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Straton

(d. 269 bc)


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Of Lampsacus, philosopher, head of the Peripatetic school after Theophrastus until his death (c.287–269bc). The preserved list of his books (Diog. Laert. 5. 59–60) includes ethics, cosmology, zoology, psychology, physics, and logic; his work on physics and cosmology earned him the name ‘The Natural Philosopher.’ Fragments (but only fragments) of several of his books survive; a substantial portion of his doctrine about the void may be preserved in the introduction to Heron's Pneumatica (see H. B. Gottschalk, Strato of Lampsacus: Some texts (1965).

He rejected Aristotle's theory of place and contradicted him in asserting the existence of void in the cosmos. This has been taken as a concession to the atomists, but it seems unlikely; Straton argued only for ‘disseminate void’—i.e. void interstices of small dimensions separating particles of matter. His reasoning was drawn chiefly from the penetration of apparently solid objects by ‘physical powers’ such as heat and light. The origin of the theory is Theophrastus' theory of ‘pores’, rather than anything in the atomists.

Straton argued that the processes of nature were to be explained by natural causes, not by the action of any god. This is mainly an attack on the Stoics, but it also dispenses, apparently, with the very limited part played by Aristotle's divine unmoved movers of the heavens. Straton rejected the universal teleology of the Stoics; the evidence is not sufficient to decide to what extent he denied that kind of teleology which is the characteristic feature of Aristotelian biology.

He was an orthodox Aristotelian in his view of the cosmos as unique, uncreated, and geocentric. Like the Stoics, he modified the Aristotelian theory of the natural motions of the primary bodies to give to fire and air not absolute lightness but simply less weight than the other two elements; and he dispensed with the fifth body (aether) with its natural circular motion.

He was the last head of the Peripatetic school to do important original work. His theory about the void, his most famous contribution, was important in the history of physiology through its adoption by Erasistratus, and in technology through its adoption by Heron.

David John Furley

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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