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A Study Guide To Aristotle's Physical Works


The plan and purpose of this work is identical to the preceeding but changed in the execution.
For it seems that all works must proceed according to the dispositions of the material, & the
characteristics of the artisan so that the complete whole is proportioned to both. So too in this
work, due to a sparcity of notes and time, I must execute it in a different way. But perhaps I
could be more complete by sacrificing time for thoroughness, thereby increasing the detail in the
picture? However, I believe such a way will be unnecessary since the physical works are less
obscure than the logical ones -therefore requiring less exposition and detail -while the more
detail will not increase our understanding of aristotle in any linear fashion but would rather
crowd out the portion of the work dedicated to interpretation while additionally falling into the
repetitiveness which Aristotle's works are, as I have written, so prone.

Of course the purpose of a Study Guide is to repeat the ideas of the original author, even if
you disagree with them. So anything written here should not, unless explicitly stated, be taken as
agreement with Aristotle. But the need to interpret and to clarify difficult passages inevitably
commits one to craft arguments to support one interpreatation or another. And in this latter
restricted sense, do I allow myself to utilize anachronisms (e.g. Thomism) without taking or
adding anything of the original words or ideas away from it.

The Physics


At (184a) Aristotle starts off on his Physics by stating that should we know physics we will need
to know its principles. Let the student note his use of the word "elements" for it is these which
Aristotle will especially inquire into. For the elements are the primary contraries, as we shall see,
out of which all things come to be. The proof for this is simple: either things develop or they
don't. If they don't then there is no physics, no motion -yet this is opposed by sense experience
and goes against the very presumption of this science. So then there must be development but
development is defined as the derivation of things from another thing. Therefore, there must be
some thing from which all develops without itself developing or an infinite regress occurs.
Therefore, there must be elements. (What of numeric change but nonetheless infinite
circularity? Can there not be infinite time? Also elements come from each other far from being
ingenerable? I believe these problems could be answered by Aristotle thus: "infinite motion is
impossible but not inifinite change, and infinite circularity and numeric change is change, and
therefore can be infinite". However why we should think Aristotle held to the possibility of
infinite change, we shall have to see later.

Refutation of Monistic "Physics"

At chapter 2 Aristotle begins his dialectic, which as we saw before, is the manner in which one
establishes the unprovable first principles of a science. He states at (184 b 15), either the
elements are one or many. Additionally, they are either movable or immovable. His solution to
these alternatives begins at (185a 20) where he introduces his famous distinctions between
accident and substance. Aristotle essentially argues that if the universe is physically one, then in
what way? Is it one substance and accidents do not exist or is it somehow one in accident and
substance does not exist? If, as our sense experience shows, both exist then the physical
universe is not one in an unequivocal sense. It is bascially impossible to describe the universe,
Aristotle showed, if it were one, for then it would be both a substance and a quantity. But if both
substance and quantity, in that scenario, are extra-mental realities, then it is not one.

Proceeding to (186a 15) Aristotle destroys the thesis of an immutable one by first arguing,
rather significantly, that if the universe were a continuous whole, why then could it not be still
movable as water moves within itself? Then at (186 b 15) Aristotle establishes the motion of
matter as a fact since the opposite thesis would entail the qualitative unity of opposite qualities
-which is absurd -thus, considered per se, the motion and mutability of matter entails the
disunity of qualities. Perhaps also, Aristotle means to say that the existence of substance, does
not allow us to say that the universe is one. For then substances would be predicable of each
other which is impossible. We see then both the Rationalist and Empiricist modes of thought
present in Aristotle not as opposed arranged contradictorily but as complements which belong
Refutation of Pluralist Physics

But it was not enough to refute the opinions of the monists -those who believed that the
universe was an integral whole -but it remained for Aristotle to combat the errors of those less
incorrect, whom he calls "the physicists", for in these matters the physicists understood the fact
of motion but explained it ineptly.

