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volume II: Synopsis

Part II: A brief history of dynamics

page 10: Aristotle

(384-322 bc)

We begin the story of dynamics with Aristotle's Physics, written about 350 bc. Many of the earliest known writers, like Parmenides, Zeno and Plato held that 'real' reality was eternal and immutable. Motion was somehow inferior to immobility. Aristotle made the first big intellectual step away from that position toward the modern view (pioneered by Heracleitus) that all is dynamics constrained only by local consistency or 'reasonableness'. Aristotle, John Palmer - Parmenides, John Palmer - Zeno, Richard Kraut - Plato, Heracleitus

In the network picture proposed on this site, one specific difference between ourselves and other animals is the richness of our communication. Somewhere in our development, we discovered combinatorial language, and became able to communicate complex ideas in long and complex utterances. Some time after that, we discovered writing, the ability to encode dynamic speech in static strings of symbols like these. Nowak

The extant written sources of scientific dynamics begin about 500 bc, and already two extreme positions are in evidence. For Parmenides reality is motionless; For Heracleitus, everything is in flux. Parmenides' argument that reality is eternal and immutable has convinced many people (down to the present day) that the moving world of experience is illusory, a facade behind which eternal reality is hidden. This position is maintained by the Christian Churches.

This idea was developed most thoroughly by Plato, Aristotle's teacher, child of the ruling class and literary genius. Plato's ideas became a major input into the development of Christian doctrine. Plato saw the visible world as a shadow of invisible forms or ideas outside the world.

Aristotle is regarded as a 'common sense' philosopher. He does not question the reality of the world, or the truth of the senses, but takes the world as it is, as practical people must. For him change was part of reality.

The Physics is concerned with change in all its forms, local motion and the changes involved in burning, growing, cooking and so on. Aristotle's analysis tells him that there must be two principles of change. One, matter, stays the same through change: the same clay might be a cup or a saucer. The other, form (cup shaped, saucer shaped) is like a Platonic idea brought down to earth. Change occurs when matter changes its form. Steel that once had the form of a sword may, through the work of a blacksmith, take on the form of a ploughshare. Aristotle - Physics

Aristotle extended the matter-form model to the understanding of knowledge. He conceived of a sense organ as a sort of matter which could be impressed with the form of the thing sensed. Pursuing this idea further, he concluded that the organ of intelligence must be in some way separate from the material body, since it appeared to be able to take on a larger range of forms that would be possible for a material organ. Aristotle - On the Soul

Aristotle moved from physics to metaphysics by developing a more abstract version of the matter and form paradigm, the theory of potency and act. Potency is a feature of something than could exist; act a feature of something that does exist. It was axiomatic to Aristotle that a potential cannot realize itself and must be brought to actuality by some agent other than itself. Aristotle - Metaphysics

In order to explain the moving world and prevent an infinite regress of agents, Aristotle postulated his famous 'unmoved mover' which occupies an outer sphere of the heavens surrounding Earth. Unmoved mover - Wikipedia

In early Christian times, Platonic thought dominated and theologians modelling God using Plato's theory of ideas or forms. The medieval rediscovery of Aristotle led to the unmoved mover becoming identified with God. Aquinas uses this model of God in the first proof for the existence of God in his Summa Theologiae. Aquinas 13

We may count Aristotle as an early scientists, since he placed considerable emphasis on observation and appears to have been an assiduous collector of information about everything under the Sun. The books attributed to him had a huge influence on people's ideas of the world for nearly two thousand years, until the late middle ages and the beginning of the modern era in science.

(revised 28 March 2013)

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Further reading

Books

Click on the "Amazon" link below each book entry to see details of a book (and possibly buy it!)

