Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pleasure and temple-building II

A while ago I was wondering about the example Aristotle uses in NE 10.4 of the various different changes involved in the overall change of building a temple.  He seems to want to insist that although there are various processes that go to make up the building of a temple and although we might, say, complete the fluting of the columns before the whole temple is finished, nevertheless the idea that there can be parts of a change will not help to indentify pleasure with the change rather than the completion of the change.

There are some things I still find puzzling:

 a. There is no need to think that these changes that make up the overall business of making a temple have to happen in a sequence such that we cannot start making a triglyph until we’ve put down the base. True, we certainly can’t put the roof on until the columns are up. But if we think that constructing the Parthenon took a certain length of time to complete, it’s not true that making the base and carving the triglyph are distinct temporal parts in the sense that they are non-overlapping periods within the overall period of constructing the Parthenon. Indeed, it seems possible that the base was constructed and the triglyph was carved at the same time: these processes both took place over the very same duration and lasted exactly the same length of time. So perhaps this is just to say that I don’t find the temple-building case such a clear illustration of the general point he wants to make because I don’t think it is a prima facie analogue of a potential counter-example.

b. What is the motivation for this strange example? Here I wonder if there is just some metaphysical background we don’t have spelled out in full. Later in the chapter we are referred for more information to the Physics so perhaps that is the next place to look. Perhaps he thinks he might be under fire from some smart reader who thinks that if you chop a change up into smaller temporal parts we might say that some parts are complete when the whole is not.

c. What does Aristotle himself say about cases like the pleasures we experience in the process of quenching a thirst? Take a moment or period during the whole change: the whole change is not yet complete. But nevertheless it seems odd to maintain that we are not enjoying removing the thirst. In book 7 Aristotle takes the view that cases such as the pleasures involved in the process of being restored to health ought to be understood as due to the activity of the remaining healthy part. He claims that this sort of thing is pleasant per accidens because there is the ‘activity [energeia] of the underlying condition and nature’ (7.12 1152b33–1153a2; see also 1154b17–20). It's not entirely clear what he means by this but it is evident that he wants to locate an activity somewhere and attributes this to some part of aspect of the patient that is in the healthy state even as health is being restored [1].

Some people restoring a temple.  Note that the columns have been fluted...

What is different between this case and the construction of a temple? Can’t I say that in both there is an energeia of a complete state: in one case part of the person is hydrated and in a natural state and in the other case part of the temple has been completed? In both cases the amount of the person that is hydrated and healthy and the amount of a temple that is completed gradually increases? Is this different from the temple-building case because it is a return to a natural condition? So the analogue between the pleasure of restoring health would be the restoration of a temple (where there is always some of the complete temple present) rather than the construction of a new temple. But in that case, why should it matter whether, so to speak, this is a restoration or a new build?

[1]  J. Aufderheide 2013,‘Processes as pleasures in EN vii 11–14: a new approach’, Ancient Philosophy 33: 135–57  has some important remarks about how we should analyse occasions like the pleasures of being restored to health. When an animal heals or sustains itself, for example, the agent-activity involved is the activity of the residual natural state. (This is doing the job that is performed by the doctor in the case where a patient is entirely passive and is healed solely through the agency of someone else.) It is this activity, in fact, which is a pleasure. It is the activity of this healthy part which is responsible for the pleasure. The person’s undergoing the process is only incidentally pleasant.  See also Frede, D. (2009) ‘NE VII.11–12: Pleasure’, in C. Natali (ed.) Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics VII. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 183–208 194-5.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Here is Johan Cruyff explaining his preferred ways of playing:

You don't get Adrian Chiles inviting anyone to do that. Last night's Argentina v. Netherlands game was tactically very sophisticated and interesting but the discussion was very flat: what a shame it wasn't another 7-1 drubbing.... There is some interesting discussion of the English culture of watching, commentating on and discussing football here.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Thomas Jefferson, a man of great discernment...

It's American Independence Day.  U! S! A! etc.

Here are some  of Thomas Jefferson's thoughts on ancient philosophy (borrowed from here):

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, July 5, 1814:

…. I am just returned from one of my long absences, having been at my other home for five weeks past. Having more leisure there than here for reading, I amused myself with reading seriously Plato’s Republic. I am wrong, however, in calling it amusement, for it was the heaviest task-work I ever went through. I had occasionally before taken up some of his other works, but scarcely ever had patience to go through a whole dialogue. While wading through the whimsies, the puerilities, and unintelligible jargon of this work, I laid it down often to ask myself how it could have been, that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense as this? How the soi-disant Christian world, indeed, should have done it, is a piece of historical curiosity. But how could the Roman good sense do it? And particularly, how could Cicero bestow such eulogies on Plato! Although Cicero did not wield the dense logic of Demosthenes, yet he was able, learned, laborious, practised in the business of the world, and honest. (continues...)

