November 21, 2009

Quote of the Day: A Science Fiction Thought Experiment in Aristotle

ὅσα μὲν οὖν φαίνεται ἐπιγιγνόμενα ἐφ' ἑτέρων τῷ εἴδει, οἷον κύκλος ἐν χαλκῷ καὶ λίθῳ καὶ ξύλῳ, ταῦτα μὲν δῆλα εἶναι δοκεῖ ὅτι οὐδὲν τῆς τοῦ κύκλου οὐσίας ὁ χαλκὸς οὐδ' ὁ λίθος διὰ τὸ χωρίζεσθαι αὐτῶν·ὅσα δὲ μὴ ὁρᾶται χωριζόμενα, οὐδὲν μὲν κωλύει ὁμοίως ἔχειν τούτοις, ὥσπερ κἂν εἰ οἱ κύκλοι πάντες ἑωρῶντο χαλκοῖ· οὐδὲν γὰρ ἂν ἧττον ἦν ὁ χαλκὸς οὐδὲν τοῦ εἴδους· χαλεπὸν δὲ ἀφελεῖν τοῦτον τῇ διανοίᾳ. οἷον τὸ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου εἶδος ἀεὶ ἐν σαρξὶ φαίνεται καὶ ὀστοῖς καὶ τοῖς τοιούτοις μέρεσιν· ἆρ' οὖν καὶ ἐστὶ ταῦτα μέρη τοῦ εἴδους καὶ τοῦ λόγου; ἢ οὔ, ἀλλ' ὕλη, ἀλλὰ διὰ τὸ μὴ καὶ ἐπ' ἄλλων ἐπιγίγνεσθαι ἀδυνατοῦμεν χωρίσαι;

Therefore, however many things appear to come about in different types of material, for instance, a circle in bronze and stone and wood, it seems clear that neither bronze nor stone is part of the substance of a circle, since they can be separated. But even for things that are not observed to be separated, there is no reason why the same results should not follow, just as even if all circles that were seen were bronze, nonetheless bronze would be no part of the form, but it would be difficult to separate them in thought. For instance, the form human is always observed in flesh and bones and these sorts of parts. Are these parts therefore part of the form and the definition [of human]? Or are they not [part of the form], but rather the matter, although on account of [human] not coming about in other matter we are unable to separate them [in thought]? (Aristotle, Met. 1036a30-b6; my translation, based on Ross)

What do you think? Could there be a genuine human being who wasn't made of flesh and bones? Is human the sort of form that could be implemented in metal or plastic?

Posted by Kenny at November 21, 2009 3:51 PM
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Comments

Haha, I see what you did there, Asimov. I mean, uh, Aristotle.

Posted by: pferree at November 21, 2009 8:20 PM

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