The Activity of Being

The Activity of Being: an essay on Aristotle's ontology

Aryeh Kosman
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Activity of Being
    Book Description:

    Understanding "what something is" has long occupied philosophers, and no Western thinker has had more influence on the nature of being than Aristotle. Focusing on a reinterpretation of the concept of energeia as "activity," Aryeh Kosman reexamines Aristotle's ontology and some of our most basic assumptions about the great philosopher's thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-07502-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xviii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Being and Substance
    (pp. 1-36)

    This book is an exploration of Aristotle’s ontology. When I speak of Aristotle’s ontology, I mean to refer to the philosophical enterprise represented primarily in the collection of treatises we know as the Metaphysics. Aristotle has no term that is the exact equivalent of the English term ontology, or of the English term metaphysics; the enterprise carried out in the treatise we have come to call the Metaphysics is called by him first philosophy.¹ But it is clear that this enterprise is ontology, for he describes it as a science—that is, a body of theoretical discourse and investigation—concerned...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Motion and Activity
    (pp. 37-68)

    In Book 9 of the Metaphysics (9.6, 1048b18–34), Aristotle distinguishes between two kinds of energeia. One of these he calls kinesis—motion or change—and the other he calls simply energeia, as though to signify that it is energeia proper—activity in the strictest sense. Earlier in the same book, he has distinguished between two kinds of dunamis, that is, two kinds of ability, or as it has more traditionally been called, potentiality. The two distinctions seem related in a straightforward manner: one kind of ability is related to and defined in terms of kinesis, or motion, the other...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Activity and Substance
    (pp. 69-86)

    Here is what we have learned about Aristotle’s view of motion: a motion—the process of something changing from one state to another—is a certain kind of activity, its active exercise of its ability to be other than it is. Aristotle makes clear that he does not intend this definiens to indicate the process by which such an ability is realized; that process is just the motion that he means to be defining, not the concept in terms of which he means to define it. Nor, he reminds us, can it indicate the product of that realization: the physical...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Activity of Living Being
    (pp. 87-121)

    At the beginning of Chapter 1, I wrote that Aristotle’s concern is less with substances than with the being of substance. I meant that Aristotle is less interested in the identification of a class of things that can be said to be the primary entities of the world than he is in the proper understanding of the being by virtue of which whatever things we commonly understand to be substantial are so. But of course it is only by thinking about such things as are commonly said to be substantial that we can hope to achieve such an understanding. Among...

  8. CHAPTER 5 What Something Is
    (pp. 122-150)

    What is it for a horse to be a horse, I asked, and I offered as an answer the (recognizably philosophical) tautology: to be acting as horses act. To be a horse is to perform the characteristic activities in which a horse engages in leading its equine life, the horse’s characteristic work: its ergon. To be a horse is therefore to be at work—energos—as a horse, or in other words—and this is the prize we were after—it is to be actively—energeia— a horse. The details of this complex activity, I suggested, are the province of...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Something’s Being What It Is
    (pp. 151-182)

    Activity played an important part in our articulation of the being of animals, a kind of being, I suggested, that Aristotle holds to be paradigmatic of substance. In articulating philosophically what it is to be a horse, we found ourselves speaking of the active exercise of the being expressed in what I called the hippologos, the account, articulated and refined by ordinary folk and expert alike, of a horse’s being (τò ἵππῳ єἶ ναι). Being a horse, we thought, is to be actively—energeia—what is specified in this formula. In considering what kind of activity this being is, and...

  10. CHAPTER 7 The First Mover
    (pp. 183-210)

    In Aristotle’s ontology, I have argued, substance is the activity of something’s being what it is, an activity modeled on the lesser activities that together constitute the being of a substantial individual: a horse and human being are the examples Aristotle offers. This activity, unlike those lesser more complex activities, exhibits no distinction between first and second actuality. Human beings go to sleep, rest their eyes, and sit in silence; they maintain a vast array of capacities about any one of which it makes sense to ask at any moment whether it is dormant or active. But being human itself...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Divine Being and Thought
    (pp. 211-237)

    So Aristotle’s first mover, contrary to a thought early in Chapter 7, is in fact a principle that is paradigmatic in the sense we there introduced. This is true by virtue of the significance of being unmoved that I have tried to reveal. As self-moving, the first mover is the principle of the motion of all lesser animate self-movers. More significantly, as the exemplar of the self-fulfilling and therefore unmoving activity of energeia, it is the formal and ontological principle of all motion and change, as indeed it is of being in general. For activity, as we have seen throughout...

  12. CHAPTER 9 The Activity of Being
    (pp. 238-254)

    Throughout this book I have urged we not lose sight of the original question of the Metaphysics, the question that the discussion of substance is meant to elucidate, the question concerning being. In Chapter 1, I noted that in Book 4 of the Metaphysics and again in the opening of Book 7, Aristotle describes his undertaking as the development of a general theory of being—a theory of being as such—but a theory that is to be realized by understanding the nature of substance. That a general ontology can be realized by understanding substance is possible because the unity...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 255-272)
  14. Index
    (pp. 273-277)