Mon Jan 23, 2012
Howison Library, 4–6 PM
Timothy Clarke (Yale University)
An Ancient Puzzle about Coming to Be
One point of agreement among the Presocratics, according to Aristotle, was that nothing ever really comes into or goes out of existence. In this talk I examine Aristotle’s understanding of—and proposed solution to—the “ancient puzzle” about coming to be. The puzzle, as Aristotle describes it, is this: “What comes to be must do so either from what is or from what is not, and both are impossible. What is cannot come to be, since it already is, and nothing can come to be from what is not, since something must underlie.” I argue that, contrary to previous interpretations, the dilemma here (“… either from what is or from what is not”) should be understood as a dilemma about the pre-change state of the thing that comes to be, and not as a dilemma about that thing’s precursor. I show how this interpretation allows us to explain the perceived force of the argument, while also making sense of Aristotle’s claim that his theory of generation provides the key to the puzzle’s solution.