So beginning at chapter 4, Aristotle starts on this critique saying that at (187 b 5), if the universe
were really made of infinite parts then there could be no knowledge of it since there is no way to
comprehend the infinite. Likewise, if a thing could be any size, it could be of a size which
corrupts the formal principles of the thing (animal, bone etc.). For example if a house could be of
any size then it would be either too large or too small for its formal reason -to provide shelter.
Lastly if, as premised by some, motion was accomplished by things coming out of others -for
instance as air separates out of water from evaporation -then either motion would already be at
an end, since there is no reason for evaporation/separation to continue even after it is done -for
it is the separative process itself. Or there would be infinite numbers of particles in finite things
or more decisively there would be infinite bodies in the universe which is obviously untrue.

Aristotle's Solution: the Three Interchanging Elements

Finally by chapter 5 Aristotle begins taking the student down the "home-stretch" as he begins
to determine the truth of the matter. The conclusion is this: that ultimately all change happens if
and only if, there are two contraries and a single substratuum which they alter. These constitute
then, the three elements of change. Of course the contraries change into each other, as
contraries naturally do -for example blue changes into green -but they can only do so through a
shared commonality -the substratuum. A (191 b 5) Aristotle makes some interesting remarks
which shed light on one of the most abstruse questions of his physics: the nature of place and
the nature of part and whole. The latter itself is the most difficult to explain, since it seems most
openly contradictory to Aristotle's Categories: how can a whole substance have inhereing in it,
another substance called its "part"? So let us begin to make progress on these questions with
Aristotle's words themselves. Aristotle writes here, that the phrase "the doctor does something
or has something done to him" has several meanings. First, A doctor can be a builder, but not
per doctor but per housebuilder. Secondly, if he operates as a doctor per doctoring, then he is
operating per se. Therefore, if the complex thing "man-who-is-a-doctor" heals himself, it is by
virtue of a part "doctorness" but the whole does not move, for man, whose nature represents
this whole, is not per man a doctor. Then it follows that what aristotle possibly is aiming at, is
that parts can have motions different from their wholes and indeed, later on in The Physics (240 b
15) Aristotle will mention how the equators and the poles of spheres have different motions. But
let us return to this problem later since it will help us solve the aforementioned question of
place and a new problem dealing with movement.


Of all the books in the Aristotelian corpus this is the one which is probably least necessary
since it represents what all, including the layman, already knows about the world; it requires no
further inititiation/instruction.

Let me summarize it as: there is obviously such a thing as chance and fortune, the former
applying to things without will and the latter to things with one. However, of course this is locally
true but globally false: chance is non other than, the consequence of a previous hypothetical,
but the antecedent of the hypothetical statement is always one of Law; of invariable and
universal truth. For example: If A (A is always True) then B or C or D (with B,C, and D's truth
values being undetermined). So contingency always exists but subject to the infallibility of
nature. One may see this more easily represented as a truth table of a statement like A=A
--->B&C; though B or C may both or either be false, it is impossible for A to be so, consequently B
& C is always true.


After the superfluity of Book II comes the perplexity of Book III which is a prologue to an
analysis of place, void and time, but is primarliy to establish certain truths about infinity and
about the qualities of motion. There is much to cover in this book but we shall cover it in relative

Can Motion Move?

Firstly at (201a 10) Aristotle states his definition of motion which is fulfilment of that which
exists only potentially, in so far as it exists potentially. Or what comes to the same: the
actualization of the potential/the actuality of potentiality. And these are not made up terms but
appeared before in the Categories as one of the later classes. From this it follows at (201 a 10), in
chapter 3, that motion does not experience motion since it is a bare expression of the powers of
other things, that is of substances, it is not a thing itself.

Did Aristotle Discover Newton's Laws of Motion?

At (202a 5) the most curious passage in Physics appears, "The mover too is moved...For to act
on the movable as such is ust to move it. But this it does by contact, so that at the same time it is
also acted on..." Did Aristotle mean by this, what we moderns do? I think that Newton's Laws are
consistent with Aristotle's above statement, if we with Aristotle, do not presume that two
opposite motions occur at once, for this would destroy motion according to Aristotle.

Does the Infinite Exist?

At chapter 5, Aristotle continues his analysis by definitively stating the impossibility of an

infinite universe, in anycase, according to him, we would never be able to know if it were infinite
assuming it was. But disregarding even that, the infinite body contains an infinitude of other
infinite bodies which infinitely crowd upon each other which is a palpable absurdity. Therefore
there are no infinite bodies.