Aquinas, Thomas, and Kenelm Foster, Sylvester Humphries (translators), Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima, Dumb Ox Books 1959 'A translation of William of Moerbeke's latin text of Aristotle's On the Soul (a brilliant little treatise on life written 2300 years ago) together with a latin commentary by the Angelic Doctor Thomas Aquinas. Here is an ancient foundation for the Christian belief in the immortality of the soul.' 
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Aristotle, Works, in 23 volumes, William Heinemann 1975 Jacket: 'ARISTOTLE, the great Greek philosopher, researcher, reasoner and writer, born at Stagirus in 384 B.C., was a son of a medical doctor Nicomachus and Phaestis. He studied under Plato at Athens and taught there 367-347; spent three years at the court of a former pupil Hermeias in Asia Minor and married Pythias, a relation of his; after some time at Mitylene, in 343-2 he was appointed by King Philip of Macedon to be the tutor of his teen-aged son Alexander, and had other pupils. After Philip's death in 336, Aristote became head of his own school (of 'Peripatetics'), the Lyceum at Athens. Because of anti-Macedonian feeling there after Alexander's death in 323, he withdrew to Chalcis in Euboea and died there in 322. Nearly all the works he prepared for publication are lost, the priceless ones extant being lecture-materials, notes and memoranda (some are spurious).'back
Aristotle, and (translated by H Tredennick and G Cyril Armstrong), Metaphysics X-XIV, Oeconomica and Magna Moralia, Harvard University Press, ; William Heinemann Ltd. 1977 Introduction III Aristotle's Metaphysical Theory: 'The theory of universal science, as sketched by Plato in The Republic, was unsatisfactory to Aristotle's analytical mind. He felt that there must be a regular system of sciences, each concerned with a different aspect of reality. At the same time it was only reasonable to suppose that there is a supreme science, which is more ultimate, more exact, more truly Wisdom than any of the others. The discussion of this science, Wisdom, Primary Philosophy or Theology, as it is variously called, and of its scope, forms the subject of the Metaphysics. page xxv 
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Aristotle, and H Tedennick (translator), Metaphysics I-IX , Harvard University Press, William Heinemann 1980 Introduction: "[Aristotle] felt that there must be a regular system of sciences, each concerned with a different aspect of reality. At the same time it was only reasonable to suppose that there was a supreme science which was more ultimate, more exact, more truly Wisdom than the others. The discussion of ths science - Wisdom, Primary Philosophy or Theology, as it is variously called - and of its scope, forms the subject of the Metaphysics' page xxv. 
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Aristotle, and P H Wickstead and F M Cornford, translators, Physics books V-VIII, Harvard University Press,William Heinemann 1980 Introduction: 'Simplicius tells us that Books I - IV of the Physics were referred to as the books Concerning the Principles, while Books V - VIII were called On Movement. The earlier books have, in fact, defined the things which are subject to movement (the contents of the physical world) and analyzed certain concepts - Time, Place and so forth - which are involved in the occurrence of movement.' Book V is a further introduction to the detailed analysis in Books VI - VIII. Book VI deals with continuity, Book VII is an introductory study for Book VIII, which brings us to the conclusion that all change and motion in the unvierse are ultimately caused by a Prime Mover which is itself unchanging and unmoved and which has neither magnitude nor parts, but is spiritual and not in space.' 
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Aristotle, and (translated by P H Wickstead and F M Cornford), Physics books I-IV, Harvard University Press, William Heinemann 1980 Introduction: 'The title "Physics" is misleading. .. "Lectures on Nature" the alternative title found in editions of the Greek text, is more enlightening. ... The realm of Nature, for Aristotle, includes all things that move and change ... . Thus the ultimate "matter" which, according to Aristotle, underlies all the elementary substances must be studied, in its changes at least, by the Natural Philosopher. And so must the eternal heavenly spheres of the Aristotelean philosophy, insofar as they themselves move of are the cause of motion in the sublunary world.' 
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Aristotle, and (translated by W S Hett), On the Soul, Parva Naturalia, On Breath (translated by W S Hett) , Harvard University Press (USA) ; William Heinemann Ltd (UK) 1975 'What the mind thinks must be in it in the same sense as letters are on a tablet which bears no actual writing; this is just what happens in the case of the mind.' page 169 (Book III, chapter 4, 429b32) 
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Aristotle, and (translated by W S Hett), On the Soul, Parva Naturalia, On Breath (translated by W S Hett) , Harvard University Press (USA) ; William Heinemann Ltd (UK) 1975 'What the mind thinks must be in it in the same sense as letters are on a tablet which bears no actual writing; this is just what happens in the case of the mind.' page 169 (Book III, chapter 4, 429b32) 
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Blair, Georges A, Energeia and Entelecheia: "Act" in Aristotle, University of Ottawa Press 1992 Twenty-five years ago George Blair suggested that “actuality” was the wrong word to use in translating either of Aristotle’s two words for “act” and sparked a controversy that has continued to the present day. Here he presents his evidence in detail, and offers a critical examination of the scholarship on the subject. 
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Grayeff, Felix, Aristotle and his school;: An inquiry into the history of the Peripatos with a commentary on Metaphysics [zeta], [eta], [lambda] and [theta], Duckworth 1974  
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Jaeger, Werner, Aristotle: Fundamentals of the history of his development, Oxford University Press 1997 Jacket: '"Aristotle was the first thinker to set up along with his philosophy a conception of his own position in hostory; he thereby created a new kind of philosophical consciousness, more responsible and inwardly complex. He was the inventor of the notion of intellectual development in time ... ." In this classic study, Professor Jaeger profoundly alteed the general view of Aristotle among philosophers and classical scholars. He showed that Aristotle was not uncompromisingly opposed to Plato, that he developed gradually, applying step by step his particular genius to the problems of his age.' 
