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Ancient Philosophy

Aristotle on Change
An important challenge in Aristotles metaphysics had been to solve the problem of change; a problem which had been prevailing in philosophy for quite some time. This problem and question had first been aroused by Aristotles predecessors, namely the presocratic philosophers, each of whom gave their own views on whether or not change occurs. Some, such as Anaximenes and Heraclitus believed that things do undergo change, while others, such as Parmenides and Zeno believed that nothing in the world changes. The presocratics were the very first philosophers, or as Aristotle refers to them, physicists, who tried to explain the origin of something and change, without resorting to mythology and gods. In each of the presocratics theory, gods and mythology were replaced with natural forces and principles, which were obtained from experience and reasoning. However, as we shall see, Aristotle was particularly interested in the somewhat extreme theories of Heraclitus and Parmenides. Unlike these two presocratics, Aristotle was not an extremist and like Plato, he believed that there are things which do change and others which do not. The first presocratic Greek philosopher to deal with the problem of change was Heraclitus. Like the Milesian school of presocratics, namely Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes, Heraclitus based his argument of his sensory experience. According to Heraclitus, nothing in the universe is static or unchanging, but on the contrary, he believed that everything is in a constant state of flux, meaning everything is constantly changing or flowing (panta rhei). Things in the universe constantly change from hot to cold, from dry to wet, from big to small and so on. Heraclitus explains his point further by stating that one cannot step into the same river twice. This is because the waters which make up the river are constantly flowing and therefore constantly changing, despite the fact that the geographical position of the river does not change. In this light, humans are also constantly changing. Although certain changes might not be observable immediately, we do notice that humans change from time to time. Humans change from young to old, from having short hair to having long hair, from slim to fat, not pregnant to pregnant and so on. But despite these changes, we are still the same human beings. I am still the same person I was ten years ago, even though my physical appearance have changed. Another famous presocratic who dealt with the problem of change was Parmenides. However, unlike Heraclitus, Parmenides, in The Way of Truth explain how reality is one and how change is logically impossible in reality. According to the senses, change implies that something new come into being and ceases to be. A banana for instance changes from yellow to green and then to black. However, Parmenides believes that the senses deceive us. This is because according to reason, no new being can come out from a non-being since nothing comes from nothing. He also believed that a being cannot come out from another being since the latter already is. Therefore, for Parmenides, change is only a mere appearance. For him, reality is One and this One is unchanging. As was argued earlier, both of these theories proposed a challenge for later philosophers, namely Plato and most importantly, Aristotle. In his Metaphysics, particularly book XII, Aristotle aims to investigate the question of changing things and nature, phusis, in general. Aristotles views on change are rather similar to those of Heraclitus and Parmenides, however, unlike these two philosophers, Aristotle was not an extremist. He did not generalize by saying that everything or nothing changes. But on the contrary, like Plato, Aristotle believed that there are some things which do change and others which do not change. Like Plato, he believed that those things which do change fall under the category of physics since they are material things which we can experience through our sensory experience. On the other hand, changeless things fall under the category of metaphysics since they are immaterial

things which we cannot experience. The only way by which we can get some form of understanding of such unchanging things is through our intellect and reason. Unlike Parmenides, Aristotle believed that there is no such thing as a non-being. In book nine or theta in the Metaphysics, Aristotle argues that instead of a non-being, an object can be in the state of potentiality (dunamis) and actuality (energeia). According to Aristotle, objects such as a piece of wood or block of marble have a number of potentialities; meaning abilities which make them what they are. The wood for instance has the potentiality to become by means of an agent, a table, or a chair. Similarly, the block of marble has the potentiality to be transformed into a statue of a man, a woman and so on. Therefore, for Aristotle, this potentiality is not nothing, it is a kind of being in process; it is real. Eventually, by going through potency, Aristotle believed that an object receives its act. In the case of the piece of wood, it receives its act once it is transformed into a table or chair, and the marble receives its act once it is transformed into a statue. Aristotle uses the notion of act and potency in order to distinguish between two types of change, namely accidental change and substantial change. An accidental change is one which involves motion. Aristotle believed that there are three kinds of motion. The first is change in quality. This change implies a sort of alteration for instance, in winter Peter is light skinned but in summer his skin is darker because he stays in the sun. The second kind of motion is change in quantity. This change occurs when something gains or losses quantity. For instance, when peter was a young boy he had his head covered with hair, but now that he is older, peter is starting to get bald. The last kind of change is change in place. A case in point is when peter moves from his house to his school or from his school to his uncles house and so on. In all three kinds of change, a substance loses one accidental form of actuality and gains another. Aristotles second type of change, substantial change is one which occurs all the time in nature. This is because substantial change is one which involves the coming of a new substance and the passing away of an old substance. The most obvious example is when an animal or human for instance die. The corpse of the animal or human has taken over. Similarly, an acorn stops existing once it becomes an oak tree. Lastly, Aristotle argues that for a change to occur there must be a cause. Aristotle offers his account on what he distinguished as the four causes in his Physics and Metaphysics. Aristotle refers to the first cause as the material cause. This is something, a material for instance, out of which something else is made. Bronze and silver for instance are the material causes which cause the statue. However, the bronze and silver are also subject to change since they change from solid, to being melted and eventually placed on the statue itself. Another example of material cause could be parents, whose gametes produce children. The second cause is the formal cause, which is the form or shape of something. The formal cause of the statue is its shape of for instance a man. Similarly, the formal cause of Peter is that of a human being. The third cause is the efficient cause, which is the primary source for the change or rest. In the case of the statue, the efficient cause is that who does the bronze and silver casting, while in Peters case, the efficient cause are his parents. Lastly, Aristotle argued that there is a final cause. The final cause is the goal for the sake of which something is done. Healthy eating and exercising for instance are the causes of a healthier life. But despite all this, Aristotle believed that there is one primary being that does not change, but rather causes change in other things in the world. This line of reasoning is common to that of Plato, since he too believed that there must be a changeless being which accounts for all the other changing things in the world, and this is precisely why this changeless being must be admitted as real and primary. Also like Plato, Aristotle believed that this changeless being must be distinct from the changing things which it causes to exist. Unlike the changing things in the world, this primary being is not perfectible to the individual, hence it is not a material but rather it is intelligible. For Aristotle, this unchanging, unmoved mover, is none other than God. Being the prime mover, Aristotle argues that God enjoys

the best kind of life since He is completely unaware of anything external to himself and since he is the most worthy object of thought by the things in the universe. Despite being the ultimate cause of everything that exists and of change, Aristotle believes that God remains completely detached from his continuously changing creations. God for Aristotle is not the Christian God who loves and cares for the universe and all things in it. But rather God is one who has no interest in the world and no recognition of man. He thinks only of himself. As we can see there were both similarities and differences between the philosophy of Aristotle and that of Heraclitus and Parmenides. Like Heraclitus, Aristotle believed that things in the world do undergo change. However, unlike Heraclitus, he does not believe that everything changes. This is where Aristotle seems to agree with Parmenides. But although, like Parmenides, Aristotle believed that things do not change, he does not believe that nothing changes. But as we have seen, Aristotle believed that only one thing does not change, namely God. Aristotles theory of causality served as the bases for further investigation and other ethical theories both regarding the existence of God, such as Thomas Aquinass five ways, and also regarding causality in general, such as the theories of Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza and Leibniz.