1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Evolution in Philosophy: Aristotle. Strato.

(Part 12)


Aristotle.—Aristotle is much nearer a conception of evolution than his master. It is true he sets out with a transcendent Deity, and follows Plato in viewing the creation of the cosmos as a process of descent from the more to the perfect according to the distance from the original agency. Yet on the whole Aristotle leaus to a teleological theory of evolution, which he interprets dualistually by means of certain metaphysical distinctions. Thus even his idea of the relation of the divine activity to the world shows, as Zeller and Lange remark, a tendency to a pantheistic notion of a divine thought which gradually realized itself in the process of becoming. Aristotle’s distinction of form and matter, and his conception totle’s distinction of form and matter, and his conception of becoming as a transition from actually to potentiality, provides a new ontological way of conceiving the process of material and organic evolution.1 To Aristotle the whole of nature is instinct with a vital impulse towards some higher manifestation. Organic life presents itself to him as a progressive scale of complexity determined by its final end, namely, man.2 In some respects Aristotle approaches the modern view of evolution. Thus, though he looked on species as fixed, being the realization of an unchanging formative principle (GREEK), he seems, as Ueberweg observes, to have inclined to entertain the possibility of a spontaneous generation in the case of the lowest organisms. Aristotle’s teleological conception of organic evolution often approaches modern mechanical conceptions. Thus he says that nature fashions organs in the order of their necessity, the first being those essential to life. So, too, his psychology he speaks of the several degrees of mind as arising according to a progressive necessity.3 In his view of touch and taste, as the two fundamental and essential senses, he may remind one of Mr Spencer’s doctrine. At the same time Aristotle precludes the idea of a natural development of the mental series by the supposition that man contains, over and above a natural finite soul inseparable from the body, a substantial and eternal principle (GREEK) which enters into the individual from without. Aristotle’s brief suggestions respecting the origin of society and governments in the Politics show a leaning to a naturalistic interpretation of human history as a development conditioned by growing necessities.

Strato.—Of Aristotle’s immediate successors one deserves to be noticed here, namely, Strato of Lampsacus, who developed his master’s "cosmology into a system of naturalism. Strato appears to reject Aristotle’s idea of an original source of movement and life extraneous to the world in favour of an immanent principle. All parts of matter have an inward plastic life whereby can fashion themselves to the best advantage, according to their capability, though not with consciouness.


(1) Zeller says that through this distinction Aristotle first made possible the idea of development.

(2) See this well brought out in Mr G.H. Lewes’s Aristotle, p. 187.

(3) Grote calls attention to the contrast between Plato’s and Aristotle’s way of conceiving the graduations of mind (Aristotle, ii. 171.)

(4) Zeller observes that this scale of decreasing perfection is a necessary consequence of the idea of a transcendent deity.

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