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Physics (Aristotle)

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This article is about the book. For a comparison with modern mathematical physics, see Aristotelian physics.

The Physics (Greek: " " or "phusikes akroaseos"; Latin: "Physica", or "Physicae Auscultationes," meaning "lectures on nature") of Aristotle is one of the foundational books of Western science and philosophy.[1] As Martin Heidegger once wrote, The Physics is a lecture in which he seeks to determine beings that arise on their own, , with regard to their being. Aristotelian "physics" is different from what we mean today by this word, not only to the extent that it belongs to antiquity whereas the modern physical sciences belong to modernity, rather above all it is different by virtue of the fact that Aristotle's "physics" is philosophy, whereas modern physics is a positive science that presupposes a philosophy.... This book determines the warp and woof of the whole of Western thinking, even at that place where it, as modern thinking, appears to think at odds with ancient thinking. But opposition is invariably comprised of a decisive, and often even perilous, dependence. Without Aristotle's Physics there would have been no Galileo.[2] It is a collection of treatises or lessons that deal with the most general (philosophical) principles of natural or moving things, both living and non-living, rather than physical theories (in the modern sense) or investigations of the particular contents of the universe. The chief purpose of the work is to discover the principles and causes of (and not merely to describe) change, or movement, or motion (kinesis), especially that of natural wholes (mostly living things, but also inanimate wholes like the cosmos). In the conventional Andronichean ordering of Aristotle's works, it stands at the head of, as well as being foundational to, the long series of physical, cosmological and biological treatises, whose ancient Greek title, , means "the [writings] on nature" or "natural philosophy".

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1 Books 1.1 Book I (; 184a-192b) 1.2 Book II (; 192b-200b) 1.3 Book III (; 200b-208a) 1.4 Book IV (; 208a-223b) 1.5 Books V and VI (: 224a-231a; : 231a-241b) 1.6 Book VII (; 241a25250b7) 1.7 Book VIII (; 250a14267b26) 2 Bibliography

3 English translations of the Physics 4 Classical and medieval commentaries on the Physics 5 Modern commentaries and monographs 5.1 Articles 6 References 7 External links

The Physics is composed of eight books, which are further divided into chapters. In this article, books are referenced with Roman numerals, chapters with Arabic numerals. Additionally, the Bekker numbers give the page and line numbers used in the Prussian Academy of Sciences edition of Aristotle's works.


I (; 184a-192b)

Book I discusses the scientist's approach to nature and the world of changing things and the doctrines of the presocratic natural philosophers, Parmenides in particular. Topics include: remarks on method, a discussion of how some ancestors viewed nature, and the basic elements of change. Change elements include: a lack (privation), which is overcome by its opposite (form), with both of them belonging to a subject (or substrate: matter in substantial change; substance in accidental change) which persists through the change. The 1966 monograph by Connell is a particularly good expansion and defense of the contents of this book. Aristotle's approach to the world as summarized in chapter 1 is to start with the most general (and therefore sure) aspects of the sensible world (e.g., "some things move") before proceeding to specifics (e.g., "the Earth orbits the Sun"). This approach contrasts sharply with that of modern science, which starts with particulars before advancing to generalities. Aristotle first introduces the word matter (Greek: hyle literally "timber"[3]) in chapter 7, and he defines it in book I's concluding chapter, 9: "For my definition of matter is just thisthe primary substratum of each thing, from which it comes to be without qualification, and which persists in the result." Aristotle's concept of matter is rather different from what we moderns might expect from the use of the word in modern mathematical science. Descartes axiomatically redefined the concept of matter in the Enlightenment to exclude any characteristics that would make it unsuitable for abstract, mathematical (geometrical) treatment: what has extension.[4] Matter in Aristotle's thought is, however, defined in terms of sensible reality (operationally, as it were) as that which underlies substantial change; for example, a horse eats grass: the horse changes the grass into itself; the grass as such does not persist in the horse, but some aspect of itits matterdoes. The matter is not specifically described (e.g., as atoms), but consists of whatever remains in the change of substance from grass to horse. Matter in this understanding does not exist independently (i.e., as a substance), but exists interdependently (i.e., as a "principle") with form and only insofar as it underlies change.[5] It is helpful to conceive of the relationship of matter and form as very

similar to that between parts and whole. Parts existing separately do not remain parts, but become new wholes.


II (; 192b-200b)

Book II introduces the term "nature" (Gr. physis) as "nature is a source or cause of being moved and of being at rest in that to which it belongs primarily" (1.192b21). Thus, those entities are natural which are capable of starting to move, e.g. growing, acquiring qualities, displacing themselves, and finally being born and dying. Aristotle contrasts natural things with the artificial: artificial things can move also, but they move according to what they are made of, not according to what they are. For example, if a wooden bed were buried and somehow sprouted as a tree, it would be according to what it is made of, not what it is. Aristotle contrasts two senses of nature: nature as matter and nature as form or definition. By "nature" Aristotle means the natures of particular things and would perhaps be better translated "a nature." His view of natures as the real origins of the activities of things is directly opposed by mechanistic conception of nature, which gained popularity in the Enlightenment.Mechanism assumes that natural wholes (principally living things) are like machines or artifacts, composed of parts lacking any intrinsic relationship to each other with their order imposed from without.[6] Thus, the source of an apparent thing's activities is not the whole itself, but its parts. While Aristotle certainly admits the parts (i.e., matter) as a real cause of things (viz., the material cause), he says that nature is primarily the form or formal cause (1.193b6), that is, the whole thing itself. In chapter 3, Aristotle presents his theory of the four causes (material, efficient, formal, and final[7]). Of particular importance is the final causeor purpose (telos). It is a common mistake to conceive of the four causes as additive or alternative forces pushing or pulling; in reality, all four are needed to explain (7.198a22-25). What we typically mean by cause in the modern scientific idiom is only a narrow part of what Aristotle means by efficient cause.[8] He contrasts purpose with the way in which "nature" does not work, chance (or luck), discussed in chapters 4, 5, and 6. (Chance working in the actions of humans is tuche and in unreasoning agents automaton.) Something happens by chance when all the lines of causality converge without that convergence being purposefully chosen, and produce a result similar to the teleologically caused one. In chapters 7 through 9, Aristotle returns to the discussion of nature. With the enrichment of the preceding four chapters, he concludes that nature acts for an end, and he discusses the way that necessity is present in natural things. For Aristotle, the motion of natural things is determined from within them, while in the modern empirical sciences, motion is determined from without (more properly speaking: there is nothing to have an inside).


