More on Aristotle
SCIABRRC at acfcluster.nyu.edu
SCIABRRC at acfcluster.nyu.edu
Thu Feb 23 23:34:03 MST 1995
Charles Andrews criticizes my defense of Aristotle as a dialectical
thinker by pointing out that Aristotle's "law of non-contradiction" is
typically "metaphysical" and "non-dialectical." Before responding to such an
assertion, I should just like to say that this illustrates what is wrong with
much dialectical exposition: the attempt to dichotomize logic and dialectics.
It has led opponents of dialectics to see dialecticians as illogical and
non-sensical. Popper for instance, criticized dialectics because he believed
that dialecticians endorsed the proposition that A is not A, and that to talk
in such a non-logical matter makes no sense.
Robert Heilbroner, I think, best explained the difference between
"logical" contradiction and "dialectical" or "relational" contradiction. He
"The LOGICAL contradiction (or opposite, or negation) of a Master is
not a Slave, but a "non-Master", which may or may not be a slave. But the
RELATIONAL opposite of a Master is indeed a Slave, for it is only by reference
to this second "excluded" term that the first is defined."
Even Aristotle recognized that Master and Slave were "correlatives" in
that each required the other, each was both a precondition and result of the
other. While he did not use the terminology of internal relations, he grasped,
like Hegel, that the genuinely independent individual is the person who
transcends the very duality of master and slave (this despite his "defense" of
slavery). It makes no sense, then, to posit "contradiction" as a logical
category; it is relational, or ontological if you please.
It is also wrong to suggest that Aristotle denied "contradiction" by
adding qualifiers. Aristotle was talking about logic. One could not even SPEAK
if one did not accept certain basic presuppositions of language. Aristotle
grasps parts and aspects as parts and aspects of WHOLES, or ORGANIC wholes; he
never abstracts parts and aspects and reifies them into separate wholes
unrelated to process or context. Charles Andrews is correct to view such
metaphysical abstraction as non-dialectical; but please don't confuse Aristotle
with the formalist Aristotelians who came after him.
Also, I think it is incorrect to suggest that Aristotle ultimately
endorsed "idealism" versus "materialism": while there are ambiguities in his
work, the quote I cited documents that he was not an atomistic materialist. He
objected to ATOMIZING reality into its individual material elements, external
to their total composition or context. He fought against Democritean atomists
and Platonic Idealists (even if some idealism is retained in his epistemic
theories). He also fought Heracliteans and eleatic monists. He sought to
unite being and becoming, identity and change. To view him as a dualist is to
credit him with modern corruptions that he would not have understood, much less
endorsed. Like other realists, he grasps that even the human mind has a
material context, since it is the mind that works through the corporeal
functions of the body, of the material senses. His ultimate view is one of
mind-body unity, NOT material-spiritual duality.
Finally, I am able to recognize that Aristotle has certain
problems; certain passages in his work can lend credence to an interpretation
different from the one I am offering. But Marx, Engels, and Lenin would never
have credited Aristotle as the "Hegel" of the ancient work in his understanding
of dialectical methods of analysis if this were not, to a certain extent, true.
We need only look more closely at Aristotle's writings to see what Marx,
Engels, and Lenin believed was all too obvious. As Marcuse argued, it was
Hegel that recaptured the dynamism of the Aristotelian ontology, rescuing it
from the formalist distortions of Aristotle's successors. Marx inherits this
Hegelian--and Aristotelian--legacy. We need not disown it.
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, NYU Dept. of Politics
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