Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
7. Phusis 9. The Secular Character of Ionian Science

From Burnet's Introduction

VIII. Motion and Rest
According to Aristotle and his followers, the early cosmologists believed also in an "eternal motion" (ἀίδιος κίνησις) but that is probably their own way of putting the thing. It is not at all likely that the Ionians said anything about the eternity of motion in their writings. In early times, it is not movement but rest that has to be accounted for, and it is unlikely that the origin of motion was discussed till its possibility had been denied. As we shall see, that was done by Parmenides; and accordingly his successors, accepting the fact of motion, were bound to show how it originated. I understand Aristotle's statement, then, as meaning no more than that the early thinkers did not feel the need of assigning an origin for motion. The eternity of motion is an inference, which is substantially correct, but is misleading in so far as it suggests deliberate rejection of a doctrine not yet formulated.29

A more important question is the nature of this motion. It is clear that it must have existed before the beginning of the world, since it is what brought the world into being. It cannot, therefore, be identified with the diurnal revolution of the heavens, as it has been by many writers, or with any other purely mundane motion.30 The Pythagorean doctrine, as expounded in Plato's Timaeus,31 is that the original motion was irregular and disorderly, and we shall see reason for believing that the Atomists ascribed a motion of that kind to the atoms. It is safer, then, not to attribute any regular or well-defined motion to the primary substance of the early cosmologists at this stage.32

Burnet's Notes


29. This way of thinking is often called Hylozoism, but that is still more misleading. No doubt the early cosmologists said things about the world and the primary substance which, from our point of view, imply that they are alive; but that is a very different thing from ascribing a "plastic power" to "matter." The concept of "matter" did not yet exist and the underlying assumption is simply that everything, life included, can be explained mechanically, as we say, that is, by body in motion. Even that is not stated explicitly, but taken for granted.

30. It was Aristotle who first took the fateful step of identifying the "eternal motion" with the diurnal revolution of the heavens.

31. Plato, Tim. 30 a.

32. As I understand him, Prof. W. A. Heidel regards the "eternal motion" as a rotary or vortex motion (δίνη), on the ground that it is hazardous to assume that an early thinker, such as Anaximenes, "distinguished between the primordial motion of the infinite Air and the original motion in the cosmos" (see his article, " The δίνη in Anaximenes and Anaximander," Classical Philology, i. p. 279). It seems to me, on the other hand, that any one who held the world had come into being must have made such a distinction, especially if he also held the doctrine of innumerable worlds. As will be seen later, I adopt Prof. Heidel's view that the "original motion of the cosmos" was a rotary one in the earliest cosmological systems, but it was certainly not "eternal," and I do not think we can infer anything from it as to the pre-mundane motion, except that it must have been of such a nature that it could give rise to the δίνη.

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