Workshop in Ancient Philosophy (Thursday - Week 1, MT19)

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy

I shall engage with two important topics in Aristotle’s theoretical philosophy. The first is the relation between our knowledge or practice of explaining and that of defining, as well as the correlate underlying bond between cause and essence. The second is Aristotle’s view of essence and necessity. David Charles summarises this view as follows: ‘the essence is the one cause of all the kind’s necessary properties’. Aristotle does not conceive necessity as primitive or basic. Rather, he maintains that necessary features of (types of) things are grounded in things’ essence. Equivalently, propositions which ascribe necessary features to things are grounded in propositions about what essentially holds of those things. Since he takes ‘necessarily’ as implying ‘not possibly not’, it seems that, in his view, modality quite generally is grounded in essence, while the converse is not the case. After sketching the main aspects of his view, I shall discuss whether and, if so, how Aristotle’s essentialism can sustain this claim of asymmetry of essence over necessity. I shall argue that to underwrite this asymmetry we have to adopt a strong interpretation of his thesis that essence (the ‘what-it-is’) and cause (the ‘why-it-is’) are the same. Essence and cause are the same or interdependent in that any essence intrinsically involves not only a thin, formal but also a robust, efficient, final, or material type of cause. Conversely, too, at least in the central cases an Aristotelian cause is sensitive to the nature of the relevant item caused (the explanandum) in that it determines (at least partly) that item’s identity. I shall conclude by spelling out some of the implications of this interdependence view and by raising some important questions about it.


If you would like to join the speaker for dinner after the seminar, please email the chair by Tuesday before the workshop.

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy Convenors: Ursula Coope, Simon Shogry and Luca Castagnoli 

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