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BOOK REVIEWS 393 The Physical Philosophy o] Aristotle. By Melbourne G. Evans. (Albuquerque: University of N.M. Press, 1964.Pp. 107.$2) The purpose of Melbourne G. Evans' book is "... to set forth, in brief compass, the essential elements of Aristotle's physical (and mathematical) thought .... It is hoped that this study will provide, for students of science and philosophy, and indeed for anyone interested in the history of ideas, a guide and key to the structure of Aristotle's physical philosophy" (pp. 5-6). This purpose is carried out in brief discussions of "The Order of Nature," "The Principles of Change," "The Concepts of Mathematics," "Concepts of Space, Time, and Motion," "The Principles of Mechanics," and "The Nature of Physical Explanation." The strength of Evans' book rests on his discussion of Aristotle's treatment of problems relevant to modern mechanics and physical philosophy in the Newtonian sense. Evans is generous in pointing to notions where Aristotle is in accord with modern theory and rightfully indicates Aristotle's errors. Questions arise, however, as to whether this sort of treatment is "a guide and a key to the structure of Aristotle's physical philosophy." Is "physical philosophy" for Aristotle primarily concerned with the preoccupations of modern physical science or is it something more broadly conceived? Does "a modern interpretation," as Evans calls it, from the perspective of Newtonian or modern physical theory distort what Aristotle conceived physical philosophy to be? Is it sufficient to approach Aristotle's physical philosophy from the standpoint of the interests of modern physical theory or is it also necessary to try to see the problems of physical philosophy in his terms? In fact, if we wish to understand Aristotle's physical philosophy, might not the latter approach be preferable? The tenor of these questions indicates that to this reader, at least, Evans' account of Aristotle's physical philosophy is too narrow and leads to difficulties. The first difficulty is that "physical philosophy" simply does not have the same meaning for Aristotle and for a modern. For Aristotle "physical philosophy" includes not only what we mean by "physics" but also living things. "Physics" for Aristotle is about physis, "nature," and "nature" embraces all that is from the physical elements to man. Failure to recognize this difference in meaning leads to misunderstandingsin important ways. Two illustrations will suffice. Take the key term, kinesis, in the Physics. How do we translate it? As "motion" most frequently. And then we run into Aristotle's definition, "kin*sis is the fulfillment or realizing of that which is potential as potential" (201a 10-11). Assuredly this definition makes a modern blink if he is thinking of physics as primarily mechanics. The bl~nl~ing may be accelerated when he reads about the kinds of k/nesis: a kin*sis of quality, or increase and decrease, or of coming-into-being and passing-away, or, lastly, of place. Aristotle's specific illustrations should then be truly eye-catching: building, learning, healing, rolling, jumping, aging! Thus is k'/nes/s "motion," or "change," or "process"; or can it be each of these depending upon the context? "Motion" to us is primarily "locomotion "; kinesis for Aristotle is "locomotion," and "healing," and so on. In picking up Aristotle's Physics we haven't opened Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, although both books have some problems in common. We are looking at a book which considers physical philosophy to include not only mechanics and what we may think of as physics but even change in the animate world. Again, take Aristotle's aitia. To be sure, Evans comments on the theory of the so-called four causes. But nowhere is there a discussion of the real problem of understanding Aristotle in translating aitia as "cause." A theory that makes sense with respect to the genetic processes of nature and art, that illuminates their productivity, often looks strange and even erroneous in regard to some of the problems of mechanics. There is nothing novel in these comments about the meanings of "physical philosophy," kln*sis, and altia; but we would do well to remember them. Aristotle seems to have been interested in nature much more as a system...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 393-394
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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