ARISTOTLES' PERSPECTIVE ON CHANGE AND PERMANENCE
ARISTOTLES' PERSPECTIVE ON CHANGE AND PERMANENCE
1.0 BACKGROUND OF THE study
The philosophers are distinguished by their sense of astonishment. Aristotle stated that “all men by nature desire to know”1.
On the same note, intellectually and otherwise, man must find a way to make sense of the mysteries that surround his finite existence. As a result, it is not surprising that we are drawn into the notions and reality of change and permanency.
This constant truth of change and permanence presented a perplexing challenge to thinkers from ancient Greece to the mediaeval and modern periods, and finally to the contemporary age. To put it succinctly, the problem of change and permanence is as old as philosophy itself, as Popkin, R.H:
The two essential elements of the world that captivated Greek thinkers were the occurrence of natural change and the persistence of certain seemingly permanent situations. 2
The oldest Greek thinkers attempted to explain reality by claiming that beneath all seeming changes, there is a genuine, unchangeable substance. According to Mullin E., the motivation for this investigation was that
…If the many could be seen as examples of one, grasping the one would be sufficient.3
Thus, reality is one object that appears in several guises at different periods.
Against this backdrop, some philosophers engaged in action and reaction, developing ideas in response to the conundrum of change and permanence. The difficulty they were attempting to solve was driven by the fact of material change, and the principle they proposed was reached via observation and contemplation.
“Reality was water for Thales, the ‘boundless' or infinite for Anaximander, and air for Anaximanes.”4
These early thinkers were known as pre-Socratics in Greek thinking history. Copleston noted in reference to them,
…We can already see the concept of unity in diversity and difference as entering into unity in them.5
As a result, Heraclitus prioritised change over permanence, whereas Parmenides believed that “absolute change is impossible and unthinkable, and by nature things are permanent.”6
According to Heraclitus, all things flow; nothing remains, and hence “one cannot step twice in the same river.”7
Whereas Parmenides claims that change, becoming, or motion are all impossible since they include both non-being and being, which cannot both exist. Thus, Parmenides asserts, “Being is; non-being is not.”8
The positions of these two champions sparked the great debate on change and permanence, which arose as to how things could change while remaining the same.
Aristotle developed his principles of act and potency, Hylemorphism, and categories (substance and accidents) in an attempt to overcome this ‘excruciating' difficulty in philosophy.
However, with change, neither destruction nor creation occurs, but rather a shift of being from one state to another. Wherever there is change, it implies the actuality of what is changing. As a result, there is both permanence and change.
1.2 DEFINITION OF THE PROBLEM
The philosophical debate over whether change or permanence will win out is a topic that cannot be ignored at all times in philosophical study. As a result, the issue at hand is how true it is that what we term change actually occurs.
And why will things remain the same in the face of change? This core inquiry sparked many more, thus how can one and the same entity transform into something that was not previously? Could there be any permanent, true, unchanging aspect of the cosmos if everything changes all the time?
And, if reality were truly unchanging and unchangeable, how could it have anything to do with the seeming world of change, let alone explain it?
Egbeke Aja comments on this, saying,
When early philosophers investigated these issues, it appeared to them that change and permanence were contradictory, and that reality had to be either continually changing or utterly permanent.9
This arose as a result of a conflict between our sense perception and that of the intellect. The intellect perceives reality as one,
whereas the senses perceive reality as numerous and constantly changing. But how do we explain this seeming disparity between our sense view of reality and that provided by our intellect?
Overall, this topic raised two fundamental issues, namely
1. Must we take both plurality and oneness of being seriously, or may we accept one while dismissing the other as a mere appearance, illusion, or mental projection?
2. If we take both perspectives seriously, how can they coexist? What type of togetherness is at stake? How can unity and variety be balanced?
Aristotle proposed his idea of act and potency, Hylemorphism, and categories as a solution to the philosophical issue of change.
Thus, these theories developed from Aristotle's attempt to find a long-term answer to the issue of change and permanence, which had plagued philosophy for a century and a half. But did he ever succeed? This is the issue that prompted this investigation.
1.3 PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
The purpose of this paper is to find answers to these plethoras of thought-provoking topics. It is the pursuit of the most fundamental truth about the universe. The truth about reality never fully manifests itself in a single event, but rather through a process of slow unfolding.
This study investigates the origins of the problem of change and permanence before delving into the perspectives of two timeless thinkers, Heraclitus and Parmenides. Furthermore, it delves deeper into the solutions proposed by one of history's greatest thinkers, Aristotle. Finally, the enormous impact of his philosophy on practical life will be examined.
1.4 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
Recognising Aristotle's extensive contribution and debate in philosophy, the focus of this study is on his mediation on the problem of change and permanence. The merger of the Parmenidean and Heraclitean stances is his crucial concept to this realisation.
His concepts of Act and potency, Hylemorphism, and categories, however, should be underlined in relation to the perspectives of Parmenides and Heraclitus. The nature of change and permanence will be explored in order to make the subject scientific and easy to understand.
The work is both explanatory and analytical in nature. The thoughts and arguments of Heraclitus and Parmenides on change and persistence will be presented. The concept of change and permanence in Aristotle's perspective will then be examined in light of these expositions.
This topic is broken into four chapters to make it easier to understand. The first chapter describes the study's history, purpose, scope, problem, and approach. The concepts of change and permanence will be examined in chapter two, with a focus only on the etymological derivation of the two terms, as well as their explanation and explication.
In the same chapter, the historical perspectives of Parmenides and Heraclitus, who were radicals in their treatment of the topics of change and permanence, will be examined. Aristotle's notion of Act and Potency, matter and form (Hylemorphism), and substantive and accidental change (Categories) mediates between the two perspectives in Chapter 3.
The entire exposition will be reviewed in chapter four, which will also touch on the impact Aristotle's philosophical mind's resourcefulness had on practical life. Following that will be a general conclusion.