Self-Motion from Aristotle to Newton

Review of Metaphysics 49 (3):655-657 (1996)


Etienne Gilson once observed that Aristotle never had a notion of "life" for, if he was not a mechanist, still less was he a vitalist. Gilson's point was, of course, that Aristotle did not consider life to be some sort of internal force, nor was he prepared to reduce life to mechanical motions. Aristotle avoided both the vitalist and mechanist extremes in his distinctive conception of life as the proper activity of those things which have within themselves a principle of their own movement. Few concepts are more central to Aristotle's understanding of the cosmos than self-motion and few are more difficult to grasp. Certainly, this idea has a very long history associated with the development of biology within the Aristotelian tradition as well as with the study of physical motion in general. Further, this distinction between the moving and the self-moving has played an important role in the development of natural theology among Christian and Islamic thinkers of the Middle Ages. Clearly, this is an idea deserving close study both in the works of Aristotle as well as in the tradition to which those works gave rise. In this context, the essays collected by Gill and Lennox are a most welcome contribution to research on the Aristotelian tradition.

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Michael W. Tkacz
Gonzaga University

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