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Adam Smith
STS.002, Fall 2004
Paper I

Aristotle – Questions and Pseudo-Hypotheses

The work titled “Problems Connected with Fatigue”1 contains a sequence of propositional

questions concerning the nature of physical forces and stresses on the human body. Some of the

questions are discussed by asserting specific facts surrounding the question, and some of the

questions include hypothetical answers or explanations behind the phenomenon being explored.

In this paper, we will investigate the background behind the translated document that we are

studying from, the trends exhibited in the questions, their expository, and the general style of

reasoning offered by Aristotle; we will also offer insights into the strengths and weaknesses of

the techniques employed, and why those techniques were chosen. Our discussion will begin with

a description of the background of this work, followed by a detailed analysis of its contents. We

will finish with an analysis of the methods used by Aristotle.

Aristotle’s writings underwent a series of hardships before reaching the modern historian.

The works of Aristotle were of interest to the Romans, who acquired them with the capture of

Athens. A Roman named Andromedus found and recorded the Aristotelian works, most of which

were scraped and revised on and therefore hard to read. Andromedus pieced together everything

that he could, for example even if it seemed logically or syntactically discontinuous with what lie

next to it. Furthermore, Aristotle’s works were not all crafted for publication; the piece we are

investigating is a collection of undeveloped thoughts that we will use to gain an understanding of

the flavor of topics explored and methods used by Aristotle on a day-to-day basis.

Aristotle, “Problems Connected with Fatigue,” in The Works of Aristotle, series edited by W. D. Ross,
volume VII, Problemata, edited by E. S. Forster (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927), pp. 880-5.
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We will now discuss the contents of the work in question. It includes thirty eight

paragraphs, each discussing a question which is disjoint from the rest. The questions are

partitioned into classes denoting its form in Table 1.

The most popular type of question concerns the causal relationship between two things;

for example, paragraph four asks “Why is it that the fat is consumed in those who exert


The second most popular class offers questions concerning a comparison between two

actions or things. For example, “Why is it more fatiguing to walk on level than on uneven


The final type of question asks why a given traditional therapy works, as in “Why is it

that fatigue ceases more readily if one mixes water with the oil with which one rubs oneself?”4

This class is in reality a special case of the comparison question; it asks why a certain method or

treatment is preferred over some or any alternative. However, it is a well-defined class with

some popularity, and is thus separated in the table for observation.

Type of question Paragraphs or questions Total number of

that best fit that type questions
Causal – Why does ‘x’ lead to, 2, 3, 4, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19
or imply, ‘y’? 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 27, 30,
31, 35, 36, 37
Comparison – Why is ‘x’ 1, 5, 19, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 13
condition ‘y’ relative to ‘z’ 32, 39, 40, 41, 42
Status Quo – Why is ‘x’ 6, 7, 28, 33, 34, 38 6
prescribed for ‘y’?
Total 38

Table 1. Types of questions pondered5

Aristotle, “Fatigue,” paragraph 4.
Aristotle, “Fatigue,” paragraph 23
Aristotle, “Fatigue,” paragraph 6
Note that there is a discontinuity in the numbering of the paragraphs. The numbered questions fall
between 1 and 7, or 12 and 42, inclusively. This is likely to be a result of the translation and composition
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The general form of each paragraph involves beginning with a question and continuing

from there. A response or some amount of exposition is given for most questions, typically

taking the form of “Is it because…” We can make several observations about the explanations

which follow. First, the author uses large abstractions; the body is considered on an organ level,

and interactions between the organs are scarcely described.

Also, direct observations are rarely referenced, and are pointed out to be unreliable or

insensitive. When describing vigorous respiration, it is said that “our senses cannot follow the

movement.”6 This aversion to inference by observation is a reflection of Plato’s more harsh

rejection of evidence from the senses.7 Plato’s allegory of the cave clearly rebukes any use of

observations in philosophical or scientific endeavors. Aristotle was Plato’s pupil and likewise

does not confide in human observations; Aristotle’s work is much more deeply rooted in thought

exercises, as we see in this paper and his other works.

On the other hand, the author often uses physical reasoning, usually by heat or moisture.

When considering why fat is burned off by exercise, the offered explanation is that fat melts

when heated, and movement causes heat.8

In the case of the first class of questions (which explores the causal relationship between

two things), the author typically offers intuitive links between some properties of the action

being performed and the thing being effected. For example, the author ponders:

“Why are short walks fatiguing? Is it because they involve abrupt change, for they

necessitate coming often to a standstill? Now frequent change from one extreme to

that we study from, as previously discussed.

Aristotle, “Fatigue,” paragraph 16
See, Plato, “The Allegory of the Cave,” in Science & Culture in the Western Tradition, edited by John G.
Burke (Scottsdale, Arizona: Gorsuch Scarisbrick, 1987), pp. 7-9.
Aristotle, “Fatigue,” paragraph 5
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another is fatiguing, for it does not allow one to become accustomed to either extreme,

and this is tiring; and one cannot become accustomed to both things at once.”9

Here, the author wishes to explain the link between short walks and fatigue. The

explanation offered involves a causal relationship between a property of short walks (abrupt

changes) and tiredness. The assumptions in this explanation are that short walks involve abrupt

change and that abrupt change causes fatigue.

