The ''Physics'' (
Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece, a country in Southern Europe: *Greeks, an ethnic group. *Greek language, a branch of the Indo-European language family. **Proto-Greek language, the assumed last common ancestor ...
: Φυσικὴ ἀκρόασις ''Phusike akroasis'';
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through the power of ...
: ''Physica'', or ''Naturales Auscultationes'', possibly meaning " lectures on nature") is a named text, written in ancient Greek, collated from a collection of surviving manuscripts known as the
Corpus Aristotelicum The Corpus Aristotelicum is the collection of Aristotle's works that have survived from antiquity through medieval manuscript transmission. These texts, as opposed to Aristotle's works that were lost or intentionally destroyed, are technical ph ...
, attributed to the 4th-century BC philosopher
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of ...

The meaning of physics in Aristotle

It is a collection of treatises or lessons that deals with the most general (philosophical) principles of natural or moving things, both living and non-living, rather than physical theories (in the modern sense) or investigations of the particular contents of the universe. The chief purpose of the work is to discover the principles and causes of (and not merely to describe) change, or movement, or motion (κίνησις ''kinesis''), especially that of natural wholes (mostly living things, but also inanimate wholes like the cosmos). In the conventional Andronicean ordering of Aristotle's works, it stands at the head of, as well as being foundational to, the long series of physical, cosmological and biological treatises, whose ancient Greek title, τὰ φυσικά, means "the ritingson nature" or "
natural philosophy Natural philosophy or philosophy of nature (from Latin ''philosophia naturalis'') is the philosophical study of physics, that is, nature and the physical universe. It was dominant before the development of modern science. From the ancient wo ...

Description of the content

The ''Physics'' is composed of eight books, which are further divided into chapters. This system is of ancient origin, now obscure. In modern languages, books are referenced with Roman numerals, standing for ancient Greek capital letters (the Greeks represented numbers with letters, e.g. A for 1). Chapters are identified by Arabic numerals, but the use of the English word "chapter" is strictly conventional. Ancient "chapters" (capita) are generally very short, often less than a page. Additionally, the
Bekker numbers Bekker numbering or Bekker pagination is the standard form of citation to the works of Aristotle. It is based on the page numbers used in the Prussian Academy of Sciences edition of the complete works of Aristotle and takes its name from the e ...
give the page and column (a or b) used in the Prussian Academy of Sciences' edition of Aristotle's works, instigated and managed by Bekker himself. These are evident in the 1831 2-volume edition. Bekker's line numbers may be given. These are often given, but unless the edition is the Academy's, they do match any line counts.

Book I (Α; 184a–192b)

Book I introduces Aristotle's approach to nature, which is to be based on principles, causes, and elements. Before offering his particular views, he engages previous theories, such as those offered by Melissus and Parmenides. Aristotle's own view comes out in Ch. 7 where he identifies three principles: substances, opposites, and privation. Chapters 3 and 4 are among the most difficult in all of Aristotle's works and involve subtle refutations of the thought of Parmenides, Melissus and Anaxagoras. In chapter 5, he continues his review of his predecessors, particularly how many first principles there are. Chapter 6 narrows down the number of principles to two or three. He presents his own account of the subject in chapter 7, where he first introduces the word matter (Greek: ''
hyle In philosophy, hyle (; from grc, ὕλη) refers to matter or stuff. It can also be the material cause underlying a change in Aristotelian philosophy. The Greeks originally had no word for matter in general, as opposed to raw material suitable ...
'') to designate fundamental essence (ousia). He defines matter in chapter 9: "For my definition of matter is just this—the primary substratum of each thing, from which it comes to be without qualification, and which persists in the result." Matter in Aristotle's thought is, however, defined in terms of sensible reality; for example, a horse eats grass: the horse changes the grass into itself; the grass as such does not persist in the horse, but some aspect of itits matterdoes. Matter is not specifically described, but consists of whatever is apart from quality or quantity and that of which something may be predicated. Matter in this understanding does not exist independently (i.e. as a
substance Substance may refer to: * Matter, anything that has mass and takes up space Chemistry * Chemical substance, a material with a definite chemical composition * Drug substance ** Substance abuse, drug-related healthcare and social policy diagnosis o ...
), but exists interdependently (i.e. as a "principle") with form and only insofar as it underlies change. Matter and form are
analogical Analogy (from Greek ''analogia'', "proportion", from ''ana-'' "upon, according to" lso "against", "anew"+ ''logos'' "ratio" lso "word, speech, reckoning" is a cognitive process of transferring information or meaning from a particular subject (t ...

