Aristotle's "Second Man" Argument

Theodore Scaltsas
<span title="1993-07-01">1993</span> <i title="Brill Academic Publishers"> <a target="_blank" rel="noopener" href="" style="color: black;">Phronesis: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy</a> </i> &nbsp;
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact . BRILL is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Phronesis. "We must inquire whether each thing and its essence are the same or
more &raquo; ... ferent" (Metaphysics Z, 6, 1031al5-16). This is the goal Aristotle sets himself in what is probably the most profound, and no less perplexing, chapter of Book Z of his Metaphysics, which is dedicated to the examination of substance. In Chapter Z, 6, Aristotle offers his final response to the Platonic ontology, arguing that each thing is a nature; for Plato, far from being a nature, a thing does not even have a nature. Aristotle initially developed the categorial system in which objects have natures; but in Metaphysics Z, 6 he put forward an argument showing that any distinction between a subject and its essence or nature will lead to metaphysical predicament. His argument in Z, 6 is a reductio ad absurdum of the claim that a thing's essence is different from that thing. It is a regress argument which, despite its centrality, has not attracted anywhere near the attention that the Third Man Argument commands in the literature, probably because it seems to be a straightforward derivation of an infinite series that proliferates the essences of substances. I believe that the argument is more complex than the brevity of Aristotle's presentation suggests, and I will argue that the regress is not a benign proliferation of the ontology, but is in fact a vicious regress stemming from logically incompatible premises.' Aristotle's result is not peculiar to his theory, but is a metaphysical claim ' Among commentators that have located the problem in the infinite number of the generated essences are Alexander of Aphrodisias In Aristotelis Metaphysica, ed. M. All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions that commands respect in any metaphysical system,2 warning against any sort of ontological gap between a substance and its nature.3 The Nature-Feature Problem. One of the problems that Plato attempted to resolve by the introduction of the Theory of Forms is Zeno's paradox. Namely, to explain how like things can be unlike, and more generally, how opposites can belong to opposites.4 Plato's solution was a qualified acceptance of the copresence of opposites. By that I mean that his metaphysics makes it possible for opposites to be copresent in the same subject in the physical world, but impossible for opposites to belong to one another in the world of Forms. Thus, Socrates can be like and unlike,5 or large and small,6 by partaking of opposite Forms le's Metaphysics (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1989) p. 82; M.J. Loux, Primary Ousia: An Essay on Aristotle's Metaphysics Z and H (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991) p. 101. 2 I am thus in full agreement with M. Loux's conclusion that "the claim that a primary ousia and the fundamental essence in virtue of which it is what it is are necessarily one and the same is theory-neutral. It expresses a constraint on any attempt to pick out the ontologically basic things. Commitment to the Identity Thesis, the Aristotle of Z.6 wants to claim, is a presupposition of doing anything that can genuinely be called metaphysics" (op. cit., p. 94). 3According to some commentators, Aristotle is not claiming here that particular substance is identical with its essence, but that a universal species form is identical with its essence. Thus, Asclepius, op. cit., 392.1-2, 393.23-24, 397.2; M. Furth, Substance, Form and Psyche: An Aristotelean Metaphysics (Cambridge,England: Cambridge University Press, 1988) p. 236; E. Halper, op. cit., p. 88; M. Loux, op. cit., p. 103. According to others, Aristotle is claiming the identity of particular substance (whether individual form or the composite) with its essence. to J. Lear, Aristotle: the desire to understand (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1988), Aristotle is claiming that the species form is primary substance (p. 280), where the species form is neither particular nor universal (pp. 285-86). 4 "If things are many, then it follows that the same things must be both like and unlike; but that is impossible; for unlike things cannot be like or like things unlike" (Parmenides 127e 1-4). S "But I find nothing strange, Zeno, if he shows that things which get a share of both [the like and the unlike] undergo both qualifications, nor if he shows that all things are one by reason of having a share in the one, and that those very same things are also in turn many by reason of having a share of multitude" (Parmenides 129b3-6). "both things are in Simmias, largeness and smallness" (Phaedo 102b5-6).
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