Aristotle presents then, in Book IV, his doctrine on Place. Now this particular question is
intertwined with many inexplicable questions so a prolonged analysis of it is required. Aristotle
himself seems unprepared and cautious saying at (208 a30) "what is place?...we have inherited
nothing from previous thinkers, whether in the way of a statement of difficulties or of a
solution." Therefore much of the dialect in Book IV meanders between apparent solutions to this

Aristotle does however settle on four possibilities: either place is space, either it is a boundary
which contains a thing, or it is the matter or form of an object. For the relevant passages Note:
& & (210a 10). At (209b), Aristotle writes that place is a limit, "Now if place is what primarily
contains each body, it would be a limit, so that the place would be the form or shape of each
body by which the magnitude, or the defined...". However, is this the whole truth?
Aristotle's dialectic continues at (210a 5), "But if we regard the place as the extension of the
magnitude, it is the matter." saying that place is the matter or extended space/volume of the
placed object. But neither can place be shape or form, or matter, since the form cannot be
separated from a thing, without the substance being destroyed; yet things can leave their place.
On the other hand matter is the same way; a bronze sphere cannot be either without bronze or
sphericalness. Then what is place?

At (210a 25), Both Aristotle and the student encounters a perplexity in this dialogue on place, for
"one might raise the question, whether a thing, can be in itself, or whether nothing can be in
itself -everything being either nowehere or in something else." But following his above
conclusion on parts & wholes, Aristotle says that there are two senses, "we may mean the thing
qua itself or qua something else". He continues and concludes at (210 b 30) that if the parts are
really in the whole --as integrals --then the whole can be described as if it were a part: the white
man can be called simply white. But when something is in place it is different, the jar and wine
contained inside, are not integrated together (for they are divided by the jar-wine boundary line)
and so the jar and the wine are not "in themselves" but the jar-plus-the-wine can be so
described as "in itself". In this way the complex, even of place, is in itself though with different
meanings between the integrated whole and the place-whole. (210b)

At length Aristotle concludes that place as neither of the original four possibilities, but likens it
to a vessel or jar whoms boundary is co-extensive with the outermost boundary of the thing
conained within it. As subsidiary considerations we should note that Aristotle further
characterized place as that area up, or down, etc. which contained objects specifically fitted to
tend either up or down. Indeed, in other places of Physics Aristotle defines the four directions in
terms of the four tendencies and elements and their corresponding places and then defines
these latter in terms of the directions and elements. In light of this, it is juvenile to criticize
Aristotle for saying that earth had a tendency downwards or cold a tendency towards
congealing, since these qualities he defined bi-conditionally, that is, reciprocally of each other.
The critique in essence, misses the point, Aristotle was not making empirical judgements about
things but was drawing conclusions from apriori premises.

On Parts

The whole of chapter 3 deserves greater comment since it is especially confusing. Aristotle tries
to distinguish if there are many senses of the word "in". According to him there are eight senses
as we see above. But to understand why they are distinguished is a much more difficult matter.

Firstly beginning at (211a )Aristotle lists the senses of the finger is in the hand, and the part in
the whole in a different way from how a thing is in place. For (1) a whole is destroyed when it's
parts are absent but a place is not and (2) a part is in the whole integrally/additively while the
place is nothing in addition to the existing thing. (2) Is just a reiteration of the above, (3) As man
is in animal or species in genus is essentially distinct from place in that (a) it is in it by intention
-by a mental act and (b) species is in genus as a subjective part; as a definition can be made up of
smaller definitions. (4) Is a recapitulation of (3) but of course with a reversal of perspective,
while (5) is a bit more complex; it is as health is in the hot and form in the matter. Here one
might protest that form and matter are integral parts of a thing, and indeed hard to distinguish
from how species is in genus. Yet what I think Aristotle is getting at is that just as heat is a power
of health which produces health so too is form a power which animates matter. In this
interpretation, Aristotle is distinguishing the vessel that is place from the concept of how
powers/potential parts are in something which receives that power. Number (6) is as the affairs
of Greece center in the king and events center in their primary motive agent. Here Aristotle is
distinguishing between the virtually or morally existing efficient cause from the way in which
place exists. The seventh distinction is as something is in its end and here aristotle separates the
final cause from the notion of place. These distinctions helped Aristotle to formulate his
argument on "being within oneself/itself" however, they are also critical to understanding the
seperate types of parts, and wholes which things can be, and consequently the diversity of
motions & change which can apply to them. The Thomists seemed to divide things into integral,
subjective, and potential parts and these distinctions should aid us in answering the questions
we posed at the beginning of the treatise on place.

