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The Physics of Aristotle

Translated by Thomas Taylor

ISBN 978-1898910-183

Book I, ch. 1-5 with an extract from the Commentary of Simplicius

1. Since about all methods of which there are principles, or causes, or elements, it happens that we obtain knowledge and science from the knowledge of these (for we then think that we know anything, when we know the first causes and the first principles of it, and as far as to the elements from which it is composed); this being the case, it is evident, that we should first endeavour to define those things which pertain to the principles of the science concerning nature. But the natural path in which we should proceed, is from things more known and manifest to us, to things which are more manifest and known to nature: for that which is known to us, is not the same with that which is simply known. Hence it is necessary to proceed, after this manner, from things more obscure to nature, but which are more manifest to us, to things more manifest and known to nature. To us, however, things which are more confused, are at first evident and clear; but afterwards from these, to those who divide them, the elements and principles become known. On this account it is necessary to proceed from universals to particulars; for the whole is more known according to sense; and that which is universal is a certain whole, since it comprehends many things as parts. Names also, are after a certain manner thus affected with respect to definition: for they signify a certain whole, and this indefinitely; as for instance, a circle: but definition divides it into its several parts. Children also, at first, call all men fathers, and all women mothers; but afterwards they distinguish each of these.

2. But it is necessary, that there should either be one principle or more than one: and if one, that it should either be immoveable, as Parmenides and Melissus say, or moved, as the natural philosophers assert, some of whom say, that the first principle is air, and others water. But if there are more principles than one, it is necessary that they should be either finite or infinite. And if finite, and more than one, that they should be either two, or three, or four, or some other number. But if infinite, it is requisite that either they should be, as Democritus asserts, one in genus, but different in figure or species, or also contraries. In a similar manner likewise they enquire, who investigate the number of beings: for they enquire in the first place, whether the things from which beings consist, are one or many; and if many, whether they are finite or infinite. So that they enquire, with respect to principle and element, whether they are one or many. To consider, therefore, whether being is one and immoveable, does not belong to the speculation concerning nature. For just as a geometrician can no longer discourse with him subverts the principles of geometry, but this is either the province of another science, or of that which is common to all the sciences; so neither can he who speculates concerning physical principles, discourse with him who denies those principles. For there is no longer a principle, if there is only one thing, and if it is thus one. For principle is either the principle of a certain thing, or of a certain number of things. To consider, therefore, in this manner, whether there is one principle resembles a discourse against any thesis whatever, which is advanced for the sake of argument; such as against the Heraclitean thesis: or if any one should say that being is one man. It also resembles the solution of the litigious argument which the assertions both of Melissus and Parmenides contain: for they assume that which is false, and are unsyllogistic. But the argument of Melissus is more troublesome, and is not the subject of doubt. One absurdity, however, being admitted, other things happen as the consequence; but this is attended with no difficulty. We, indeed, suppose, that with respect to things which have a natural subsistence, either all or some of them are moved. And this is manifest from induction. At the same time, however, it is not proper to solve all the arguments, but those only, in which some one, demonstrating from principles, concludes falsely: for such as do not thus conclude are not to be solved. Thus, for instance, with respect to the quadrature of lunulas, that which is effected through segments, it is the business of a geometrician to solve; but it is not the province of a geometrician to solve that of Antiphon. However, though Parmenides and Melissus do not discourse concerning nature, yet as it happens that their assertions are attended with physical doubts, it will perhaps be well to speak a little concerning these: for the consideration of these is philosophic.

3. Since, however, being is multifariously predicted, we shall begin in a manner the best adapted of all others to the subject, if we consider what those mean who assert that all things are one: Whether they conceive that all things are essence, or quantities, or qualities? And again, whether all things are one essence; as for instance, one man, or one horse, or one soul? Or whether they are one quality; and this such as a thing white, or hot, or anything else of this kind? For all these very much differ from each other, and cannot be made the subject of discourse; for if all things are substance or essence, quantity and quality, whether these are separated from each other or not, beings will be many. But if all things are quality or quantity, whether essence has a subsistence or not, an absurdity will ensue; if it be necessary to call that absurd which is impossible: for none of the rest is separate except essence; since all of them are predicated of essence as their subject. But Melissus says, that being is infinite; being, therefore, is a certain quantity; for the infinite subsists in quantity. But it is not possible that essence, or quality, or a participated property should be infinite, except according to accident:viz. from certain quantities subsisting together: for the definition of the infinite employs quantity, but not essence or quality. If, therefore, there are essence and quantity, being will be two things, and not one. But if being be essence alone, it will not be infinite, nor possess any magnitude: for it will be a certain quantity. Besides, since the one itself is predicated multifariously, just as being is, let us consider after what manner they say that the universe is one. But that is called one, which is either continuous, or indivisible, or when the definition unfolding the essence is one and the same, as in methu and oinos (wine). If, therefore, being is continuous, it is many: for the continuous is divisible to infinity. There is a doubt, however, with respect to part and whole (though perhaps it does not belong to this discussion, but is to be considered by itself) whether part and whole are one, or more than one. Likewise how they are one, or more than one: and if they are more than one, after what manner they are so; (the same consideration also pertains to parts which are not continuous) and if each one with the whole, as being indivisible, whether in this case they are the same with each other.

