The Spicy Lotus

November 7, 2010

Physics, Aristotle

Filed under: Uncategorized — pha9 @ 1:08 pm

The Physics (Greek: “Φυσικῆς ἀκροάσεως” 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, τὰ φύσει ὄντα, 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, τὰ φυσικά, means “the [writings] on nature” or “natural philosophy“.



  1. empedocles thinks that only useful parts of nature survive. But how can random parts come together in the first place?


    Change happens through an agent on a patient. Living things can change themselves, but objects cannot.

    Infinity has parodoxes. Aristotle says there is no actual infinity. You cannot actually count to infinity. But there are potential infinities. Time is a potential infinity.

    Place exists without objects that occupy it. There is no void, because, according to Aristotle, heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones, which we know is not true. But if it were, then objects would fall through a void at an infinite speed, which is absurd.

    Time is related to change, there is no moment where there is no time. So time is a measure of change.

    Comment by pha — December 11, 2010 @ 3:32 pm | Reply

  2. Time and space are continuous. They can’t divided into separate parts. This resolves several paradoxes like Zeno’s paradox that says you can never actually get anywhere because you always reach the halfway point first.

    Comment by pha — January 8, 2011 @ 5:17 pm | Reply

  3. Change must have an initial unchanging cause. This first cause of change and therefore motion needs to produce this change from itself. It cannot be forced to change like everything else in the world that is constantly changing. This is the “first principle” that Aristotle is taking about. So his conception of god is this first principle. I’m not convinced that you can deduce that from his argument though. Wouldn’t it be more scientifically honest to just admit that we don’t know what happened in the beginning? Aristotle’s view is respectable because he is not actually defining god as anything more than the initial cause, but I think we have to view his work as one step towards scientific discovery. I don’t think we should extrapolate on his idea and add all kinds of nonsensical details (e.g. god as a white guy with a beard who shoots lighting from the sky).

    Comment by pha — January 8, 2011 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

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