in the first instance given to reason? Aristotle answers that they are given to it through the perceptions of sense, and the images which are derived therefrom. But we have to remember, in the first place, that even the perceptions of sense are not for Aristotle mere impressions; for, as we have seen, objects act upon sense only to call out its own potentiality. Thus the activity of sense already strips objects of their ‘sensible matter,’ and apprehends only their ‘sensible forms.’ These sensible forms, again, which are taken up into the imagination, though they are free from the sensible matter of their objects, have still what Aristotle calls an ‘intelligible matter’18 attaching to them, in so far as they are images of objects in space and time, and not, therefore, objects of pure thought. Thus they are not in the highest sense intelligible, though, as Aristotle maintains, we cannot think at all without them. They are the vehicles in which the forms of things are brought within the reach of our intelligence, the occasions for pure reason to exercise its faculty and to evolve its potentiality. It is in this sense, then, that Aristotle says that the development of knowledge means the determination of reason as passive or potential by reason as active. But he is obliged to add that such determination is not possible, except so far as the passive reason is already supplied with the images of sense; and that it is in these images or sensible forms, and not directly in itself, that the reason finds at first the objects or forms which are purely intelligible.19 In this way the self-determination of the mind does not exclude its receiving its forms through the medium of sense and imagination; for, in doing so, it is not receiving into itself anything foreign, but only, as it were, recovering and recognising what is its own. All that reason has to do is to set aside or discount the intelligible matter in such images, in order to grasp its proper object, the object in which alone it can find itself.

We see, then, how it is that Aristotle could make a distinction between the active and the passive reason, and yet regard them as one. The reason of man, in his view, is identical with the absolute reason, with this difference—that the absolute reason is complete in itself, and independent of all time-process, while in man reason, at first, appears as a potentiality which can be developed only by means of the data of sense. Yet these data are merely means or occasions of its own action, and what it finds in them, or rather, we might say, extracts from them, is the pure forms which are one with its own nature. In this sense, therefore, it is never determined by anything but itself. We are not, therefore, to think of the active reason as something external to the individual, but simply as the correlate of the universal potentiality which belongs to him as a finite subject, who cannot realise himself at once, but only by a process of development. Our knowledge, as knowledge, is the manifestation of a universal principle, and yet, from another point of view, it is dependent on a sensible process, which must be stimulated from without by its appropriate objects. Thus it is limited in its evolution by the conditions of a sensitive life, from which, nevertheless, it emancipates itself in so far as it is realised. We know, indeed, as ‘spectators of all time and existence’ as conscious subjects who are only as they think and think as they are; for intelligence is the same thing in all in whom it is developed, and in every one its nature is to emancipate itself from individual conditions, and to regard things not from the point of view of a particular organism, but from the point of view of a pure subject of knowledge. Hence, while, in one sense, reason is what is most our own, in another sense it may be said to be independent of the individuality in which it is realised; for, in so far as we know, it is not our individuality which is in question, but the reason that dwells in us; and if this reason were completely realised, it would be an intelligence which no longer took any account of the particular self as a being with a determinate individual existence in space and time. It would not remember nor expect, and it would be free from all feelings of love and hate, which depend on the personal relations of this individual. Nay, we may go farther: for, as all finite individuality would drop out of view for a subject which contemplated only the forms of things in their pure ideal relations with each other, there would for it be no difference in things which would not be at once transparent, and therefore no process from one thing to another. Discourse of reason would cease in the pure intuition of truth in its unity.

This view of reason will become more intelligible, if we follow Aristotle a little farther in the contrast he draws between pure reason and the discursive faculty which, for want of a better name, we might call the understanding. Reason, as we have seen, apprehends its objects in their intelligible forms, freed from all the images of sense. It grasps the ideal unity which is hidden from us by the sensible or intelligible matter, that is, by the manifold sensuous or imaginative elements in connexion with which they are at first presented. For it, therefore, objects are simple and indivisible, as is the act of thought wherein they are known. And, as this intuitive act is completely one with itself and does not admit of division, it excludes the possibility of error. In this activity of reason, therefore, there are no degrees of knowledge; we either know the truth altogether or we do not know it at all. In our ordinary consciousness of things, on the other hand, we have to admit the possibility of many intermediate stages between absolute ignorance and complete knowledge: for in ordinary experience we have to deal not with transparent unities in which no element can be separated from the rest, but with complex data including in themselves many disparate elements, which may be connected with each other but cannot be identified. And in forming such connexions, the discursive reason or understanding has to proceed by judgment and inference. Thus it moves from one point or datum to another, without having, at least while the process lasts, any intuition of the unity of the whole. The highest result of this discursive process, however, is just to attain such an intuition; and when the intuition comes, it will make the process of thought superfluous; for the mind, to which the whole object is an indivisible unity, has no longer any need to connect the parts together by any links of argument.