But things are considerably simpler when Aristotle tackles the problem of the void. For what
the void is, is already explained -it is totally empty space -but whether it exists is the question
before us. As Aristotle then concludes, there is no void, for if there were then there could be
infinite motion in the void which is impossible given the finiteness of the universe. But there is
even a paradox with this absurdity for if void existed, then (214 b 30) all things would be at rest
for there are no places in the void and so no tendencies either up or down, "for there is no place
to which things can move more or less than to another; since the void in so far as it is void
admits no difference."

Aristotle on Time

The rest of Book IV concludes with Aristotle's dissertation on the essence of time. For it seems
that time is a thing yet also not, while it appears both continuous and yet made up of discrete
moments. How will Aristotle rectify these misunderstandings? His solution is both common
sensical and yet complex. For Aristotle concludes that time is not any real thing or substance but
the measure of the motions of substances. By making time relative to the motion of things, was
Aristotle the first discoverer of Relativity physics? We shall have to digress from this question for
now, but I think the reader would be well assured that this was infact the case.

Note also that though Aristotle considers time to be continuous on account of the continuity of
matter, he also allows for moments in time. And these moments, called "nows" are discrete
quantities. Then how can they make up time while time is continuous? This next question
requires a few more lessons and digressions before the student of Physics is capable of
answering, but Aristotle will answer it in this treatise as we shall see.


The Differences Between Motion and Change

Book V is where Aristotle makes, in my opinion his most controversial & critical move, which is
to separate change and motion. According to Aristotle Motion is the realization of a potentiality
but over a continuous substratuum. Change on the other hand, is discrete and involves
instantaneous, sudden, alteration from a to not-a. It is this latter relation of privation, which
further illustrates the different natures of motion and change, for while one is binary the other
admits of intermediate degrees. Therefore, change between contraries, which implies
movement through intermediataries is possible only through motion, while all alterations
-changes in substance or in habit or in quality, etc. are changes; instant.

It appears then, as the reader might have gathered, from my above descriptions that change
and motion are somehow both seperate and intertwined and that one cannot be described or
happen without the other. That this is no verbal quibble is verified from the brain experiment of
moving a point up and down a continuous line. The point must move through and in some way
be measured by the continuous line yet, the point is discrete not continuous. Likewise the
continuous must be measured by the point and all that applies to one applies to the other in
reverse. The characterization seems almost to lead the mind down the path to speculation about
calculus, infinitesimals, and what Aristotle would've said had he encountered set-theory. If this is
yet another mark of Aristotle's astonishing progressivity of thought, here is not the time to
pursue it.

At (226b 20) Aristotle begins a miniature treatise on continuity and discontinuity which will
greatly help support our above points. In it he lays down several contradictory ideas which I
think will be key to understanding his whole natural philosophy & the perplexities on time,
place/space, and parts/wholes that we brought up earlier. "Things are said to be together", he
says, "...when they are in one place." This particular line should be remembered because it is
pretty flatly denied a few lines later. Aristotle continues by saying that, "Things are said to be in
contact when their extremities are together [in place]." And about succession he says at (226 b
35), "A thing is "in successsion" when it is after the beginning...and when further there is
nothing of the same kind as itself between it and that to which it is in succession(there is
nothing to prevent something of a different kind being between)." At (227a 10) Aristotle
deepens the contradiction by writing that "A thing that is in succession and touches is
"contiguous"." And further, "the "continuous" is a subdivision of the contiguous", they are
continuous, "...when the touching limits of each become one and the same and are, as the word
implies, contained in each other: continuity is impossible if these extremiteies are two." So then
perhaps the student already sees the contradiction? If not then let us expose it now, for the
successive thing which touches (the contiguous) cannot actually touch or contact, for then there
would not be something other in between the successive and to which it succeeds. Either that or
touching and contact can be between to things which have something of a different kind
between them. These contradictions seem so obvious and so foolish for Aristotle to overlook, so
I do not think he did overlook them, but rather integrated them into his overall scheme, for we
will shortly see in Book VI that Aristotle separated these ideas and realities, so very much
connected according to the run of common obervation, in order to make room for what can be
called a classical greek form of realitivistic and quantum physics. But as for now the Philosopher
merely hints at this conclusion, and indeed, we cannot know for certain if he ever came to it
himself -for he never explicitly mentions it. However, as an explanation for the perplexities &
contradictions of Aristotle's accounts of continuity & contiguity, it is most elegant. We shall pick
up this topic again in Book VI, with Aristotle.

