The modern misunderstanding of Aristotle's theory of motion

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In the Physics, Aristotle defines motion as 'the actuality of what is potentially, qua potential' (Phys. 201b5). This definition has been interpreted countless times and has been the subject of heated controvery. At issue today is whether {Mathematical expression}ντελ {Mathematical expression}ξεια refers to motions as a process or a state. Accordingly, if the idea of {Mathematical expression}ντελ {Mathematical expression}ξεια is believed to refer to a process, it is translated to mean actualization. If on the other hand it is taken to refer to a state, it is translated as meaning actuality. In the first instance, known as the 'state-view', a change is defined as being the state of a changing object when it is actually potentially F, for some F1. In the second, or 'process-view', a change is defined as the actualization of a potentially. It seems to me that both views mistakenly assume that Aristotle succeeded in defining motion as motion. As a consequence, the discussion has focused on a presumed content that the definition does not offer. Indeed, were it the case that Aristotle's definition was adequate, there would hardly be any point in even considering the question of whether he had intended to regard motion as being a state or a process. In this paper I examine both of these views and offer an alternative interpretation of my own that differs markedly from either. Additionally, I shall show that just as Aristotle's definition represents a projection of his particular attitude toward nature - so also recent interpretations of his definition represent a projection of the attitudes of modern thinker's toward Aristotle's philosophy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalJournal for General Philosophy of Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1995


  • actuality-potentiality
  • form-matter
  • motion
  • praxis-poesis
  • process-result

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • General Social Sciences
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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