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VOLUME LXVI, NUMBER 4
June 2013


Excellence as Completion in Aristotle's Physics and Metaphysics, CHRISTOPHER V. MIRUS

This essay explores Aristotle’s description of virtue or excellence as a completion through a contextual reading of two texts: the entry on “the complete” in his philosophical lexicon (Metaphysics 5.16) and the brief discussion of excellence in Physics 7.3.  In both Aristotle explores conceptual and ontological issues germane to a general concept of excellence; in both, the key premise is that excellence is best thought of as a completion. His development of this claim draws on two larger themes.  In Metaphysics 5, the concept of excellence as a completion belongs to a broad conceptual realm—explored in chapters 16–17 and 25–27—in which intelligible realities are presented metaphorically in terms of shape and size.  Within this realm, excellence grows toward a limit set by the powers that make a substance what it is. In the Physics, excellence belongs to a world structured by contraries and therefore also by coming to be and destruction.  What it completes is a substance’s power to negotiate such a world while maintaining and developing its own identity. Having grown to full stature through its proper excellence, the substance can keep itself from being affected or altered in ways that would undermine its being; in so doing, it approximates the self-sufficient impassivity that Aristotle attributes to thought (νοῦς).  The themes of alteration and identity are also pursued in On the Soul 2.5, which provides an important complement to Physics 7.3.

Dominicus Gundissalinus and the Introduction of Metaphysics into the Latin West, ALEXANDER FIDORA

This paper focuses on Gundissalinus’s particularly important contribution to metaphysics which it presents in three steps: firstly, a succinct overview of the history of the relevant metaphysical terminology from the Late Ancient period to the Middle Ages shows how, for the first time, Gundissalinus interpreted metaphysics as the name of a discipline (and not just of a book); in a second step, the paper analyzes the specific epistemological foundation of metaphysics as an autonomous science, namely as ontology, in the chapter on metaphysics in Gundissalinus’s De divisione philosophiae, paying particular attention to his criticism of twelfth-century (philosophical) theology as this was developed in the School of Chartres; thirdly, the paper examines a crucial text from the treatise on the division of the sciences: in it, Gundissalinus included an otherwise unknown translation of a passage from Avicenna’s Book of Demonstration which discusses the thorny issue of the subordination of the philosophical disciplines to metaphysics. This subject is one which would continue to receive plenty of attention in later times, as the examples of Robert Kilwardby and John Duns Scotus demonstrate, both of which authors may be considered to have continued Gundissalinus’s metaphysical project.

St. Thomas Aquinas's Commentary on Aristotle's Physics, LEO ELDERS

The Physics is a most remarkable work, and profoundly influenced Medieval Philosophers. Thomas Aquinas wrote a detailed, impressive commentary. This essay studies in particular the composition of the Physics as Thomas saw it, his thorough study of Aristotle’s way of arguing and the important distinction he made between disputative arguments, which are only partially true, and arguments which determine the truth. Aristotle frequently uses proofs which are wrong when one considers the proper nature of bodies, but possible considering their common nature. Thomas accepts proofs in the field of physics but discards those related to a certain mathematization of nature.  Aristotle holds the unlimited possibility of movements becoming faster or slower, but according to Aquinas he is considering things in general (a mathematical approach): when we consider specific bodies there is a fastest movement.  Thomas speaks of a way of reading a text which is according (or against) the intention of Aristotle, and proposes an understanding of particular texts based on the general doctrine of the Stagirite. Sometimes he goes beyond the text, as when defending the unity of time as dependent on the unity of the First Mover. The essay shows that in the commentary a coherent philosophy of nature shaping up. In some places Aquinas brings in God’s causality: nature is nothing else but the plan of divine art, placed within things. The study of nature shows that there is a first principle of the whole nature which is above everything, sc. God who gives being to things.

Emotion and Evil in Kant, MICHAEL ROHLF

On one common reading of Kant, emotional states that he calls feelings, desires, and inclinations (including affects and passions) are thoroughly non-cognitive and play no positive role in the moral life, which is instead about subduing our sensible nature through a discipline of reason. Against this common reading, this paper argues that Kant actually holds a weak cognitivist view of at least some emotions, according to which emotions are responses to judgments – or to what Kant calls maxims – that are about what makes an action right or wrong. Moreover, this paper also argues that a full understanding of Kant’s view of emotions and their role in the moral life requires assessing their relation to his theory about the radical evil of human nature, because he holds that emotions can be responses to the fundamental maxim that reflects our propensity to prioritize self-love over the moral law. Even emotions that are not directly corrupted by evil in this way must be seen in the context of Kant’s view that the moral life is essentially a struggle against the propensity to evil in human nature. So rather than reading Kant as a non-cognitivist about emotion, this paper reads him as a weak cognitivist whose suspicion of emotion reflects the significance he assigns to the human propensity to evil.

Lamentable Necessities, GEORGE TSAI

Slavery in Ancient Greece, Absolutist Monarchy in pre-modern Europe, and the European conquest of the New World strike us, from our contemporary perspective, as injustices on a massive scale. But given the impact of these large-scale historical activities on the particular course taken by Western history, they almost undeniably played an important role in the evolution of modern liberalism. Bernard Williams suggests a startling claim—that liberal universalists cannot condemn past injustices, because those injustices were necessary conditions of the development of the modern liberalism that they affirm. This paper examines this possible objection to liberal universalists who greatly value their liberal way of life, paying particular attention to the lamentable necessities thesis, the claim that modern liberalism would not have come into existence but for the occurrence of past injustices. It defends the lamentable necessities thesis, and argues that those who accept it, and greatly value modern liberalism, are precluded from regretting all-things-considered certain past injustices.  Finally, it makes the case that liberal universalists who greatly value modern liberalism may condemn past injustices necessary to its emergence, even if they are unable to regret them in the relevant sense.


Subjective Worlds, JOHN LACHS

 

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