If, however, being is one as indivisible, nothing will be a quantity or a quality; neither will being be infinite, as Melissus says it is, nor finite, as it is said to be by Parmenides; for bound is indivisible, not that which is bounded. But if all beings are one in definition, in the same manner as a garment and a robe, it happens that they will make the assertion of Heraclitus: for there will be the same essence of good and evil, and of that which is not good, and good; so that what is not good and good will be the same. Man likewise will be the same with horse; and the consideration will not be whether all things are one, but whether they are nothing. The quality also and the quantity of a thing will be the same. Posterior philosophers also, as well as the ancient, were disturbed, lest it should happen to them that the same thing should at the same time be one and many. Hence some of them took away the word is, as was the case with Lycophron; but others reformed the language, and did not say that a man is white, but that he grows white; or that a man is walking, but that he walks; lest by adding the word is, they should make the one to be many; as if the one or being were to be predicated in one way only. Beings, however, are many, either by definition (as for instance, the essence of that which is white is different from the essence of a musician, and yet both are in the same subject; whence also the one is many) or by division, as whole and parts. Here, however, they doubt, and acknowledge the one to be many, as if it were not possible for the same thing to be one and many; but yet they do not on that account admit the subsistence of opposites: for the one is both in capacity and energy. To those, therefore, who employ these arguments, it appears to be impossible that beings should be one.

4. It is likewise not difficult to solve the arguments from which they demonstrate: for both Melissus and Parmenides syllogize litigiously; since they assume that which is false, and their arguments are not conclusive. The argument of Melissus, however, is more troublesome, and does not contain a doubt; but one absurdity being admitted, the rest happens as the consequence of this; - a circumstance which it is not at all difficult to suppose. That Melissus, therefore, paralogizes, is evident: for he fancies it should be assumed, that if every thing which is generated has a beginning, that which is not generated, has not a beginning. In the next place this also is absurd, to fancy that there is a beginning of every thing, and not of time only; and that there is a beginning of generation not only of that which is simple, but also of change according to quality, as if there were no mutation produced collectively and at once. Besides, why is being immoveable, if it be one? For as a part being one, as for instance, this water is moved in the same place, why is not this also the case with the universe? And in the next place, why will there not be change according to quality? To which we may add, that neither is it possible to be one in species, except according to the material cause; for according to this mode some of the natural philosophers say, that being is one, but not according to the other mode: for man is different in species from horse, and contraries from each other.

Against Parmenides also there is the same mode of reasoning, though there are certain arguments which are peculiar to him, partly because he assumes that which is false, and partly because his arguments are not conclusive. He assumes that which is false, so far as he considers being to be simply predicated, when at the same time, it is predicated multifariously; and his arguments are inconclusive, because if things which are white were alone assumed, since that which is white signifies one thing, there would nevertheless be many white things, and not one alone: for that which is white will not be one alone either by continuity or definition; since the essence of whiteness will be different from that of its recipient, and it will not follow, that nothing will have a separate subsistence besides whiteness: for there is no difference so far as it is separate; but the essence of whiteness and of that in which it subsists are different. This, however, Parmenides had not yet seen. It is necessary, therefore, that those who assert that being is one. should not only assume that being signifies one of which it is predicated, but also that it truly is, and truly is one: for accident is predicated of a certain subject; so that if being is one accident, that to which being is an accident, will not have any subsistence; since it is different from being. Hence, there will be something which is not being. It is requisite, therefore, that Parmenides should assume that which is properly and essentially being: for accident will not have the essence of being, unless being signifies many things, so that each may be some particular thing. But it is supposed that being signifies one thing. If, therefore, that which is properly being, is not an accident to any thing, but something else is an accident to it, why should that which is properly and essentially being signify being, rather than non-being? For if that which is properly being is the same as that which is white, but the essence of white is not properly and essentially being (for it is not possible that anything can be an accident to it), if this be the case, since there is no being except that which is truly and properly being, that which is white will not be being. It will not, however, be non-being, as if it were some particular non-entity, but it will be entirely non-being. Hence, that which is properly and essentially being, is non-being: for the assertion is true, that it is white; but this signifies non-being. So that if that which is white signifies being properly and essentially so called, being will signify many things. Hence, neither will being have any magnitude, since it is truly and essentially being: for the being of each of the parts of magnitude is different. But that being, properly so called, may be divided into something else which is properly and essentially being, is evident to reason. Thus, for instance, if man is something which is properly being, it is necessary that animal also and biped should each of them be essentially being: for if they are not truly beings, they will be accidents. They will either, therefore, be accidents to man, or to some other subjects. This, however, is impossible: for that is, and is said to be an accident, which may or may not be inherent; or in the definition of which that is inherent to which it is an accident. Thus, for instance, to sit is an accident, as that which may be separated; but in a flat nose, the definition of nose is inherent, to which we say flatness is an accident.

