PHL206H1 Lecture Notes - Liber De Causis, On The Soul, Dialectic
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Siger of Brabant
Questions on Aristotle’s Metaphysics
On Fables and Falsehoods in Religion1
Text 1: Whether the Custom of Hearing Falsehoods Makes One Believe Them?
1. It seems that it does not, because in Bk. 2 of the De anima, in giving the difference
between believing (opinari) and imagining, Aristotle says that it is up to us to imagine that
something is thus or not thus, but to believe it is not up to us.2 However, if the custom of hearing
falsehoods were to make us believe them, it would be up to us to believe that something is thus or
not thus. Therefore, etc.
2. Again, custom cannot remove something natural, as Aristotle observes when he says that
nature does not become accustomed to contraries. But the first principles are naturally known to
us, as the Commentator intended above. Therefore the custom of hearing the opposites of first
principles cannot produce belief in them.
3. Again, we form an opinion about a real thing from what appears to us concerning it, and
the same things always appear to us concerning a real thing. For this reason, to become
accustomed to the opposites of those things which appear to us concerning a real thing cannot
make us believe them.
[On the contrary], Aristotle intends the opposite position in the letter of the text. For he says that
“we demand the language we are accustomed to, etc.”
[Response]: I say to this that the custom of hearing falsehoods, even the opposites of those things
which are self-evident (per se nota), can cause belief in them. This is what Aristotle proves here
through its effect. For those things in human Laws which one is accustomed to hear, although
fabulous and false, are more tenacious in the soul than are the true things in them. The reason
why false and fabulous things are sometimes handed down in human Laws is because the
Lawgiver does not always posit things according to what is believed from first principles, but
according to what is more able to make citizens fit for good morals. But what is false and
fabulous can sometimes make human beings fit for the good, because according to Aristotle in
Bk. 10 of the Ethics, some people are by nature fit for goodness, whereas others become good
through instruction, and others are made good by lashes and threats, to the extent that just as
sensation seeks after what is delightful, so too does it flee what is sorrowful. And therefore in the
Law of Pythagoras it was handed down as a threat that the soul of a good human being after death
would enter another good body, whereas the soul of an evil person would enter the body of
another beast; which was not true, but was posited to inspire terror.
1 Translation © Deborah L. Black, 2013. From the text edited by A. A. Maurer in “Siger of Brabant on
Fables and Falsehoods in Religion,” Mediaeval Studies 43 (1981): 515–30, Appendix, 527–30.
2 De anima 3.3.427b14–21.
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