On the other hand, the proposed explanations behind questions of comparison and

therapy prescription typically involve: finding differences between the things being compared,

and then linking those differences in inputs to the purported differences in outputs, or

observations, based on another step in logic. For example, “Why is it that the parts round the

belly are fattest? Is it because they are near to the nourishment?”10 In this example, the

difference between the belly and the other parts of the body is in location, and this difference is

used along with some implied logic to infer that parts near the belly should be the fattest. The

implied logic here is that the closer any organ is to the nourishment, the fatter it should be; the

reasoning behind this implication is not discussed.

Many of these questions compare two things, one of which is considered to be more

“natural” than the other. To illustrate, in one instance the author supposes that rubbing one’s left

leg is more difficult than rubbing the right simply because the latter entails a more natural body

position; the author even states in this discussion that “anything which is unnatural is difficult.”11

A discussion of the author’s intuition and use of what is natural is given by the author himself in

Aristotle, “Fatigue,” paragraph 12
Aristotle, “Fatigue,” paragraph 5
Aristotle, “Fatigue,” paragraph 32
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his other works. “Of things that exist, some exist by nature, some from other causes.”12 Aristotle

does not try to explain nature; those things are axiomatic in his works.

Now that the contents of the work have been explored, the classes of questions posed and

the flavor of answers, critique will be offered. Problems could be compared to today’s modern

standard for published works; it could also be compared to today’s prescribed process for doing

science. Since the piece was not intended for publication, the former comparison does not fit

well with. Instead, the work was a recording of Aristotles routine thoughts, so we will compare

this work to the thought process prescribed to modern scientists. There are both desirable and

undesirable qualities to Aristotle’s Problems.

First, the author only offers hypotheses; no experimental results or tests are formulated to

confirm whatever intuitive explanation is offered. The lack of supporting experiments removes a

layer of support, making the explanations vulnerable to many of the other mistakes which are

made in the style of reasoning. This can be accepted as necessary under a modern standard if

and only if the ideas in question were in a proto, or early, state. In this case, Aristotle clearly had

a number of ideas that could benefit from further investigation. Today’s scientific approaches

tend to be more depth-first; a scientist formulates a single hypothesis and then investigates it.

This work, on the other hand, demonstrates are more breadth-first search; many hypotheses are

enumerated at once which then might be investigated further. Indeed, each idea’s discussion is

initially posed as a question to the reader. Since a broad base of inquiries is likely to find more

insights, the breadth-first style makes more sense in a regime where there are only a few

philosophers or scientists investigating the world. The modern regime, in which there is

specialization, also makes sense given that there are many scientists in the world. Thus, the

Aristotle, Physics, translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, edited
by Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), Book II, pp. 329.
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broad yet shallow nature of Aristotle’s discussion is appropriate given the context that he was

operating in.

However, on the single-idea level Aristotle’s discussion was sometimes weak, a problem

exacerbated by the lack of experimental observations discussed in the previous paragraph. One

mistake in the style of reasoning used is that large assumptions are made about the way things

work. Recalling the example above about why the belly is the fattest part of the body,13 it is

simply assumed that areas which are near to the food will become fatter, which is simply not

true. A logical explanation is missing here, and this is unchecked since experiments are not

preformed. In modern works, high level assumptions involving large abstractions are precluded.

Furthermore, the assumptions made in Problems are often buried and hard to find. For example,

the author asks “Why is it that one is more liable to fall when running than when walking?”14 In

asking this question, there is an implicit assumption that running is less stable than walking.

This leads into a second mistake commonly made; often, the semantics of the language used is

unclear. For example, what does the author mean by “more liable to fall?” More specifically,

under what conditions is the vulnerability being evaluated (e.g. when it is windy, when hit on the

head by hail from the sky)? Again, these problems are exacerbated by the fact that the work

addresses a large number of questions, and thus does not give a large amount of discussion to

any one point. In contrast, modern scientific papers are typically devoted to one or two specific

inquiries, allowing for more rigorous investigation and proof.

Another interesting point of analysis is that the author does not offer any prescriptions

from the discussion. On the axis of pure science versus applied engineering, this work falls

further towards that of science in that it does not make practical recommendations. Although it

Aristotle, “Fatigue,” paragraph 5
Aristotle, “Fatigue,” paragraph 18
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addresses everyday phenomena, this is likely because more abstract domains (e.g. microscopic or

electro-motive) were not accessible to Aristotle at the time of writing.

In conclusion, “Problems Connected with Fatigue” offers many questions, and some

suggested explanations, into many interactions involving the human body. More specifically,

thirty eight causal and comparison style questions are offered. The discussion of each question

typically leverages large abstractions, physics, intuitions about what is natural, drawing contrasts,

or some combination of these things. The work was not intended to be published, but was rather

a recording of thoughts, and thus contained a large number of isolated ideas. Because of the

large number of issues discussed, Aristotle did not concentrate on validating the reasoning or

assumptions made, and thus many of the conclusions are false. However, the work does pose

many interesting questions and embodies an inquisitive and exploratory nature that is valuable in

reasoning about the world.


Aristotle. 1927. “Problems Connected with Fatigue.” In The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross.
Volume VII, Problemata, ed. E. S. Forster. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927.
Aristotle. 1985. Physics. Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye. In The Complete Works of
Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Plato. 1987. “The Allegory of the Cave.” In Science & Culture in the Western Tradition, ed.
John G. Burke. Scottsdale, Arizona: Gorsuch Scarisbrick.