Event Detail

Thu Feb 10, 2011
Howison Library, 4:10–6 PM
Philosophy Colloquium
James Allen (University of Pittsburgh)
Aristotle on Chance: Physics II. 4-6

My point of departure is a puzzle in the Physics’ account of chance, which Aristotle divides into two kinds: luck (tychê) in the practical sphere and the so-called automatic or spontaneous in the realm of nature. After proposing a solution, I try to show how the account, interpreted in the light of it, meets certain of Aristotle’s desiderata. Very roughly speaking, his principal object is to defend the reality of chance, while at the same time in a measure demystifying it. There is in his view a real difference between chance occurrences and those that are not by chance, which explains why the former are obscure, unpredictable and indefinite as the latter are not. At the same time, he holds that chance can be accommodated within the framework of the four causes and without treating luck as divine intervention in mortal affairs. (In Aristotle’s day, Tychê was a goddess venerated by a cult eager to win her favor.) I shall conclude by saying a little about the part played by Aristotle’s account of chance in the argument of Physics II 8, where his object is to vindicate natural teleology, i.e., the view that the beneficial arrangements found everywhere in the natural world are products of processes that occur for their sake and the sake of the good they do and not, as many of his predecessors held, products of chance.