8th Lecture of the Series "ARISTOTLE TODAY". Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou: How Aristotle views nature: Aristotle's philosophy of nature and contemporary science, January 23, 2019, 19:00-21:00 (Thessaloniki Concert Hall)
Aristotle’s Philosophy of Nature, which includes not only his Physics, On the heavens, On coming to be and passing awayand Meteorologica, but also the Biological and Psychological treatises of the Stageirite, has been underestimated for centuries. His physics, in particular, was thought to be a complete failure. Thus, any attempt at an Aristotelian approach of nature was considered as totally inappropriate for science since the era of “scientific revolution” up to the early 20th century. However, can such an idea exist today?
What I will try to show, as against the traditional view, is that the way Aristotle sees the physical world is now much closer than the Newtonian Physics to the image of the nature of contemporary science. We must, certainly, remember that Aristotle divides the universe into two worlds: (a) the celestial, or supra-lunar, world of eternal, indestructible, unchanging things, which are not connected with matter, and (b) the sub-lunar world of matter, change, generation and corruption. Unlike his teacher Plato, Aristotle showed a great interest in this latter world, for which he devoted the biggest part of his Natural Philosophy.
The sub-lunar world, according to the Stageirite, consists of the “things by nature,” (φύσει ὄντα), which have in themselves the principle of movement/change and rest (φαίνεται ἔχοντα ἐν ἑαυτοῖς ἀρχήν κινήσεως και στάσεως) (Physics,192b14-5). Nature is a dynamic whole, where there is space for real properties of things, for causal powers, for growth, for genesis and corruption. Aristotle characterizes even nature itself as "a principle of motion/change" (ἀρχὴν κινήσεως) (Physics, 200b12), i.e., the inner cause of natural processes occurring in the physical world. A significant role here play the concepts of potential and actual being (ἐν δυνάμει και ἐν ἐνεργεία ὄν), continuity, time, and the extremely original Aristotelian idea of “prime matter” (πρώτη ύλη) as the “ultimate substratum” (πρῶτον ὑποκειμένον) (Physics, 192a32) of all change. All these are elements that compose an insightful model of nature, which has much to offer today in our effort to understand the astonishing discoveries of contemporary Physics, showing the way for a Neo-Aristotelian approach.