Home > ancient, aristotle, concordia > James Lennox – Aristotle’s Argument for a Single Science of Nature

James Lennox – Aristotle’s Argument for a Single Science of Nature

Friday, 16 March, 2007
Location: EV Building 1.605, 1515 St. Catherine Ouest
Time: 16:30

Aristotle’s Argument for a Single Science of Nature

James Lennox
History and Philosophy of Science
University of Pittsburgh

Aristotle opens the second book of his Physics by offering a definition of ‘nature’, arguing that it may refer both to a natural thing’s matter and to its ‘shape and form’ and that this latter is nature ‘more than the matter’. Physics II. 2 insists that the next thing we need to study is how the mathematician differs from the person who studies nature (193b22-23), and then moves on to consider the question of whether the conclusion of the first chapter calls into question the possibility of a single, unified science of nature. This paper proposes a single solution to two puzzles about this chapter:

[1] Why is it important to ponder the differences between the mathematician and the natural scientist here?
[2] What is the connection between that topic and the question of whether there can be a single science of nature?

It will be argued that what Aristotle has said about nature in Physics II.1, especially for students with a background that includes the Posterior Analytics, opens up a serious question about whether a unified science of nature is possible. At this point, someone might well agree with Aristotle about the dual reference of ‘nature’ and the priority of ‘form’–but then insist that formal natures are best studied by the mathematicians with information about material natures provided by the natural scientists. The first half of Physics II. 2 is designed to cut off this possibility, which leads into a new way of understanding form and its relationship to informed objects. This ‘new way’ allows for a unified science of nature, but a delimited role for mathematics in its study. Its consequences reverberate well into the 17th century.

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