Nature, the source or principle

Nature is a source or principle as opposed to the natural thing. From Physics II:

Of things that exist, some exist by nature, some from other causes. By nature’ the animals and their parts exist, and the plants and the simple bodies (earth, fire, air, water)-for we say that these and the like exist ‘by nature’.

And so nature is that by which some a natural thing exists. The attempt to understand nature isn’t principally the attempt to understand any natural thing – a tree or a woods or a pack of animals – but to understand that source or sources that gives rise to them.

Art is a source to, that is, a skill that one learns by which one might make various works of art or artifacts. We confuse the matter by calling the artifacts or works “art” also, but the primary sense of art is the skill or power which works to bring things forth. Now nature differs from art by being something that moves from within the thing itself – works of art don’t move of themselves – either because, like swords or coats or paintings, they don’t move at all; or because, like crossbows or steam engines or electronic equipment, they take some natural motion or process as a given. The need to take something natural as a given, with all the propensities to act that it already has, is fundamentally why works of art never move by themselves. Natures can take thing as given too: which is why Aristotle says that nature is not just an intrinsic cause, but the intrinsic cause that is first, for where nature presupposes some action or activity in something, it is the presupposed thing that is nature, and not the product that results, even if some natural being produces the thing.

Nature is thus the action of whatever thing is presupposed to a given action or result, irrespective of what performs the action or gives rise to the result; and if more than one thing is presupposed, the first or most fundamental of these things. The first such thing is whatever we make the things out of, or matter. This matter is either selected or not, that is, there is either some source that draws some matter in to constitute itself or not. There is no one name for the source or filter or selection or channeling of matter. So far as the thing selects or filters matter in preservation of its own integrity, it is called form;  but Aristotle will also apply the same term to a blueprint or conception or idealized natural law (like an ideal gas, non-gravitational space, point test particles, etc.), though later philosophers called this sense of form the exemplar. Againso far as this thing is some sort of goal or magnet of action Aristotle called it by the clunky-in- translation idiom of “that for the sake of which” (though, in Greek, hae hou heneka has more of a ring to it.) later philosophers shortened this to the more controversial-sounding but more elegant final cause. If there is no direction or selection or channeling of this kind, then the result arises by chance in the sense of there being no connection between some given process and a result. Since nature involves both things that come to be by chance in this sense and things that don’t, then chance, the exemplar, he hou heneka, and form all are nature too.

Since the investigation into nature is not a search for the thing but that by which things arise, but our everyday experience is principally of the things that have arisen, the investigation of nature moves beyond everyday experience in different modes that correspond to the different modes of nature. The simplest and most basic mode of attainment is through matter, the next is by chance, and in the primitive stages of science there should be attempts to treat these as exhausting nature – though the approach is handicapped, and even fatally flawed by having no formalism. At a later stage, this approach becomes more sophisticated: the attempt is to consider matter and chance as “real” whereas the various formalisms are only “models”; though this is untenable since the only value of a model is from its imitation of or participation in the real. At a final stage, there is an attempt to divide the formalism from the hae hou heneka, but this too is untenable, since they are the same thing viewed only as actually being or as becoming.


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