Book II (Β; 192b–200b)

Book II identifies "nature" (''physis'') as "a source or cause of being moved and of being at rest in that to which it belongs primarily" (1.192b21). Thus, those entities are natural which are capable of starting to move, e.g. growing, acquiring qualities, displacing themselves, and finally being born and dying. Aristotle contrasts natural things with the artificial: artificial things can move also, but they move according to what they are made of, not according to what they are. For example, if a wooden bed were buried and somehow sprouted as a tree, it would be according to what it is made of, not what it is. Aristotle contrasts two senses of nature: nature as matter and nature as form or definition. By "nature", Aristotle means the natures of particular things and would perhaps be better translated "a nature." In Book II, however, his appeal to "nature" as a source of activities is more typically to the
genera Genus ( plural genera ) is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms as well as viruses. In the hierarchy of biological classification, genus comes above species and below family. In binomial nomenc ...
of natural kinds (the secondary substance). But, contra
Plato Plato ( ; grc-gre, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was a Greek philosopher born in Athens during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. He founded the Platonist school of thought and the Academy, the first instit ...
, Aristotle attempts to resolve a philosophical quandary that was well understood in the fourth century. The Eudoxian planetary model sufficed for the wandering stars, but no deduction of terrestrial substance would be forthcoming based solely on the mechanical principles of necessity, (ascribed by Aristotle to material causation in chapter 9). In
the Enlightenment The Age of Enlightenment or the Enlightenment; german: Aufklärung, "Enlightenment"; it, L'Illuminismo, "Enlightenment"; pl, Oświecenie, "Enlightenment"; pt, Iluminismo, "Enlightenment"; es, La Ilustración, "Enlightenment" was an intel ...
, centuries before modern science made good on atomist intuitions, a nominal allegiance to mechanistic materialism gained popularity despite harboring Newton's action at distance, and comprising the native habitat of
teleological argument The teleological argument (from ; also known as physico-theological argument, argument from design, or intelligent design argument) is an argument for the existence of God or, more generally, that complex functionality in the natural world wh ...
s: Machines or artifacts composed of parts lacking any intrinsic relationship to each other with their order imposed from without. Thus, the source of an apparent thing's activities is not the whole itself, but its parts. While Aristotle asserts that the matter (and parts) are a necessary cause of thingsthe material causehe says that nature is primarily the essence or formal cause (1.193b6), that is, the information, the whole species itself. In chapter 3, Aristotle presents his theory of the
four causes The four causes or four explanations are, in Aristotelian thought, four fundamental types of answer to the question "why?", in analysis of change or movement in nature: the material, the formal, the efficient, and the final. Aristotle wrote ...
(material, efficient, formal, and final). Material cause explains what something is made of (for example, the wood of a house), formal cause explains the form which a thing follows to become that thing (the plans of an architect to build a house), efficient cause is the actual source of the change (the physical building of the house), and final cause is the intended purpose of the change (the final product of the house and its purpose as a shelter and home). Of particular importance is the ''final cause'' or purpose (''
telos Telos (; ) is a term used by philosopher Aristotle to refer to the final cause of a natural organ or entity, or of a work of human art. Intentional actualization of potential or inherent purpose,"Telos.''Philosophy Terms'' Retrieved 3 May 2020. ...
''). It is a common mistake to conceive of the four causes as additive or alternative forces pushing or pulling; in reality, all four are needed to explain (7.198a22-25). What we typically mean by cause in the modern scientific idiom is only a narrow part of what Aristotle means by efficient cause. He contrasts purpose with the way in which "nature" does not work, chance (or luck), discussed in chapters 4, 5, and 6. (Chance working in the actions of humans is ''tuche'' and in unreasoning agents ''automaton''.) Something happens by chance when all the lines of causality converge without that convergence being purposefully chosen, and produce a result similar to the teleologically caused one. In chapters 7 through 9, Aristotle returns to the discussion of nature. With the enrichment of the preceding four chapters, he concludes that nature acts for an end, and he discusses the way that necessity is present in natural things. For Aristotle, the motion of natural things is determined from within them, while in the modern empirical sciences, motion is determined from without (more properly speaking: there is nothing to have an inside).

