Why Can’t Geometers Cut Themselves on the Acutely Angled Objects of Their Proofs? Aristotle on Shape as an Impure Power

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For Aristotle, the shape of a physical body is perceptible per se ( DA II.6, 418a8–9). As I read his position, shape is thus a causal power, as a physical body can affect our sense organs simply in virtue of possessing it. But this invites a challenge. If shape is an intrinsically powerful property, and indeed an intrinsically perceptible one, then why are the objects of geometrical reasoning, as such, inert and imperceptible? I here address Aristotle’s answer to that problem, focusing on the version of it that he presents in De caelo III.8. I argue that if we grant that Aristotle conceived of the shape of a sensible body as some kind of causal power, then the satisfactory resolution of that challenge pushes us to interpret him as having conceived of it as being, more specifically, an impure power—that is, as a property that is not only intrinsically powerful but also, in some way, intrinsically non-powerful as well. This is a notable result not only insofar as it illuminates Aristotle’s conception of shape but also insofar as it contributes to our knowledge of Aristotle’s theory of dunameis and his ontology more broadly.



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