Ibn Rushd, known as Averroes, states in his epic Tahafut al-Tahafut (The Destruction of Destruction or Incoherence of Incoherence) that Aristotle’s great innovation was the speculation that the cosmos is eternal. This notion was decried especially by the mutakallimum and their like-minded intellectuals of the other two monotheistic religions of the barbarians of the Middle East, because obviously their gods created the universe.
But it is a much deeper problem here than the mere political problems brought up by the monotheists. First, we must attempt to understand what it means to have an eternal cosmos. A cosmos is a well-ordered whole, and when we say “whole” we mean everything but everything, both material and non-material and how they are ordered together. Even if there are some parts of the cosmos that are chaotic, they are chaotic in a well-ordered way, a seemingly paradoxical statement. What most people do not recognize is that Aristotle speculated that there is a theos, but that there cannot be a theos unless that theos is eternal. Of course, monotheists have always said that. However, Aristotle goes further. He speculates that to have a theos requires a cosmos, and if there is a cosmos then the theos, god, can be known and described, as the cosmos is reasonable. Hence, it is subject to and of logos.
What Aristotle did was perhaps the most remarkable and audacious try to describe the whole that has ever been made, because it is systematic philosophy. Because the cosmos is a certain way, systematic philosophy is possible. We must remember that Plato’s dialogues dramatically, by their own form, deny that philosophy can be systematized, because they deny that level of abstraction that allows for a discussion of nature, for example, on its own.
In all metaphysics, the ultimate reality of things, whether it be called Dao, the Good, the Whole, etc., is a non-numerical infinite that is completely unlimited and ineffable. My remarks about it here are impossible, because anything I might say about the whole limits something that cannot be limited. The ultimate reality contains all that is, was, and will be, and contains within it all that never can be as well. It is beyond all being, and hence it is not being itself. It contains all possibilities, and hence it is also a unity. To be a unity means that we can speak of it as one or as a one. But to speak of it as one means not to limit it, but to say that the whole of things contains a determination and a principle of manifestation.
In Plato’s Philebus, Socrates divides this problem into two sides, the problem of the one and many: First, he speaks of the unlimited or no-limit, the indeterminate source of all things. That is transformed into the indeterminate many. On the other side, there is the determinate limit, which is transformed to ideal monads. The combination of the ideal monads with the many create numbers and ultimately such things as the equal, the odd and even, and doubling etc.. Numbers, in Plato and even in Aristotle, cannot be separated from things, and hence the very character of numbers determines that there are things.
All things are can be manifested are manifested by being. In the universal sense, being is not only the principle of manifestation, but it also comprises in itself the totality of the possibilities of manifestation. Being cannot be infinite, because it does not coincide with total possibility, including non-being. In Aristotle, in effect, the theos is being. Moreover, that being is pure thought-thinking itself. It has perfect knowledge. Knowledge is the coincidence of subject and object, and as such it has perfect coincidence. That it is thinking itself means that the theos has motion, perpetual motion. That motion, moreover, is perfect motion, and that only perfect motion is circular and spherical.
The theos is a sphere, one of limited volume, located nowhere, that in itself is perpetually moving around a fixed Euclidean point. It is the unmoved mover, and it is the first and final cause of all motion. Now motion is the key to the entire cosmos. The theos-sphere is completely noetic. It is only accessible to the mind and it is all mind. While this theos-sphere is completely one and an integral whole in itself, the sphere is divided into what is known as separate intelligences, which are perfect sources of movement as well. The sphere becomes the spheres of the cosmos. Each sphere governs a movement and a movement of something. The movement of these spheres is governed by the prime mover, thought thinking itself. All things do not move, as they do in English, they are moved as in the Greek.
Yet, these spheres are all noetic and have no materiality of any kind. We have to account for the physical universe and its corporality. Again, we go to motion. Technically speaking, there is undifferentiated and differentiated motion. Aristotle assumes we know the process, as he does not explain how corporality is brought about with any detail. What happens is that the four elements of the corporality are actually elements of motion and non-motion. Undifferentiated motion thus is transformed into the first element air, which is the fastest of all motion. It is the first form of materiality. The motion is slowed into the element fire, and then slowed again to make the element water, and non-motion is the element earth. All corporeality is combinations of these elements, taking on various attributes of these elements. Now, it must be remember that these element are not, not, not, atoms or have any atomic character. They are various species of motion and they are made by theos by noetic motion.
