The sense of
wonder is the mark of the philosophers.
Thus, according to Aristotle, “all men by nature desire to know”1.
On the same note, philosophically and otherwise, man has to give meaning
to the mysteries befogging his finite nature.
Therefore it is not out of place that we are dragged into the concepts
and facts of change and permanence.
philosophers then, this omnipresent fact of change and permanence offered a
paradoxical challenge stretching from the ancient Greek philosophy, through the
medieval and modern, down the contemporary period. Succinctly put, the problem of change and
permanence is as old as philosophy itself hence according to Popkin, R.H:
Greek thinkers were impressed with
the two basic features of the world, the occurrence of natural change and the
continuance of certain apparently permanent conditions.2
Greek thinkers attempted to work out explanations of reality by asserting that
underlying all the apparent changes; there is real, unchangeable element. The motive behind this inquiry as highlighted
by Mullin E. was that,
…If the many could be seen in some way as
instances of one, it would then be sufficient to grasp the one.3
reality is one thing, which however, appears in different guises at different
this background, some thinkers proceeded by way of action and reaction and
delved into formulating theories in view of the enigma of change and
permanence. The problem they grappled with
was prompted by fact of material change, and the principle they posited were
arrived at through observation and thought. “For Thales, reality was water, for
Anaximander, it was the ‘boundless’ or the infinite; and for Anaximanes, it was
In the history of Greek thought these earliest thinkers were called the
pre-Socratics. Referring to them,
Copleston observed that,
…We can already discern in them the notion
of unity in difference and of difference as entering into unity.5
Heraclitus consolidated change at the expense of permanence while Parmenides
argued that, “absolute change is impossible and unthinkable and by nature
things are permanent.”6
So for Heraclitus, all things flow; nothing abides, thus, “one cannot step
twice in the same river”.7 Whereas Parmenides states that change,
becoming or motion is impossible, because they would involve both non-being and
being which being contradictories, cannot both be. Thus, according to Parmenides, “Being is;
non-being is not.”8
The position of these two champions gave rise to the great controversy on
change and permanence, which arose as to how things can change and yet remain
the same. It was in an attempt to solve
this ‘excruciating’ problem in philosophy that Aristotle came up with his principles
of act and potency, Hylemorphism and categories (substance and Accidents).
in change what takes place is neither annihilation nor creation but transition
of being from one state to another.
Wherever there is change, it presupposes the reality of that which
changes. Therefore, there is permanence
and there is change.
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
philosophical debate as to whether change or permanence will take the upper
hand over the other is a problem that cannot be over looked in philosophical
discipline at all times. Hence, the
problem at stake here is how true is it that what we call change really takes
place? And why things will remain the same despite the occurrence of change? This central question provoked many others,
thus how can one and the same entity turn into that which it previously was
not? If everything changes all the time, could there actually be any
permanence, real, unchanging feature of the universe? And if reality were
actually unchanging and unchangeable, how could it have any thing to do with
the apparent world of change and how could it explain the world of change.
on this, Egbeke Aja states that,
As early philosophers explored these
problems, it seemed to them that change and permanence were incompatible, and
that reality had to be one or the other, either ever changing or completely
originated because of the conflict between our sense perception and that made
by the intellect. The intellect sees
reality as one while the senses grasp reality as many and always in flux. But how can we reconcile this apparent
contradiction between our sense perception of reality and that given by our
all, two basic problems could be deduced from this topic, namely
Must we take seriously both
multiplicity and the oneness of being or can we affirm one aspect and dissolve
the other as mere appearance, illusion, or projection of the mind?
If we take both aspects seriously,
how are they co-possible? What kind of unity is involved? How can the unity and
diversity be harmonized?
with this philosophical problem of change, Aristotle posited his doctrine of
act and potency, Hylemorphism and categories as a solution. Thus, these doctrines arose as an attempt by
Aristotle to provide a lasting solution to the problem of change and
permanence, which had challenged philosophy for a century and a half. But did he actually succeed? This is actually
the problem that motivated this research.
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
is the answer to these arrays of thought provoking questions that this paper is
geared to find. It is the search for the
most fundamental truth about this world.
Truth about reality never completely manifests itself at an instance but
through a process of gradual unfolding.
This paper inquires into the origin of the problem of change and
permanence, and then will investigate the views offered by two great
philosophers of timeless repute, Heraclitus and Parmenides. Further, it studies
in a more detailed manner the solutions offered by one of the greatest genius,
Aristotle. Lastly, the tremendous impact
of his thought on practical life will be viewed.
SCOPE OF THE STUDY
of Aristotle’s vast contribution and discussion in philosophy, the scope of
this study is based on his mediation on the problem of change and
permanence. His key concept to this
realization is the unification of the Parmenidean and Heraclitean
positions. His notion of Act and
potency, Hylemorphism and categories should be highlighted though in relation
to Parmenides and Heraclitus’ perspectives.
To make the study scholarly and easy to comprehend, the nature of change
and permanence are to be discussed.
The work is
expository and analytic. Heraclitus’ and Parmenides’ concept of change and
permanence shall be exposed with their views and reasons. Then, in the light of these expositions, the
notion of change and permanence in Aristotle’s perspective shall be analyzed. In approaching this topic for a better
apprehension, it is divided into four chapters.
Chapter one explicates the background, aim, scope, problem and method of
the study. In chapter two, the concepts
of change and permanence, which will focus simply on the etymological
derivation of the two terms and on their elucidation and explication, will be
discussed. The historical perspective of
Parmenides and Heraclitus who were extremists in their treatment of the
subjects of change and permanence will be viewed in the same chapter. Chapter three deals with Aristotle’s mediation
between the two positions with his doctrine of Act and Potency, matter and form
(Hylemorphism), and substantial and accidental change (Categories). In chapter four, the whole exposition will be
evaluated which will also touch on the influence the resourcefulness of
Aristotle’s philosophical mind had on the practical life. This will be followed by a general conclusion
1 Aristotle, “Metaphysics”, in J., Barnes, (tr.), The
complete works of Aristotle, vol.2, (U.S.A: Princeton press, 1985), p.
2 R.H., Popkin, Philosophy made simple, (London: Heinemann,
3 E., Mullin, “Matter”, in New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol.9,
(New York: McGraw-hill Books, 1967), p. 475.
4 “Change”, in P. Edward (ed), Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
vol.2, (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1975), p. 75.
5 F.A., Copleston, History of Philosophy, vol. 1, (London:
Image Books, 2003), p. 21.
6 Parmenides in J.B., Archie, Metaphysics: An introduction,
(New Mexico: Barnes and Noble Books(ed), 1986), p. 245.