Now at chapter 4, at (227b) Aristotle says "there are many senses in which motion is said to be
"one": for we use the term "one" in many senses." So then Aristotle begins to enumerate these
senses. Either motion is one generically, numerically, or specifically/essentially. If of course a
motion is all of these then it is simply one motion. The student should note this, for this
postulate will become important in the later arguments of The Physics.

But further we have yet to determine if there are motions contrary to motions and whether it
is not rather that rest is contrary to motion? This whole discussion begins at chapter 5 in (229 a5).
It is here that Aristotle masterfully proves that motions, take for example Upwardness, are
contrary to Downwardness, But by a relation of contrariness, whereas rest is opposed also to all
motions but not in a contrary way but in the way of a contradiction. Thus to go from rest to
motion and motion to rest is an example of instantaneous change. At (230 b 20), Aristotle sums
up the argument in favor of motion as the proper contrary by saying that, insofar as a moving
thing may be called at rest, it is only accidentally and equivocally, while properly it moves. Then
the proper contrary to motion a is motion b. An objection may be, that the first moment that
something moves, is properly, both rest and motion, the object being half-resting and half-
moving. However, there is no first moment in motion, for rest takes place in time, as Aristotle
argued: for if rest took place outside of time, and is a type of contrary to motion, then it would
contradict the general metaphysical law that something in one genus is the contrary to
something in an entirely alien genus, which is false.


Aristotle begins Book VI with an altogether confusing account of the continuous, the touching,
and the successive, which should be seen as a continuation of our discussions on "part". In
essence he is continuing where he left off in Book V. In this chapter Aristotle lays down that
continuous is but a subset of the contiguous, and just as the continuous is a subset so too is it's
consequent, connection, a mere type of touching (231 a 21). However there are contradictions in
this account, for aristotle characterizes the connection as that which is continuous at (231 a 30)
"The extremities of two points can neither be one (since of an indivisible [the point] there can be
no extremity as distinct from some other part) nor together (since that which has no parts can
have no extremity, the extremity and the thing of which it is the extremity being distinct.)". So if
they then must be continuously conjoined, the problem becomes one of explaining how there
can be touching at all, for apparently there is no touching of points and touching is per
definition, not connection. Likewise how can the continuous motion have anything to do with
discrete change or vice versa, unless there is a way to change the point into a body or the
discrete into the continuous? The problem may be further extended to our above analysis of
place: Part is relative to whole which is consequently relative to part. The part and the whole are
in each other in a way different to that which is contained in a vessel -as that which is in place. It
follows from this that the part is not in place per being part. Then how does one characterize the
part and the whole? If the connection is merely of discrete things then all wholes, would be
artificial whereas if the connection were continuous all wholes and their motions would be
natural. The answer is somewhat that, part is either discretely or continuously connected with
the whole. If the former then at best, the part might be connected at a point but this point must
itself, being indivisible, exist separately from both as a mediator yet also serving as a connecting
bridge between them. But this bridge -in our case the discrete point -is itself continously
connected with the two wholes. The general law which can be deduced is this: that a connection
between two things is the reciprocal/opposite/contradictory of the wholes which are connected.

Aristoteian Relativity & Quantum Mechanics

The answer then, to the question of how Aristotle reconciled touching with successiveness,
continuity with contiguity, and how exactly this explains the nature of time and place as being
both continuous and discrete -as being both moments and lengths -is that Aristotle held a
revolutionary belief in the duality of the physical universel, the nature of its connections, and its
laws similar to what we would recognize as the duality of General Relativity Physics and
Quantum Physics. For it seems to me, that in the motion of things, changes occur but through
change motions also happen. Then it seems that the discrete parts of the universe are very much
connected with the continuous.

