Physics and astronomy: Aristotle's physics II.2.193b22–194a12

Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 16 (2):175-206 (2006)
Abstract
In the first part of chapter 2 of book II of the Physics Aristotle addresses the issue of the difference between mathematics and physics. In the course of his discussion he says some things about astronomy and the ‘ ‘ more physical branches of mathematics”. In this paper I discuss historical issues concerning the text, translation, and interpretation of the passage, focusing on two cruxes, ( I ) the first reference to astronomy at 193b25–26 and ( II ) the reference to the more physical branches at 194a7–8. In section I, I criticize Ross’s interpretation of the passage and point out that his alteration of ( I ) has no warrant in the Greek manuscripts. In the next three sections I treat three other interpretations, all of which depart from Ross's: in section II that of Simplicius, which I commend; in section III that of Thomas Aquinas, which is importantly influenced by a mistranslation of ( II ), and in section IV that of Ibn Rushd, which is based on an Arabic text corresponding to that printed by Ross. In the concluding section of the paper I describe the modern history of the Greek text of our passage and translations of it from the early twelfth century until the appearance of Ross's text in 1936. (Published Online August 10 2006) Footnotes1 This paper was prepared as the basis of a presentation at a conference entitled “Writing and rewriting the history of science, 1900–2000,” Les Treilles, France, September, 2003, organized by Karine Chemla and Roshdi Rashed. I have compared Aristotle's and Ptolemy's views of the relationship between astronomy and physics in a paper called “Astrologogeômetria and astrophysikê in Aristotle and Ptolemy,” presented at a conference entitled “Physics and mathematics in Antiquity,” Leiden, The Netherlands, June, 2004, organized by Keimpe Algra and Frans de Haas. For a discussion of Hellenistic views of this relationship see Ian Mueller, “Remarks on physics and mathematical astronomy and optics in Epicurus, Sextus Empiricus, and some Stoics,” in Philippa Lang (ed.), Re-inventions: Essays on Hellenistic and Early Roman Science, Apeiron 37, 4 (2004): 57–87. I would like to thank two anonymous readers of this essay for meticulous corrections and thoughtful suggestions, almost all of which I readily adopted.
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