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  • Aristotle’s Physics Book I: A Systematic Exploration ed. by Diana Quarantotto
  • John Bowin
Diana Quarantotto, editor. Aristotle’s Physics Book I: A Systematic Exploration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. xviii + 282. Cloth, £75.00.

This volume is the product of a pair of conferences on book I of Aristotle’s Physics at Sapienza University of Rome in 2013 and 2015. Each chapter of book I receives a philosophical commentary by a prominent specialist in ancient philosophy. The contributions offer systematic and thorough exegesis, as well as new and interesting solutions to interpretative problems. In what follows, I will focus chiefly on the latter.

Diana Quarantotto begins the volume with a discussion of the overall structure, role, and status of book I, and offers a number of considerations in favor of viewing it as “introductory.” Perhaps her most interesting claim is that the principles introduced there are “not distinctly physical,” which means that they apply more generally to artifacts as well as to natural entities. In the second essay, on the methodological first chapter of book I, Andrea Falcon offers a new interpretation of Aristotle’s account of how one progresses from perceptual to conceptual knowledge while acquiring the principles of a science.

The next three contributions deal with Aristotle’s criticisms of his predecessors in chapters 2–4. Timothy Clarke offers an admirably clear account of Aristotle’s arguments against the Eleatic monists in chapter 2 by distinguishing entity monism (the view that there is only one entity) from essence monism (the view that there is only one type of entity). Laura Castelli proposes that Aristotle’s criticism of the Eleatics in chapter 3 rests on a theory of signification whereby Parmenides’s claim, “being signifies one thing,” implies a distinction, which undermines Parmenides’s monism, between the “one thing” and the [End Page 161] being that is predicated of it. And Cristina Cerami draws on Generation and Corruption 1.1 to argue that, as portrayed in chapter 4, the pluralists mistake the sense in which affections are inseparable from their substrates.

The remaining contributions deal with Aristotle’s own theory of principles in chapters 5–9. Lindsay Judson raises the problem that in chapter 5, and again in chapter 7 (190b27, 191a14), Aristotle seems to equate the opposition of form to privation with contrariety (enantiotēs). The difficulty is that form and privation are supposed to subsume substantial form and its absence, and Aristotle says in chapter 6 (189a29) and elsewhere (e.g. Categories 3b24–31) that substance has no contrary. Judson tentatively proposes that Aristotle may be using the term ‘contrariety’ in a non-technical sense, but the fact that Aristotle envisages states that are contrary to the quasi-substantial forms of houses and statues suggests, rather, that he is applying his technical concept of contrariety in an unexpected way.

Alan Code makes ingenious use of Metaphysics Iota 7 to interpret several statements about the priority of contrarieties in chapter 6. Metaphysics Iota 7, 1057b2–10, says that, if a genus is prior to the contrary species subsumed under it, and species are constituted out of genera and differentiae, contrary differentiae are prior to contrary species. Aristotle twice says, in chapter 6, that there is one primary contrariety in any one genus (189a13–4, 189b23–4), and Code takes this to mean that there is a single primary contrariety of differentiae. Code draws on this result to interpret how pairs of contraries are able to generate things “out of each other” (189b21) and in what sense a primary contrariety “remains” (189a20) throughout a change.

David Charles argues that the most significant development in chapter 7, where Aristotle gives us his own account of the principles of physical things, is the introduction of a substrate which persists through the process of coming to be. This substrate, Charles argues, is not yet Aristotle’s conception of matter as a locus of potentiality. Rather, it is merely a thing, whatever it is, that underlies, which in On Generation and Corruption 1.3, 319b3–4 is referred to by the Aristotelian term of art, ho pote on hupokeitai.

The next piece, by István Bodnár, makes an...


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