Aristotle v. Newton

Motions and Causes: A Dialogue Between Aristotle and Newton

November 29, 2020

Dalhousie University

Aristotle and Newton; two of the greatest philosopher and scientists of their separate timelines had similar yet very different takes on motion and causes. Rick Sanchez wanted to connect them at 52° 12 21" N, 0° 7 4.7" E; where he was invited as a guest for The Time Travelers Party hosted by Stephen Hawking [1].

Newton and Aristotle wake up in quite some clothing unfamiliar to their timeline. Before they could start asking typical questions like “where am I?” or “what place is this?”, Rick starts talking from the behind:

“Gentlemen, welcome to the year 2009 AD. Here is what we are going to do today. My friend described me about your conflicting theories on motions and causes, I want to know everything you have to say right here, right now, and I honestly do not care if I create a time paradox Einstein, keep your hands down we are not in a class. Also, none of us are going to tell Dr. Hawking here that we are travelers which is why you are all dressed as servers right now. We have 30 minutes to wrap up this show come on!”

Confused Newton looks at Aristotle holding a bottle of champagne and says, “I am having a very hard time to process what is going on here right now, but I would like to say I am delighted to meet you Mr. Aristotle, or should I say sire. Remarkable work in laying the foundation on this area for further interrogation and improvements”

“Thank you, stranger. Who would you be?”, Aristotle replies.

Newton responds, “I am just a philosopher from England currently investigating motion”

“England?”, Aristotle asks.

“I forgot about you being from a different era. It would be the island westwards from Greece inhabited by Celts during your time”, Newton replies [2, p. 13].

Aristotle says, “Impressive. I am also working on motion and its causes, I believe heavenly forces keep objects moving [3, p. 285]. What do you think about that?”

Newton responds, “What do you mean by heavenly forces?”

Aristotle says, “You know there are two types of forces. Heavenly and terrestrial”

“I am honestly lost here”, Newton replies.

Aristotle says, “Heavenly objects are celestial objects, by their nature, forever move in circles – without any external force acting on them. On the other hand, terrestrial or earthly objects move differently. Earthly objects will always stop moving, of their own accord, on their own.”

Newton responds, “You are wrong, sir. My observations suggest that forces only make objects stop or change their direction. It is inertia that keeps them moving.”

“What do you mean I am wrong? Every object have their natural state”, Aristotle asks.

Newton replies, “No offence to you but I understand why you could not figure it out. You lived in a world dominated by friction. In a world dominated by friction, an object only moves while there is a force applied to it. So it is fine that you believed the connection between forces and motions was that the velocity of an object is proportional to a force you put on it [4].”

“Isn’t mass constant? I think that the force is related to velocity”, Aristotle asks [3, p. 285].

Newton replies, “I believe you have never been on black ice or enjoyed ice skating. If you have ever enjoyed ice skating you would have noticed that it takes force to stop an object, or to change its motion.”

Aristotle says, “Tell me more about your findings, Newton. How do you think motion works? Also, what did you mean by inertia?”

“Glad that you have asked. It is one of the laws I am working on. I have found out that an object remains at rest or continues in uniform motion unless it is compelled to change by the action of an external force”, Newton replies [4].

“Carry on. I am convinced”, Says Aristotle.

Newton says, “An object’s tendency to remain at rest or maintain a constant speed is inertia and its resistance to deviation from inertia varies with its mass. A bicycle will keep moving unless the rider or driver applies a frictional force through the brakes to stop it. I suppose you don’t know what a bicycle is yet so let me put it into your context. It takes physical effort -- a force -- to overcome inertia for a person to get out of bed in the morning” [5]

Aristotle says, “Am I too old for your inventions now?”

“You are, kind of. I mean you are like centuries older than me” Newton responds.

“Are you telling me it took centuries for people to figure this out? Is there anything else I was wrong about?”, Aristotle asks.

“With due respect, most of the ideas you had were wrong. Although your premature findings helped me a lot with my observations. For starters, there are no isolated forces. For each force that exists, one of equal magnitude and opposite direction acts against it: action and reaction. For example, a ball thrown onto the ground exerts a downward force; in response, the ground exerts an upward force on the ball, and it bounces”, Newton replies [5].

Aristotle says, “It is remarkable that you have come so far with your theories, Newton. Thank you for bringing me here Sanchez. It has been an honor. I could now go back to my timeline and introduce them with my refined knowledge on motion!”.

“Alright folks, I think we had a fruitful discussion. Mr. Aristotle here wants to share the knowledge with his people. I would like to remember this as well, but I have to wipe it off your brains so that I don’t create a time paradox here. You guys are intellectuals, I hope you will understand. My apologies Dr. Hawking but nobody showed up at your party” says Sanchez while blinding everyone with a beaming torch [1].


[1] M. Saler, “James Gleick’s Exhilarating ‘Time Travel: A History’; Stephen Hawking hosted a party for time travelers, announcing it only after the fact. Nobody came.,” Wall Street Journal, Sep. 23, 2016. (accessed Nov. 29, 2020).

[2] J. Mackintosh, W. William, and B. Robert, Mackintosh, James, et al. Cabinet History of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Philadelphia: Carey & Lea, 1830.

[3] J. A. McWilliams, “Aristotle on Motion,” The New Scholasticism, Aug. 01, 1942. (accessed Nov. 29, 2020).

[4] “Aristotle vs. Newton.” (accessed Nov. 29, 2020).

[5] “What Are Some Examples of the Laws of Motion?,” Sciencing. (accessed Nov. 29, 2020).