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Aristotle's Physics and Its Medieval Varieties.

"Although the end be last in the order of execution, yet it is first in the order of intention." This dictum arises in Aquinas's discussion of human acts; it nonetheless comes readily to the mind of readers of Helen Lang's book. Lang's thesis is that in the Physics Aristotle wrote logoi, arguments structured around an initial thesis. This structure is seen across the books of the Physics and provides a framework in which to understand the various parts of Aristotle's science of nature. Lang maintains that Aristotle's Physics establishes his science of nature, and that all logoi of the work address difficulties surrounding the scope of the subject of this science. One ought not understand the arguments in terms of the Physics as a whole; rather, each argument is to be seen in relation to the logos of which it is a part. Lang provides careful study of the arguments comprising books 2,7, and 8, and concludes that each logos falls under an initially stated thesis.

The overriding concern in book 2 for Aristotle is to distinguish nature and "by nature" from art; in this way Aristotle distinguishes his science of nature from Plato's view that all the material world is an artifact of the Demiurge. As one moves through the logoi of the Physics, one observes a narrowing scope of Aristotle's arguments. In book 7, says Lang, Aristotle addresses two difficulties: the world is not a self-mover, hence not moved by soul, as Plato maintains; the sequence of moved movers cannot proceed to infinity, as the atomists maintain. By viewing book 7 in this light, one sees Aristotle as solving certain difficulties surrounding the science of nature, not as providing a link in an ever tightening argument culminating in a proof of the existence of a first mover.

Lang carefully examines Aristotle's explanation of elemental motion (fire goes up), then proceeds to book 8, wherein Aristotle focuses on the first motion, the first mover, and the first mobile. She argues that Aristotle intends to prove the eternity of motion, not the existence of a first mover; he is solving a difficulty about nature and is thus operating within the domain of physics. Lang concludes that Aristotle's first mover is not god, as seen in Metaphysics 12; rather, his arguments in Physics 8 "resolve a problem concerning the location of the first moved (and hence also the first motion) by indicating that it must be on the outermost circumference of the cosmos" (p. 94).

Lang discusses five medieval commentators on the Physics: John Philoponus, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, John Buridan, and Duns Scotus. While each of these men reads the Physics in his own light, Lang claims they all miss the overriding structure of Aristotle's argument. Philoponus's commentary is inescapably Platonic in its presentation of the concept of nature. Rather than being an intrinsic ability to be moved, nature as understood by Philoponus is "an intrinsic mover, soul or inclination, that molds and governs" (p. 121).

Albert's reading of the Physics is that of a theologian as well as that of a physicist. He devides his commentary into tractates, a division not supported by the Aristotelian text. In addition, Lang maintains, Albert views the arguments about elemental motion and the first mover in a theological light: the generator moves the elements, not their natural place; the Physics builds toward and culminates in a proof of the existence of a first mover, who is God.

The exposition of Thomas Aquinas on the Physics is reputed to be a literal commentary. Lang challenges this reputation and focuses sharply on the structure of Aristotle's logoi as compared with Thomas's analysis of the Physics. Aristotle situates each argument under an overriding thesis, which thesis he states clearly at the outset of the logos; his arguments narrow in scope as the Physics develops because he is resolving more and more objections concerning the scope and understanding of the subject of his science of nature. This reading of Aristotle, constitutive of Lang's thesis, contrasts markedly with the reading one finds in Thomas's exposition. He identifies the subject of physics with mobile being and sees the development and narrowing of Aristotle's arguments within a whole, which whole reaches fruition in the proof of the existence of an unmoved mover. Rather than setting out the scope of the subject of the science of nature at first, and then resolving objections and making clarifications, Aristotle, as understood by Thomas, sees the end of the science of nature as the end in execution: proof of the existence of the first mover. Thomas understands this first mover as God and as one with the first cause of Metaphysics 12.

Lang presents Buridan's analysis of the Physics in terms of quaestiones and contrasts each one's understanding of physics with the Physics. The commentary of Scotus is inexorably bound by its historical concerns (post 1277) with the power of God; the question of how to put angels, finite beings, in their place is important, Lang thinks, in Scotus's reading of the Physics.

Lang's thesis is refreshing and challenging. It, and this book, deserve careful attention.
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Author:Landen, Laura
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Words:854
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