The Eternity of the World

Authored by: Cristina Cerami

The Routledge Companion to Islamic Philosophy

Print publication date:  September  2015
Online publication date:  August  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415881609
eBook ISBN: 9781315708928
Adobe ISBN: 9781317484332

10.4324/9781315708928.ch12

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Abstract

The question of knowing whether or not the world is eternal undoubtedly constitutes one of the most debated controversies in the history of philosophy. In Classical Antiquity this debate comes powerfully to the forefront with Aristotle. If no philosopher of the Ancient world had conceived the possibility of a creation ex nihilo, holding the preexistence of absolute nothingness to be inconceivable, all were in agreement in maintaining that the universe, such as it appears, did not always exist. While Plato in many ways literally revolutionized the philosophy of his predecessors, he does not seem to have contradicted them on this point. In the Timaeus, in fact, he affirms that, if the world as a whole endures as it is forever, it had to have been forged by the work of a divine demiurge who organized a preexisting chaotic matter. Opposing all his predecessors in this, Aristotle was the first philosopher in the history of philosophy in the Mediterranean to affirm that our world has always existed and will exist forever. To use terminology which will be introduced later, to a world conceived by Plato as eternal a parte post, but not a parte ante, Aristotle opposes a world that is eternal both a parte post and with one a parte ante. He explains in this way that the universe as a whole was not generated and will not be corrupted, even if it is constituted of one region that is eternal in and by itself, that is, that of the celestial spheres endowed with a purely local movement, and another region necessarily subject to generation and corruption which lies beneath the final celestial sphere, that is, the sublunary world.

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