What is it about?

This book sets out Aristotle's general account of matter (in the sense of physical stuff), motion, and the patterns that govern the way in which all physical objects behave and interact. It argues that Aristotle did think about the nature of the matter from which all perceptible objects, both natural and artificial, are ultimately made. It also argues that Aristotle did not think that everything about nature can be explained teleologically. More generally, it argues that Aristotle explains less about nature in terms of formal and final causes than is generally thought to be the case, and more in terms of material and efficient causes.

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Why is it important?

Although Aristotle's contribution to biology has long been recognized, there are many philosophers and historians of science who still hold that he was the great delayer of natural science, calling him the man who held up the Scientific Revolution by two thousand years. They argue that Aristotle never considered the nature of matter as such or the changes that perceptible objects undergo simply as physical objects; he only thought about the many different, specific natures found in perceptible objects. This book attempts to refute this misconception. It argues that Aristotle actually offered a systematic account of matter, motion, and the basic causal powers found in all physical objects. In particular, Aristotle maintained that all perceptible objects are ultimately made from physical matter of one kind or another, accounting for their basic common features. For Aristotle, then, matter matters a great deal.


The standard account of the history of science and, in particular, the background of the Scientific Revolution, gives a profoundly distorted view of Aristotle's physics. To give one example, contrary to what is often said, it is not the case that Aristotle thinks that locomotion is a qualitative change, that is, a kind of alteration. In fact, on Aristotle's account, it is a category mistake to think of locomotion as a kind of alteration.

Prof. Christopher Byrne
St. Francis Xavier University

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This page is a summary of: Aristotle's Science of Matter and Motion, December 2018, University of Toronto Press (UTPress),
DOI: 10.3138/9781487519162.
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