Dynamic Boundaries

Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 25 (1):5-29 (2004)
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Abstract

Place, as Aristotle defines it, is to be sharply distinguished from merely geometrical space. Places, unlike geometrical spaces, are not indifferent to that which they contain. Indeed, they seem to have a kind of power. For unless something interferes, things gravitate naturally toward places that suit them. This power that Aristotle attributes to place is obvious not only in the case of elemental bodies, but much more so in the case of animals, whose very existence depends upon their inhabitation of a suitable place. A fish out of water soon ceases to be a fish, and, in general, living substances can only preserve and maintain themselves given the stable existence of several characteristic environmental conditions. That is why it is surprising that standard readings of Aristotle on the concept of place have focused almost exclusively on its explicit treatment in the Physics, and have largely failed to address his usage of the concept of place in other writings. The aim of this essay is to elucidate the conception of place at work in Aristotle's biological treatises. A consideration of the role played by place in Aristotle’s biological treatises assists in retrieving a richer and more complex conception of place than is indicated by a tradition of commentators who have looked primarily or exclusively to his explicit comments on the subject in the Physics. It reveals that the Aristotelian approach is not merely of antiquarian interest but can be a valuable resource for recent thinkers – in the context of environmental philosophy, phenomenology, feminist theory and the social sciences – who are working on issues centered around the philosophy of place.

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Nathan Andersen
Eckerd College

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