The phenomenon of chance in ancient Greek thought
Shew, Melissa M., 1977-
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Shew, Melissa M., 1977-
This dissertation engages three facets of Greek philosophy: (1) the phenomenon of tyche (chance, fortune, happening, or luck) in Aristotle's Physics, Nicomachean Ethics , and Poetics ; (2) how tyche informs Socrates' own philosophical practice in the Platonic dialogues; and (3) how engaging tyche in these Greek texts challenges established interpretations of Greek thought in contemporary scholarship and discussion. I argue that the complex status of tych e in Aristotle's texts, when combined with its appearance in the Platonic dialogues and the framework of Greek myth and poetry ( poiesis ), underscores the seriousness with which the Greeks consider the role of chance in human life. I claim that Aristotle's and Plato's texts offer important counterpoints to subsequent Western philosophers who deny the importance and existence of chance in human affairs and in the universe, dichotomously privileging reason over fortune (Boethius), necessity over chance (Spinoza), certainty over contingency (Descartes), and character over luck (Kant). My investigation of tyche unfolds in relation to a host of important Greek words and ideas that are engaged and transformed in Western philosophical discourse: anank e (necessity), aitia (cause, or explanation), automaton, logos (speech), poietic possibility, and philosophy. First, a close reading of tyche in the Physics shows that its emergence in Book II challenges the "four causes" as they are traditionally understood to be the foundation of the cosmos for Aristotle. Attentiveness to the language of strangeness (that which is atopos ) and wonderment ( t o thauma ) that couches Aristotle's consideration of tyche unveils a dialogical character in Aristotle's text. I also show how tyche hinges together the Physics and the Nicomachean Ethics . Second, I argue that tyche illuminates the possibility of human good through an inquiry into human nature in the Ethics , exploring the tension that tych e is, paradoxically, a necessity as it is grounded in nature and yet relates to human beings in "being good" ( EN 1179a20), ultimately returning to a deeper understanding of the relation between physis and tyche . Third, I argue that the Poetics also sustains an engagement with tyche insofar as poi esis speaks to human possibility, turning to Heidegger and Kristeva to see how this is so.