In Plato Laws
- Ath. Because those who use the term mean to say that nature is the first creative power; but if the soul turns out to be the primeval element, and not fire or air, then in the truest sense and beyond other things the soul may be said to exist by nature; and this would be true if you proved that the soul is older than the body, but not otherwise.
(translation by Benjamin Jowett)
Philosophical use begins very early in pre-Socratic writings, where the meanings fit well with current senses of the English word nature. In the Sophist tradition, the term stood in opposition to nomos (νόμος), "law" or "custom", in the debate on which parts of human existence are natural, and which due to convention. This debate brought about early statements of cultural relativism, most notably by Herodotus. Since Aristotle, the physical (the subject matter of physics, properly τὰ φυσικά "natural things") has often been contrasted with metaphysical (the subject of metaphysics).
Usage in patristic theology
Theologians of this period differed in the usage of this term. In Antiochene circles, it connoted the humanity or divinity of Christ conceived as a concrete set of characteristics or attributes. In Alexandrine thinking, it meant a concrete individual or independent existent and approximated to hypostasis without being a synonym. While it refers to much the same thing as ousia it is more empirical and descriptive focussing on function while ousia is metaphysical and focusses more on reality. Although found in the context of the Trinitarian debate, it is chiefly important in the Christology of Cyril of Alexandria.
The etymology of the word "physical" shows its use as a synonym for "natural" in about the mid-15th century. In medicine the element -physis occurs in such compounds as symphysis, epiphysis, and a few others, in the sense of a growing. The physis also refers to the "growth plate", or site of growth at the end of long bones.
Notes and references
|Look up φύσις in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Homer's text: ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας πόρε φάρμακον ἀργεϊφόντης ἐκ γαίης ἐρύσας, καί μοι φύσιν αὐτοῦ ἔδειξε. (So saying, Argeiphontes [=Hermes] gave me the herb, drawing it from the ground, and showed me its nature.) Odyssey 10.302-3 (ed. A.T. Murray).
- Guthrie, W. K. C., Presocratic Tradition from Parmenides to Democritus (volume 2 of his History of Greek Philosophy), Cambridge UP, 1965.
- Naddaf, Gerard The Greek Concept of Nature, SUNY Press, 2006.
- Dunkie, Roger (1986). "Philosophical background of the 5th Century B.C.". The Classical Origins of Western Culture: The Core Studies 1 Study Guide. Brooklyn College Core Curriculum Series. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn College. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- Herodotus (~440 BCE). "The History of Herodotus, Book III". The Internet Classics Archive. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- Discussed in Aristotle's works so titled, Physics and Metaphysics
- Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines A&C Black(1965) p.318
- Prestige, G.L. God in Patristic Thought, SPCK (1964), p.234
- Harper, Douglas. "Physical". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 20 September 2006.