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In the first part of chapter 2 of book II of the Physics Aristotle addresses the issue of the difference between mathematics and physics. In the course of his discussion he says some things about astronomy and the ‘ ‘ more physical branches of mathematics”. In this paper I discuss historical issues concerning the text, translation, and interpretation of the passage, focusing on two cruxes, ( I ) the first reference to astronomy at 193b25–26 and ( II ) the reference to the more physical branches at 194a7–8. In section I, I criticize Ross’s interpretation of the passage and point out that his alteration of ( I ) has no warrant in the Greek manuscripts. In the next three sections I treat three other interpretations, all of which depart from Ross's: in section II that of Simplicius, which I commend; in section III that of Thomas Aquinas, which is importantly influenced by a mistranslation of ( II ), and in section IV that of Ibn Rushd, which is based on an Arabic text corresponding to that printed by Ross. In the concluding section of the paper I describe the modern history of the Greek text of our passage and translations of it from the early twelfth century until the appearance of Ross's text in 1936.

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This paper was prepared as the basis of a presentation at a conference entitled “Writing and rewriting the history of science, 1900–2000,” Les Treilles, France, September, 2003, organized by Karine Chemla and Roshdi Rashed. I have compared Aristotle's and Ptolemy's views of the relationship between astronomy and physics in a paper called “Astrologogeômetria and astrophysikê in Aristotle and Ptolemy,” presented at a conference entitled “Physics and mathematics in Antiquity,” Leiden, The Netherlands, June, 2004, organized by Keimpe Algra and Frans de Haas. For a discussion of Hellenistic views of this relationship see Ian Mueller, “Remarks on physics and mathematical astronomy and optics in Epicurus, Sextus Empiricus, and some Stoics,” in Philippa Lang (ed.), Re-inventions: Essays on Hellenistic and Early Roman Science, Apeiron 37, 4 (2004): 57–87. I would like to thank two anonymous readers of this essay for meticulous corrections and thoughtful suggestions, almost all of which I readily adopted.
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Arabic Sciences and Philosophy
  • ISSN: 0957-4239
  • EISSN: 1474-0524
  • URL: /core/journals/arabic-sciences-and-philosophy
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