Samuel Girwarnauth ACF Abstract FY10

“Is There a Duality of Primary Substance: as Individual and Universal Form”

Conference Name: Western Canadian Undergraduate Conference of Philosophy

I have been personally invited to present at the University of Victoria's undergraduate conference on the subject of ethics and metaphysics, after several from the department of philosophy at Victoria were present at a conference in Vancouver at which I presented earlier this year. I am presenting a paper on the metaphysics of Aristotle, chiefly to clarify several concepts found within book seven of the Metaphysics. This paper aims at briefly sketching, first, the foundations for the possibility of having an ethical theory. My overarching concern and argument is that the foundations of ethics is metaphysical; we must understand the principles of human nature before we can theorize about human action and place value upon those actions. In this paper, then, I attempt to clarify the key element and lynch-pin of this understanding; namely, what is the human soul. I do not use the term as such to any great extent, but rather focus on what in philosophy we call "primary substance". If ethical theory is possible then there must be some aspect of the human person that is shared in common with all other persons, and this I argue is the nature of each persons primary substance. In the Aristotelian tradition it has always been understood that each person is an individual within a set type or kind; that is, that the kind is shared in common. This shared commonality allows for a common ethics. This is traditionally understood as a type of Metaphysical Realism. Recent work in the field, however, has sought to treat Aristotle as a Metaphysical Nominalist: the idea that there are no shared characteristics. If this is the case, then the project of ethical theory loses its foundation. This is one of the major issues with contemporary and modern ethical philosophy, which is Nominalistic, and the outcomes of this view have been highly detrimental to the field of ethics (as well as metaphysics). The principles of this discussion extend to such fields as legal philosophy and jurisprudence, among others.  I attempt to defend, second, the Realist reading of Aristotle by presenting a careful assessment of the Nominalist arguments and responses to them. I present a close reading of the text and critically examine what I see as faults in the traditional Realist understanding, and propose an alternative interpretation and reading. My aim is to demonstrate that Aristotle, and the Aristotelian tradition, cannot coherently be understood to be Nominalistic. Further, I point out how a Nominalist metaphysics negates any possibility for a comprehensive and coherent ethical system. With this accomplished, we have a vindicated foundation upon which to build ethical theory.  Upon the request of the conference presiders I will be giving a lecture in combination with a powerpoint presentation and a question and answer time.

 

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