The Free-Will Determinism Problem in Greek Philosophy: Aristotle

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The Free-Will Determinism Problem in Greek Philosophy: Aristotle

Although the tradition of western philosophy was once famously called a series of 'footnotes to Plato' (A.N. Whitehead), there seems to be at least one major philosophical debate that owes it s heritage neither to Plato nor to any of his ancient compatriots. The problem of free will and determinism seems not to have been a major issue directly exercising the minds of philosophers of the ancient world. There are probably two main reasons for this. First, 'the prevailing view of the universe in their day did not presuppose an omnipotent deity. The Olympians were certainly magnificently superhuman but they fell far short of total power. Even Zeus, the greatest of the gods,
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In Book Two of his Nichomachean Ethics Aristotle describes the origin and development of character. For Aristotle there is in us no innate character, no inherited (or astrologically determined) set of qualities that make us the types of people that we are. What we do possess at birth, however, is a capacity, an undifferentiated potentiality, out of which a particular set of qualities called our character develops. His denial of inborn character he explains by reference to the quaint physics of his day: 'a stone, which has a natural tendency downwards, cannot be habituated to rise however often you try to train it by throwing it into the air.' There is an implicit definition of natural here. Aristotle takes it to entail unchangeabihty. if character were natural (innate), it could not be subject to change. Since, he implies, there is evidence that character within one individual is variable and malleable, then it cannot be part of an inborn nature.

Character, then, exists at birth for Aristotle only in the sense of an unmanifested potentiality which can be channelled into different directions or moulded into different shapes. We are not born just or unjust, gentle or cruel, smug or diffident but acquire all such traits after birth. Here is an analogy. According to one linguistic theory, babies are born with the potentiality to make the sounds of any language. Infant utterance is an experimentation with this wide range of culturally

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