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Aristotle, the Sea Fight, and the Cloud ANNE DICKASON Tracing coherent philosophical arguments in De Interpretatione is rather like finding shapes in a cloud. D. C. WILLIAMS SINCE NEARLYTHE TIME ARISTOTLEWROTE,interest has waxed and waned in his early work, De lnterpretatione ix;~ recent controversy was sparked in 1951, when D. C. Williams discussed the problem of the sea fight in relation to modem logic, and although the flurry of journal articles has quieted down, the problems are not yet solved. One reason for this is that in this passage there is not only the difficulty of evaluating whether Aristotle is correct, but there is the added intrigue of trying to decipher just what it is that he is saying, or even with what issue he is primarily concerned. Many commentators believe he is supporting a correspondence theory of truth by denying the law of the excluded middle for future tense propositions; others believe he is concerned more with metaphysical contingencies and the threat of fatalism than with logical difficulties. Still others take the main point to be about the relation of tensed sentences to infinite past or future truth; and a few come full circle, interpreting Aristotle as not denying the excluded middle at all, only examining the question of whether the future will be like the past. In general, all of these fit into one of two broad areas of interpretation; either they are concerned with the distinction between 'necessarily (p or not p)" and "necessarily p or necessarily not p," or with the distinction between "necessarily (p is true or not p is true)" and "necessarily (p will be true or not p will be true)."~ Because of these different readings of Aristotle it is not enough for us simply to present the text and then examine different conclusions about it. Instead, we will consider the most important commentaries, tracing the development of recent criticism as well as establishing the uniqueness of each position , and then draw our own conclusions based on these interpretations and our own reading of the text) Due to the volume of material on the sea fight, not all commentaries 1 The problem of the universal applicability of the excluded middle was debated by the Stoics and Epicureans, and specific commentaries on De lnterpretatione have come down to us from Ammonius and Stephanus. Both Alexander of Aphrodisias and Simplicius wrote commentaries on other Aristotelian works, and these often include remarks relevant to the problems of the sea fight. 2 D. C. Williams, "Professor Linsky on Aristotle," Philosophical Review, 63 (April, 1954), 253. a I am indebted to Dr. Paul J. W. Miller for providing valuable criticism on numerous points, and to the Jentzsche Prize Committee of the University of Colorado for offering an incentive to rework an earlier version of this paper. [11] 12 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY can be discussed here; some, e.g., Albritton4 and Ryle,5 are omitted because they do not focus enough on Aristotle, while others, e.g., Strange and McKim, ~ are not covered because their basic arguments are found elsewhere. Our study of the sea fight begins with D. C. Williams, who, by his own admission, is more concerned with using Aristotle's sea fight as a point of departure for discussing related issues than with giving an exegesis of Aristotle. s In "The Sea Fight Tomorrow," he studies the relation of time and truth, drawing on De Interpretatione ix for his discussion of their relation in the future tense. Williams reads Aristotle as trying (but failing) to show that "the admission of truth about the future entails determinism and fatalism.''9 Williams, like many commentators on this passage, quotes Aristotle only sparingly; understandably , paraphrase is easier here, but this often evades the point involved, i.e., what it is exactly that Aristotle is saying. Despite this difficulty we can still see the thrust of William' argument. Williams believes that Aristotle asserts the law of noncontradiction about future particular events: "It cannot be true that there will be a sea fight tomorrow and that there will not be a sea fight tomorrow. ''1~ He also believes Aristotle thinks that the law of excluded middle "appears to guarantee that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 11-22
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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