Our interpretation of Aristotle‘s examination of place attempts to take seriously its dialectic character and thus to defend it against criticism that alleges an internal inconsistency. Any such inconsistency results from the ambiguity of the object of examination, an ambiguity that may be overcome by a succession of gradual distinctions. According to these, a place surrounds that of which it is the place, and does not constitute any of the surrounded thing. A surrounded thing’s own place is not bigger or smaller that that thing, and is separable from the surrounded thing. Each place has its up and its down, and according to these differences each body either moves naturally or remains where it is. Enumeration is an important part of the dialectical examination, the methodology of which Aristotles describes here in a general way, in a single passage. According to this passage, when we delimit the nature of a thing, each definition must resolve the difficulties arising from prior knowledge of the thing – albeit while agreeing with evident facts – and must clarify doubts which might result from it itself. In order that we may specify a definition of place, we must first draw a distinction within local motion between that which moves on its own accord and that with moves only accidentally. Only then can we approach the formulation of a definition of place. At first this definition will be negative, denying other possibilities of what place might be – showing that place is neither shape, extension nor matter. Then we arrive at a positive formulation, according to which place is the limit of the surrounding body. This is, however, not yet adequate from the point of view of the description of motion, and therefore it is necessary to qualify the definition by a final, necessary, requirement – that such a limit must be unmoving.
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