Farther still, with respect to such things as are inherent in a definitive sentence, or from which a thing consists, in the definition of these, the definition of the whole is not inherent: for instance, in biped, the definition of man is not inherent, nor in that which is white is the definition of a white man contained. If, therefore, these things subsist after this manner, and biped also is an accident to man, it is necessary that it should be separate, so that it may happen that man may not be a biped; or in the definition of biped the definition of man will be inherent. This, however, is impossible; for the former is inherent in the definition of the latter. But if biped and animal are accidents to any other subject than man, and neither of them is a certain being, properly and essentially so called, man also will be in the number of things accidental to something different from themselves. Let, however, that which is properly and essentially being, be that which is not an accident to anything; and of which both, and each of the essential parts, and that which consists from these, are predicated. The universe, therefore, consists from indivisibles. Some, however, have assented to both the assertions; to the one, because all things are one, if being signifies one, since there is also non-being; but to the other, by making from bisection indivisible magnitudes. {SEE COMMENTARY BELOW} But it is evident that it is not true, if being signifies one, and it is not possible for contradiction to be simultaneous, that there will be no such thing as non-being: for nothing hinders but that non-being, though it has not simply a subsistence, yet may be a certain non-being. The assertion, therefore, that all things will be one, if there is not anything else besides being itself, is absurd: for who can understand being itself to be anything else than that which is properly and essentially some particular being? But if this be the case, nothing prevents the subsistence of a multitude of beings, in the manner we have mentioned. That it is impossible, therefore, for being to be thus one is manifest.

Simplicius Commentary: How Parmenides considers indivisible lines, and his poem on the One Being.

Since Xenocrates, says Simplicius, was a wise man, how could he admit the existence of indivisible lines? For he was not ignorant of the nature of magnitude. Perhaps, therefore, he did not oppose the division of magnitude to infinity: for being a geometrician, he would not subvert a geometrical principle. But he denied the infinite divisibility of physical lines, because there are always certain indivisible magnitudes which cannot actually be of themselves divided, on account of their smallness; but being again united to other bodies, the whole being divided, they thus receive a division in themselves, which when alone they would not sustain. As Plato, therefore, says, that planes are the first and least bodies, so Xenocrates asserts, that there are lines, indivisible indeed through their smallness, though of themselves they are naturally divisible.

Since, however, Simplicius adds, we have arrived at the end of the arguments against Parmenides, it will be well to investigate the opinion of Parmenides himself, about the one being, as commensurate to our purpose, and to consider on what account Aristotle's contradictions of his doctrine were adduced. That Parmenides, therefore, did not admit the one being to be any thing which can be generated and corrupted, is evident from his assertion that the one is unbegotten and incorruptible. Nor, in short, does he admit, that the one being is corporeal, since he says it is indivisible. Hence, neither can what he says accord with the heavens, as some, according to Endemus, conceived it did, in consequence of this line of Parmenides,

Throughout resembling a revolving sphere.

For the heavens are not indivisible, nor a similar sphere, though they are the most accurate of all natural spheres. That Parmenides also did not consider the one being as psychical, or belonging to soul, is evident from his calling it immoveable, as when he says,

The one immoveable has every name.

For the psychical essence, according to the Eleatic philosophers, possesses motion. He also says, that being is all things at once,

. . . . Since now 'tis all at once.

Also that it subsists according to the same, and after a similar manner,

 Same in the same, and by itself abides.

And it is evident, that according to essence, power, and energy, it possesses the all at once, and sameness of subsistence; which are properties beyond the essence of soul. May we not also assert that neither does Parmenides say, that the one being is intellectual? For the intellectual subsists according to separation from the intelligible, and a conversion to the intelligible. But in the one being, he says, that intellectual perception and the intelligible are the same: for thus he writes:

Perception intellectual is the same

 With that for which intelligence subsists.

