Aristotle and Crossing the Boundaries between the Sciences

Lindsay Judson 1
  • 1 Christ Church, Oxford OX1 1DP, Oxford, United Kingdom
Lindsay Judson


On the basis of what Aristotle says in the Posterior Analytics about how sciences are differentiated and about the impermissibility (save in some exceptional cases) of ‘kind-crossing’, many commentators suppose that when it comes to his scientific practice, Aristotle treats the boundaries of the sciences as impermeable, so that if subject-matter X is the business of one science, it simply cannot (save for the exceptional cases) be the business of another. I call this the impermeable boundary theory of the sciences: knowledge is divided into watertight compartments, determined by their distinct genera, and what goes on in one compartment cannot turn up in another. I argue that, even if this is a correct account of Aristotle’s position in the Analytics, the view that he accepts the impermeable boundary theory when it comes to his scientific and philosophical work outside the Analytics is simply untenable.

  • Achtenberg, D. 2002 Cognition of Value in Aristotle’s Ethics: Promise of Enrichment, Threat of Destruction. Albany.

  • Adams, M. P. 2015. “Demarcating Aristotelian Rhetoric: Rhetoric, the Subalternate Sciences, and Boundary Crossing”. Apeiron 48, 99–122.

  • Barnes, J. 1994. Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics: Translated with a Commentary, 2nd edition. Oxford.

  • Bolton, R. 1991. “Aristotle’s Method in Natural Science: Physics I”. In Aristotle’s Physics: A Collection of Essays. Ed. L. Judson. Oxford, 1–29.

  • –. 2010. “Biology and Metaphysics in Aristotle”. In Being, Nature, and Life in Aristotle. Eds J. G. Lennox/R. Bolton. Cambridge/New York, 30–55.

  • Bostock, D. 1994. Aristotle’s Metaphysics Books Ζ and Θ: Translated with a Commentary. Oxford.

  • Burnyeat, M. 2001. A Map of Metaphysics Zeta. Pittsburgh.

  • –. 2004. “Introduction: Aristotle on the Foundations of Sublunary Physics”. In Aristotle’s On Generation and Corruption I. Eds F. de Haas/J. Mansfeld. Oxford, 7–24.

  • Charles, D. 2000. “Metaphysics Λ 2: Matter and Change”. In Aristotle’s Metaphysics Lambda: Symposium Aristotelicum. Eds M. Frede/D. Charles. Oxford, 81–110.

  • Clarke, T. 2017. “Physics I.2”. In Aristotle’s Physics I: The Principles of Natural Things. Ed. D. Quarantotto. Cambridge.

  • Distelzweig, P. M. 2013. “The Intersection of the Mathematical and Natural Sciences: The Subordinate Sciences in Aristotle”. Apeiron 46, 85–105.

  • Falcon, A. 2005. Aristotle and the Science of Nature: Unity without Uniformity. Cambridge/New York.

  • Frede, M. 2000. “Metaphysics Λ 1”. In Aristotle’s Metaphysics Lambda: Symposium Aristotelicum. Eds M. Frede/D. Charles. Oxford, 53–80.

  • Hankinson, R. J. 2005. “Aristotle on Kind-Crossing”. In Philosophy and the Sciences in Antiquity. Ed. R.W. Sharples. Aldershot, 23–54.

  • Irwin, T. 1981. “Aristotle’s Method of Ethics”. In Studies in Aristotle. Ed. D. J. O’Meara. Washington, DC, 193–223.

  • –. 1988. Aristotle’s First Principles. Oxford.

  • Jaeger, W. 1948. Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of his Development, trans. by R. Robinson, 2nd edition. Oxford.

  • Johnson, M. R. 2009. “The Aristotelian Explanation of the Halo”. Apeiron 42, 325–58.

  • Judson, L. 1997. “Aristotle on Fair Exchange”. Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 15, 147–75.

  • –. 2015. “Aristotle’s Astrophysics”. Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, 49, 151–92.

  • –. 2017. “Physics I.5”. In Aristotle’s Physics I: The Principles of Natural Things. Ed. D. Quarantotto. Cambridge.

  • –. 2019. Aristotle, Metaphysics Λ: Translated with an Introduction and Commentary. Oxford.

  • Kung, J. 1982. “Aristotle’s ‘De Motu Animalium’ and the Separability of the Sciences”. Journal of the History of Philosophy 20, 65–76.

  • Lennox, J. G. 1986. “Aristotle, Galileo, and ‘Mixed Sciences’”. In Reinterpreting Galileo. Ed. W. A. Wallace. Washington, D. C., 29–51.

  • –. 2005. “The Place of Zoology in Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy”. In Philosophy and the Sciences in Antiquity. Ed. R.W. Sharples. Aldershot, 55–71.

  • –. 2008. “‘As if we were Investigating Snubness’: Aristotle on the Prospects for a Single Science of Nature”. Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 35, 149–86.

  • –. 2010. “Aristotle’s Natural Science: the Many and the One”. Apeiron 43, 1–24.

  • Leunissen, M. 2010. Explanation and Teleology in Aristotle’s Science of Nature. Cambridge.

  • McKirahan, R. D. 1978. “Aristotle’s Subordinate Sciences”. The British Journal for the History of Science 11, 197–220.

  • –. 1992. Principles and Proofs: Aristotle’s Theory of Demonstrative Science. Princeton.

  • Mueller, I. 2006. “Physics and Astronomy: Aristotle’s Physics II.2.193b22–194a12a”. Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 16, 175–206.

  • Nussbaum, M. C. 1978. Aristotle’s De Motu Animalium. Princeton.

  • Owen G. E. L. 1966/1986. “The Platonism of Aristotle”. Proceedings of the British Academy 51, 125–50; reprinted in Owen, Logic, Science and Dialectic: Collected Papers in Greek Philosophy. Ed. M. Nussbaum. London, 200–220.

  • Peramatzis, M. 2011. Priority in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Oxford.

  • Rapp, C. 2016. “The Principles of Sensible Substance in Metaphysics Λ 2–5”. In Aristotle’s Metaphysics Lambda – New Essays. Ed. C. Horn. Boston and Berlin, 87–117.

  • Roche, T. D. 1988. “On the Alleged Metaphysical Foundation of Aristotle’s Ethics”. Ancient Philosophy 8, 49–62.

  • Ross, W. D. 1936. Aristotle’s Physics: A Revised Text with Introduction andCommentary. Oxford.

  • Scott, D. 2015. Levels of Argument: A Comparative Study of Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford.

  • Steinkrüger, P. 2018. “Aristotle on Kind-Crossing”. Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 54, 107–58.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues