Aristotle and the Possibility of Form

Thursday, June 27, 2002, 6:59 pm, Vancouver, BC

The two of us retrieved G.’s computer – new hard drive implanted in its heart – at nine yesterday; and at ten I walked down Robson to collect my editing fee from the east Indian master’s student with the husband in Regina. I did not like her much: she was cordial but dismissive, as if I were from some lower but necessary caste. G., in the meantime, was off to her physiotherapist. It took three hours to reconfigure the wounded computer; half the time, though, that I’d anticipated would be necessary.

I read Chuck Davis’s dismal history of The Greater Vancouver Book, and how it put his partner in bankruptcy and him a quarter million in the hole. This, exacerbated by a reading a perfectly dismal reading of the state of the Canadian book industry in the current Quill & Quire, entirely prompted me to put off any further effort into writing as a business proposition. Preoccupation, yes; desire, certainly; hobby, though, certainly.

Why is that the animals love Mozart? The birds come merely to listen.

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509, showing Plato (left) and Aristotle (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a vitality remarkable in Socrates – as Plato has him: Know thyself. What is man, and what can he become? What is justice? What is the meaning of virtue? What is the best state?

For nothing is so difficult as definition, nor anything so severe a test and exercise of mental clarity and skill. (Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, “Plato,” p. 16)

Aristotle:

Matter, in its widest sense, is the possibility of form; form is the actuality, the finished reality, of matter. Matter obstructs, form constructs. Form is not merely the shape but the shaping force, an inner necessity and impulse which moulds mere material to a specific figure and purpose; it is the realization of a potential capacity of matter; it is the sum of the powers residing in anything to do, to be, or to become. Nature is the conquest of matter by form, the constant progression and victory of life. (p. 56)

“We cannot directly will to be different from what we are;” but he goes on to argue, against determinism, that we can choose what we shall be, by choosing now the environment that shall mould us; so we are free in the sense that we mould our own characters by our choice of friends, books, occupations, and amusements. (p. 58)

Bacon:

… in politics, as in love, it does not do to give one’s self wholly; one should at all times give, but at no time all. Gratitude is nourished with expectation. (p. 85)

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