The man dies, but his legacy and spirit still hovers and lives on. It’s been thousands of years since the birth and death of Aristotle, the wise man of Stagira. Yet, it is not an over statement to say that, his works still hold strong grips not only in the intellectual world but also in other strata of education. In philosophy all other philosophical works are seen as “Footnotes to his works” as a result of his huge impact in the branches of Philosophy. While I laud and doff my cap for this great ancestor, I dare to say that time is already late for philosophy especially that of the West which is heavily influenced by Aristotle to take up their mats and start walking. If philosophy must remain progressive and critical which is due to its nature, she must scrutinize all systems and traditions. None is sacrosanct. Nonetheless, since the death of Aristotle, everything about his teachings seems to be swallowed hook, line and sinker. The West seem to give a blind eye to the severe dangers and polarities posed by some of his teachings especially his metaphysics heavily ladened with his Philosophy of essence. It is my intention in this work somewhat to say that a greater cause of the polarity and dichotomizing tendencies that we see today in western philosophy and her allies have their roots in Aristotle’s philosophy of essence. While I applaud still his laudable contributions, I think it is high time his disciples accept his teachings while putting on their critical lenses.
MUCH ADO ABOUT ARISTOTLE’S PHILOSOPHY OF ESSENCE
One sees in the work of Aristotle especially his “Metaphysics”, the basic teachings about the Philosophy of essence . Looking at his metaphysics Book C, 2 Aristotle refers to Metaphysics as “First Philosophy”, because for him, it investigates the first principles, the ultimate causes of all things and the foundation of truths. The main focus of Metaphysics for Aristotle is the study of substance or essence. This means that, even if there are many substances, Aristotle recognizes that metaphysics or first Philosophy has to do with the unchangeable substance. In his words:
If there is no substance other than those which were formed by nature, natural science will be the first science; but if there is an immovable substance, the science of this must be prior and must be first Philosophy and universal in this way, because it is first. And, it will belong to this to consider being qua- being both what it is and the attributes which belong to it qua being
He goes on further to make an important distinction. The distinction between the wise and the unwise. Aristotle held strongly that it belongs to the character of the wise to know being as being which is the essence of reality. His reasons which he stated in his above cited works are because; the wise man knows all things as far as possible. Secondly, the wise man can learn things that are difficult and not easy for the unwise to know. He sums it up by saying that, the wise man must not be ordered but must order, he must not be subject to obedience but should subject others to obey. We shall see the great implications of this in our next section.
ONTOLOGICAL AND EXISTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES OF LONG YEARS OF ADHERENCE TO ARISTOTLE’S PHILOSOPHY OF ESSENCE.
The first question in this sub-section is, what is actually wrong with Aristotle’s philosophy of essence nay his metaphysic? Well, one can say that, his metaphysics is built under a mindset that has sees reality, human inter-personal relationship and science in a polarized, exclusivist and non-complementary mode this is largely seen in his dual conception of reality into substance and accidents, being and non-being which has become widespread even to inter-human relationships.
The first consequence (Ontological) of an attachment to Aristotle’s metaphysics is a polarized conception of reality. As a result of long years of faithfulness and subscription to the thoughts and ideas of this great man by the western counterparts, we see them quickly believing without much criticism that, substance or essence does not need accidents to subsist whereas accidents need substances on which they inhere. This will serve as one of the major loop holes inherent in western philosophy and thoughts. After all, the likes of Coppleston so much believed that, Aristotle’s Metaphysics had a tremendous influence on the subsequent thought of Europe
What one must note here is that, substance and accidents constitute what makes reality whole and complete. Were we to commit ourselves to the assumption that the substance is the very thing that makes a thing what it is, then we shall find ourselves in a very paradoxical situation where we might have to consider the dimension of accidents as a dispensable aspect of being in history.
In reality, we know that there are accidents that the mind can artificially isolate for such individual consideration. This is the case with almost all accidents such as beauty, age, sex colour, tribe e.t.c the mind can isolate these accidents, theoretically for independent consideration based on their goodness in itself. Besides, there is an unanswered question by the top disciples of Aristotle, if the existence of accidents is dependent on the existence of substances, how do we know substances except by conceptualizing them? If we conceptualize them, then their existence is dependent on all the possible relations that enter into their emergence in the process of cognition, this is applicable to the essence of God that can be conceptualized analogously.