Moving on, secondarily it seems that the machine or the complex, is a sort of miniaturized
universe in that it exhibits the laws of the cosmos in its own motion. For when the accidental
part moves it moves in relation to the stationary whole. But the stationary whole can move per
se and here it is the part that is at rest. Generalizing from this, it seems then that while a is in
motion b is at rest and vice versa or what comes to the same, if a is discrete it forces b to
become continuous and if b is continuous it causes a to be discrete by definition. Whether it
does so through "energy" -in the way that Aristotle supposes sound and light to operate -is
beyond the scope of this argument, but it seems possible that Aristotle could argue that the
source of this change, all change is change itself; that change, being discrete and therefore
atemporal, can be its own well-spring of change, just as heat causes heat or virtue causes virtue,
not by any potentiality or any external instrumental form but by being and by its
activity/realization. For Aristotle does not believe that infinite motion is possible but infinite
change, properly understood, could be.

So then, when we want to reconcile how touching objects nevertheless have space between it
we must, look to discrete-space as the thing between two extented continuous 3-D objects in
continuous-space. The same is true of times and places. Likewise in the discussion of continuity,
two things are connected organically per the wholes but have movement per the accidental
natures from the perspectives of the integral pieces. It follows from this that according as a thing
may be accidentally a machine, or artifact, it is possible for it to change shape or for its place to
change in dimensions according to the movement of a piece of it or in relation to other things
considered as pieces of the whole universe.

Let me also state further, that the general idea of universal relativity is completely compatible
with, and even implied in, Aristotle's cosmology. For if what we have learned about Aristotle's
treatises on motion, time, and place are correct, it follows that as motion so time and space, and
vice versa. So that all temporal and spatial measurements/reference planes are altered
according to speed. The only difference would be Aristotle's view of light. For light does not
change according to Aristotelian Relativity because it's speed is constant but because it has no
speed -it is everywhere instantaneously. How can these things be true and at the same time, the
universe have a single mover whose speed/motion is the measure of all else must be attended
to later.

There is still one problem that I would like to tackle, if all the above is true, then the result is
the seeming nonsense that both Absolute and Relative space exist and that object b moves
relative to object a but is also and equally really at rest. Ultimately we must be satisfied with this
possible conclusion, that the reference frame of the first mover or the planets moved by it, are
privileged reference frames in relation to which, there is objective time and space.

Aristotle's Laws of Motion

Here Aristotle ennuciates his most infamous law of motion -that heavier objects fall faster than
light ones. However, as I noted before, the weight of an object is simply a correlative of its speed
-that is, how they are defined. Due to this the claim is merely that faster objects are faster -a
claim that no one, would call inaccurate.
The next physical laws are less known and so more complicated to interpret. It appears quite
definite that Aristotle believes that the present and start/primary moment of motion can never
be continuous. The reason for this is quite understandable: 1) that if something moves it begins
to move and this cannot go on infinitely so their is a first moment where there is no motion.
Likewise there cannot be motion in an instant for then there would continuity over the discrete.
But do these considerations mesh with other parts of Aristotle's Physics? Yes, in that although
Aristotle wrote that things rest in time, it is no wonder if continuous time is superimposed over
discrete change, for change being infinite and immediate there may be an infinity of changes in
one time and one time for an infinity of changes much less for one discrete change.

