Review of Metaphysics 50 (3):687-688 (1997)

Edward Halper
University of Georgia
Joe Sachs has a refreshing and unusual view of Aristotle's Physics: he thinks that it is a physics. In contrast, most recent writers have seen the work as an exposition of the way nature is spoken and thought about, as metaphysics, or as an anticipation of modern physics. The reason the work is often misunderstood, Sachs maintains, is that translators render it into meaningless terms rooted in medieval Latin translations. Aristotle's own "philosophic vocabulary is... incapable of dogmatic use" because he takes his terms "from the simplest content of everyday speech, the kind of language that is richest in meaning and most firmly embedded in experience and imagination". Sachs thinks that replacing the technical vocabulary traditionally used to translate Aristotle's terms with ordinary speech will, by itself, insure that readers not only think about something but think about "the very things he intended". Thus, Greek terms usually rendered as "essence," "substance," and "actuality" become here, respectively, "what it is for something to be," "thinghood," and either "being-at-work" or "being-at-work-staying-itself". Also, instead of the traditional names for the categories, Sachs uses more literal translations like "of-this-kind" and "so much"; and to avoid the modern connotations of "matter," he translates the term hulê as "material." All this leads to a certain awkwardness that is intended to mirror the original: Sachs wants readers to pause over difficult concepts and, thus, to use the text to spur philosophical thinking. To the same end, he attempts to follow the syntax of the Greek text, and he thinks that he can capture Aristotle's meaning better by not always rendering a technical term the same way. The translation is supplemented by two- to four-page commentaries, one or two per book of the Physics, and also by an introduction describing his principles of translation as well as the content and perspective of the Physics, a note explaining the internal relations of some of Aristotle's terms, and a useful Glossary detailing usages of individual terms. Four "digressive" chapters, deemed too technical for "a first study," are placed in an appendix.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
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