Context (World Philosophers and Their Works)
In modern times, with the growth of natural science, most of the topics treated by Aristotle in Physics would be classified as metaphysics. The collection of treatises bearing that name has come to stand for any speculative question concerning first principles, and in that light the topics of the Physics are closer to metaphysics than to modern questions of physics. Aristotle begins by considering the number and character of the first principles of nature, and he goes on to argue against Parmenides’ speculative theories. Nevertheless, the topics here considered do concern first principles of the physical world, and the work is still a classic in its grasp of issues fundamental to all physical inquiry.
Book 1 opens by stating that it is first principles that one must come to know. To know a thing means to grasp its first principles and to have carried the analysis out to the simplest elements. One proceeds from things more obvious and knowable to one to those principles more clear and knowable by nature. The first question is whether the first principles involved are one or more than one. As a physicist, Aristotle takes it for granted that the things that exist by nature are, either all or some of them, in motion. Speculative theories to the contrary (the idea of “Being as one and motionless”), he dismisses.
One of the famous questions of the Physics now begins to develop: whether there is an actual infinite in...
(The entire section is 530 words.)
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Causes (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Aristotle changes topics again, this time to define the four types of causes:1. that out of which a thing comes to be, the matter, or material cause 2. the form or the archetype, the formal cause 3. the end, or purpose, the final cause 4. the primary source of change or coming to rest, the efficient cause
Aristotle adds chance and spontaneity to these four causes, an addition that is often overlooked because these latter two causes are not amenable to knowledge, and yet any complete account must include them. Chance is unstable and is thus inscrutable.
Nature belongs to the class of causes that act for the sake of something, and therefore it is amenable to intelligence. Those things are natural that, by a continuous movement originated by an internal principle, arrive at some completion. Nature is a cause, a cause that operates for a purpose. Nature is to be defined as a “principle of motion and change.” The fulfillment of what exists potentially, insofar as it exists potentially, is motion. It is not absurd that the actualization of one thing should be in another.
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Place and Time (World Philosophers and Their Works)
In book 3, Aristotle turns to the problem of the existence of an infinite, and he readily admits that many contradictions result whether or not one supposes an infinite to exist. Is there a sensible magnitude that is infinite? This is the physicist’s problem. Aristotle begins by assuming that number is a numberable quantity. Having concluded that the sensible infinite cannot exist actually, Aristotle goes on to discuss whether it might have potential existence. The infinite has turned out to be the contrary of what is said to be. The infinite is potential, never actual. Its infinity is not a permanent actuality but consists in a process of coming to be, like time and the number of time.
Place is the concept under consideration in book 4. Now if place is what primarily contains each body, it would be a limit. The place of a thing would be its form. However, the place of a thing is neither a part nor a state of it but is separable from it. Place would not have been thought of if there had not been a special kind of motion; namely, that with respect to place. Aristotle concludes that the innermost motionless boundary of what contains is place. Furthermore, places are coincident with things, for boundaries are coincident with things and also with places.
After place, Aristotle begins his famous consideration of time. Aristotle considers it evident that time is not movement nor is it independent of movement. People perceive movement and time...
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Motion (World Philosophers and Their Works)
In book 5, Aristotle begins to move the argument from motion toward the motionless. The goal of motion, he insists, is really immovability. Only change from subject to subject is motion, and there are three kinds of change: qualitative, quantitative, and local. In respect to substance, there is no motion, because substance has no contrary among things that are. Change is not a subject. There must be a substratum underlying all processes of becoming and changing.
Book 7 begins by asserting that everything that exists is in motion and must be moved by something. However, this series cannot go on to infinity. Therefore, the series must come to an end, and there must be a first movement and a first moved. This is Aristotle’s argument for the existence of an Unmoved, Prime, or First Mover from the very nature of motion itself. A great deal of the force of the argument derives from the requirements of Aristotelian knowledge. Knowing and understanding imply that the intellect has reached a state of rest and has come to a standstill, and this can be so only if the mind can find a satisfactory explanation for the origin of motion. Nevertheless, time is uncreated and motion is eternal. There must always be time.
It is clear that there never was a time when motion did not exist and that the time will never come when motion will not be present. There must be three things: the moved, the movement, and the instrument of motion. However, the series must...
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Bibliography (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Ackrill, J. L. Essays on Plato and Aristotle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. This work contains important and insightful reflections on two of the most influential thinkers in Western philosophy.
Adler, Mortimer J. Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy. New York: Scribner’s 1997. A reliable interpreter provides an account that introduces Aristotle’s thought in accessible fashion.
Bar On, Bat-Ami, ed. Engendering Origins: Critical Feminist Readings in Plato and Aristotle. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. Feminist perspectives are brought to bear on Aristotle’s philosophy in significant ways.
Barnes, Jonathan. Aristotle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. A reliable study designed for readers who want an introduction to Aristotle’s thought.
Barnes, Jonathan, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. An excellent guide to Aristotle’s thought, which features significant essays on major aspects of his work.
Broadie, Sarah. Ethics with Aristotle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. This carefully done book concentrates on Aristotle’s ethical theory and its implications.
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