Aristotle on Velocities

Another opaque statement or rather two opaque statements, are made by Aristotle at (230 b 25).
There he stated that an object's velocity increases as it reaches its end-space. But should it not
decrease? At (230b 25) the Philosopher says that "...whereas the velocity of that which comes to
a standstll seems always to increase, the velocity of that which is carried violently seems always
to decrease..." How it can be that things which are going to their natural place somehow
increase their velocity the closer they come to their natural place, and therefore one would have
infinite velocity at an infinitely close point to rest, or how things violently moved can somehow
move slower than if it were naturally moved to its place? Yet, it seems that something going to
its place would have to slow down in order to reach rest. Therefore the antinomy of velocity is
laid bare: if something is naturally or violently moving then it will either be going with increasing,
or decreasing velocity or both. I would like to untangle this antinomy in an Aristotelian way.
Firstly, we must take account, as in all things, of both the acting object and the object acted
upon. From this point of view it happens that perhaps certain shapes, or certain types of earth,
or the qualities of the air, may create imbalances in the area of potential action and render this
potential actual (e.g. the conical shape is more aeordynamic which breaks the conical object out
of its steady state and makes it move towards its rest). However would these not be motions of
objects per accident/per some quality which is not essential (in this case, shape in the earthen
object). However on the contrary shape is most essential to objects and as Aristotle intimated, is
literally their form. For material objects, which are inanimate, shape may be called their primary
form, for what is not shaped is merely generic earth, fire, etc. merely an element. But what of
experience showing that objects of different weight, assuming as I believe is justified, that
Aristotle did not differentiate between weight and mass, fall at the same speed? I answer that,
just as all objects have a certain equilibrium due to their opposing tendencies towards motion,
then two objects falling at one rate yet having different weights must be due to differences in
matter, for it may be that the lead ball has matter which is more drawn to the earth yet is by the
quantity of its matter -its mass -is impeded in fall while the opposite but reciprocal conclusion is
reached with the case of the bronze ball.

Finally at chapter 7, (237b 20) it follows from all the above arguments that there is no such
thing as infinite motion in finite time or vice versa.


Aristotle here premises that if something is moved it must have then been moved by
something else. From this simple premise Aristotle deduces that a Prime Mover which has
plenitude of being exists. But the argument was not without its complications which will be
illustrated here.

But before we proceed let us note Aristotle's statment that "the movent, while causing
motion, is also itself in motion."( 242a 20). Of course this motion cannot itself be simultaneous
and opposite to the motion it imparts, it is only to Aristotle's recognition of the fact that A in
moving is touched by B just as B is touched by A, or that A has in itself a principle that moves it
to move B. It is part of a broader argument, that all things are moved by touch: "Since
everything that is in motion must be moved by something, let us take the case in which a thing is
in locomotion and is moved by something that is itself in motion, and that again is moved by
something else, that is in motion...and so on continually: then the series cannot go on to infinity,
but there must be some first movent." And again at the very start of Book VI, "Everything, that is
in motion must be moved by something. For if it has not the source of its motion in itself, it is
evident that it is moved by something other than itself..." But Aristotle is much more explicit on
the above point, at chapter 2 (243a). Here he says, as a premise , "That which is the first movent
of a thing --in the sense that it supplies not 'that for the sake of which' but the source of the
motion --is always together with that which is moved by it (by 'together I mean that there is
nothing intermediate between them). This is universally true wherever one thing is moved by
another." These thesis will soon become important to Aristotle's argument establishing the
necessity of the prime mover.
Going on, Aristotle recognizes one of the complications of his above argument, namely if it is
not the case that all motion is a mover touching a movent and so operating upon it, then there is
no necessity in proving a first mover. And at (243 b) begins to then unpack the idea of motion into
its heterogeneous types: in locomotion -the prior and basic motion -something either moves by
pulling,or pushing, carrying or twirling. Even chemical combination and separation (243 b 5) are
types of the above. Aristotle's account includes inhaling as a form of pulling, exhaling as pushing,
spitting and secretive and assimilative processes are types of pushing and pulling respectively.
Again, carrying is either of pulling or pushing or twirling so that it is of the four above types.
Therefore all types of motion are of agents working by contact -either directly or indirectly- on
patients; so there must be a first mover.

In addition to the above arguments, at (244 b) Aristotle states that neither do alterations
-changes -proceed through intermediates. But this truth is infereable simply from the fact that
change is itself defined as discrete and so not between contraries.

By (248a 10) Aristotle solves another complication, asking whether all motions are
commensurable or not? It is obvious that circular or linear motions are incommensurable from
the difference in their geometric differences. To this difficulty Aristotle adds that there may be
numerical, specific, or generic diversities which make motions unequal. More on this at (248 a 20)
would help the student: It is absurd to think that circular motion and straight motions are similar.
But they yet may be numerically similar though they are geometrically and therefore
specifically/qualitatively distinct. Therefore motions are commensurable only if they are
perfectly one not otherwise. Later we shall see that they are all commensurable to the circular


Book VIII treats of the motion of the first mover. This motion is circular as being most "noble" in
that it is both one numerically, generically, etc. and it is also continuous and self-continuous.
Consequently only the "noblest" (noblest meaning metaphysically higher and not morally higher)
of bodies can move circularly -the stars and planets. Rotatory motion is most reasonably
regarded as the metaphysically best type also because it is a type of locomotion -which is itself
metaphysically higher, being the measure of all motions -and it is also the best motion for the
recording of time. I state these conclusions in summary form simply because they have too much
support in Aristotle's system to really need much explanation. However the student may read
chapter 9 himself at (269a 10) but I will provide the middle term of the first conclusion for ease-
of-understanding: The fact that rectilinear motion must come to the end of the straight line and
then turn back implies discontinuity and therefore disunity in that motion making it unfit to
measure all motions -as the first motion & first mover should.