In the last paragraph, I am perhaps going a little beyond the words of Aristotle, but not, I think, beyond what is implied in them. For the simplicity and indivisibility of the objects of reason cannot be taken as absolutely excluding all difference, but only as meaning that no element can be separated from the rest. We may, therefore, illustrate what Aristotle means by comparing the kind of knowledge of a science which is possessed by the learner or discoverer—for whom every new step is a surprise till it has been brought by reasoning into connexion with what is already known—with the kind of knowledge possessed by one who grasps the science as a unity in which every truth involves all the others. In this sense, the whole process of learning might be described as the process whereby discursive passes into intuitive reason; for the ideal which in all investigation we are seeking, and in which alone the scientific impulse can be satisfied, is that of a unity of knowledge which is completely differentiated into all its parts and yet seen to be one with itself through all its differences. The great steps in the progress of thought are just those in which some new insight makes a scattered mass of observations and inferences suddenly coalesce into one indivisible body of truth.

While, however, we may fairly interpret in this way what Aristotle says of the indivisible objects of reason, we have to remember that for him these objects are not the phenomena of ordinary experience but the intelligible forms of things, and these alone. For it is only ‘in things without matter’ that reason finds the objects, which it can identify with itself. Hence Aristotle goes on to contrast these objects not only with sensible objects but even with all objects which possess ‘intelligible matter.’ Anything that has quantity—anything that occupies a part of space and time—has in it an imaginative element which is inconsistent with the pure unity of thought. A quantitative whole, indeed, may be apprehended as a unity and by one indivisible act of mind; for, though divisible, it may not be actually divided in our apprehension of it. In other words, we may take it as continuous or as discrete just as we please; and while, in the former case, the act of mind by which it is apprehended is one and indivisible, in the latter case the mental activity becomes divided into several acts like its object. But in the case of the pure form, there is no such alternative possibility. The intelligible form, as such, is simple, and it cannot be apprehended except in one indivisible act of thought; for in the case of such a form, as we have already seen, we must either have absolute knowledge, or we must be completely ignorant20

In the contrast thus drawn by Aristotle between an object quantitatively determined, and an object of pure thought, there is a measure of truth; for a quantity, as such, is not an organic whole. We may take it either in its unity with itself or in its difference, either in its continuity or in its discretion, as we please; but we cannot conceive it as an object which is one with itself in and through its difference, so long as we take it simply as a quantity. On the other hand, anyone who leaves out the quantitative aspect of things altogether, in order to reach their unity, will, so far, be making that unity empty and abstract. He will be securing unity not by synthesis, but by the omission of difference and multiplicity. And if he proceeds farther in this direction, the simplicity he attains will not be that of a whole which is indivisible—because no part of it can be conceived without the rest—but that of a bare identity, which is one with itself because it has no content at all. The exclusion of the quantitative from the unity of the pure form thus suggests a suspicion that Aristotle is seeking for unity by the way of abstraction. And this suspicion is confirmed by what he says in the immediate context,21 in which he seems to be answering the objection that the pure forms cannot be simple because they have negatives or opposites, which are apprehended by the same act of mind whereby we grasp the forms themselves; for the knowledge of opposites is one. If this be the case, therefore, it seems impossible that the knowledge of such forms can be attained by a simple and indivisible act of mind.

