Mon Apr 10, 2023
Aristotle’s distinction between movement and activity: ancient criticisms, modern distortions
Aristotle’s distinction between movement and activity (kinêsis and energeia) was taken up in the 20th century by Ryle, Kenny, Vendler and Mourelatos. Their work, in its turn, has influenced more recent philosophers, such as Hornsby, Crowther, Setiya and Stout. Whatever the interest of this Aristotle-inspired modern philosophising, it misses something important about Aristotle’s own views on movement. For Aristotle, movement is, in a certain distinctive sense, incomplete. I argue (against many modern interpreters) that Aristotle intends this claim to apply to all movement, not only to movement towards some specific end. These three lectures are an attempt to understand and evaluate this, often overlooked, Aristotelian view. In the first lecture, I set up the problem. I discuss Aristotle’s own account of the distinction between movement and activity, and then turn to an objection made by the philosopher Plotinus. Plotinus argues, against Aristotle, that movement is (like activity) complete at any moment when it is occurring. As we shall see, this Plotinian view has interesting affinities with positions that have been developed more recently by Hornsby and Stout. Our task in subsequent lectures will be to understand Aristotle’s alternative view, how it can be defended, and why it might be thought attractive.