Monday, May 4, 2009

Why the Metaphysics?

Aristotle largely defined the way we think, he introduced fundamental terms and categories of our language (sorry Chomsky-ites, but "substance" and "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" and "prime matter" are learned rather than hard-wired; we mainly learned them from Aristotle), and the Metaphysics is a great intellectual workout, a towering landmark of philosophical achievement. If there's such a thing as a Great Book this is one of them.

On the other hand, while I'm inclined to agree with much of what Aristotle said about ethics, I tend to disagree with all of his metaphysical views that I understand. Generally I take that as a sign that I probably don't understand his metaphysical views well enough. So intellectual integrity and fairness require spending some serious time with this work.

Those are all good reasons to read the Metaphysics. Of course, they've been good reasons for decades--but not good enough to get me to read the thing. So why now?

On pages 92-97 of Umberto Eco's novel The Island of the Day Before there's a long account of a mechanical Aristotelian Metaphor Machine invented by a character named Padre Emanuele. It's ridiculous and long digression, described in the kind of excruciating detail Eco sometimes indulges... the thing is I'm pretty sure I'm not getting the whole joke. So, in typical OCD Philosopher style, let's spend twelve weeks researching a joke.

We start with Book Alpha on Wednesday.