Parmenides Publishing

Titles by Jean De Groot

Experience and Mechanics in
the 4th Century BC

April 2014
ISBN 978-1-930972-83-4
468 pages • 6 x 9 • Paperback

  Jean De Groot
Jean De Groot
is a professor in the school of philosophy at The Catholic University of America. She received her Ph.D. in History of Science at Harvard University, where she studied the history of early mechanics and wrote her dissertation on ancient optics. She went on to study Neo-Platonism at the University of Paris, attending the seminar of Pierre Hadot, and Aristotelian natural philosophy at the Warburg Institute and the Institute for Classical Studies in London. Since that time, she has taught philosophy courses, focusing on the logic and natural philosophy of Aristotle and twentieth century philosophy of science. She lives in Arlington, Virginia. She and her husband have three daughters.

In Aristotle’s Empiricism, Jean De Groot argues that an important part of Aristotle’s natural philosophy has remained largely unexplored. She shows that much of Aristotle’s analysis of natural movement is influenced by mathematical mechanics that emerged from late Pythagorean thought. De Groot draws upon the pseudo-Aristotelian Physical Problems XVI to reconstruct the context of mechanics of Aristotle’s time and to trace the development of kinematic thinking from Archytas to the Aristotelian Mechanics. She argues that the influence of kinematics on Aristotle pinpoints the original meaning of his concept of power, or potentiality, as a physicalistic meaning addressed to the problem of movement.

De Groot identifies epistemic features of kinematics as a scientific enterprise, including economy of explanation and direct inference to a principle. She shows how these features are woven into Aristotle’s thinking in the motion books of the Physics, On the Heavens, and Movement of Animals. The book places in doubt both the view that Aristotle’s natural philosophy codifies opinions held by convention and, alternatively, the view that the cogency of his scientific ideas depends on metaphysics.

Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal

"De Groot’s central task in this new work is to inquire into the relation between empiricism and mathematics in Aristotle’s philosophy of nature.” "This work is a significant contribution to the understanding of Aristotle’s concept of experience and its role in his philosophy of nature." (Read the entire review here)

De Groot’s most novel and exciting contribution is her discussion of the “moving radius principle.” She argues that Aristotle and the authors of the Mechanics and Problems XVI (both of these latter works are pseudo-Aristotelian) analyzed many simple mechanisms in terms of the moving radius of a circle. So, for example, the wheelbarrow, a paradigmatic second-class lever, has its wheel at the center of the circle and its handles at the periphery of the radius. De Groot shows through many examples that this moving radius principle was a basic conceptual tool of fourth-century mechanical treatises. Most interestingly, she shows how the moving radius principle is at work both in Aristotle’s celestial and in his terrestrial, specifically biological, mechanics. This is new and important and needs to be acknowledged by scholars of Aristotelian science.

(Read the entire review here)
—Malcolm Wilson
University of Oregon

This book presents an ‘other’ or alternative Aristotle to the caricature and straw man set up through the mistaken Baconian capitulation to Democratean ‘sense data’, a non-empirical ideology that distorts rather than enhances our radical, unavoidable, pre-philosophic experience of power and necessity. This is a revolutionary book that transforms our view of Aristotle and specifically our evaluation of his natural philosophy.

(Read the entire review here)
Patrick Madigan
Heythrop College

Review of Metaphysics

Jean De Groot has given us a highly original and challenging book, and one needn’t go beyond its subtitle to begin to understand why. First of all, isn’t the work in the Aristotelian corpus that deals with mechanics generally considered to be written after Aristotle’s death? Moreover, isn’t this a branch of mathematical science? If one wanted to make a case for Aristotle’s empiricism, would it not be better to turn to his Meteorology or History of Animals, or to a work that might be thought to be a philosophical defense of empiricism, as some consider the Posterior Analytics to be? 

(Read the entire review here)

—James Lennox
University of Pittsburgh

Ancient Philosophy 35 (2015)
"De Groot has offered us an extremely valuable starting point for a reevaluation of the kind of philosopher Aristotle was. Everyone in Aristotle studies needs to understand these developments and help look for ways that they can be integrated or squared with other valuable parts of Aristotle’s philosophy. Those working in the history of mechanics and mechanistic explanation also have important work cut out for them.”

(Read the entire review here)
—Monte Ransome Johnson
Univ. of CA, San Diego

In "Aristotle's Empiricism: Experience and Mechanics in the 4th Century B.C.", Jean De Groot argues that an important part of Aristotle's natural philosophy has remained largely unexplored and shows that much of Aristotle's analysis of natural movement is influenced by the logic and concepts of mathematical mechanics that emerged from late Pythagorean thought. De Groot draws upon the pseudo-Aristotelian Physical Problems XVI to reconstruct the context of mechanics in Aristotle's time and to trace the development of kinematic thinking from Archytas to the Aristotelian Mechanics. She shows the influence of kinematic thinking on Aristotle's concept of power or potentiality, which she sees as having a physicalistic meaning originating in the problem of movement. De Groot identifies the source of early mechanical knowledge in kinesthetic awareness of mechanical advantage, showing the relation of Aristotle's empiricism to more ancient experience. "Aristotle's Empiricism: Experience and Mechanics in the 4th Century B.C." sheds light on the classical Greek understanding of imitation and device, as it questions both the claim that Aristotle's natural philosophy codifies opinions held by convention and the view that the cogency of his scientific ideas depends on metaphysics.

