Aristotle’s Manifold Models

Kevin Flannery, SJ

This essay considers what appear to be Aristotle’s contradictory approaches to scientific methodology. In the Posterior analytics, he conceives of genuine science as having its basis in the experience of particular entities which eventually, within particular scientific contexts, gives rise to universals which “come to rest in the soul,” these universals in turn giving rise to definitions and names that correspond to the essences of the particular entities experienced. On the other hand, in works other than the Analytics, he speaks positively of words proper to contexts quite different from the contexts to which the particulars to which they refer belong. The essay considers in this regard analogies, paradigms, and metaphors. In the end, however, it argues that we do not live in a world made up entirely of models. As useful as they are, models do depend for their sense upon basic, everyday perception of things as particular instances of certain universals. 

Kevin Flannery, SJ was born in 1950. He studied at Xavier University (Cincinnati), Ohio State University, and University College Dublin before entering the Society of Jesus. As a Jesuit he completed an M.Div. and a STL at Weston School of Theology, as well as a B.A./M.A. and a D.Phil. at the University of Oxford. Beginning in 1992, he was Professor of the History of Ancient Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, serving as Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy from 1999 until 2005, and becoming emeritus professor in 2020. He is the author of Ways into the Logic of Alexander of Aphrodisias (Brill, 1995); Acts Amid Precepts: The Aristotelian logical structure of Thomas Aquinas’s moral theory (The Catholic University of America Press/T. & T. Clark, 2001); Christian and Moral Action (IPS Press, 2012); Action and Character according to Aristotle: The logic of the moral life (The Catholic University of America Press, 2013), and Cooperation with Evil: Thomistic Tools of Analysis (The Catholic University of America Press, 2019).