The difficulty of studying nature

(I) the set up for the problem (II) the problem


P = principle.

p = the thing that is from a principle.

We often use the same name for both, like Cheddar (the town and the product)* art (the skill you learn and  what you make with it) phone (the instrument and the action one performs with it) mower (the agent and his instrument).

We do the same thing with nature, which is both p (the thing you can look at, take a walk in, or preserve) and P (the system of causes that gives rise to it and which we come to know by study). Aristotle distinguished the senses and insisted that we only call P-nature “nature”, but he couldn’t overcome the tendency of language to make the analogous name.


Here’s the difficulty: p-nature and P-nature are different, but we use p to understand P and so have to assert some likeness between them. But the ways P and p are like or different are not given a priori.

Plato himself seemed to think that p and P were defined relative to cognitive powers, with p as given to sense and P as given to intellect. Aristotle’s critique  of this is based on his claim that p and P were both particular or individual things.**  Most materialisms take p and P as material or extended, with P being smaller than p, and as being a substance while p is just a cloud of multiple substances.  Berkeley seemed to think that p was human perception and P was divine perception.  Galileo and Newton took p as the subjective and P as the mathematical. Science makes the divine into subjective and algorithmic.


*All examples are P, p respectively.

For years I’ve wanted to write a post on the four causes as illustrated in names of cheese: formal causes like sharp, mild, white, yellow, blue; material causes like pepper jack; final causes like nacho… most are named after regions, however, and so could be taken either as named by the agent who makes them (the Swiss) or the region they come from.

**Cherniss has definitively shown that Aristotle’s position cannot be consistent, and any way he modifies it allows Plato’s system to be sound.



  1. Zippy said,

    January 3, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    For years I’ve wanted to write a post on the four causes as illustrated in names of cheese

    Just pressing “like” could not properly express how much I like this.

  2. robalspaugh said,

    January 3, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Dude, write the cheese post. No joking.

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