Positioning Heaven: The Infidelity of a Faithful Aristotelian

Phronesis 51 (2):140 - 161 (2006)
Abstract
Aristotle's account of place in terms of an innermost limit of a containing body was to generate serious discussion and controvery among Aristotle's later commentators, especially when it was applied to the cosmos as a whole. The problem was that since there is nothing outside of the cosmos that could contain it, the cosmos apparently could not have a place according to Aristotle's definition; however, if the cosmos does not have a place, then it is not clear that it could move, but it was thought to move, namely, in its daily revolution, which was viewed as a kind of natural locomotion and so required the cosmos to have a place. The study briefly outlines Aristotle's account of place and then considers its fate, particularly with respect to the cosmos and its motion, at the hands of later commentators. To this end, it begins with Theophrastus' puzzles concerning Aristotle's account of place, and how later Greek commentators, such as Alexander of Aphrodisias, Themistius and others, attempted to address these problems in what can only be described as ad hoc ways. It then considers Philoponus' exploitation of these problems as a means to replace Aristotle's account of place with his own account of place understood in terms of extension. The study concludes with the Arabic Neoplatonizing Aristotelian Avicenna and his novel introduction of a new category of motion, namely, motion in the category of position. Briefly, Avicenna denies that the cosmos has a place, and so claims that it moves not with respect to place, but with respect to position
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