S. Marc Cohen
Aristotle's Physics is a study of nature (phusis) and of natural objects (ta phusei). According to him, these objects—either all of them or at least some of them—are in motion. That is, they are kinoumena, things that are subject to change. The first book of the Physics is largely devoted to this task. The account of substantial change in the Physics is devoid of any commitment to prime matter. Aristotle also takes up the topics of alteration and coming-to-be in De Generatione et Corruptione. He adopts a kind of conservation principle: “the corruption of one thing is the generation of another, and vice versa.” In addition, Aristotle points out that all changes involve both a subject (hupokeimenon) and an attribute (pathos) of a sort which can be predicated of the subject, and says that either one of these is capable of “change” (metabolê).
In the field of natural science, Aristotle recognizes as his forerunners a select group of theorists such as Heraclitus of Ephesus, Empedocles of Acragas, Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, and Leucippus and Democritus of Abdera. In addition, he mentions in the same contexts some whose claims to be “natural philosophers” are doubtful, yet who deserve notice in the same context, including Parmenides of Elea, Melissus of Samos, the people called Pythagoreans (or “the Italians”), and Plato as the author of the Timaeus. Aristotle takes seriously almost all of these people, treating them as exemplary pioneers and valuable partners in the enterprise of “natural philosophy.” This article examines earlier opinions on certain fundamental questions about the natural world, as treated in the first three books of the Physics and in the first book of the Metaphysics. In Physics II and III, Aristotle represents most if not all of his predecessors as disastrously misunderstanding, in more than one way, the nature underlying the natural world.
Presocratic atomism was one of the most influential of the early theories: both Plato and Aristotle thought of it as a major competing theory, and it was an important source for post-Aristotelian Hellenistic theories. It has been commonplace that the atomism developed first by Leucippus of Abdera and then by Democritus of Abdera was a reaction to the Eleatic arguments of Zeno and Melissus, but the details of that influence have sometimes seemed rather hazy. This article brings them into sharper focus. This article considers the Eleatic foundations of atomism, especially the question of the importance of Zeno and Melissus for Democritus. By concentrating on some of the less-studied aspects of atomism and especially of the development of the concept of the unlimited into the notion of the infinite, it furthers the understanding of not only the development of early atomism but also the Eleatics Zeno and Melissus.
Alexander P. D. Mourelatos
This article discusses Xenophanes' “cloud astro-physics”. It analyses and explains all heavenly and meteorological phenomena in terms of clouds. It provides a view of this newer Xenophanes, who is now being recognized as an important philosopher-scientist in his own right and a crucial figure in the development of critical thought about human knowledge and its objects in the next generation of Presocratic thinkers. Xenophanes' account has been preserved in Aëtius, the doxographic compendium (1st or 2nd century
James G. Lennox
Aristotle is the first person in the history of science to see the study of nature as an articulated complex of interrelated, yet somewhat autonomous, investigations. Understanding why goes to the heart of what is philosophically distinctive about him. Why does Aristotle present the investigation of “the common cause of animal motion” (as Aristotle characterizes the subject of De motu animalium) as distinct and independent from a study of the causes of the different forms of animal locomotion, the announced project of De incessu animalium? This article examines the puzzling complexity of Aristotle's investigations of animals, which can offer insights into his metaphysics and epistemology. It first briefly considers the range of Aristotle's writings related to animals, including Historia animalium, Dissections, De partibus animalium, De motu animalium, De incessu animalium, De Anima, and Meteorologica IV. The article then looks at his views on the limits of teleology in biology.
Daniel W. Graham
The founder of atomic theory, according to Aristotle and Theophrastus, is Leucippus. His very existence has been called into question. Three of the best minds of nineteenth-century scholarship were embroiled in a vehement debate on this question, which thereupon became a cause célèbre, with scholars weighing in on both sides for the next half century. Ultimately this debate seems to have ended in stalemate and exhaustion rather than in any clear-cut decision. After briefly reviewing the debate, this article argues that there are indications of an atomic theory different from Democritus's that can plausibly be attributed to Leucippus. It considers indications that the atomic theory was known in the mid-fifth century, and then tentatively explores Leucippus's contributions to atomism in a way that will illuminate Democritus's contributions.
This chapter distinguishes between the different types of definition discussed in Aristotle’sPosterior Analytics II.10 and argues that only some of them are, strictly speaking, scientific: that is, those that are closely linked to explanatory proofs which latch onto the causes of adefiniendum’s nature. The chapter discusses how these scientific definitions account for different types of entity: processes, artifacts, natural substance kinds, and the essences or forms of substance kinds. It gives a brief clarification of Aristotelian hylomorphism and provides some examples of the concept of matter as understood within hylomorphism. Finally, it examines whether, and if so, how matter may be mentioned in a scientific definition and addresses several problems arising from Aristotle’s overall hylomorphic picture and the role of matter in it.
