The Medieval, Modern and Postmodern Pool Table

The pool hall is where Aristotle’s agency and Galileo’s causality meet.
The medieval pool table is not bounded by rubber. Moreover, to paraphrase a line from the film The Matrix, “There is no pool cue.” In order to reach the black ball, I would have to embark upon a quest. I would be the white ball and I would journey along the surface of the pool table. When I encountered one of the other balls I would ask it to reveal a sign to me. Sensing that I had purity of intentions, the ball would respond in kind and tell me what I needed to know to move closer to finding the black ball. According to Aristotle, if other balls were moved to join me in my quest, it would be because it was in their nature. If my intentions were not good, the other balls would be of no use to me and I would wander in danger of going off the edge into the abyss. 

The modern pool table is bounded by rubber with pockets along the sides and in the corners. In the early modern period I would have a pool cue of sorts, but I wouldn’t use it to hit the other balls. Instead, I would try to organize them and use the pool cue as a tool to point the way onward towards finding the back ball. As the modern period progressed, I would employee tools familiar to Aristotle, such as rhetoric and politics, in order to persuade the others to make my goal their own and use our skills to seek out the black ball. Upon finding the black ball, we would have the satisfaction of knowing that we exercised our agency. The only “cause” we would speak of would be the movement that motivated us. If some of us had to sacrifice ourselves to the pockets, then it would be for the sake of the cause. Our conviction that our cause was right and just would give us conviction to press on. If we were thwarted, it would be because our cause was wrong and unjust. This would all change, however, when Galileo came along and postulated that we were not moved by forces that came from within us but rather by forces that acted upon us. 

If Aristotle were to look upon the modern pool table, he would see the balls being moved by agency while if Galileo were to look upon the same pool table, he would see them being moved by causality. As long as I continued to see the other balls as agents like myself, I would be hesitant to use the pool cue to hit them. Rather, I would try to motivate them by appealing to righteousness of our cause. However, if I were to come to see the other balls asNewtonsaw them, they would not longer be things with an essence that could be moved by my social skills. They would simply be postmodern objects that reacted to external forces and I would need a tool to exert a force upon them. Thus, I would be free to pick up the pool cue and start hitting them with it in order to cause them to move according to my objectives. Actually, it wouldn’t be quite so straightforward. In order to utilize the pool cue in a more device-like manner, I would have to use it upon myself such that the pool cue would automatically hit the white ball, which in turn would hit the other balls and cause them to move out of my way. Rather then trying to persuade the other balls to join me, I would eliminate them one by one until I alone would sink the black ball. But I would then have to question what caused me to have this objective in the first place.

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