That the first motion is the measure of all is from its unity, that is, from its unity in quality
(perfectly circular), quantity (continuous with no end or beginning points or stopping points),
etc. That it therefore measures the other motions as 1 measures the numbers can be seen.
However, since it is of a particular quality, quantity, etc. how can it really measure the other
motions which are not of its exact quality, quantity etc. for the points of a straight line do not
match up 1-to-1 with those on a curved line. The only way standardization can happen is
through the relativity of motions. For if the motion of A is relative to B, then B is indexed to A
and is therefore measured by it. But since all motions are relative to the first motion, then these
motions are consequently indexed by it, at least globally, that is, from its point of view.

Digression on Projectile Motion

But before we end let us take a look at Aristotle's conception of projectile motion. Now it is
common for modern thinkers to say that Aristotle believed that objects which were not moved
by direct contact were moved by the contact of air-puffs which refilled the empty space that had
appeared as the air-volume normally there, was displaced by the thrown object. But obviously

and remarkably the critics of Aristotle must have never read Aristotle, for he does not
propose that projectiles move via air currents -he explicity argues against this view! -but
rather he argues that projectiles are moved by some magnification of their power
caused by the thrower: he even discovered impetus before buridan; discribing this force
as "motive power" at (267a 5). To begin, Aristotle rightly objects that projectiles could
not move by air-puffs since we could not explain how air-puffs move when they too are
no longer touched/in contact with, the thrower, "If we say that the movent in such
cases moves something else at the same time...e.g. also moves the air, and that this in
being moved is also a movent, then it would be no more possible for this second thing
than for the original thing to be in motion when the original movent is not in contact
with it..." Concluding he says that motive force/power and its gradual weakening along
the course of the motion is all that is needed to explain the phenomenon, "The motion
begins to cease when the motive force produced in one member of the consecutive
series is at each stage less than that possessed by the preceding member, and it finally
ceases when one member no longer causes the next member to be a movent but only
causes it to be in motion." Finally he concludes by explicitly stating, as if to warn his
future readers against bad interpreters, that he does not believe in antiperistasis, "Some
say it is "mutual replacement": but we must recognize that the difficulty raised cannot
be solved otherwise than in the way we have described."

Returning to the end, lastly, the first mover, cannot be divisible and therefore cannot be
physical because he has no parts and this is owing to the fact that if he did, then he would not be
actually first mover but some part of him would be. Therefore the prime mover, being primary
actuality, must be God though Aristotle strangely, takes the view that there are multiple "gods"
each moving the main planets of our solar system. On Aristotle's view, could there be multiple
first movers? I think that there are few reasons against it, except that two or more "gods" would
be superfluous and against nature and reason; for one infinity and one mover is enough and just
as a building would be top-heavy if the summit was larger than the base, so too it seems that the
perfection of the universe would be hindered by many "gods". However, Aristotle does say that
there are many first movers and these move the planets, so far was he from being a monotheist.

Takeaway Quote:

"If we say that the movent in such cases moves someth else at the same time...e.g. also
moves the air, and that this in being moved is also a movent, then it would be no more
possible for this second thing than for the original thing to be in motion when the
original movent is not in contact with it..."

Study Questions
1) Does Aristotle distinguish between mass and weight and how would this affect his arguments
of velocity?

2) Compare gallileo's law that dt2 , that is, the distance of a traveling object is the square of the
time, with Aristotle's account of motion being proportional to the essence of the moving object,
and with time being 1-to-1 related to the spatial extention of the object.

3) If the moving thing affects the moved but the moved does not affect the mover except
perhaps in the future, then is there some contradiction of the conservation of energy?