Gave Aristotle notes

The relationship between physis and techne: Is Aristotle's view of nature and technology still valid today?

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Aristotle's understanding
2.1 Concept of nature and natural objects
2.2 Teleology of Nature and the Definitive Concept of Nature
2.3 Concept of technology and artifacts
2.4 Differences and similarities
2.5 Relationship between nature and technology

3. Aristotle in contrast to the modern understanding
3.1 physics
3.2 biology
3.2.1 Animal and plant breeding
3.2.2 Wilting of plants

4. Technology philosophy
4.1 Arnold Gehlen
4.2 Friedrich Dessauer
4.3 Martin Heidegger

5. Current trends

6. Conclusion

7. Indication of source

1 Introduction

If you look at our current understanding of nature, it seems logical to us that all processes in nature are also "natural". This includes not only all living organisms, but also their products. For us, laid eggs, built nests or protective dams are just as much a part of nature as the living beings themselves. But where does this understanding actually come from? Are the origins perhaps to be found in the ideas of the Greek philosophers or is our understanding of nature very different today than it was then? Can we compare our current understanding of nature with the Aristotelian one? Or is it rather difficult to mentally link such views with one another due to the time difference? For example, what counted to nature for the great Aristotle and what was outside the natural limit for him, that is, was artificial? Was there a strict separation between nature and technology at all and what about that today?

The question now arises as to whether a clear ontological distinction between nature and technology, and thus also between natural objects and artificially produced artefacts, as carried out by Aristotle, is actually still meaningful and valid, or whether the terms are getting closer and closer. At the same time it must be fathomed whether the relationship between nature and technology, as Aristotle understands it, is still valid today or can be valid at all.

The aim of the term paper is to provide arguments and counter-arguments and thus to clarify the open questions. Here I will first explain Aristotle's view. The examples of modern physics and biology will form the basis of the argument about nature. Arnold Gehlen, Friedrich Dessauer and Martin Heidegger, on the other hand, form the basis for technical questions. Current trends should support the argument and underpin the difficulty of making a clear distinction.

2. Aristotle's understanding

Aristotle's natural philosophy had a lasting impact on the definitions of today's physics and biology. To this day he is one of the most important philosophers and thinkers in world history. In the work Physics, Books I to IV, Aristotle explains the contrast between nature and technology. The central point here is his distinction between natural objects and artefacts.

Therefore, I would first like to dedicate myself to the definitions and terminology of nature and technology in Aristotle. Then I will give a brief summary of the differences and similarities and the relationship between the two terms.

2.1 Concept of nature and natural objects

In his physics lecture, Aristotle found his definition of nature on several levels.

First of all, according to Aristotle, one should devote oneself to the source of all things, the "αρχή" (arche). Because only when you find it can you understand nature, according to Aristotle. This primal principle pervades all natural principles and is the essence of a thing. In relation to nature, it is the principle that underlies everything in nature.

Aristotle uses the term 'physis' to characterize both the original principle of nature and nature itself. His term for nature is therefore “φύσή” (physis). This comes from the Greek and means "to grow". "Physis" is therefore the "epitome of growth". So nature is the totality of that which arises and passes, nature is change. Thus, the 'physis' can be found as the basic building block for everything that arises and passes away in nature.

The 'physis' is at the same time the path to the 'physis'. Because the term “physis” has three provisions. On the one hand, 'physis' describes the substance of a thing. In the case of natural objects, nature is the underlying substance of a thing. For example, wood is natural. On the other hand, 'physis' refers to the form, i.e. the purpose achieved. This includes the shape and the "form contained in the term"[1]. With both classifications, one would say that form and material are natural or by nature. However, they do not always have to be “nature in itself”. The third meaning of 'physis' is becoming itself, i.e. 'physis' as a process of becoming. Nature is understood here as a “path to a perfect being”[2].

