Philosophies of nature Old and Modern.

-The modern philosophy of nature differs from the ones that came before it because it analyses motion into its quantitative parts as opposed to the parts of the motion.

-Augustine was more interested in the paradox of time than of motion. Time for him was the remarkably difficult thing. Time was difficult for Aristotle too, but it was a subordinate problem to the problem of motion. Moderns seem to have more sympathy with Augustine than Aristotle.

– The quantity of motion depends in some measure on memory. Of itself, says St. Thomas, there is only the imperfect existence of the mobile. This does not make the extension of motion unreal, but it

-Aristotle divides proper from common place. While common place is larger than the thing in the place (like a man in a room, who can change his place without changing place), proper place is exactly the same size as the thing in place. Since place is known through motion and it is only impossible to change ones proper place without changing place, proper place is place simply speaking. Said another way, only “the exact mathematically defined” place – that is, the one that is exactly the same size as the thing in place – is place simply speaking.

Given this, the difference between the ancients and us can be put in very striking terms. When we approach the question of where a moving thing is, our gut reaction is to divide the motion into quantitative parts and find some equation to determine where the mobile is at any point in its journey. Questions of where some moving thing is are just the well-known “word problems” that we all grew up with. Both Plato and Aristotle took the question in a totally different way – there was no good answer to where a moving thing is. If it were in some place it wouldn’t be changing place; and  if we say it’s just “here”  or “there” then we’re seeing it in the same way as unmoving things. Giving a clear answer to where the mobile is requires saying that the mobile is resting – even if only for an instant.

The ancient views of nature are unintelligible to anyone who can’t see the sort of problem that Plato and Aristotle were dealing with. If the question of where doesn’t puzzle you, ignore all pre-modern philosophies of nature. Such puzzlement, or at least sincere questioning, is a conditio sine qua non.

-For Aristotle, place was the touching of two bodies, and so there was, for him, no possible vacuum since it would require that some things, as it were, could be somewhere (say, here or there) without being somewhere (in a proper place). In truth, even if there were a vacuum, this would only prove that proper place does not have a perfect existence in nature bu tin some sense depends on mind. There is nothing odd about this, since this is the same sort of existence that Aristotle attributes to time, and that STA would later attribute to both time and motion.

– Not enough work gets done on the mode in which our concepts of natural things depend on our intellect making a contribution to constitute them as objects.

-The division that Plato makes between “what always is and never becomes and what never is but is always becoming” (Timaeus’s opening speech) divides two sides of our mind’s proper object.

4 Comments

  1. George R. said,

    December 16, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    James,

    You wrote:

    “The quantity of motion depends in some measure on memory. Of itself, says St. Thomas, there is only the imperfect existence of the mobile. This does not make the extension of motion unreal, but it [nothing else]”

    Do you remember what the rest of the sentence was supposed to be? I’d like to know.

    • December 16, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      Yeah, where did that go? I remember being vexed about how to finish the line, but I thought I did. Guess not.

      I ended up comparing it to place in the third to the last note.

  2. Joe said,

    December 17, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    “- Not enough work gets done on the mode in which our concepts of natural things depend on our intellect making a contribution to constitute them as objects”

    [Kant rolls over in his grave…]

    • December 17, 2011 at 7:32 pm

      No no no! That was not to be taken that way. That is not some “mind is form to the world is matter” claim. I’m not even talking about dialectics (the “lending” of intelligibility from the ens rationis to the ens reale). The sort of contribution that memory makes to time is not such as to necessarily make any definition of time dialectical, still less does it make time belong to the phenomenon and opposed to the noumenon. The sort of constitution I’m speaking about here is more in the line of an idealization in the sense of a perfection of nature, a sort of anticipation of what nature itself can only achieve imperfectly.


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