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Place, Void, and Eternity.

This volume in the continuing series of translations of the ancient commentators on Aristotle contains three treatises related to Aristotle's Physics: the "Corollary on Place" and the "Corollary on Void" from John Philoponus's commentary on the Physics (translated by David Furley), and a section from Simplicius's commentary on the Physics which critiques another (lost) work by Philoponus on the eternity of the world (translated by Christian Wildberg). Each of these involves the sixth-century controversies surrounding the Christian commentator, John Philoponus, who is unique for his time in trying to turn Aristotle's own arguments against themselves (often in support of Christian beliefs).

All three of these translations maintain the high quality witnessed in previous volumes of the series. While none of these is an entire work, each focuses on a theme in the philosophy of science that is strikingly modern. Most notable in this regard is the "Corollary on Place," for here is found one of the most innovative and controversial of Philoponus's positions. Throughout much of Greek philosophy there was dissatisfaction with Aristotle's claim that place (or space--the Greek topos can be rendered either way) is the two-dimensional boundary that surrounds a body. Philoponus seeks to rebut Aristotle's analysis in Physics 4.4 where that philosopher considers four candidates for place: the form, the matter, the extension, and the boundary of a body. While Aristotle opted for the third of these, Philoponus rejects this and argues that place must be construed as three-dimensional extension. (Philoponus both attacks Aristotle's rejection of extension as well as presents positive arguments in favor of this position). Philoponus claims that this three-dimensional reading of place is a necessary condition for the possibility of motion.

The "Corollary on Void" returns to an old chestnut of Aristotelian philosophy: motion within a void. Philoponus does agree that that void cannot exist, but he seeks to show per impossible that motion within a void is nonetheless a coherent notion; contra Aristotle (Physics 4.8), motion within a void would not need to be instantaneous. Here Philoponus truly seeks to turn Aristotle against himself, for he draws upon Aristotle's analysis that takes the speed of an object to be a function of both the density of the medium and the weight of the body in motion. Aristotle's arguments against motion in a void, Philoponus notes, presume that speed is solely determined by the density of the medium, for only then would speed increase to infinity if the density dropped to zero. Philoponus claims instead that each body has an internal impulse to move and that, while the medium is an obstacle to the force of the impulse, the body's motion in a void would still take time since the body would move at a speed determined by its impulse.

The final section comes from Simplicius's commentary on the Physics, but it is a self-contained unit. Here Simplicius digresses to consider a work of Philoponus in which the latter argues that the physical world must (on Aristotelian principles) be both created and perish. The thrust of Philoponus's attack utilizes the Aristotelian principle that a finite body cannot have infinite power; the physical world is finite and therefore cannot have the capacity to exist for an infinite time. Simplicius's response draws upon the distinction between the capacity for infinite motion and the capacity to be moved for an infinite time; he argues that the finitude of a body need only deny the first not the second of these.

The volume is well crafted and provides multiple indexes and glossaries that will permit it to be of service to both scholars and students of ancient philosophy.
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Author:Schrenk, Lawrence P.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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