When now, Aristotle makes the conceptualization of accidents dependent on substances, then accidents pure and simple would either have no existence or where they do exist as pure abstract discrete quantities or qualities would not have or require any essence. This means that, either substances alone exist or accidents would become our substances. If we accept this view, then Aristotle’s whole doctrine of pluralistic realism would have a very serious question mark. The solution to this age long error is that, for there to be things in the way we know them, we must talk about the serious linkage between substances and their accidents. A mutual complementary relationship must exist between these two where both substance and accidents need each other and serve each other in their being.
On the existential plane, we see that the character of accidents as conceived by Aristotle are so mistaken that they have turned into cases of tensions and conflicts in the wider society. Are we thus surprised that such issues as race, tribe, nationality, skin colour and so on play decisive roles and get extraordinary meanings in our lives and in our dealings with others? Today as well as in the past, people are crying out as to how strangers and foreigners are treated and forced to play roles that are inhuman because of their status. The so called craze for women emancipation and liberation all stems from the age long distinction and undue emphasis placed between substance and accidents.
Asouzu is right in affirming that, Aristotle’s ontology “has an inherent moment of bifurcation which can always be turned one way or the other to achieve desired ideological gains”. The wise and the unwise, the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor can co-exist only if the requisite mindset is acquired so as to make this possible. If philosophy must remain love of wisdom and truth (or as some contemporary scholars will refer to it as construction of knowledge) then, we must transcend the confines of the Aristoltelian world filled with so many paradoxes and contradictions. In this case, I think of a philosophy of complementation and not one of rejection and exclusiveness.
TRANSCENDING THE LEGACIES OF FR ARISTOTLE THROUGH FR ASOUZU’S IBUANYIDANDA PHILOSOPHY
Philosophy in our contemporary times is in dire need of a harmonized idea of being so as to make our idea of science and inter-human relationship meaningful. This can be achieved if there is a way to relate essence ( Substance) and accidents, ends and means, practical reason and theoretical reason such that their realization can be mutually harmonized. Doing this, we go a long way to end the subject-object divide often experienced in philosophy. This is the task of Ibuanyidanda Philosophy.
The concept Ibuanyidanda draws its inspiration from the teachings of traditional Igbo Philosophers of the complementary system of thought. The closest English equivalent to the word “Ibuanyidanda” is Complementarity. Danda are the species of ants that have the capcity to carry out loads that are naturally bigger than they are as a result of the mutual dependence and interdependence that exist between the two. Traditional Igbos thus say Ibuanyidanda( this means that no task is insurmountable for danda).
Applying this to philosophy, Asouzu makes us understand that the mutual dependence that exists in complementarity as exemplified by the ants is strongly negated by Aristotle’s philosophy of essence which we have seen above. To remind us, we stated earlier that Aristotle understands reality through the concept of essence or substance which does not need any accident to subsist. Fidelity to this Aristotlelian mindset has bred strong exclusivity and polarity. Under the lens of Ibuanyidanda, being is re-defined and given a new meaning. Being is that “on account of which anything that exists serves a missing link of reality” missing links are diverse entities within the framework of a whole and as they are complementarily related. They are all the important units that make up the whole; substances and their accidents inclusive. Here, nothing is left out and nothing is more important than the other.
With this in mind Fr Asouzu as against Fr Aristotle sees existence as, to be in a complementary relationship (ka so mu adina) as opposed to being alone (ka so mu di). Having discovered further that the problem we have stem from the mindset with which philosophy has been practiced all these years, fr Asouzu advocates for a Noetic Propadeutic or a pre-pedagogy of the mind so as to enable individuals acquire a complementary action through complementary education to further overcome the subject-object dichotomy. Complementarism having gained wide acclaim in academic circles has gone a long way in resolving the excesses from the philosophy of Aristotle by advocating for a mutual understanding and harmonization of reality.
Philosophy is always in constant need of overhaul. What I have done above is not in any way to denigrate the efforts of one of our greatest ancestors in the field of Philosophy. I tend rather to see it as the Ponty’s view of riding on the shoulders of giants so as to give clarity and objectivity to philosophical thoughts. The Aristotleian metaphysics which both western and African scholars hold today with closeed fists must be reformulated or totally abandoned so as to give way for novel approaches (not just that of Asouzu) to redress the metaphysical cum existential issues bordering the philosophical milieu. The journey and efforts has just begun and we must not rest on our oars. Scholars both western and African must not be afraid to truly allow the Soul of Aristotelian Metaphysics to “rest in peace”. Mediocrity and all forms of uncomplimentary approach to reality must be shunned for progress to be made. The challenge is for Philosophy today to go for a Study of the Totality of reality which will steer the wheel of progress and development. This will be a sign of our commitment to scholarship and also our ability to put into practice the critical part of our philosophy.