The prefix auto-

The car becomes auto-mobile when it needs nothing else added to it in order to move, that is, when you no longer have to hitch it to a horse. The process becomes auto-matic when it needs nothing else to look after it (the “-matic” stem is from μέμονα meaning “to look after”).

Auto-X indicates that that X

(a) needs nothing else to be a complete instance of the type and

(b) is the paradigm by which less complete instances are measured.

Plato first recognized the value of auto, and you could explain most of his philosophy as a meditation on it. What is auto-just, for example (usually translated as “the just itself”)? It can’t be punishment, or the judicial process, or laws or judges, since all of these can be just or not. So what do these processes have if they are just? The minimal answer, which Plato himself gives in Phaedo, is that they are justice-having. The answer seems harmlessly-tautological until one starts drawing conclusions with it, or until one recognizes how central the rejection of the claim was to the system of William of Ockham. If all things “subsist by subsistence”, as Ockham seemed to joke, then esse is God, and one can form a valid cosmological argument from the fact that anything at all exists.

Aristotle’s generalization of the auto came by treating it as a prepositional phrase, the kath’ auto, which passed into Latin as per se. 

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