He adds, "for they are not without being," i.e. the intelligible.

In which perception mental you will find.

Again, the intellectual is separated into forms, just as the intelligible unitedly comprehends, according to cause, the separation of forms. But where separation is, there difference is: and this subsisting, non-being also presents itself to the view. Parmenides, however, entirely exterminates non-being from being:

Non-being ne'er, and in no mode subsists,

But there thy intellectual notions check

When in this path exploring. . . . .

Nor did he conceive the one being to be something which is common; neither that common something which is of posterior origin, subsisting by ablation in our conceptions; since a thing of this kind is neither unbegotten, nor indestructible; nor that which is in things themselves; for this is sensible, and belongs to objects of opinion, and things of a deceitful nature, about which he afterwards speaks. For how could it be true to say of this, that "it is now the whole at once," or that "it contracts in itself intellect and the intelligible?" Does he, therefore, say, that the one being is an individual essence: or is not this very dissonant from the one being? For an individual essence is generated, is divided by difference, and is material and sensible, and different from accident. It is also divisible, and in motion. It remains, therefore, that the one being of Parmenides, is the intelligible cause of all things, through which intellect and intellectual perception subsist, and in which all things are comprehended according to one union, contractedly, and unitedly: in which also there is one nature of the one and being. Hence Zeno said, "If any one should demonstrate the one itself, he would unfold being." He did not, however, say this as denying the subsistence of The One, but in consequence of the one subsisting together with being. But to this one being, all the above-mentioned conclusions are adapted: for it is unbegotten, indestructible, entire, and only-begotten; since it will not be second to any other, as being prior to all separation. To this also, the collective all, or an all subsisting at once, pertains; and likewise the assertion that non-being has no place in it. Farther still, the indivisible, and the immoveable, according to every species of division and motion, and invariable subsistence, accord with this one being. Likewise end; for this is the end of all things. And if this is that for the sake of which intellectual perception subsists, it is evidently the intelligible; for intellectual perception and intellect are for the sake of the intelligible. If also intellectual perception and the intelligible are the same in it, the transcendency of its union will be ineffable. And that I may not appear to say this without sufficient authority, I will add the verses of Parmenides concerning the one being, in order to give credibility to my assertions, and because the writings of Parmenides are rare. They are, then, as follows:

 This truth alone it now remains to tell,

That in this path one being we shall find,

As numerous tokens manifestly show;

And these its characters: without decay,

And unbegotten, stable, without end,

Only-begotten, whole; nor once it was,

Nor will hereafter be, since now 'tis all,

At once collected, a continued one.

For whence its source, or growth, would you explore?

Not from non-being, which nor mind can see,

Nor speech reveal; since as of being void

 'Tis not an object of the mental eye.

But as from no one it derived its birth,

Say, why in time posterior it began

Rather than in some prior time, to be?

 Thus must it wholly be, or wholly not.

For never will the power of faith permit

That aught should ever into being rise,

Without subsisting for the sake of this.

Nor will the goddess, Justice, with her bonds

Encircling all, e'er suffer without this

Aught to be generated, or to be no more.

. . . . . . . .

Next, what is being? How was it produc'd?

If generated, 'tis not; and if once it was,

Then in some future time 'twill cease to be.

 Hence generation is to this unknown,

And void of faith, corruption; nor can it e'er

Divided be, since similar the whole.

Nothing than this is greater, nor a part

Is found in this inferior to the whole.

But all with being is replete, through which

All is continued; since to being here

 Being approximates; but in the bounds

Of mighty bonds, immoveable it lies,

Without beginning, and with ceaseless power.

For generation in these lower realms,

Leagu'd with corruption, wand'ring wide are seen,

And faithful truth is nowhere to be found.

Same in the same and by itself abides,

 So firm it there remains, held in the bonds

Of bound, by strong necessity, on every side.

Unlawful, hence, that being without bound

 Should e'er remain; for want it never knows.

But to non-being perfect want belongs.

Perception intellectual is the same

With that for which intelligence subsists;

For without being never can be found

Mental conception; since 'tis truly said,

In being, intellectual vision dwells.

Nor is there now, or will hereafter be,

Aught besides being, e'en tho' time exist,

Since Fate immoveable the whole has bound,

Which ev'ry name, by mortals fashioned, claims.

. . . . . . . .

On all sides like a sphere's revolving bulk,

And from the middle equal every way.

