Aristotle and John Philoponus on Beginningless Change

Dissertation, Princeton University (1992)

In Physics VIII.1, Aristotle offers two arguments for the claim that change is beginningless, one from the nature of change and the other from the nature of time. John Philoponus responds with a three-fold project: to show that Aristotle's views regarding beginningless change are internally inconsistent, to provide the outline of a coherent alternative whose central feature is that change had a beginning, and to show that change must have had a beginning. ;Philoponus argues that Aristotle inconsistently affirms beginningless change while denying the existence of an actual infinite. In chapter 2 I offer a partial defense of Aristotle, arguing that Aristotle's arguments against an actual infinite do not apply to an infinite over time, and that Aristotle's positive views regarding the potential infinite are rich enough to express the kind of infinite involved in a beginningless world . In chapter 3 I argue, following Philoponus, that Aristotle's argument from the nature of time is not a justification of his conclusion that change is beginningless which is independent of the argument from the nature of change. In chapter 4 , I defend Aristotle against Philoponus' charges of internal inconsistencies which allegedly arise in the argument from the nature of change. ;Since the creation of the world out of nothing by a divine volitional being is the centerpiece of Philoponus' alternative, in the first half of chapter 5 I explicate these aspects of Philoponus' position and consider how Aristotle might respond. In the second half of the chapter, I discuss the remainder of Philoponus' alternative, namely, the relationship between time and eternity. ;Finally, in chapter 6, I explain and evaluate Philoponus' infinity arguments for the claim that there must be a beginning to change. I argue that they do not show that beginningless change is logically impossible. I briefly discuss the contemporary debate regarding these arguments and show that neither proponents nor opponents pay adequate attention to the kind of modality involved in the controversial claim
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