Stephen A. White
Any attempt to trace the origin of Greek philosophy faces two complementary problems. One is the fact that evidence for the early philosophers is woefully meager. The other problem raises a question of what is to be counted as philosophy. Yet neither problem is insuperable. This article proposes to reorient the search for origins in two ways, corresponding to these two problems. First, rather than trying to reconstruct vanished work directly, this article focuses on a crucial stage in its ancient reception, in particular, the efforts by Aristotle and his colleagues in the latter half of the fourth century to collect, analyze, and assess the evidence then available for earlier attempts to understand the natural world. The other shift in focus this article makes is from philosophy to science; or rather, it focuses on evidence for the interplay between observation, measurement, and explanation in the work of three sixth-century Milesians.
M. R. Wright
This article explores early Greeks' cosmological speculation, showing how they explored the possibility of a “theory of everything” and human understanding of the cosmos. In the exposition of competitive cosmologies, there are three questions still unresolved: the form of most of the matter in the universe is not known; the process of beginning of the universe is not known; and whether the universe is finite or infinite is also not known. Presocratic solutions to these problems, still perplexing to the contemporaries, are tackled in this article, with the addition of a note on what is called the anthropic principle, which addresses the place of human life and human observation in the whole.
R. J. Hankinson
In the Archaic Geek world of epic poetry, the causes of things are shrouded in divine mystery; the gods intervene in human affairs, and bring about events, in a cruel and capricious fashion, according to their whims; Apollo visits the devastating plague of Iliad 1 on the Greek host to avenge Agamemnon's ill-treatment of one of his priests; Poseidon shakes the earth and angers the sea, bringing to destruction those who have incurred his ire, as does Zeus himself with his thunderbolts. The gods take on human shape and intervene in battle with devastating effect. In tragedy, the houses of Atreus and of Laius are brought low when men offend against the gods. This article focuses on the explorations of the fundamental concepts of reasons and causation, and the problems of explanation, and argues that it is indeed reasonable to see in Presocratic thought the foundations of Western scientific explanation.
Philip van der Eijk
The philosophical aspects of Greek medicine are now more widely appreciated, not only by historians of science and medicine but also by students of philosophy in a more narrow sense. There has also been a greater appreciation of the fact that Greek medical writers not only reflect a derivative awareness of developments in philosophy but that they also actively contributed to the formation of philosophical thought more strictly defined, for instance by developing concepts and methodologies for the acquisition of knowledge and understanding. Yet the consequences of this for a renewed study of the formation of Greek philosophy have yet to be drawn; and disciplinary boundaries between historians of medicine on the one hand and philosophers and historians of philosophy on the other still pose obstacles to an integrated account of Greek thought that takes on board the contributions by the medical writers. Some preliminary remarks may therefore be in order.
Aristotle's word for science is epistêmê, which has at least a dual use in the Greek of his day and is standardly used, in one way, as a count noun, to mean “a science.” Thus, in this usage, one can say that geometry, or phusikê (natural science), or metaphysics is (an) epistêmê, a science. Here the term epistêmê designates a special sort of systematic body of truth or fact that may or may not have yet been discovered, or fully discovered. In Plato's Protagoras (352cff.), Socrates uses the term epistêmê for knowledge of the particular right moral action to perform on some specific occasion and he is followed in this use of the term by Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics VII.2 (1145b21ff.). Aristotle claims that scientific principles are reached by induction (epagogê).
Michael J. Loux
As Aristotle sees it, familiar sensible particulars give rise to a certain philosophical project, one common to his materialist predecessors, Parmenides, Plato, and Aristotle himself. The project gets variously labeled: We are to identify the “elements and principles of beings,” the “elements of beings,” and “the principles of beings.” What Aristotle is calling elements and principles are obviously explanatory items, but the project is not concerned with just any explanatory items—only those explanatory of the being of familiar sensibles. This idea comes out in another of his characterizations of the project. Aristotle speaks of identifying the substance of a familiar particular, and argues that the substance of a thing is the cause of its being, so the project is one of identifying the principles and causes of the being of familiar objects. This article, which deals with substances, coincidentals, and Aristotle's constituent ontology, examines the roots of Aristotle's constituent approach to questions of character and discusses his treatment of efficient causality.
Aristotle introduces the fourth cause, the teleological cause, in Physics II 3, based on the idea of something's being for the sake of a goal: the good to be achieved. The goal causes an activity to occur or an instrument to exist. They happen or exist because of some good that results from them. While Aristotle discerns teleological causation in a wide range of cases, these passages contain his key thought. Some things happen or exist because of some further good they help to produce. Aristotle's use of the teleological cause constitutes one of the most distinctive aspects of his philosophy. Hypothetical necessity is appropriate in characterizing teleological causation. In the Physics, Aristotle compares craft and nature as teleological causes. Many philosophers reject his account of rational agents as acting on the basis of their sensitivity to what is in fact good for them. Many more will not accept Aristotle's account of teleological causation as applied to natures and organisms.