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Book Reviews Terence Irwin. Aristotle's First Principles. New York: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1988. Pp. xviii + 7o~. $75.oo. In this formidable book Irwin traces the development and probes the character of Aristotle's metaphysical realism by testing his claim that the universal science of being provides a plausible account of the structure of reality and grounds for objective claims about human nature and value. His interpretation, therefore, is unusually comprehensive . Not content simply with explicating Aristotle's views, he challenges at every point but ultimately defends the philosophical coherence of Aristotelian metaphysics and ethics. Whether or not one agrees with his conclusions Irwin never fails to provoke serious rethinking of familiar problems. Part 1 focuses on how Aristotle picks out substances and causes in the early works. Since dialectical inquiry begins with common beliefs and is satisfied with coherence within our belief-structure, Irwin argues that "pure dialectic" fails to grasp "things that are clearer and better known by nature" (Physics 1.1). His careful discussion of the Categories' theory of predication deftly exposes Aristotle's overreliance on the subject criterion (and neglect of the essence criterion) and on intuitive tests for determining strong predication. Physics l-~ is fairly criticized for inadequate explanations of form and teleology. The foundationalism of the Analytics also receives some rough treatment . Since nous (understanding) of indemonstrable first principles is, on Irwin's view, a noninferential, self-evident intuition, Aristotle is left with an unbridgeable gap between scientific knowledge and the principles. In Part 3 Irwin continues to maintain that Aristotle's epistemology undermines realist claims: reliance on the infallibility of perception in the De anima indicates Aristotle's inability to defend satisfactorily, or even fully recognize, the conceptual choices he has made about appearances. In Part 2 Irwin argues that the inadequate theory of predication and flawed epistemology of the Organon (along with Platonic questions) generate the metaphysical puzzles of Met. 3 and lead to the universal, second-order science of being qua being in Met. 4. He suggestively compares Aristotle's search for knowledge with Kant's in an illuminating analysis of the arguments for the axioms (e.g., the principle of noncontradiction ) against the threat of skepticism. The principles and premisses chosen by what he calls "strong dialectic" provide a sound foundation for metaphysical inquiry. Now, the method practiced in the central books of the Metaphysics is certainly constructive and universal in scope, but it is questionable that (as Irwin argues) strong dialectic solves all the puzzles and enables the philosopher to grasp things in themselves. Nevertheless, Irwin presents a strong case for these claims, guiding us with great [ll5] 1 x6 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 29: x JANUARY 1991 agility and insight through the minefield of problems in Met. 7 and clearly articulating the competing pulls within Aristotle's analysis--most notoriously, the tension between the knowability of universals and the ontological priority of sensible particulars. Though he recognizes the claims of universals and matter to be substances, and accepts "degrees of substantiality," Irwin contends, following Sellars, that particular forms best satisfy the crucial requirements for primary substances--"thisness," separability, and the subject criterion. To the common objection that particular forms lack the definability of essences he responds that, insofar as essences are particular formal compounds-i .e., instances of essential properties--the intelligibility requirement is met. However, Irwin does not completely remove (i) the difficulties about passages (7.7-8, 15, 17) that seem to favor specific over particular form because of the former's preexistence, imperishability, and causality or (ii) doubts about applying the form-matter analysis of artifacts to natural substances. That none of the candidates satisfies all the requirements (specific forms fail to be "thises" or basic subjects) will lead many to prefer Code's view that Met. 7 is expository rather than Irwin's that it represents a "categorical solution." On Part 3 l restrict myself to a few queries (neglecting, regrettably, the illuminating discussions of ethical topics). Since Irwin argues that the De anima crucially depends on (and is later than) the Metaphysics, can he eliminate the conflict in this treatise between strong dialectic and naive realism by simply jettisoning...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 115-116
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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