File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9802, message 22

Date: Wed, 11 Feb 1998 07:55:14 -0500 (EST)
Subject: BHA: Aristotle and all that

               State University of New York at Stony Brook
                       Stony Brook, NY 11794-3355

                                            Michael Sprinker
                                            Professor of English & Comp Lit
                                            Comparative Studies
                                            516 632-9634
                                            11-Feb-1998 07:35am EST
TO:    Remote Addressee                     ( )
Subject: Aristotle and all that

I have very little to add to Howard's lucid and exemplary
exposition of Aristotle on causality.  I agree with him that
whatever limitations one may discern in Aristotelian philosophy--
as distinct from the particular cultural prejudices he
exhibits (he wasn't terribly progressive in his views of
women, and in the Rhetoric he is rather petulant about old
people)--both the causal system he adheres to and the
particular analyses of real phenomena he offers remain worth
considering in detail.  In aesthetics and in social philosophy,
his work has inspired or authorized some very interesting
contemporary developments, and it would be irresponsible, in
my view, not to take his materialism (better, his realism)
seriously and think about it as an intellectual resource.

That said, I think part of the problem that has led to the
previous disagreements lies in the very sentence from RB that
Howard quotes again.  Howard's construal charitably saves the
appearances, but that construal is far from being the only
obvious one.  RB ought to have said, I think, that society,
like any real phenomenon, must have an efficient cause, viz.,
there must be some agential action that brings it into being
and sustains its existence.  Now that action is clearly
complex, its agents multiple, their reasons for acting in
particular ways not necessarily all of a piece.  To have
capitalist society, both capitalists and workers are required,
and they tend to perform different actions towards different
ends (not all, or perhaps even very many, of them conscious).
The effect of their collective actions is, among other things,
to reproduce the social relations of production characteristic
of capitalism.  They are, therefore, the efficient cause of
the existence of capitalist society.

If I were to try to think this problem through via Aristotle,
I'd go to the Politics, where A identifies the possible
political forms of social life as he understood them:  monarchy,
oligarchy, democracy, aristocracy, if memory serves.  Those forms of
political organization establish the conditions under which
agents act, but without the agents' actions (the assembled citizens
promulgating and enforcing laws in a democracy, for example),
there will be no society as such.

The difference from Marx, famously, is the latter's insistence
that the forms of social life are determined (in the last instance)
by the relations of economic production, not by the form of
the state (which is how A sees the matter).  But again, as Howard
points out, those relations are only realized in the actions of
agents.  And if some decently large portion of the agents cease
to act in ways that conform to the existing structure of social
relations--say, the workers lay down their tools and occupy the
factories--the particular form of society in question (capitalism)
ceases (or may cease) to be.

Anyway, that's how it all looks to me.


Michael Sprinker

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