First of all, Aristotle defines nature as follows: A natural thing is anything that "has in itself a beginning of change and continuance"[3]. Two essential characteristics of natural objects can be deduced from this. On the one hand, that natural objects are either completely or at least partially subject to change. On the other hand, that natural objects carry the "αρχή" (arche - the beginning) of their movement and change within themselves. Everything in the natural object is guided by an inner principle of movement. According to Aristotle, people, animals, plants and the "simplest of bodies, such as earth, fire, air and water" are natural things[4].

In contrast to artefacts, natural things have the characteristic 'nature of nature' in and of themselves. This distinction is important for Aristotle's view.

According to Aristotle, a property can be assigned to an object in several ways. On the one hand, the property can be attributed to the object “in and for itself” (kat anton - according to itself). It then comes to the object 'itself as that which it is essential'. Such properties are substantial properties. On the other hand, a property can be “incidentally applicable” to an object (kata symbebekos - what it is due). In this case, the object has the property “in some way certain respect”. Such properties are accidental.

2.2 Teleology of Nature and the Definitive Concept of Nature

In Chapter 8, Aristotle unfolds his idea of ​​a natural teleology, which is central to his final definition of nature. The term teleology comes from the Greek word τελσς “telos” (goal) and describes the doctrine of the purposefulness and purposefulness of organic life and the soul. Nature and the processes that take place in it therefore have a finality. Aristotle's natural teleology is therefore sometimes paraphrased with the words "Nature does nothing in vain"[5].

Ultimately, Aristotle's concept of nature reads as follows: "Everything behaves naturally that, from an original drive in itself, reaches a certain goal in continuous change"[6]. In addition, there is the stipulation that natural processes always run the same, i.e. are essentially reproductive - unless they are disturbed once. Accordingly, with Aristotle, real natural processes are purposeful and regular processes. The only exceptions are events that happen by chance.

2.2 Concept of technology and artifacts

The term "technology" has its etymological origin in the Greek word τέχνε 'techne'. In the broader sense it means "each one aimed at a manufacturing ability, a manual skill"[7]. Technical products are artificially manufactured things or artifacts. In contrast to natural things, they do not exist naturally, but due to other causes. These include, for example, a house or a ship. The starting point of an artifact lies in something else, outside of the thing itself. In such cases, the person decides on function and form. Thus, technical production is the artificial formation of a (mostly) natural material. According to Aristotle, there is no inherent urge to change in technical objects. It can also be said that the nature of the thing is only incidental if it is made of natural materials such as wood or earth. The function or the determination of the artifact is also decisive for this.

2.3 Differences and similarities

Aristotle clearly differentiates natural objects and artifacts conceptually. The natural objects are defined by Aristotle as "τά φύσει όντα" (ta physei onta - things according to nature). Artifacts, on the other hand, are defined as "τα τέχηε όντα" (ta techne onta - things according to technology).

Both processes have in common that they pursue a goal. Because, according to Aristotle, all processes result in the "purposefully achieved form"[8]. However, there are numerous differences to this correspondence. I will focus on the two most serious ones below.

According to Aristotle, the greatest difference between natural products and artefacts lies in the process of creation. Natural products carry their origin within themselves, artefacts are triggered 'from outside' to arise.

In both processes, the form of the end product is the decisive factor for Aristotle. The difference, however, lies in the force by which the final shape is 'made'. In natural processes, the final object is formed out of itself. In contrast to this, the shape of the finished object arises from something else in technical processes.


[1] Zekl, Hans Günter (Ed.): Aristoteles ’Physics. Hamburg: 1987: p. 55

[2] Ibid .: p. 57

[3] Ibid .: p. 51

[4] Zekl, Hans Günter (Ed.): Aristoteles ’Physics. Hamburg: 1987: p. 57

[5] Barnes, Jonathan: Aristotle. Stuttgart: 1992: p. 118

[6] Zekl, Hans Günter (Ed.): Aristoteles ’Physics. Hamburg: 1987: p. 93

[7] Zoglauer, Thomas (ed.): Philosophy of technology. Freiburg / Munich: 2002: p. 11

[8] Zekl, Hans Günter (Ed.): Aristoteles ’Physics. Hamburg: 1987: p. 55

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