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Analysis of the moral act. A proposal

I.b) The Aristotelian influence

This being the state of things, the works of Aristotle appear in the West. And the Aristotelian argumentation which reached the West is so rigorous that medieval Augustinians must retreat from their classical positions: divine illumination of human understanding in order that the human mind be capable of knowing, the rationes seminales, and many other details which do not require citation at this point. Scholastic philosophy after Aristotle's appearance never returns to these positions.

We have already mentioned that the Platonic consideration that what is "really real" are the Ideas, appears to throb at the bottom of the Augustinian forma mentis, although in an appropriately softened manner. And they are really real with a reality distinct from what is spontaneously understood with respect to things, that is, with the reality that Plato posited for the Ideas: with a reality that is a logical property. To put it another way: for a Platonist and for an Augustinian, what is really real (with the same type of "ideal" reality) is the "something" of things. If it could be said of a thing that is in act, that it exists, or that it has some type of activity, this is due to there being in its interior a "something" equivalent to Plato's Idea that makes the thing be in act, or exist, or have some type of activity. To put it another way, for Platonists and medieval Augustinians, what is real is reduced to formal identicality, to there being "something" identical to itself, whose substance is simply the "something" ("catness", "horseness", etc.). The immediate consequence is that all reality can be described with a word that adequately expresses what it is.

The works of Aristotle, together with those of St. Thomas, approach the question in quite a different fashion. When it comes to explaining movement, they try to clarify, indubitably, the appearance of a new "something" in things. Fundamentally, when they try to explain movement, that is precisely what they try to explain, that is, the act of what is in potency to the extent that it is in potency -that it is not "something"- rather than the result of the movement, with its "something" that permits a description. Consequently, for Aristotle and St. Thomas, the problem to be explained in movement is not only that the being that is the result of movement is described in words that are different than those used at the beginning of the movement, but rather the movement itself, the activity of movement.

With this focus, Aristotelianism defines that there exist four causes of movement: that which is moved (or matter), that which produces the activity of movement (or the efficient cause or motor), the contrariety -those initial and final "somethings" of movement (or formal cause)-, and the completed act towards which the movement is tending (or the final cause) (5). In this description of movement there are elements which can be described in words, because its nature is a "something": the initial and final "somethings", the contrariety. Thus matter in certain movements (accidental ones) is a being, and it can be described with the word that designates its substance: "dog", "cat", etc. But on other occasions there is no such possibility: in the substantial change what remains is the primary matter, which possesses no "something"; although the words "primary matter" be employed, this does not give rise to understanding a "something" that exists in this "primary matter".

Words are impotent to describe or make understood the activity of movement itself, because the act is no "something" until the movement is finished. And even with the movement completed, the word that allows us to designate the results of the movement does not describe the act for us, but rather the form of the act. For this reason, Aristotle insists that the act cannot be defined, but rather only shown (6). Movement and the activity of beings form an evident perception, but the words we employ to speak of reality ("dog", "cat", "green", "three meters") do not indicate this activity but rather are limited to indicating the form in which this activity is manifested.

This entire description of movement as an act that is "sliding" when it must be delineated does not lessen the fact that movement really also has aspects that can be adequately described by words. In fact the formal and final causes are designated by a word, the "something" of the act which they are, although in the case of the final cause, this designation could be motive for confusion.


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