The World Explored, the World Suffered Education Issue Nr. 19 June 2019 - Page 27

Action and Agency are form-creators for Aristotle because they issue from a form of life which can build a world around itself. As a rational animal capable of discourse I go forth in a world of physical events such as a storm at sea. After throwing the cargo overboard I can but sit and wait for the consequences to play themselves out on this watery stage. As a rational animal capable of discourse I am of course a form of life that can act but one whose actions have consequences I cannot control. The sun was shining and the weather was fine when I embarked on this sea voyage. The possibility of a storm at sea was a piece of knowledge I had but it was not active at the time of the choice. I am now trapped in this situation and if I was an ancient Greek, the "action" of praying to the gods would follow the action of throwing the cargo overboard. Is it irrational to begin to pray or is prayer an assertion of agency as such when natural events play with our lives? For Aristotle, the world-creating forms occur in the media of change(space, time and matter) and they find their explanation in a theoretical matrix of 4 kinds of change three principles and 4 causes. The material and efficient causes of the storm are forms situated in the infinite continuum of the media of change: the forms of water(the high seas) the forms of air(high winds) the forms of fire( the lightning issuing from the heavens) and the wooden earth-like form of the ship being tossed about and being prepared to rest finally in peace on the earth at the bottom of the sea. In such a situation can we talk about praying in terms of rationality? Well, I had the knowledge that this fateful outcome was a possibility and did not use this knowledge. For Aristotle, this was a failure of deliberation and therefore of rationality. So all that is left of the definition of such a being is his animality expressed in his fear and apprehension and his attempt to communicate via prayer with the "agency" expressed in the storm. For those who found themselves in such situations and prayed and survived to tell their story, it might seem as if some divine agent had now a reason to save the souls on the ship. Aristotle would not have sanctioned such an explanation. He would have pointed to all those skeletons lying on the floor of the sea-bed, resting, who undoubtedly prayed and who lost their souls in storms at sea. Aristotle's theory of action, agency, and powers would not permit the world of the human to become confused with the physical forms of the infinite continuum. That is one can rationally say that I should have considered the possibility of the ruin of my hopes in a storm at sea and ought not to have decided to board the ship but one cannot rationally say that the Storm ought not to have sunk the ship and extinguished the life of all the souls on board. For Aristotle, there is a categorical distinction to be observed here, a logical boundary that one only crosses on pain of the loss of one's rationality. This does not necessarily mean that Aristotle would have thought that it was irrational to pray as the ship's mast was broken by the tempestuous winds. Indeed he would have thought that we are active world-creating forms and a structured form of discourse was, of course, preferable to quivering and weeping or rushing around like the ship's dog howling at the wind. We are forms of life embedded in a