How does Aristotle explain change?
“All men by nature desire understanding.” This is how Aristotle opens his famous Metaphysics, one of the greatest philosophical works ever produced. The thirst for knowledge has always occupied Western man at least since the time of Thales, and even though many different views and opinions about what knowledge is and how it can be gained have abounded throughout Western philosophy up to this very day, the fact that so many men have dedicated their lives to seeking knowledge on all sort of different planes is evidence that the quest for knowledge has occupied a supreme position among human endeavors from the earliest times.
To Aristotle it was clear that “though all men desire to know, there are different degrees of knowledge.” Wisdom is such that that it can “tell [us] what things are and why they are”; it tells us about a thing’s first principles and causes. Surely, then, in order to come to such a high level of knowledge, one must practice a particular science which concerns itself with just such first principles and causes—and this science Aristotle called “metaphysics.” Unlike the other sciences, metaphysics studies what exists as such, that is “being qua being,” as the traditional formulation has it. In his aspirations for wisdom, then, Aristotle engaged in metaphysics. His zeal resulted from the wonder, the aporía, which his predecessors had shown, and which intrigued him just as much. Aristotle was convinced, however, that his predecessors’ philosophies were incomplete and inadequate, especially as far as the paradox of change was concerned. The problem of change which the ancient philosophers faced is simply the following: “If we say that A changes to B, we seem to be saying that A is both itself and not itself. It must be A, for we say, ‘A changes’; it cannot be A, because we say it is B. If water is water, it is not ice; if it is ice, it is not water.” Aristotle was resolved to master this enigma once and for all,...