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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter December 1, 2014

Aristotle and the Cosmic Game of Dice

A conundrum in De caelo II.12

Christof Rapp
From the journal Rhizomata


In De caelo II.12 Aristotle considers the following problem. If the sphere of the fixed stars shows only one (kind of) movement it would be reasonable to expect that the number of movements of the other celestial bodies would proportionally increase with the increasing distance from the outermost sphere. However, the contrary happens: while the planets, which are placed between the outermost sphere and sun and moon, exhibit many and various movements, the sun and the moon perform only a few movements. In dealing with this problem Aristotle surprises his readers with an alarming comparison: when playing dice, he says, it is most difficult to make ten thousand successful throws in a series, while it is comparatively easy to make one or two of them. So the reader is faced with the image of a game of dice at a crucial point in Aristotle’s account of superlunary movement, which, apart from that, is supposed to be the embodiment of well-orderedness and regularity.

The paper works out the whole comparison to which the mentioning of the game of dice belongs. It offers a reading of the corresponding passages that avoids the perplexing consequence that certain celestial bodies move just like dice.

Online erschienen: 2014-12-1
Erschienen im Druck: 2014-12-1

© De Gruyter 2014