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Papers
Nowak, Martin A, Joshua B Plotkin and Vincent A A Jansen, "The evolution of syntactic communication", Nature, 404, 6777, 30 March 2000, page 495-498. Letters to Nature: 'Animal communication is typically non-syntactic, which means that signals refer to whole situations. Human language is syntactic, and signals consist of discrete components that have their own meaning. Syntax is requisite for taking advantage of combinatorics, that is 'making infinite use of finite means'. ... Here we present a model for the population dynamics of language evolution, define the basic reproductive ratio of words and calculate the maximum size of a lexicon.'. back
Links
Aquinas 13 Summa: I 2 3: Whether God exists? I answer that the existence of God can be proved in five ways. The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. . . . The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. . . . The third way is taken from possibility and necessity . . . The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. . . . The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. back
Aristotle The Internet Classics Archive | Works by Aristotle A comprehensive database of Aristotle's works. back
Aristotle - Metaphysics Internet Classics Archive | Metaphysics by Aristotle 'ALL men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things. ' back
Aristotle - On the Soul On the Soul - The Internet Classics Archive 'Holding as we do that, while knowledge of any kind is a thing to be honoured and prized, one kind of it may, either by reason of its greater exactness or of a higher dignity and greater wonderfulness in its objects, be more honourable and precious than another, on both accounts we should naturally be led to place in the front rank the study of the soul. The knowledge of the soul admittedly contributes greatly to the advance of truth in general, and, above all, to our understanding of Nature, for the soul is in some sense the principle of animal life. Our aim is to grasp and understand, first its essential nature, and secondly its properties; of these some are taught to be affections proper to the soul itself, while others are considered to attach to the animal owing to the presence within it of soul.' back
Aristotle - Physics The Internet Classic Archive | Physics Aristotle Written 350 B.C.E Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye back
Daniel W Graham - Heraclitus Heraclitus 'A Greek philosopher of Ephesus (near modern Kuşadası, Turkey) who was active around 500 BCE, Heraclitus propounded a distinctive theory which he expressed in oracular language. He is best known for his doctrines that things are constantly changing (universal flux), that opposites coincide (unity of opposites), and that fire is the basic material of the world. The exact interpretation of these doctrines is controversial, as is the inference often drawn from this theory that in the world as Heraclitus conceives it contradictory propositions must be true.' back
John Burnet Parmenides of Elea: The Poem 'The Poem Parmenides was the first philosopher to expound his system in metrical language. His predecessors, Anaximander, Anaximenes, and Herakleitos, wrote in prose, and the only Greeks who ever wrote philosophy in verse at all were just these two, Parmenides and Empedokles; for Xenophanes was not a philosopher any more than Epicharmos. Empedokles copied Parmenides; and he, no doubt, was influenced by the Orphics. But the thing was an innovation, and one that did not maintain itself. The fragments of Parmenides are preserved for the most part by Simplicius, who fortunately inserted them in his commentary, because in his time the original work was already rare. I follow the arrangement of Diels.' back
John Palmer - Parmenides Parmenides (Standord Encyclopedia of Philosophy) First published Fri Feb 8, 2008 'Parmenides of Elea, active in the earlier part of the 5th c. BCE., authored a difficult metaphysical poem that has earned him a reputation as early Greek philosophy's most profound and challenging thinker. His philosophical stance has typically been understood as at once extremely paradoxical and yet crucial for the broader development of Greek natural philosophy and metaphysics. He has been seen as a metaphysical monist (of one stripe or another) who so challenged the naïve cosmological theories of his predecessors that his major successors among the Presocratics were all driven to develop more sophisticated physical theories in response to his arguments.' back
John Palmer - Zeno Zeno of Elea (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) 'Zeno of Elea, 5th c. B.C. thinker, is known exclusively for propounding a number of ingenious paradoxes. The most famous of these purport to show that motion is impossible by bringing to light apparent or latent contradictions in ordinary assumptions regarding its occurrence. Zeno also argued against the commonsense assumption that there are many things by showing in various ways how it, too, leads to contradiction.' back
Richard Kraut - Plato Plato (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) First published Sat Mar 20, 2004; substantive revision Thu Sep 17, 2009 'Plato (429–347 B.C.E.) is, by any reckoning, one of the most dazzling writers in the Western literary tradition and one of the most penetrating, wide-ranging, and influential authors in the history of philosophy. . . . Few other authors in the history of philosophy approximate him in depth and range: perhaps only Aristotle (who studied with him), Aquinas, and Kant would be generally agreed to be of the same rank.' back
Unmoved mover - Wikipedia Unmoved mover - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'The unmoved mover (ού κινούμενον κινεῖ oú kinoúmenon kineῖ) is a philosophical concept described by Aristotle as a primary cause or "mover" of all the motion in the universe. As is implicit in the name, the "unmoved mover" is not moved by any prior action. In Book 12 (Greek "Λ") of his Metaphysics, Aristotle describes the unmoved mover as being perfectly beautiful, indivisible, and contemplating only the perfect contemplation: itself contemplating. He equates this concept also with the Active Intellect. This Aristotelian concept had its roots in cosmological speculations of the earliest Greek "Pre-Socratic" philosophers and became highly influential and widely drawn upon in medieval philosophy and theology. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, elaborated on the Unmoved Mover in the quinque viae.' back

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