6281query about a passage at the very end of Aristotle's Metaphysics
- Apr 26, 2014I am doing a little work on Maimonides' attitude towards the Pythagoreans, and more generally on his attitude towards the meaning of numbers, and this leads me to post the following query. Maimonides says clearly that Pythagorean astronomy is outdated, and Aristotle is more correct. Yet he makes a number of statements to the effect that numbers out to be contemplated, and these seem to me to be in a Pythagorean vein. One of many possible avenues towards an explanation would be that he saw something in Aristotle to the same effect.
A good candidate would be a passage at the very end of the Metaphysics (book N) where Aristotle—after having soundly rejected the Platonists for their views on the nature of number—grudgingly concedes that there is, or better, there are some “coincidental” correspondences between nature and number. Julia Annas comments on the passage (1093b 11-21): “An interesting (because unparalleled) attempt by Aristotle to salvage something from what his opponents say. He admits that there are interesting mathematical structures reflected in nature... But he firmly denies that this anything more than coincidence...”
Among the many reasons for not seeing in this passage Maimonides' “source” (a word I generally avoid) is the fact that Book N was hardly known in Arabic; you can read about it in the thorough paper of Amos Bertolacci published in Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, in 2005. Moreover, in an interesting footnote (note 86) Bertolacci wonders whether books A, M, and N were either not transmitted at all, or transmitted only in part, because their sharp criticism of Plato did not sit well with those seeing an “inner congruence” between Aristotle and Plato. This leads me to two questions:
1. Since the movement to harmonize the two thinkers predates the Arabic translations, is there any evidence for a negative attitude towards those books among the Neoplatonist commentators?
2. One could suggest, alternatively, that the passage I referred to from 1093b might have been pulled out of context (as was done at times by al-Farabi, or, as some would have it, pseudo-Farabi, in his Harmonization) and highlighted in order to demonstrate that Aristotle agreed with Plato on the nature of number. Any evidence for this?
Many thanks, Tzvi
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