For nothing it is fit should greater be

 Or less, in aught that being comprehends.

Since it is not of being void, that e'er

To sameness it should cease at length t'arrive.

Nor is it partially with being fill'd,

Of this a void possessing more and less;

But safe and undefiled in ev'ry part,

The whole is one inviolable all.

For equal every way, in bounds it reigns.

Here about truth firm thoughts and reasonings end:

Opinions human now attentive learn,

Cloth'd in fallacious ornament of words.

These then are the verses of Parmenides about the one being; after which he speaks about objects of opinion, adopting in them other principles, which Aristotle mentions in what follows, saying, "For Parmenides makes the hot and the cold to be principles, and these he denominates fire and earth." But if Parmenides says, that the one being is similar to the bulk of a revolving sphere, we must not wonder; for through his poetry he employs a certain mythological fiction. What does it differ, therefore, to assert this, or to say with Orpheus, that being is of a white texture? And it is evident that some of the assertions of Parmenides entirely accord with other things posterior to the one being. Thus the unbegotten and the indestructible pertain both to soul and to intellect; and the immoveable and abiding in the same, to intellect. But all of them, collectively and genuinely considered, are adapted to the one being: for, according to a certain signification, soul and intellect are unbegotten, but they are produced by the intelligible. The one being also possesses the immoveable peculiarity, in which, motion according to energy has not a separate subsistence. The abiding in sameness likewise properly belongs to this; but soul and much-honoured intellect proceed from that which abides, and are converted to it. It is also evident, that such things as are said to subsist in the one being, are comprehended in it unitedly, but proceed from it with separation. And it appears, indeed, to be delivered by Parmenides as the first cause, if it is one collected all, and the ultimate bound. If, however, he does not simply call it one, but one being, and only-begotten, and bound but finite, perhaps he indicates that the ineffable cause of all is established above it. How, therefore, do Plato and Aristotle appear to contradict Parmenides? Plato, indeed, contradicts him in a twofold respect, both from his calling being the one, and perfectly taking away non-being from the intellectual and separated worlds, in which being is divided from the one (so that both do not remain one), and the parts from the whole: for, from hence, Plato shows that beings are not one, but more than one. But he demonstrates non-being from the difference which subsists in separated forms; through which the being that is there, considered according to one peculiarity, is not motion or permanency, and each of the rest is what it is, but is not other things. And it is evident, that non-being is entirely there, where separation and difference are unfolded into light; in intellectual natures, indeed, according to form, but in sensibles according to interval and division. But this non-being Parmenides also himself appears to admit in objects of opinion, since he calls the ornament of his verses, about mortal opinions, fallacious: for, where deception is, there also is non-being; since he is deceived who thinks that non-being is, or that being is not. Hence, not only Parmenides, but likewise Plato, subverts the existence of perfect non-entity, who also avoids the investigation of it; for he says, "Let no one, therefore, say, that we, having shown that non-being is contrary to being, dare to assert that it is; for we have sometime since bid farewell to the consideration of that which is contrary to it, whether it is reasonable or perfectly irrational that it should be or not. But that which we now assert to be non-being, either some one, confuting, should persuade us that it is not properly denominated by us; or, so far as he is incapable of confuting us, so far he should assent to what we say." And, indeed, it is not at all wonderful that in being of this kind, which is defined according to one peculiarity, Plato should demonstrate such a kind of non-being; at the same time that in the intelligible, which is perfect, entire, and unitedly all things prior to all, non-being of this kind has no place whatever. But Aristotle, adducing the contradiction from division, says, that being is either predicated in many ways, and thus there will be many beings, or in one way only; and thus it will either be essence or accident. And it is evident, that no one of these belongs to the intelligible; since this division becomes apparent in generation; and prior to generation subsists according to cause in intellectual separation. But let no one blame Plato and Aristotle for contradicting Parmenides on account of other causes: for they benevolently repress the interpretations of superficial readers. That they conceived, indeed, Parmenides to be a wise man, is evident from hence, that Plato testifies the profundity of his mind to be perfectly generous, and introduces him as the preceptor of Socrates in the highest disciplines. And Aristotle, suspecting him to look elsewhere than to physics, classes him in contradistinction to physiologists. Plato also, in the Parmenides, delivers this one, and celebrates its transcendency. And Aristotle in his Metaphysics, contending that the cause of all is one, exclaiming that the domination of many is not good, and celebrating the union of this cause, very properly there surveys as the same, intellect and the intelligible, essence, power, and energy. But enough of these things, lest, according to the proverb, we should appear to leap beyond the prescribed limits, inserting, in a physical treatise, theological sublimities.

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