Book III (Γ; 200b–208a)

In order to understand "nature" as defined in the previous book, one must understand the terms of the definition. To understand motion, book III begins with the definition of change based on Aristotle's notions of
potentiality and actuality In philosophy, potentiality and actuality are a pair of closely connected principles which Aristotle used to analyze motion, causality, ethics, and physiology in his ''Physics'', '' Metaphysics'', '' Nicomachean Ethics'', and '' De Anima''. T ...
. Change, he says, is the actualization of a thing's ability insofar as it is able. The rest of the book (chapters 4-8) discusses the infinite (''apeiron'', the unlimited). He distinguishes between the infinite by addition and the infinite by division, and between the actually infinite and potentially infinite. He argues against the actually infinite in any form, including infinite bodies, substances, and voids. Aristotle here says the only type of infinity that exists is the potentially infinite. Aristotle characterizes this as that which serves as "the matter for the completion of a magnitude and is potentially (but not actually) the completed whole" (207a22-23). The infinite, lacking any form, is thereby unknowable. Aristotle writes, "it is not what has nothing outside it that is infinite, but what always has something outside it" (6.206b33-207a1-2).

Book IV (Δ; 208a–223b)

Book IV discusses the preconditions of motion: place (''topos'', chapters 1-5),
void Void may refer to: Science, engineering, and technology * Void (astronomy), the spaces between galaxy filaments that contain no galaxies * Void (composites), a pore that remains unoccupied in a composite material * Void, synonym for vacuum, a ...
(''kenon'', chapters 6-9), and time (''khronos'', chapters 10-14). The book starts by distinguishing the various ways a thing can "be in" another. He likens place to an immobile container or vessel: "the innermost motionless boundary of what contains" is the primary place of a body (4.212a20). Unlike space, which is a volume co-existent with a body, place is a boundary or surface. He teaches that, contrary to the Atomists and others, a void is not only unnecessary, but leads to contradictions, e.g., making locomotion impossible. Time is a constant attribute of movements and, Aristotle thinks, does not exist on its own but is relative to the motions of things. Tony Roark describes Aristotle's view of time as follows:
Aristotle defines time as "a number of motion with respect to the before and after" (''Phys.'' 219b1–2), by which he intends to denote motion's susceptibility to division into undetached parts of arbitrary length, a property that it possesses both by virtue of its intrinsic nature and also by virtue of the capacities and activities of percipient souls. Motion is intrinsically indeterminate, but perceptually determinable, with respect to its length. Acts of perception function as determiners; the result is determinate units of kinetic length, which is precisely what a temporal unit is.

Books V and VI (Ε: 224a–231a; Ζ: 231a–241b)

Books V and VI deal with ''how'' motion occurs. Book V classifies four species of movement, depending on where the opposites are located. Movement categories include quantity (e.g. a change in dimensions, from great to small), quality (as for colors: from pale to dark), place (local movements generally go from up downwards and vice versa), or, more controversially, substance. In fact, substances do not have opposites, so it is inappropriate to say that ''something'' properly becomes, from not-man, man: generation and corruption are not ''kinesis'' in the full sense. Book VI discusses how a changing thing can reach the opposite state, if it has to pass through infinite intermediate stages. It investigates by rational and logical arguments the notions of ''continuity'' and ''division'', establishing that change—and, consequently, time and place—are not divisible into indivisible parts; they are not mathematically
discrete Discrete may refer to: *Discrete particle or quantum in physics, for example in quantum theory *Discrete device, an electronic component with just one circuit element, either passive or active, other than an integrated circuit *Discrete group, a g ...
but continuous, that is, infinitely divisible (in other words, that you cannot build up a continuum out of discrete or indivisible points or moments). Among other things, this implies that there can be no definite (indivisible) moment when a motion begins. This discussion, together with that of speed and the different behavior of the four different species of motion, eventually helps Aristotle answer the famous
paradoxes A paradox is a logically self-contradictory statement or a statement that runs contrary to one's expectation. It is a statement that, despite apparently valid reasoning from true premises, leads to a seemingly self-contradictory or a logically u ...
of Zeno, which purport to show the absurdity of motion's existence.

Book VII (Η; 241a25–250b7)

Book VII briefly deals with the relationship of the moved to his mover, which Aristotle describes in substantial divergence with
Plato Plato ( ; grc-gre, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was a Greek philosopher born in Athens during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. He founded the Platonist school of thought and the Academy, the first instit ...
's theory of the soul as capable of setting itself in motion (''
Laws Law is a set of rules that are created and are enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior,Robertson, ''Crimes against humanity'', 90. with its precise definition a matter of longstanding debate. It has been vari ...
'' book X, '' Phaedrus'', ''
Phaedo ''Phædo'' or ''Phaedo'' (; el, Φαίδων, ''Phaidōn'' ), also known to ancient readers as ''On The Soul'', is one of the best-known dialogues of Plato's middle period, along with the ''Republic'' and the '' Symposium.'' The philosophical ...
''). Everything which moves is moved by another. He then tries to correlate the species of motion and their speeds, with the local change (locomotion, ''phorà'') as the most fundamental to which the others can be reduced. Book VII.1-3 also exist in an alternative version, not included in the Bekker edition.

