Things Have Changed

"There can be no general definition of sensible things which are always changing," writes Aristotle in Metaphysics (987b). That single phrase is connected with mathematics, the universal, moral questions, and art.
The Pythagoreans, Aristotle writes, were the first to develop the science of mathematics, "and through studying it they came to believe that its principles are the principles of everything. And since numbers are by nature first among these principles, and they fancied that they could detect in numbers, to a greater extent than in fire and earth and water, many analogues of what is and comes into being". (985b) In other words, maths was the way to reach the underlying principles of the world (e.g. justice, soul, opportunity, the physical universe).
Socrates was not interested in the physical universe but moral questions. Plato developed his thoughts and concluded that as sensible things are always in flux, definition must pertain to something else: not to the sensible, but to Ideas. The sensible is related to Ideas not just in name but also in participation of. What a phrase: to share in but yet not be the original sounds religious.
Aristotle then points out that Plato's idea is very similar to a Pythagorean idea, except he changed a word: "whereas the Pythagoreans say that things exist by imitation of numbers, Plato says that they exist by participation". (987b)
"Imitation of numbers" was defined by Aristotle: we have seen that numbers are "first among these principles" of everything. There are harmonious numerical "proportions" in musical instruments and the universe: "the properties and ratios of the musical scales are based on numbers, and since it seemed clear that all other things have their whole nature modelled upon numbers, and that numbers are the ultimate things in the whole physical universe, they assumed the elements of numbers to be the elements of everything, and the whole universe to be a proportion or number".
My reading here was prompted by Gadamer in The Relevance of the Beautiful. He notes Pythagoras' trinity of soul, music, and universe, observing that music plays a role in Plato's Republic. "The modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling of the most fundamental political and social conventions," Plato wrote, describing how music "infiltrates" character, drive, employment, moral standards... We hearken back to Pythagoras' emphasis on order and harmony.
Gadamer writes that modern art does not represent order or harmony because things can no longer be experienced, having been made unreal and disposable. His suggestion is for art to succeed "in elevating what it is or represents to a new configuration, a new world of its own in miniature, a new order of unity in tension" such as through "specific cultural content, familiar features of the world". I find it interesting that in Aristotle, Plato is said to have "held that all sensible things are named after [Ideas] sensible and in virtue of their relation to them" - which implies that it is a vice on the part of the sensible to defer from participation with order.


  1. Much to mull. A vice, or perhaps a defalcation, a failing away? Then there's those unsettling modes -- are they any less real than the canonical modes of the "fundamental ... conventions"? A change in modality will unsettle the conventions, but is there here a change from more participation in the true order (music, soul, universe) to less, or just difference? Instead of different musical modes, what of different modes of numbers?

  2. But what about, among those different numbers, there are those that inspire order and those that inspire disorder, in the way that classical music (Bach, Mozart) is known to calm certain patients and possibly even benefit the child in the womb (if that is scientifically true). Later classical music I consider just as disruptive as some rock and some techno. Then to speak of 'Rock' there are some Beatles songs and some Caetano Veloso songs that are almost calming, that pick up on folk or bossa nova influences. (Perhaps I respond to the word 'unsettle' and think 'calm' with respect to order.)

  3. "Disorder" is a term that would need to be unpacked. But a story in today's news tells of ice makers in Sochi having certain kinds of music played while ice is made. Different music for different ice. One maker prefers Vivaldi.

    1. Different strokes for different folks! I was thinking about your comment - sometimes one is unable to reply immediately, also, it can happen naturally that one moves on from a thought, but still I thought I would reply today to say share the related thought I had - the message (song) that is needed may change according to time and person.