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The Origins of Aristotelian Science.

Modern readers who have wrestled with the difficulties of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics can sympathize with the twelfth-century lament of John of Salisbury that there are "as many obstacles to understanding this work as there are chapters in it--and you are lucky if there are not more obstacles than chapters" (Metalogicon 4.6). One recent reader who has met with some success in overcoming these difficulties is Michael Ferejohn, whose book attempts to set out systematically the elements of the Aristotelian theory of scientific explanation. Rather than add to the eminent tradition of commentary on the text, Ferejohn provides a reconstruction of the theory and so a comprehensive interpretation of demonstrative knowledge.

Ferejohn presents Aristotle's theory as an attempt, first, to set out those general requirements which any adequate theory of knowledge would have to satisfy, and second, to construct a theory of scientific explanation based on his theory of the syllogism. Crucial to this project is the task of showing that Aristotle's notion of scientific knowledge is foundationalist but not, at the same time, axiomatic. This latter view, which Ferejohn calls syllogisticism, seems to fit those passages of the Posterior Analytics which closely connect the theory of the syllogism with scientific demonstration. It runs aground, however, on those passages where Aristotle speaks of definitions and principles in ways which do not easily lend themselves to syllogistic reasoning. Ferejohn claims that this is because the text contains a complex method of demonstration which is only partly syllogistic and not at all axiomatic. What the strict syllogisticist overlooks is the fact that Aristotelian scientific explanation is a two-stage process. The nonsyllogistic stage is based on the Platonic method of division in which the concepts relevant to the explanation of a particular phenomenon are framed and the necessary definitions are set out. This procedure provides the raw material, that is, the propositions, from which demonstrative syllogisms are constructed. The actual construction of these syllogisms in a way that shows how a causal middle term links properties set out in the framing stage, constitutes the second stage of explanation. Thus, Ferejohn argues against the strict syllogisticist that the definitions and first principles of a science are not axioms of a strictly deductive system, but basic assumptions which are organized and selected through division as a preparation for demonstrating syllogistically.

This two-stage method of explanation is outlined, in a general way, in the first part of the book. In the second part, Ferejohn provides a close study of the various kinds of immediate connections Aristotle allows between terms of a definition. Making these connections constitutes a major part of the first stage and is accomplished through an application of Platonic division in strictly limited ways. In this way Aristotle is able, Ferejohn argues, to provide the diverse kinds of assumptions syllogistic reasoning requires.

Clearly written and well organized, Ferejohn's book offers a novel approach to interpreting the Posterior Analytics. By attempting to reconstruct Aristotle's theory rather than by giving a textual exegesis, this book is able to approach issues without following Aristotle's sometimes confusing order of treatment. More importantly, this book has the great merit of providing a viable alternative to the various other interpretations which have dominated Aristotle studies in this century. These include not only the strict syllogisticist interpretation, but also those interpretations which, in one way or another, attempt to drive a wedge between Aristotle's conception of explanation in the Posterior Analytics and his actual practice in his works on specific natural sciences. This reason alone would make Ferejohn's work an important contribution to current Aristotle studies.
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Author:Tkacz, Michael W.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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