Book VIII (Θ; 250a14–267b26)

Book VIII (which occupies almost a fourth of the entire ''Physics'', and probably constituted originally an independent course of lessons) discusses two main topics, though with a wide deployment of arguments: the time limits of the universe, and the existence of a Prime Mover — eternal, indivisible, without parts and without magnitude. Isn't the universe eternal, has it had a beginning, will it ever end? Aristotle's response, as a Greek, could hardly be affirmative, never having been told of a ''creatio ex nihilo,'' but he also has philosophical reasons for denying that motion had not always existed, on the grounds of the theory presented in the earlier books of the ''Physics''. Eternity of motion is also confirmed by the existence of a substance which is different from all the others in lacking matter; being pure form, it is also in an eternal actuality, not being imperfect in any respect; hence needing not to move. This is demonstrated by describing the celestial bodies thus: the first things to be moved must undergo an infinite, single and continuous movement, that is, circular. This is not caused by any contact but (integrating the view contained in the ''Metaphysics'', bk. XII) by love and aspiration.

Significance to philosophy and science in the modern world

The works of Aristotle are typically influential to the development of Western science and philosophy. (Emphasis in original). The citations below are not given as any sort of final modern judgement on the interpretation and significance of Aristotle, but are only the notable views of some moderns.


Martin Heidegger Martin Heidegger (; ; 26 September 188926 May 1976) was a German philosopher who is best known for contributions to phenomenology, hermeneutics, and existentialism. He is among the most important and influential philosophers of the 20th cent ...


Bertrand Russell Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British mathematician, philosopher, logician, and public intellectual. He had a considerable influence on mathematics, logic, set theory, linguistics, a ...
says of ''Physics'' and ''
On the Heavens ''On the Heavens'' (Greek: ''Περὶ οὐρανοῦ''; Latin: ''De Caelo'' or ''De Caelo et Mundo'') is Aristotle's chief cosmological treatise: written in 350 BC, it contains his astronomical theory and his ideas on the concrete workings ...
'' (which he believed was a continuation of ''Physics'') that they were:


Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli writes:

See also

History of physics Physics is a branch of science whose primary objects of study are matter and energy. Discoveries of physics find applications throughout the natural sciences and in technology. Physics today may be divided loosely into classical physics and m ...
* Horror vacui




Recensions of ''Physics'' in the ancient Greek

recension Recension is the practice of editing or revising a text based on critical analysis. When referring to manuscripts, this may be a revision by another author. The term is derived from Latin ''recensio'' ("review, analysis"). In textual criticism (as ...
is a selection of a specific text for publication. The manuscripts on a given work attributed to Aristotle offer textual variants. One recension makes a selection of one continuous text, but typically gives notes stating the alternative sections of text. Determining which text is to be presented as "original" is a detailed scholarly investigation. The recension is often known by its scholarly editor's name. * Aristotle, ''Physics''. Greek text with translation by P. H. Wicksteed, F. M. Cornford. Loeb Classical Library 228, 255. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934–57. * Aristotle, ''Physica''. Ed. W. D. Ross. Oxford University Press, 1951. ISBN 9780198145141. * * * ** Different formats for display and downloading are available. ** A pdf file. * *

English translations of the ''Physics''

In reverse chronological order: * * * * * * * * * * Also includes ''On Coming-To-Be and Ceasing-To-Be'' I.4-5; ''On The Generation Of Animals'' I.22. * Includes ''Physics'' I-II, III.1, VIII. * This is the oldest of Loeb 255, reprinted or reissued many times subsequently under different subseries: Volume 5 of a 23-volume Aristotle set or Volume 2 of a 2-volume Aristotle Physics set. The terminology Volume 5, Volume 2, Volume 255 is apt to be confusing. Whatever the volume and printing date, Loeb 255 is still in copyright and therefore cannot be offered as a work in the public domain. * ** Scanned as is. Includes the translators' emphases and divisions within chapters. ** Formatted text divided into books and chapters only. ** Minimally formatted text divided into books and "parts." Book IV is incomplete. ** Single text file arranged in paragraphs. ** Minimally formatted single pages accessed one at a time. ** Single pdf file of books and chapters. * This is the oldest of Loeb 228, reprinted or reissued many times subsequently under different subseries: Volume 4 of a 23-volume Aristotle set or Volume 1 of a 2-volume Aristotle Physics set. The terminology Volume 4, Volume 1, Volume 228 is apt to be confusing. Whatever the volume and printing date, Loeb 228 is still in copyright and therefore cannot be offered as a work in the public domain. *

