What is it about?

This paper argues that there is room for unconditional, non-teleological physical necessity in Aristotle’s science of nature. This physical necessity operates, in the first instance, in the five material elements; it also governs the behavior of all other perceptible substances because all other perceptible substances are, ultimately, made out of these five elements, and the physical necessity at work in the elements continues to work in all of the substances made out of them. Thus, the goal-directed behavior of all natural substances is limited by a kind of brute necessity arising from the physical stuff out of which they are made. I also consider the relation between this physical necessity and the teleological operations of natural substances; here I argue that, far from excluding physical necessity from nature, Aristotle’s science of nature presupposes it.

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Why is it important?

Others have argued that according to Aristotle there is no simple physical necessity at work in nature. I argue that this view is wrong: it misunderstands the role of matter and material causes in perceptible objects , as well as the relation between physics and the other natural sciences on Aristotle's account.


This article argues against the traditional view that according to Aristotle every motion or change must ultimately be explained teleologically. Against this view, it argues that not only does Aristotle think some changes in nature cannot be explained teleologically, but also that the changes that can explained this way presuppose the ones that cannot.

Prof. Christopher Byrne
St. Francis Xavier University

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This page is a summary of: Aristotle on Physical Necessity and the Limits of Teleological Explanation, Apeiron, January 2002, De Gruyter,
DOI: 10.1515/apeiron.2002.35.1.19.
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