(Read the entire review here)
Carl Logan

Although Aristotle’s philosophy is generally considered “empiricist” (in the sense that he believes the ultimate source of knowledge is perception), a number of contemporary scholars have denied that he held perception to be the ultimate source of knowledge or have claimed that his empiricism is at best naïve. In this highly original and important work, Jean De Groot defends Aristotle the empiricist, and she does so by examining the nature of his empiricism, and its connection to mathematics, through a detailed study and evaluation of his work on mechanics and its role in his natural philosophy (in the context of fourth century philosophy and science). Aristotle’s Empiricism includes a fresh reading of many texts, from the Physics, De Cael, De Motu Animalium, Metaphysics, Generation of Animals,Categories, and Posterior Analytics, and its author is to be applauded for enriching our understanding of Aristotle’s thought through the careful use and analysis of two likely inauthentic works in the corpus Aristotelicum: the Mechanics, and Problemata XVI. New light is shed on such important Aristotelian concepts as dunamis, eidos, phainomena, empeiria, and automata, and on issues that have not received much attention (for example, Aristotle's conception of weight). This book should be of great interest to anyone working on Aristotle’s natural philosophy.

Robert Mayhew
Professor of Philosophy
Seton Hall University

Jean De Groot explores the appropriation and use of mechanical principles in Aristotle’s natural philosophy. Her exploration offers a new approach to Aristotle’s thought and a fresh perspective on the method Aristotle adopts in the study of nature. The book is a most welcome addition to the existing body of literature on Aristotle’s natural philosophy.

Andrea Falcon
Associate Professor
Concordia University

This highly original and widely informed book presents “the [yet] uncaptured Aristotle” at the core of whose thought lies an empirical approach to the world’s phenomena, with mechanical processes as paradigmatic. In its instructive coordination of the historical context with current debates, this erudite and innovative work introduces an Aristotle who is deeply influenced by mechanical analogies and walks the road of an empiricism orthogonal to the neo-Platonic teleology of later Aristotelians. We have here a major contribution to our understanding of the great Stagyrite.

Dr. Nicholas Rescher
Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy University of Pittsburgh

In this highly original book – at the same time deep and wide-ranging, erudite and exciting, – Jean De Groot overturns widespread conceptions of Aristotle’s natural philosophy as the polar opposite of early modern science, Aristotelianism being qualitative and dialectical, whereas early modern science was mathematical and experimental. Drawing upon a much wider range of Aristotelian and Platonic texts than is usual in studies of Aristotle’s physics, De Groot makes the case that at the foundation of Aristotle’s theories of motion was mechanics or what she calls the “moving radius principle.” Made conscious by the kinesthetic awareness that the mechanical advantage of a lever derives from the rotation of a rigid body, the moving radius principle states that in such a rotation points farther from the point or axis at rest move greater distances in fixed proportion. Thus for Aristotle as well as for others before him, De Groot argues, “at the least, some objects and properties of a mathematical sort just are part of nature and sometimes are principles of nature.” This means, she suggests, that to understand Aristotle it should be realized that in his time the boundaries between what is mathematical and what is physical were still in flux: some branches of mathematics (such as astronomy as well as mechanics) still included motion.

De Groot has written in a way satisfying both to those who know classical Greek and to those who do not. Containing incisive philosophical analyses backed up by close and persuasive readings of Aristotelian texts, Aristotle’s Empiricism; Experience and Mechanics should make a splash among discerning readers in all the many historical and philosophical disciplines to which it is relevant.

Edith Dudley Sylla
Professor of History Emerita
North Carolina State University

Jean De Groot’s Aristotle's Empiricism: Experience and Mechanics in the Fourth Century BC develops a bold and interesting new account of Aristotle’s mechanics and how it relates to his account of the natural world, his mathematics and his epistemology. A great strength of this book is the way that it anchors the discussion in a sophisticated appreciation of Aristotle’s intellectual context, a thorough and detailed examination of the relevant texts, and informed use of modern scholarship on both Aristotle and the philosophy of science. It deserves to be widely read by Classicists, Philosophers and Historians as it raises important questions about the nature of Aristotle’s thought.

Dr. Andrew Gregory
Reader in History of Science
University College London

Jean De Groot offers a fresh interpretation of Aristotle’s natural philosophy, pointing to crucial relationships between his empiricism, mathematics and mechanical experience. Scholars and students working on Aristotle’s scientific ideas and methods, as well as historians of early mathematics and mechanics, will need to read Aristotle’s Empiricism. De Groot brings historical insights to her philosophical work, as she seeks to ground Aristotle’s approach to natural philosophy within its ancient context.
Liba Taub
Professor of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Cambridge