Classical and medieval commentaries on the ''Physics''

A commentary differs from a
note Note, notes, or NOTE may refer to: Music and entertainment * Musical note, a pitched sound (or a symbol for a sound) in music * ''Notes'' (album), a 1987 album by Paul Bley and Paul Motian * ''Notes'', a common (yet unofficial) shortened version ...
in being a distinct work analyzing the language and subsumed concepts of some other work classically notable. A note appears within the annotated work on the same page or in a separate list. Commentaries are typically arranged by lemmas, or quotes from the notable work, followed by an analysis of the author of the commentary. The commentaries on every work of Aristotle are a vast and mainly unpublished topic. They extend continuously from the death of the philosopher, representing the entire history of Graeco-Roman philosophy. There are thousands of commentators and commentaries known wholly or more typically in fragments of manuscripts. The latter especially occupy the vaults of institutions formerly responsible for copying them, such as monasteries. The process of publishing them is slow and ongoing. Below is a brief representative bibliography of published commentaries on Aristotle's ''Physics'' available on or through the Internet. Like the topic itself, they are perforce multi-cultural, but English has been favored, as well as the original languages, ancient Greek and Latin. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Ramus, Petrus (Pierre de la Ramée), ''Scholarum physicarum libro octo...'' (Frankfurt: A Wecheli, 1683). * Simplicius, ''On Aristotle's Physics'', trans. (various) (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, Ancient Commentators on Aristotle series, 1993–2006). * Romanus, Aegidius ( Giles of Rome), ''In Octo Libros Physicorum Aristoteles'' (Venedig, 1502; Frankfurt: Minerva GMBH, 1968). * Soto, Domingo de, ''Super octo libros physicorum Aristotelis quaestiones'' (Salamanca, 1555). *
Themistius Themistius ( grc-gre, Θεμίστιος ; 317 – c. 388 AD), nicknamed Euphrades, (eloquent), was a statesman, rhetorician, and philosopher. He flourished in the reigns of Constantius II, Julian, Jovian, Valens, Gratian, and Theodosius I; an ...
, ''On the Physics'' (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2012).

Some modern commentaries, monographs and articles

* * * Aristotle's definition of motion, meaning any sort of a change, a technical concept from the Theory of Matter and Form, is especially difficult for moderns unfamiliar with the philosophy to understand. It is the actualization (the becoming visible) of a new instance of a form (or system of forms) in matter that has a potency (capability to receive) for it. Brague makes the attempt to elucidate to moderns. * * * * * Collects these papers: ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** *** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** * * * * ** * ** * * * Maritain, Jacques, ''Science and Wisdom'', trans. Bernard Wall (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1954). * Morison, Benjamin, ''On Location: Aristotle's Concept of Place'' (Oxford University Press, 2002). * * Reizler, Kurt, ''Physics and Reality'' (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940). * * * * Alborado's birth name was Joaquín Albareda y Ramoneda. * * Smith, Vincent Edward, ''The General Science of Nature'' (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1958). * Smith, Vincent Edward, ''Philosophical Physics'' (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1950). * * * * *

Further reading

; Books * ''Die Aristotelische Physik'', W. Wieland, 1962, 2nd revised edition 1970. ; Articles * Machamer, Peter K., "Aristotle on Natural Place and Motion," ''Isis'' 69:3 (Sept. 1978), 377–387.

External links

Commentaries and comments

* HTML Greek, in parallel with English translation
Fr. Kenny's collection
(with Aquinas's commentary) * HTML Greek, in parallel with French translation

– lecture at MIT on how Aristotle's natural philosophy complements modern science and the need for a general science of nature


Greek text of ''Physics'', as edited by W.D. Ross

Perseus edition of ''Physics'' in Greek

Aristotle: Motion and its Place in Nature
entry in the
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy The ''Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy'' (''IEP'') is a scholarly online encyclopedia, dealing with philosophy, philosophical topics, and philosophers. The IEP combines open access publication with peer reviewed publication of original paper ...
Philosophical Powers (humor)
Text of ''Physics''
(in html, epub or mobi format) as translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye {{Authority control History of science Natural philosophy Philosophy of science Philosophy of physics Philosophy of mathematics literature Philosophy of time Works by Aristotle