Division and Explanation in Aristotle's <i>Parts of Animals</i>

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

Division and Explanation in Aristotle's Parts of Animals

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This chapter shows how Aristotelian division facilitates work at the explanatory stage of Aristotelian science. The key is PA I.5 645a36‐b3, which states in short: ‘First divide the attributes, then try to divide the causes.’ This precept, in the case (e.g.) of eye‐protection discussed in PA II.14, calls for the identification first of the widest class of animals that have eye‐protection, then the identification of the different types of eye‐protection, identifying for each type the animals that have that type. (‘First divide the attribute’.) Then, the general cause of eye‐protection is to be identified, after which an attempt is made to explain each of the types of eye‐protection in terms of the variation in that general cause that is found in the animals that possess that type of eye‐protection. (‘Then try to divide the cause’.) This practice is shown to be surprisingly pervasive in PA II–IV.

Keywords: Aristotle; division; explanation; Parts of Animals

Chapter.  9409 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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