Now, the true answer to this difficulty would seem to be that, as correlated factors in one conception, the positive and the negative, the form and its opposite, are apprehended in one indivisible act of thought, and that, in this sense, they constitute a simple and indivisible unity. But the answer of Aristotle appears to be not this, but that the negatives or opposites of the pure forms exist only in the phenomenal world, in the region of matter and change. Hence also the mind only apprehends the negatives or opposites of the forms along with them, in so far as it has a material or sensible basis, and, therefore, itself belongs to the world of change. But for the absolute intelligence no opposition or negation can exist. It has no connexion with matter, and, therefore, no alternative potentialities. In its pure intuitive energy it is simply positive or affirmative of itself, and has not to deal with the negative, even as a possibility22

Now I will not say that such language is quite conclusive as to Aristotle's views. It is possible to take it as meaning simply that all oppositions and differences of thought are relative, and imply a unity which transcends them; and that a perfect intelligence must contemplate all things in relation to this unity. If we adopted this view, we might say that Aristotle does not dismiss negation and opposition as unreal or as not entering into the objects of reason, but simply contends that they are never to be taken as absolute negation or opposition; in other words, that they are only to be regarded as expressing the negative relation to each other of the indivisible factors of one whole. But when we consider Aristotle's general treatment of the idea of negation, and how he frequently attacks Plato for maintaining that opposites directly affect each other, it is difficult to attribute to him any such doctrine. In his whole discussion of the law of contradiction, again, he seems to lay all the emphasis upon the reciprocal exclusiveness of the affirmative and the negative; nor does he ever seem to realise the truth that, if things have no positive relation, they cannot even exclude each other; for, even in order to exclusion, they must be conceived as included in some larger unity. Finally, this view of Aristotle's meaning is confirmed by the comparison which he draws23 between the intuition by which reason apprehends the pure forms of things and the apprehension by sense of the ‘special sensibles,’ which also he regards as simple and indivisible, independent of all judgment or inference, and therefore exempt from the possibility of error. Aristotle fails to see that even the special sensibles cannot be apprehended without discrimination, nor, therefore, without mental process. On the other hand, even if we could conceive of something—say, a sensation of sound or colour—as given to the mind through sense, in an immediate intuition which implied no activity of thought, it would not supply any fit illustration of the intuitions of reason. For, though an intuition of reason may be called simple and indivisible, it is not in the sense of a bare unit which has no mediation, but in the sense of an organic unity, whose manifold elements are so perfectly mediated with each other that we can no longer think of any one of them except as involving, and involved in, the whole.

To sum up the result of this lecture. Our examination of the Aristotelian conception of science has shown that his separation of the theoretical from the practical activity of reason is based upon a principle which greatly narrows his view of the former. Practice is conceived as an imperfect manifestation of reason because it deals with the particular; and, on the same grounds, practical science is regarded as less exact, and therefore of less scientific value than the other sciences. For science, in the highest sense of the word, has only to do with the definition of substances and the deduction of consequences from these definitions. It thus excludes from its consideration the accidental element which enters into the nature and the circumstances of every individual finite substance. It deals only with the universal, the pure forms of things and what is demonstrable from them. In the De Anima we are carried a step farther, in so far as the demonstrative process itself appears to be discounted or transcended in the idea of a pure intuition of reason. For the objects which reason grasps are, as we have seen, simple and indivisible, and their whole nature must be apprehended in a simple and indivisible act. Now, if we take this simplicity in the highest sense, it will refer not to an abstract unit or identity, but to the organic or super-organic unity of a whole, in which no part can ever be separated from the rest without losing its essential character. What, on this view, Aristotle means, is that we know a thing truly only when its diversity is completely taken up into its unity, so that, if known at all, it must be known as in all its constituents the expression of one principle. In this sense it might without difficulty be acknowledged that the discourse of reason culminates in making way for an intuition, which completely transcends it, and renders it henceforth unnecessary. But Aristotle fails to develop his view to its consequences, and that in two ways. In the first place, he forgets to trace the necessary connexion between the discursive operations of the mind and the intuition in which they result. At least we cannot find that he calls attention to the fact that the object of the intuition is a concrete unity, which contains in itself all the elements distinguished and related by the discursive faculty, though, of course, it casts upon them a new light which greatly alters our first thoughts of them. In the second place, Aristotle's initial error in making an essential division between form and matter, or in not carrying out fully the idea that they are correlative with each other, leads to a separation of the world of experience, the world of change which is subjected to the conditions of space and time, from the world of intelligible forms which call be only apprehended by pure reason. Hence, as the unity of the intuitive reason is not reached by means of a synthesis which embraces all things in their concrete nature, but only by a synthesis of all things in their pure form without any matter, it is a unity which is reached by abstraction from many of the aspects of reality. And it is a dialectical necessity that he who omits any element of the whole, will be driven to omit other elements connected with them, and others again connected with these, till the whole is emptied of its contents and reduced to a barren identity. Thus Aristotle, the most scientific of minds, had placed his philosophy, as it were, upon a sliding-scale, which leads ultimately to the mystical negation of all science. At the same time, we can see that the organic idea, which he never consistently applied but which never ceases in some degree to influence him, leaves the result of his philosophy somewhat ambiguous, and even makes it possible for some interpreters to maintain that he rose ‘above all dualism’24 to the conception of the world as a self-consistent system. Nay, he even seems to assert the same thing himself.25 Before, however, we can venture to pronounce a final judgment upon this question, we must consider Aristotle's doctrine as to the nature of God and his relation to the world.

