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Aristotle on the Meaning of Man

A Philosophical Response to Idealism, Positivism, and Gnosticism

Peter Jackson

Why was (and is) Aristotle «right» and why are we «wrong»? In other words, why are Aristotle’s philosophical reflections on man and the world full, real, and convincing and why is so much of our modern philosophy partial and false? This work offers a detailed assessment of Aristotle’s thought in response to these questions.

Using «man» as a case study, this work shows how Aristotle philosophically treats «him» as a physical, biological, social, political, ethical, creative, poeticising, and philosophising object in the world. It then continues by laying out his consequent conclusions regarding the necessary capacities of natural objects in the world.

Regarding the modern philosophical approach to «man», this work shows that it flows from several directions into narcissism, nihilism, and a desire to control and manipulate the world and other people. In short, this work considers these approaches and seeks to show that Aristotle’s philosophy is «right», true, and commendable and that our modern philosophy is (often) «wrong», vacuous, and distasteful.

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Chapter 1.9: Aristotle’s “Philosophical Man” Gets to Know His Limits


← 158 | 159 →CHAPTER 1.9

Aristotle’s “Philosophical Man” Gets to Know His Limits

Let us draw out Aristotle’s train of thought further by considering Aristotle’s concept of “ousia” or “substance/being” and then his concept of “peras” or “limit” which is the bound of any given something (and we can then consider his position on “innateness” and on “life” and then move on to consider “actuality” and “potentiality” and then “God”). Aristotle argues (i) in respect to the basic principles of “ousia” that:

…in all ways substance has primacy – in notion and in knowledge and in time (ὅμως δὲ πάντως ἡ οὐσία πρῶτον, καὶ λόγῳ καὶ γνώσει καὶ χρόνῳ; Met. Z 1028a 32–33)

and that:

The word “substance” (i.e. ousia) is applied, if not in more senses, still at least to four main objects; for both the essence and the universal and the genus are thought to be the substance of each thing, and fourthly the substratum (γὰρ τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι καὶ τὸ καθόλου καὶ τὸ γένος οὐσία δοκεῖ εἶναι ἑκάστου, καὶ τέταρτον τούτων τὸ ὑποκείμενον; Met. Z 1028b 33–35)

and he adds (ii) that we must posit the existence of a “substratum” or “hupokeimenon” which is an intermediate between form and matter in the sense that:

Now this substratum is that of which everything else is predicated, while it is itself not predicated of anything else (τὸ δ᾽ ὑποκείμενόν ἐστι καθ᾽ οὗ τὰ ἄλλα λέγεται, ἐκεῖνο δὲ αὐτὸ μηκέτι κατ᾽ ἄλλου; Met. Z 1028b 36–37)

and Aristotle stresses that “ousia” cannot be conflated with “hulē” and hence understood (mechanically/statistically) through mathematical physics (though it can be understood through biological study) and hence:

← 159 | 160 →…the nature...

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