To be (at all) is to be in (some) place

Archytian Axiom

This is how the Archytian axiom is reported by Edward Casey in the book The Fate of Place.[1] That formulation is slightly different from the original statement of Archytas Casey refers to, as reported by Simplicius – ‘all existing things are in place or not without place’ –, in Shmuel Sambursky’s The Concept of Place in Late Neoplatonism.[2] I have used Casey’s slightly modified version since it is closer to my understanding of place as a concept having both metaphysical and physical connotations: that ‘some’ between brackets suggests a relational and pluralistic sense of place which has a more physical connotation, very close indeed to Aristotle’s intentions when he gave his famous definition of place (topos) – ‘the first unchangeable limit (peras) of that which surrounds’.[3] Conversely, if we minimize what appears between brackets reducing the axiom to its essence – ‘to be is to be in place’ – that axiom may acquire an absolute sense, which, in my opinion, has a more metaphysical connotation. One sense of the concept does not exclude the other if we think at the two levels – the physical and the metaphysical – as complementary.

This belief of mine, this belief in the Archytian axiom as, contemporarily, a physical and metaphysical statement, finds a natural alliance with Heidegger’s explicit pronouncement on the intimate connection between physics and metaphysics in the essay ‘On the being and conception of φύσις in aristotle’s physics B, 1where the German philosopher says that ‘In a quite basic sense, meta-physics is “physics,” i.e., knowledge of “physis”’, and, concerning the usual division attributed to Aristotle’s complete corpus of works, he concludes that, in general, ‘it makes little sense to say that the “Physics” precedes the “Metaphysics” because metaphysics is just as much “physics” as physics is “metaphysics”.[4]

Notes

[1] Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 4.

[2]Shmuel Sambursky, The Concept of Place in Late Neoplatonism (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Science and Humanity, 1982), 37. Since there are scant traces and fragments regarding the historical figure of Archytas, Sambursky, at page 14 of his book, refers to that statement as attributed to Archytas ‘but in fact deriving from an unknown Neopythagorean philosopher’ – that’s why he speaks of ‘Pseudo-Archytas’. This is the complete translation of the fragment appearing in Simplicius’ commentary on Aristotle’s Categories, 361, 21-24: ‘Since everything that is in motion is moved in some place (topos), it is obvious that one has to grant priority to place, in which that which causes motion or is acted upon will be. Perhaps thus it is the first of all things, since all existing things are either in place or not without place.

[3] Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History, 55. That definition appears in Aristotle’s Physics, Book IV (212a20-21).

[4] Martin Heidegger, On the being and conception of φύσις in aristotle’s physics B, 1, translated by Thomas J. Sheehan, in Man and World (9, 3, 1976), 223, 224.

Works Cited

Casey, Edward S. The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Heidegger, Martin. “On the being and conception of φyσiσ in aristotle’s physics B, 1”, trans. Sheehan, Thomas J., in Man and World (9, 3, 1976), 219-270.

Sambursky, Shmuel. The Concept of Place in Late Neoplatonism. Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Science and Humanity, 1982.

Image Credits

Featured Image by Ivan Ivanov on Unsplash.

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