The Activity of Being: An Essay on Aristotles Ontology

Aryeh Kosman (2013) - The Activity of Being -An Essay on Aristotle
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But he has two rather different accounts. The term refers rather to know-how in general.

1. The Naturalness Argument: The Debate

Know-how in this sense is what is involved in bringing beings forward as themselves, that is, in recognizing them under this or that category as useful in this or that context or activity AP, , Rather, things enter a world through their interpretation in terms of a meaning and a use. This incorporation of things into humanly organized worlds can be understood through the concept of the eidos, or essence, which Heidegger associates closely with techne.

The things of physis have their arche in themselves. They are self-originating. They are made or at least helped into being through the mediation of an agent. However, Heidegger gives even this more conventional understanding of the term an unfamiliar twist. It consists essentially in bringing the process of making to completion in the conformity of the produced thing with its essence.

This kind of know-how is directed toward the end or goal of production rather than the means. It is productive in the sense of bringing the thing forward, producing it like a witness in court, first as idea, and then in reality. In so doing it goes beyond physis to bring forth another type of being which, Heidegger argues, is not the product of arbitrary will, but of a logos. This definition suggests that the logos is related to the essence of things and to the articulation of that essence in speech. But note that Heidegger finds the logos at work not only in theoretical knowledge, but also in circumspection, the most basic familiarity with things that accompanies action.

At every level of cognition, the logos indicates the functions of unifying and making explicit involved in the intelligent encounter with the world. But what is involved in the work of the logos? What does it actually encompass? It is, says Heidegger, a kind of rule or law immanent to the elements it gathers. The gathering act is an interpretation of these elements as belonging together in a model of the thing. This model is not simply the empirical givenness of the thing but its finished and perfected form. To grasp X as Y is the essential act of intelligence and this act, for the Greeks, takes the form of an idealization.

Recall that for Plato each art is governed by a logos. The art of shipbuilding, for example, gathers materials and plans under the leading idea, the logos, the ideal model, of a ship that will be strong and reliable, and perhaps also suitable for carrying large quantities of goods, fast, or excellent in warfare, depending on its type. In modern terms we conceive the end as a subjective goal and the limit as an external barrier to movement or extension. Heidegger reverses the terms of this modern understanding of the eidos. The end and limit are in fact the finished product itself insofar as it conforms to the eidos and embodies the specific limitation that makes it this particular thing rather than another. The telos is not in the mind of the maker nor is the peras external to the work. In this sense, he claims, Aristotle places the actual before the potential, as more ontologically fundamental.

Form is the eidos realized in an appropriate matter of some sort.

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The Activity of Being: An Essay on Aristotle's Ontology [Aryeh Kosman] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Understanding “what something. Aristotle's thinking is peripatetic. It moves along paths, some well-worn, others newly cleared by the creative elasticity of his thinking. It pursues.

In this sense it is not what we understand as form in the usual meaning of the word. The eidos is not so much an idea as the real being of the thing to be made, what it most intrinsically is prior to any and all ideas.

As such the eidos must appear, come into presence, through a process of formation of its material, the hyle. Form is a state of being of that material, not something extrinsic that happens to it accidentally. Form is the movement toward completion that overtakes and transforms the material, stripping it of its imperfection as it proceeds.

We can of course reconceptualize all this in common sense terms and think of eidos and form as subjective ideas in the head of the maker, matter as objective things in the world, and their encounter as a contingent happening caused by human will.


This is precisely the modern conception of technology which Heidegger claims is alien to the Greeks. In that meaning, the emergence of the thing is thought through the process of formation. Work is not an accident that befalls indifferent raw materials but the entry of the crafted object into a world. The thing must not be conceived objectivistically outside its relation to the process in which it emerges from the work of the craftsman.

Existence and essence are not yet separate as they are for us.

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They encompass the activity of production and its result. As such they are dialectical categories, for each aspect of production is tied to a contrary aspect in many different ways. Just as raw materials correspond to form, so to clumsy action there corresponds a skill, to every potentiality an actuality, and so on. This dialectical pattern is repeated over and over. As we will see, this dialectical character of production is the result of its ontologically original function of revealing. Dynamis is usually translated as either potentiality or force.

History and scope

The material, hyle, has the dynamis, the potential, to become the finished work. The energeia instantiates the eidos, brings it to presence. The second meaning of dynamis refers us to the craftsman, the producer, who possesses the force or capacity to make the work. Dynamis in this sense is subjected to a very complex analysis by Aristotle, which Heidegger explains at length in his commentary on Book theta of the Metaphysics. This analysis also covers aspects of dynamis in the first sense, as the appropriate materials, and relates it to the skill of the producer.

The two together constitute the full meaning of dynamis.

They are mutually implicated in a dialectic of action and passion, creation and receptivity. The clay is not simply there to be formed into a jug; insofar as it is part of the process of production, it demands the achievement of form. This readiness is not so much an orientation toward a goal, a wish or striving, as a discrimination and selection of precisely those actions which enable the movement of the produced thing from potential to actuality.

Dynamis thus has a third dialectical character. The force for producing is always an exclusion of acts that would be unproductive, a leaving undone of those many mistaken moves that would prevent rather than further the realization of the work. What is not done belongs just as much to the essence of force as what is done.


There is yet a further dialectic of force identified by Aristotle. As blindness is to sight, so every unforce is to its corresponding force. This relationship is clear in the fact that performances based on a capacity are not merely done but are always done either well or poorly. The criterion of performance is implicit in the very fact of performance and is derived from the good performance rather than the bad.


The bad is condemned by its failure to conform to this criterion. A normative dimension thus inheres in the nature of dynamis. This is the relation of each specific force to the contraries it mediates.

The healing art aims at health by addressing sickness as its problem task. Fire acts to be sure, but not through a logos but, as we moderns would put it, causally. The physician acts in this gap between the contraries he addresses to favor one against the other. Nothing of the sort is involved in natural movement. We have seen the dialectical character of Greek productivism. But these Greek contraries are not modern antinomies.