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Tyche and Automaton in Aristotle’s Physics

The Letter, Issue 51, Autumn 2012, Pages 69 - 73


Monica Errity

In his introduction to the Seminar on “The Purloined Letter” Lacan attempts to show how the real lies at the heart of that which, ordinarily, would be deemed to have happened by chance. Again in his discussion of the phenomenon of repetition in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, he highlights that it is the real which lies behind Freud’s notion of repetition automatism, noting that, ‘what is repeated is always something that occurs… as if by chance.’[1] Throughout his discussion of the relation between the real and chance Lacan draws on two Aristotelian terms, tyche and automaton. On Lacan’s recommendation,[2] this paper aims to revisit these terms as they appear in Aristotle’s Physics, in order to throw some light on Lacan’s use of them in his understanding of the relation between the real and chance.

Keywords: Aristotle; tyche; automaton; chance; the real.

The importance of the concept of chance in the lives of the ancient Greeks is indicated by the preponderance of words relating to chance such as; tyche (chance or fortune), automaton (randomness), kata symbebekos (things which happen incidentally), eudaimonia (flourishing) and kairos (opportune moment). Of these, the notion of tyche which encompassed many aspects of fortune - chance, fate, both good and bad luck and even achievement, success and wealth, seems to have played a prominent role. Indeed, the belief in the power of tyche was so important for ancient Greeks that it became personified in the figure of the goddess Tyche who came to symbolize the fate and fortune of rulers and through them their cities.

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This 51st issue of the The Letter was put together by editor Tony Hughes who is currently ill and continues the project begun in issue 41...


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