Lecture 6

The ancient period
Phillip of Macedonia’s son Alexander the Great d. 323 BC; Aristotle dies 322 BC marked the beginning of the Hellenistic period.
The Greek way of life was a superior way of life. A unified empire for the first time in the western world, it extended to Indus valley in India.
Four different Greek schools by the end of the fourth century BC.
Plato – Academy
Aristotle – Lyceum
Hellenistic period: Stoic and Epicurean
In the next ten years the student population of these schools expanded rapidly as Alex’s empire grew.

When he died his empire was divided up between his generals. Superimposition of the Greek way of life. Non-Greek students came into these schools.
According to textbooks the Hellenistic age was characterised by a sceptical attitude.
It is not true that it was a common attitude in Hellenism. Each school had a specific form of scepticism, s to what the school had declared to be the law or the basis for ontic constancy (‘how do you remain you?’), a sense of abidingness.
How do you find some knowledge that abides (opinion changes)?

The task of Hellenistic philosophy was to overcome a scepticism with regard to what each school deemed as cosmic law, the ground of cosmic constancy and therefore certain knowledge.

Metaphysics – some initial feeling for why I don’t like the term
The term had been used since the Hellenistic times to describe the philosophical tradition with respect to being.
• Is there something that is – not just becomes
• the search for an abiding being
• is it of one kind (monism) or two (dualism)?
• Static structure (eg atomism) or dynamic developmental aspect (genetic) (eg evolutionism)

Aristotle had a work Metaphysics (13 books – a collection by his disciples his essays) – he didn’t give it that name.
In book 1 of Metaphysics Aristotle uses the term ‘first philosophy or theology’; this is what he thought he was writing about.

What are the centres of Hellenistic learning? Alexander (Ptolemy) and Pergamum (not quite as important) – both had large libraries.
In 320/290 there was a real shift from Athens to Alexandra.

Creativity suddenly dies way. They saw their task as an attempt to save the works of earlier periods. That’s why library building was important in the Hellenistic age.
Aristotle’s work came to the library. The Head librarian had his Physics (8 books) (motion associated with a growth process eg seed to oak), not just a contemporary view of physics – it included an organic side. The librarian wanted to put the books in order – Metaphysics had not title at the top. In Metaphysics the discussions presuppose the discussions of Physics, so he figures it has to come after Physics, hence Meta Physics after Physics.
From then on everything before that time became know as metaphysics. The term was applied retrospectively.

In what ways do the discussions follow upon Physics?

What do we know about metaphysics – what topics does it cover? There is an argument for God.
Discussion: is there a divine being?
How does Aristotle go about it? He starts with the notion of motion.
There is a fundamental difference between the Greek and contemporary views of motion. In ancient times it was assumed that to be at rest was the original state of affairs. If something was in motion it will have been set into motion by something.
[end of side 1]
In the contemporary view, motion is the original – being ‘at rest’ is a balancing of motions.

For Aristotle if in motion then that is not the original condition or state; something has to set it in motion.
If something, say z, is in motion, then it has to be set in motion by, say, y; but, y is in motion, so it must have been set in motion by something, x; but x is in motion, so … we get an infinite regression, going back infinitely – we never come to an end.

For Aristotle a choice: give up science – there is no scientific explanation or there has to be a starting point. There must be a prime mover.

z → y → x → prime mover

There is either an infinite regress, which implies science is impossible (no Greek would accept that) or postulate something that can set in motion, but hasn’t been set in motion.

Because of the demands of thought – it is a logical necessity to postulate a first movement to save the scientific explanation and to explain the motion of z.

For Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) all this proves there is a first moving something in the ‘physical universe’ – but how do you get out of the ‘physical universe’ to a Christian God?

This is an example of the problem that s dealt with in metaphysics.

The three most important subjects of metaphysics:
• god (Theology)
• (human) soul (What Kant termed Psychology)
• the cosmos (cosmology)

Everyone of these questions have to do with what God has revealed to us in His word:

• that God is
• he created man in his own image – he is more than a body, a created analogue of the Godhead
• there is creation – heavens and earth.

We know these things! What the Greeks began – we don’t know anything and we have to establish knowledge by our own rational efforts.
Instead of by faith accepting them – a gift of God’s grace to us.
These are guidelines so we know how to direct our lives.

Traditional metaphysics is an attempt by autonomous man to achieve a knowledge which he claims not to have answers to questions that God ahs revealed. Metaphysics is a pagan exercise!

Metaphysics starts from the notion that we know nothing! And yet God has revealed these things – in a sense it is blasphemy.

We may be able to save ‘ontology’ sooner or later I will indicate what belongs to ontology – relations among created beings.
Observable relations among created beings – it has to be done in a framework of belief.

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