Physis (φύσις) is a Greek theological, philosophical, and scientific term usually translated into English as "nature". In the Odyssey, Homer uses the word once (its earliest known occurrence), referring to the intrinsic way of growth of a particular species of plant. In other very early uses it had such a meaning: related to the natural growing of plants, animals, and other features of the world as they tend to develop without external influence. But in the pre-Socratic philosophers it developed a complex of other meanings.
Since Aristotle, the physical (the subject matter of physics, properly τὰ φυσικά "natural things") has often been contrasted with metaphysical (the subject of metaphysics), discussed in Aristotle's works so titled, Physics and Metaphysics.
"Physis" was understood by Thoreau as coming from darkness into light, biologically, cosmically, cognitively. (Walden Pond, 'Spring')
Leo Strauss felt this was a sign of something new in the world which the Greeks discovered – something distinct from the concept of a "way" general to other cultures. (See also dharma and tao, for the development of related notions in other cultures.)
In medicine the element -physis occurs in such compounds as symphysis, epiphysis, and a few others, in the sense of a growing. The physis also refers to the "growth plate," or site of growth at the end of long bones.
- ↑ Homer's text: ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας πόρε φάρμακον ἀργεϊφόντης ἐκ γαίης ἐρύσας, καί μοι φύσιν αὐτοῦ ἔδειξε. (So saying, Argeiphontes [=Hermes] gave me the herb, drawing it from the ground, and showed me its nature.) Odyssey 10.302-3 (ed. A.T. Murray).
- ↑ A useful though somewhat erratically presented account of the pre-Socratic use of the concept of φύσις may be found in Naddaf, Gerard The Greek Concept of Nature, SUNY Press, 2006. The word φύσις occurs very early in Greek philosophy, and in several senses. Generally, these senses match rather well the current senses in which the English word nature is used, as confirmed by Gut from Parmenides to Democritus (volume 2 of his History of Greek Philosophy), Cambridge UP, 1965. The etymology of the word "physical" shows its use as a synonym for "natural" in about the mid-15th century: Harper, Douglas. "Physical". Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=physical. Retrieved September 20, 2006. .