Physis, as the Greek counterpart to the Latin natura, describes the constitution and origin of complexes arising from themselves in various degrees of independence. Taken in a broad sense, physis can name the “growth” of plants and animals as well as the composition of a genus or the origin or composition of the entire cosmos (physis ton panton).
An inquiry into the origin and structure of the phenomena covered by the umbrella term physis is the starting point of the observations of the early Greek sages, as well as those of philosophers in the tradition of Plato, Aristotle, the Atomists and the Stoics who opened up the various fields of knowledge of the world. An oft-mentioned antithesis to physis is techne, which means the (mostly human-made) production of
objects that do not have their origin in themselves. In the realm of actions, physis can be regarded as the point of orientation on which a successful life is to be aligned – one is to “live in accordance with physis”. With regard to a comprehension of phenomena in the world that transcends the superficial contemplation of objects, physis until late antiquity stands both for the concrete and complex determination of things and living beings as well as for the “essence” of God.
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