  • 1. Eth., 1169a, 17.
  • 2. Eth., 1139a, 36.
  • 3. Eth., 1177b, 26 seq.
  • 4. Cf.Eth., X,7.
  • 5. Eth., 1154a, 22. In the beginning of the 7th book of the Ethics, Aristotle explains this method of investigation, and examples of it may be found at the beginning of many of his works.
  • 6. Professor Cook Wilson has pointed out to me that in one passage of the Metaphysic (1051a, 22 seq.) Aristotle seems to discern the synthetic character of mathematical proof; but this is an isolated statement.
  • 7. Objection might be taken to the above statements, if they were intended a complete account of Aristotle's views upon logical method. They correspond to the ideal of science which is expressed in the Metaphysic, Book 7. In the Posterior Analytic we find two other views which a not easily reconcilable either with it or with each other. In the first book nothing is said of substances, such; but the general conception of demonstration is still that it is deduction of propria from a definition. And it is implied, I think, that this definition must express the formal cause of the subject—say, a triangle—of which the science treats. Aristotle seems mainly to be thinking of mathematics, though, as stated above, he does not apprehend the synthetic character of mathematical reasoning. In the second book, however, demonstration is taken as the proof of the existence of an attribute, or the occurrence of an event, through its own definition: and this definition may be given through the efficient, as well as the formal and final causes. Further, the cause in question is always the proximate cause, and nothing is said as to the mode in which this cause is to be connected with the definition of the subject, which in the first book
  • 8. Post. An., 96b, 15.
  • 9. Met., 1071a, 28.
  • 10. Met., VII, 13.
  • 11. So far as I a aware, the only attempt which he makes in this direction is in a passage already quoted (Met., 1045b, 16) in which he speaks of form and matter a essentially correlative. This, however, could not really solve the difficulty; for, in the first place, this correlativity is not consistently maintained; and, in the second place, even if it were maintained, it would not enable us to distinguish different elements in the form. For Aristotle does not seem here to be speaking of matter in the sense of the logical genus.
  • 12. Met., 1039a, 2. This seems to be involved in what he says of the principle that ἡ ϵ̓ντϵλέχϵια χωρίζϵι, and that e.g. in the number 2, the two units exist only potentially, while they exist actually only when the units are separated from each other. This would seem to point to the only possible solution of the ἀπορία
  • 13. Pp. 292seq.: 331.seq
  • 14. De An., III, 4 seq.
  • 15. De An., III, 5.
  • 16. ὡς ἕξις τις.I think the opposition of ἕξις to στέρησις is suggested.
  • 17. De An., 429a, 19.
  • 18. Aristotle's conception of ‘intelligible matter’ has a close analogy to Kant's doctrine as to the forms of sense (cf. Met., 1036a, 10).
  • 19. ϵ̓ν τοι̑ς ϵἴδϵσι τοι̂ς αίσθητοι̑ς τὰ νοητά ϵ̓στι(De An.,432a, 4). Our actualised knowledge for Aristotle is of the individual, which is presented in sense or imagination (cf. Met., 1087a, 19), though we can distinguish the universal from the particular element in it.
  • 20. De An., 430b, 5-20. We must however always remember that in our knowledge the νοȗς παθητιкός is always involved, and we cannot νοϵιˆν ἀνϵυ ϕαντάσματος, though we may discount the image.
  • 21. De An., 430b, 20.
  • 22. De An., 430b, 24: cf. Met., 1075b, 24.
  • 23. De An., 430b, 29 seq.
  • 24. See especially A. Bullinger,Aristotle's Metaphysic and his various other essays upon Aristotelian subjects.
  • 25. Met., 1076a, 4.