III (; 200b-208a)

In order to understand "nature" as defined in the previous book, one must understand the terms of the definition. To understand motion, book III begins with the definition of change based on Aristotle's notions of potentiality and actuality.[9] Change, he says, is the actualization of a thing's ability insofar as it is able.[10]

The rest of the book (chapters 4-8) discusses the infinite (apeiron, the unlimited). He distinguishes between the infinite by addition and the infinite by division, and between the actually infinite and potentially infinite. He argues against the actually infinite in any form, including infinite bodies, substances, and voids. Aristotle here says the only type of infinity that exists is the potentially infinite. Aristotle characterizes this as that which serves as "the matter for the completion of a magnitude and is potentially (but not actually) the completed whole" (207a22-23). The infinite, lacking any form, is thereby unknowable. Aristotle writes, "it is not what has nothing outside it that is infinite, but what always has something outside it" (6.206b33-207a12).


IV (; 208a-223b)

Book IV discusses the preconditions of motion: place (topos, chapters 1-5), void (kenon, chapters 6-9), and time (kronos, chapters 10-14). The book starts by distinguishing the various ways a thing can "be in" another. He likens place to an immobile container or vessel: "the innermost motionless boundary of what contains" is the primary place of a body (4.212a20). Unlike space, which is a volume co-existent with a body, place is a boundary or surface. He teaches that, contrary to the Atomists and others, a void is not only unnecessary, but leads to contradictions, e.g., making locomotion impossible. Contrary to popular belief and many so-called disciples of Aristotle, what he calls void is not the same as an absence of air or other sensible body (what we today call a vacuum; cf. 6.213a23-29). Time is a constant attribute of movements and, Aristotle thinks, does not exist on its own but is relative to the motions of things. Time is defined as "the number of movement in respect of before and after", so it cannot exist without succession; but he also seems to say that to exist time requires the presence of a soul capable of "numbering" the movement.


V and VI (: 224a-231a; : 231a-241b)

Books V and VI deal with how motion occurs. Book V classifies four species of movement, depending on where the opposites are located. Movement categories include quantity (e.g. a change in dimensions, from great to small), quality (as for colors: from pale to dark), place (local movements generally go from up downwards and vice versa), or, more controversially, substance. In fact, substances do not have opposites, so it is inappropriate to say that something properly becomes, from not-man, man: generation and corruption are not kinesis in the full sense. Book VI discusses how a changing thing can reach the opposite state, if it has to pass through infinite intermediate stages. It investigates by rational and logical arguments the notions of continuity and division, establishing that changeand, consequently, time and placeare not divisible into indivisible parts; they are not mathematically discrete but continuous, that is, infinitely divisible (in other words, that you cannot build up a continuum out of discrete or indivisible points or moments). Among other things, this implies that there can be no definite (indivisible) moment when a motion begins. This discussion, together with that of

speed and the different behavior of the four different species of motion, eventually helps Aristotle answer the famous paradoxes of Zeno, which purport to show the absurdity of motion's existence.


VII (; 241a25250b7)

Book VII briefly deals with the relationship of the moved to his mover, which Aristotle describes in substantial divergence with Plato's theory of the soul as capable of setting itself in motion (Laws book X, Phaedrus, Phaedo). Everything which moves is moved by another. He then tries to correlate the species of motion and their speeds, with the local change (locomotion, phor) as the most fundamental to which the others can be reduced. Book VII.1-3 also exist in an alternative version, not included in the Bekker edition.


VIII (; 250a14267b26)

Book VIII (which occupies almost a fourth of the entire Physics, and probably constituted originally an independent course of lessons) discusses two main topics, though with a wide deployment of arguments: the time limits of the universe, and the existence of a Prime Mover eternal, indivisible, without parts and without magnitude. Isn't the universe eternal, has it had a beginning, will it ever end? Aristotle's response, as a Greek, could hardly be affirmative, never having been told of a creatio ex nihilo (for the first appearance of this concept in philosophy, see St. Augustine); but he also has philosophical reasons for denying that motion didn't exist all along, on the grounds of the theory presented in the earlier books of the Physics. Eternity of motion is also confirmed by the existence of a substance which is different from all the others in lacking matter; being pure form, it is also in an eternal actuality, not being imperfect in any respect; hence needing not to move. This is demonstrated by describing the celestial bodies thus: the first things to be moved must undergo an infinite, single and continuous movement, that is, circular. This is not caused by any contact but (integrating the view contained in the Metaphysics, bk. XII) by love and aspiration.