This article is meant to be a reflection upon the principle, "the higher cannot stand without the lower." In particular, I will examine this principle in light of Aristotle's first chapter of the Metaphysics. This examination will, please God, manifest this principle as both a principle of our knowing and of the created order of being itself. This article is not a defense, because I am not aware of any significant objection to this principle. Consequently, I am not going to be answering any particular objections. It is merely a reflection on this principle: my contemplation written out for all to see, and join in as they are willing and able.

The first question that might confront us as we consider the principle, the higher cannot stand without the lower, is what each of the terms mean. "Higher," "lower," "stand," each of these seem rather vague. It seems that if we are going to allow for the widest application of this principle then we must allow that these terms can be used differently in different circumstances. Just as in the principle "the whole is greater than the part." For there can be many different kinds of wholes, and parts. So also these terms, "higher," "lower," and "stands" will have a certain meaning when applied to our knowing, quite another when applied to the order of being. I would assume the uses to be analogous if there is to be any truth to the principle.
Since being is the broadest account (all things being a certain kind of being) then it seems that the most general account one can give of these terms is that higher refers to a more excellent form of being and lower to the contrary of this. The measure of excellence will be relative to the kind of being that is being considered Stands will mean some sort of dependent existence.
Beginning with this rather vague account of our principle, let us see how it might play out in Aristotle's first chapter of his Metaphysics. "All men by nature desire to know." He starts us out by laying down a principle that will be operational throughout this first chapter. Note also that he begins with our end. The final cause is the cause of the agent causes' causing. So we see the purpose of the entire inquiry of the metaphysics and likewise the more immediate goal of this chapter, defining what Wisdom is, "But the purpose of our present discussion is to bring out this: all men beleive that what is called "wisdom" is concerned with the first causes and principles." (Metaphys. 981b27) Thus he ends the chapter with the definition of wisdom, "a science of certain causes and principles." (Metaphys. 982a2)
To obtain this goal he begins with sensations. Even here though, he looks to the end of the senses, looking to our goal before proceeding. Thus he speaks of the end of the senses as both for the sake of knowledge and for their own sake. He then shows that the end of knowledge is the higher end because sight is the most favored of all the senses, because this enables knowledge most certainly, and is itself the closest to knowledge.
It is then that Aristotle begins his inquiry in earnest. He begins, as our principle would suggest, with the lowest. Here the lowest is as the lowest common denominator in those things which could possibly be said to have some sort of knowledge. Consequently he excludes plants and inanimate things. He begins with sensitive beings and then distinguishes these into sensitive beings with memory and those with none. Those with memory he distinguishes into teachable and non-teachable, attributing this potency to the power of hearing. Since we are seeking knowledge, as was said, we are consequently going to be concerned with those animals that are teachable.
He begins again with something common: memories and appearances. Animals live by these alone while men live also by art and judgements. Many memories give rise to an experience, and art and science come to men through experience. Aristotle then moves a step further and distinguishes art and experience. Art being more excellent than experience because it knows causes, and is able to teach. In all of this Aristotle is moving step by step from the most fundamental idea of sensation which have in common with all animals.
He then distinguishes between arts saying that those that are for their own sake are more excellent than those that are necessary for survival, because the former give rise to knowledge. So we come to our end and Aristotle summarizes the journey from where we started considering men, "a man of experience seems to be wiser than a man who has any of the sensations, a man of art wiser than a man of experience, a master-artist[that is one who possesses the art more fully] than a manual worker, and theoretical sciences to be wisdom to a higher degree than productive sciences."
From this chapter, therefore, we are able to see how Aristotle uses the principle "the higher cannot stand without the lower." For, he begins with what is lowest, simple sensation, and proceeds to what is highest, knowledge of causes and principles. This consideration also manifests an order in material being. For we see how our ability to know is dependent on our ability to sense which is dependent on there being other things to sense.
This order of lower to higher, and the necessity of the lower to make a foundation for the higher has wide implications. It shows how the lower participate in the excellence of the higher, and how there is certain dignity that pertains to the lower in virtue of this. For a clear example of this consider the Aristotelian state, where all participate in contemplation to the degree he can.
In a less known context we can consider the angels. The glory of the higher angels is their ability to share their knowledge of God with those below, and so on down to man, the bridge between to different orders of being. It is worth pointing out here that this principle is used in a very different way when speaking of material being and immaterial beings as might be clear from the example. The reason for this is that there is a decreasing degree of multiplicity until we come to God who is utter unity and simplicity and the principle no longer holds, giving way to a higher principle: God.


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