The Elephant's Nose

Allan Gotthelf

in Teleology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle's Biology

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199287956
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191738296 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Aristotle Studies Series

The Elephant's Nose

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This chapter explores the complexity of the axiomatic structure of Aristotelian biological explanation, building on the work of the previous chapter. Using Aristotle's explanatory account of the distinctive features of the elephant's trunk in Parts of Animals II.16, it is shown that these distinctive features are explained not from a single essential feature of the elephant, but from some seven basic features (which together perhaps constitute the essence of an elephant), when these features are taken along both with teleological principles and with principles pertaining to the material available to make the trunk. It is observed further that as one builds a sub‐science of elephants, in which all the common features of elephants are to be explained, the structure is immensely complicated; any diagram of that structure would need (at least) a third dimension, to capture the fact that explanation takes place at various levels of generality.

Keywords: Aristotle; Parts of Animals; explanation; axiomatic structure; elephant's trunk

Chapter.  5929 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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