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date: 01 December 2022



  • J. T. Vallance


στοιχεῖα (Lat. elementa) gradually became the standard Greek word for ‘elements’, and it was used with a range of senses similar to the English term used to translate it. Etymologically it means ‘one of a series’ (στοῖχος). Eudemus, quoted in the 6th cent. ce by *Simplicius in his Commentary on Aristotle's Physics (7. 13), says that the word was first used in this sense by *Plato (1) (see e.g. Ti. 56b, 61a6).The term has important connotations in logic, mathematics, and discussions of scientific method as well as natural philosophy. *Aristotle (Metaph. 1014a26) defined an element as the primary constituent in something—be it object, speech, or a geometrical proof—which is indivisible into any other kind of thing. In the case of an object the elements might be the four Empedoclean roots, in that of speech the letters which make up a word, or in that of a geometrical proof the basic axioms and indemonstrables upon which the proof depends. In general, the concept of elements is fundamental to the widely held Greek—not just Aristotelian—conceptions of science as axiomatic-deductive in character. Basic mathematical works are often called Elements; best-known examples include the Elements of *Euclid, and the Elements of Harmonics by *Aristoxenus.


  • Science, Technology, and Medicine

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