Thomas Jefferson to William Short, October 31, 1819

As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us. Epictetus indeed, has given us what was good of the stoics; all beyond, of their dogmas, being hypocrisy and grimace. Their great crime was in their calumnies of Epicurus and misrepresentations of his doctrines; in which we lament to see the candid character of Cicero engaging as an accomplice. Diffuse, vapid, rhetorical, but enchanting. His prototype Plato, eloquent as himself, dealing out mysticisms incomprehensible to the human mind, has been deified by certain sects usurping the name of Christians; because, in his foggy conceptions, they found a basis of impenetrable darkness whereon to rear fabrications as delirious, of their own invention... (continues...)

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Pleasure and temple-building I

I was reading a piece by Christiana Olfert (‘Incomplete activities’) in the most recent Apeiron and it made me think again about a passage in NE 10.4 I have always found puzzling.

 It’s the passage where Aristotle tries to help us to understand the ways in which activities (energeiai) differ from changes (kinēseis) with an illustration from the business of temple building.

The principal point he wants to establish is:

1. Every kinēsis takes time, has a telos, and is complete only when that telos is achieved (1174a19–21).

The illustration here is the kinēsis: ‘housebuilding’. It is complete only when its telos, the building of a house, is reached.

The lines that I find puzzling come next1(174a21–3):

ἢ ἐν ἅπαντι δὴ τῷ χρόνῳ ἢ τούτῳ. ἐν δὲ τοῖς μέρεσι καὶ τῷ χρόνῳ πᾶσαι ἀτελεῖς, καὶ ἕτεραι τῷ εἴδει τῆς ὅλης καὶ ἀλλήλων.

Rowe’s translation: ‘So that will be either in the whole time, or in this. But if it is divided up into temporal parts, the resulting movements are all incomplete, and distinct in form both from the whole and from each other.’

I think that this is supposed to introduce a complication and provokes Aristotle to explain that 1. remains true even in these more complicated cases. The complicated cases have to do with being able to distinguish various parts (merē) of a kinēsis.

 In these cases:

2. All these kinēseis that are parts of a kinēsis (a) are also incomplete in time (b) differ from one another in kind and (c) also differ (sc. in kind?) from the whole.

In the next chapter Aristotle will also have things to say about how energeiai differ from one another in kind. So 2b is not something true of kinēseis but not of energeiai. The most important point therefore seems to be 2a: dividing up a change into various parts is not going to prevent us from saying that all kinēseis are ateleis.

The illustration seems to work as follows. Unlike the simple case of housebuilding now we have a more complicated (and, I presume, more costly and important and laborious and ethically and politically significant) case of building a temple. Building a temple is a change and it has various parts and stages and it takes a period of time. Some of the stages have to be done before others but the temple as a whole is not complete until all of the stages are completed.

Here is a picture of some people building a temple who have already finished various bits of it.  They have made the base of a column, for example, but they have not put on the roof:

Aristotle's illustration uses examples of some of the various different things that have to be done when you build a temple. It illustrates 1 and 2 in reverse order from the order in which they were introduced in a19–23).

3. Placing the stones together (hē tōn lithōn synthesis) is different from fluting a column [illustrates 2b] and both of these are distinct from the making of the temple [illustrates 2c]

Here is a picture of a satyr fluting a column:

4. The construction of the temple is complete (hē men tou naou [sc. poiēsis?] teleia) for it lacks nothing, while the making of the base or the triglyph is incomplete because each is a part.

This is then resumed at a27–9 where Aristotle says that he has shown that these changes differ in kind from one another and are complete, if at all, only in the whole.

 In 4, presumably the idea is that making a base and making a triglyph are parts of making the temple and that is why they are incomplete unless and until the temple is complete.

Perhaps we should think that these parts are to be understood as parts of a temple in the sense that the triglyph on Pheidias’ workbench is not a completed triglyph even if there is no more carving to do because it can be a triglyph proper only once it is in its place in the fully constructed Parthenon. This, I suppose, is how he thinks he can maintain 2a: we can’t identify component kinēseis of a larger whole kinēsis such that those component kinēseis are complete even when the larger kinēsis is not.

If that is what he wants to show then I suppose I get his point. But then I have some questions and puzzles about why he is bothered about this and whether this is a good case for him to use to show why 1 still holds.  Those are for next time, unless someone shows that what I have here is already confused.