Ph.D. Final Public Oral Examination

Mon, Dec 21, 2020, 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm
via Zoom

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Aristotelian sciences threaten to cause a great scientific scandal. A finished Aristotelian science is a deductive system of all the truths in a domain structured into theorems and the explanatory first principles (axioms, in modern parlance) that they can be explanatorily derived from. But why think these propositions (and not others) are the basic explainers? Until we get such justification, the entire science is on shaky footing. Frege called this the great scientific ‘scandal’. I argue that Aristotle theorized and in his own scientific writings practiced a strategy to overcome it. I call his strategy the downstream-justification of principles as principles. The basic idea is this: when we already accept a proposition Q which belongs to a science, and another proposition P gives an explanation for Q but does not itself have an explanation, P is a good candidate for a first principle.

Downstream-justification has not received recognition from scholars. The most salient way in which this lack of recognition has been detrimental to our understanding of Aristotle is that it has prevented us from seeing how he structures his own writings. I show that downstream-justification of principles is the key to making sense of the organization of two of the most important but also most difficult Aristotelian treatises: the Physics and the Posterior Analytics.They are the conceptual entryway into much of Aristotle’s philosophy and yet are commonly thought to be some of his most chaotic, frustrating, and unsatisfying texts. I show that these treatises are in fact organized in a compelling way around a philosophically interesting project: building up sciences from scratch. I accordingly defend three main claims:

 (1): Aristotle Theorized A Strategy Called Downstream-Justification of Principles as Principles With Which to Overcome the Great Scientific Scandal. (ch.1)

(2):The Framework Of Science-Building, And Especially Downstream- Justification Of Principles As Principles Holds The Key To The Structure Of Important Sections of Aristotle’s Foundational Work Of Natural Science, The Physics. (chs.2&3)

(3): Epistemology Itself Is A Science. The Posterior Analytics, Aristotle’s Treatise On Epistemology, Records The Efforts Of A Budding Scientist To Identify And Justify Principles Of Epistemology. (ch.4)