The cosmos’s noetic spheres move the realm of eternal necessity of the heavens. There are spheres that move the stars and the planets, with the Earth unmoving in the center of the cosmos. The planet Jupiter, for example, is moved by a noetic sphere that governs its motion. Of the planets, their order is Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and the final sphere of planets is Saturn. Beyond that there is the sphere of the stars and then the sphere of the prime mover, thought thinking itself. The realm of the Earth is not governed by absolute necessity.
What is important to realize here is that man’s mind is in effect a separate intelligence, which is continuously clouded by phantasia, imagination. It cannot be pure like the motion of pure thought thinking itself. Nevertheless, as it is an separate intelligence, it is one with the intelligence of the entire cosmos. Thought thinking itself, as the first cause is the final cause of all motion, and everything is in motion. In effect, what thought thinking itself is thought thinking the entire cosmos and everything it that is, will be, and was. The “itself” part of the thought thinking itself is the cosmos. Moreover, because everything that is thought is from thought itself, everything is effect alive in some way.
Now this kind of construction is not exclusive to Aristotle. We find it in the Vedas as well. However, we must go back to what Ibn Rushd said. Aristotle’s innovation is that this cosmos is eternal. Because the cosmos is eternal, the character of life and how we understand it is different from a cosmos that comes to be or is created.
In the Philebus, Socrates tells us that the Good is completely beyond being and that every being capable of it wants the whole and that the whole is logos-worthy. That means that all beings are radically defective until they have the Good. Moreover, each being depends on another being or beings, and the whole of things is in flux without the Good. Very little is complete and very little is all that orderly. There is no Aristotelian theos in this approach.
Socrates tells us at his death hour that he took refuge in spoken words to find that which is responsible for any single thing or occurrence coming into being, passing away, or just being the way it is. The “to be responsible for” is the cause of the intelligible things that are presented to us in speech. For Aristotle, those intelligible things are the eide, forms, species, looks, on which existence depends. Aristotle broke with Plato on this question of how things come to be because he disputed Plato on the question of what the eide are, what sort of being do they have. It is not that Aristotle disputes that the intelligible things are, but the manner or mode of their being. He denies that they are separate from things.
For Aristotle, eidos must be work all the time, energeia. Everything has a natural end and a proper way of moving and working and each being generates itself. Man comes from man, bees from bees. What is important here is that this work is eternal and perpetual motion. That means there is no separate existence of the eide as we find in Plato, but that they are perpetually within each thing. That means that the existence of things is not really in flux as it is for Plato, because in a decisive sense each being has the good within him as it can do its work well. The adage is that Plato sees the dog in the street and surmises the world comes to be, while Aristotle sees the dog in the street and surmises that the world is eternal, because that dog is real, while for Plato is it only a fleeting appearance.
As our proper end is to understand and think, we have a soul that perceives the eide and we have a mind through the cosmos itself speaks and appears to give us knowledge about itself. In Plato, there is only one example of what we call energeia. It is Socrates. In Aristotle, the ultimate energeia is the theos, thought thinking itself, the unmoved mover.
It is a very pretty picture, and a wonderful systematic account when all worked out. However, the problem is that it is wrong. Moreover, the great Aristotelians, Moses Maimonides, Ibn Rushd, and Thomas Aquinas, all of whom posit a theos are wrong. There is no god, because the cosmos envisioned in this way is wrong. We know that because the Earth is not the center of the universe, and, for that matter, neither is the Sun. While it is attractive to some to envision that the entire universe is a sphere in which everything is happening, right now the evidence is that is not the case.
There are those people who believe that there is a theos, a god, but he is apart from the universe. However, if that is the case, then there really is no cosmos or the creation itself is stupid, i.e., there is nothing in the creation that can know anything about how things come to be or pass away. The creationists of the Intelligent Design theory, for example, do not realize that their ideological position is not for intelligent design, but for stupid design. A creation that is not self-reflecting cannot know anything and cannot even know that it is stupid. That was the position that the mutakallimum took in Medieval times, a position that was refuted by Maimonides, Ibn Rushd, and St. Thomas. But they refuted them Aristotelian terms with arguments based on assumptions we know are incorrect. However, that Aristotle was wrong does not make the mutakallimum or the Intelligent Design people right.
In the future, I am going to write more about cosmological problems, because I want to work out how our physical cosmos came to be out what is strictly immaterial, and if that is possible.