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Aristotle's 'Physics': A Collection of Essays.

Judson, Lindsay, ed. Aristotle's Physics: A Collection of Essays. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991. x + 286 pp. $65.00--A common theme uniting this excellent collection is that Aristotle in the Physics--both qua scientist and qua philosopher--is worthy of our attention and should be taken seriously. The ten essays, all of them new, cover much of the Physics (though somewhat unevenly: four are on topics from Physics 2). The choice of contributors was excellent. Many have written on similar topics in the past, and have here brought their expertise and insights to bear on the same issues as they appear in the Physics (for example, Robert Bolton on dialectic, David Charles on teleology). The essays are uniformly of a high quality. What follows are descriptions of each one, no doubt too short to do justice to any of them.

The Physics, though traditionally seen as empirical, is today generally viewed as paradigmatically dialectical. Robert Bolton, in "Aristotle's Method in Natural Science: Physics I," challenges this trend. He claims that Physics 1.1 (along with Posterior Analytics 2.19 and other parts of the corpus) shows that dialectic is not the primary method in Aristotle's conception of natural science. Bolton concludes that "however crude [Aristotle's] description or use of the method may be his endeavours belong, in spirit, with those which we now think of as clearly scientific" (p. 29).

The next two essays--Julius M. Moravcsik's "What Makes Reality Intelligible? Reflections on Aristotle's Theory of Aitia," and Cynthia A. Freeland's "Accidental Causes and Real Explanations"--both deal in rather different ways with the manner in which Aristotle's theory of four causes (aitiai) is a theory of explanation. I found Freeland's article especially interesting. Whereas most today (including to some degree Moravcsik) see aitiai as explanatory factors but not as causes, she argues that they are in fact both.

In the fourth contribution, "Chance and |Always or For the Most Part' in Aristotle," Lindsay Judson examines the analysis of chance found in Physics 2.4-6 and the way it fits into Aristotle's account of causality. Judson shows how a proper understanding of chance improves our understanding of Aristotle's concept of "always or for the most part." The essay includes an excellent discussion of how the concepts of "always," "for the most part," and "rarely" relate to the concepts of "by nature" and "incidentally."

In what is perhaps the best essay in this collection, "Teleological Causation in the Physics," David Charles investigates whether Aristotle's account of teleological causation in the Physics is defensible. In the Physics, teleological causation is very different in the case of natural organisms and in the case of human agency. Not only do these cases differ ontologically, but the latter case is purposeful whereas the former is not. Is there a unified account in Physics 2 that explains both of these? Charles answers in the negative. This lack of a unified account, he claims, creates problems for such key notions as nature and natural process, which are defined in terms of teleological causation.

In the sixth essay, "Aristotle's Potential Infinites," William Charlton writes that we can understand Aristotle's finitism only by looking at the kinds of infinity he rejects. Aristotle rejects four kinds: an infinitely large body or quantity of material; an infinitude of parts as undivided wholes; an infinitude of points; an infinite number of actual things. In each of the last three, Aristotle argues (somewhat successfully, Charlton claims) for the possibility of what scholars call a "potential infinite."

The seventh contribution is Michael Inwood's "Aristotle on the Reality of Time." Inwood claims Aristotle considers two problems for the reality of time: (1) time is made up of parts that do not exist: past and future (the now is not a part of time); (2) there are reasons for doubting the existence of the now (on which time depends). Inwood examines these two problems, and then discusses Aristotle's implicit solution to both of them: It is incorrect to regard time as an entity composed of parts. The now is not a part of time, but neither is it simply the meeting-point of past and future. Thus, "its occurrence now . . . is sufficient to secure the existence of time" (p. 177). In Inwood's opinion, this solution "is involved and often obscure and ambiguous, but it is neither negligible nor obviously incorrect" (p. 178).

The next essay is "Aristotle on Continuity in Physics VI" by David Bostock. In contrast to Ross's favorable view of Aristotle's account of the continuum, Bostock thinks it "leaves a number of important gaps, is at times seriously muddled, and contains some plain mistakes" (pp. 179-80). In the course of the essay, Bostock attempts to defend this view and to present a possible account of why Aristotle makes the mistakes he does.

In "Aristotle's Mathematical Physics: A Reconstruction," Edward Hussey asks, What role does mathematics play in Aristotle's physical theories? He attempts to answer this by investigating Aristotle's theory of physical change and theory of motion. Hussey concludes, "Aristotle's mathematical physics is not a failure; it is a triumph of creative theorizing married to physical insight and respect for the observable facts" (p 242).

The final essay is Mary Louise Gill's "Aristotle on Self-Motion." She claims that there seems to be a problem in Physics 8. In Physics 8.5, Aristotle says an infinite regress in the explanation of particular changes can be avoided because changes are ultimately caused by a self-mover. But in Physics 8.6, he writes that an animal--which is certainly a self-mover--derives the impetus for its own motion from features in its environment (that is, not from itself). Gill demonstrates how we can appeal to features in the environment without generating an infinite regress and without denying that animals are self-movers.

This collection includes a bibliography, an index locorum, and an index of names. One flaw is that it contains no general introduction to the nature of the Physics. Nevertheless, it is an excellent secondary source for anyone wishing to take a serious look at the Physics.
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Author:Mayhew, Robert
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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