On Generation and Corruption
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On Generation and Corruption.
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On Generation and Corruption
Written 350 B.C.E
Translated by H. H. Joachim
We have explained under what conditions 'combination', 'contact', and 'action-passion'
are attributable to the things which undergo natural change. Further, we
have discussed 'unqualified' coming-to-be and passing-away, and explained
under what conditions they are predicable, of what subject, and owing to
what cause. Similarly, we have also discussed 'alteration', and explained
what 'altering' is and how it differs from coming-to-be and passing-away.
But we have still to investigate the so-called 'elements' of
For the complex substances whose formation and maintenance are
due to natural processes all presuppose the perceptible bodies as the condition
of their coming-to-be and passing-away: but philosophers disagree in regard
to the matter which underlies these perceptible bodies. Some maintain it
is single, supposing it to be, e.g. Air or Fire, or an 'intermediate' between
these two (but still a body with a separate existence). Others, on the
contrary, postulate two or more materials-ascribing to their 'association'
and 'dissociation', or to their 'alteration', the coming-to-be and passing-away
of things. (Some, for instance, postulate Fire and Earth: some add Air,
making three: and some, like Empedocles, reckon Water as well, thus postulating
Now we may agree that the primary materials, whose change (whether
it be 'association and dissociation' or a process of another kind) results
in coming-to-be and passingaway, are rightly described as 'originative
sources, i.e. elements'. But (i) those thinkers are in error who postulate,
beside the bodies we have mentioned, a single matter-and that corporeal
and separable matter. For this 'body' of theirs cannot possibly exist without
a 'perceptible contrariety': this 'Boundless', which some thinkers identify
with the 'original real', must be either light or heavy, either cold or
hot. And (ii) what Plato has written in the Timaeus is not based on any
precisely-articulated conception. For he has not stated clearly whether
his 'Omnirecipient" exists in separation from the 'elements'; nor does
he make any use of it. He says, indeed, that it is a substratum prior to
the so-called 'elements'-underlying them, as gold underlies the things
that are fashioned of gold. (And yet this comparison, if thus expressed,
is itself open to criticism. Things which come-to-be and pass-away cannot
be called by the name of the material out of which they have come-tobe:
it is only the results of 'alteration' which retain the name of the substratum
whose 'alterations' they are. However, he actually says' that the truest
account is to affirm that each of them is "gold"'.) Nevertheless he carries
his analysis of the 'elements'-solids though they are-back to 'planes',
and it is impossible for 'the Nurse' (i.e. the primary matter) to be identical
with 'the planes'.
Our own doctrine is that although there is a matter of the perceptible
bodies (a matter out of which the so-called 'clements' come-to-be), it
has no separate existence, but is always bound up with a contrariety. A
more precise account of these presuppositions has been given in another
work': we must, however, give a detailed explanation of the primary bodies
as well, since they too are similarly derived from the matter. We must
reckon as an 'originative source' and as 'primary' the matter which underlies,
though it is inseparable from, the contrary qualities: for the hot' is
not matter for 'the cold' nor 'the cold' for 'the hot', but the substratum
is matter for them both. We therefore have to recognize three 'originative
sources': firstly that which potentially perceptible body, secondly the
contrarieties (I mean, e.g. heat and cold), and thirdly Fire, Water, and
the like. Only 'thirdly', however: for these bodies change into one another
(they are not immutable as Empedocles and other thinkers assert, since
'alteration' would then have been impossible), whereas the contrarieties
do not change.
Nevertheless, even so the question remains: What sorts of contrarieties,
and how many of them, are to be accounted 'originative sources' of body?
For all the other thinkers assume and use them without explaining why they
are these or why they are just so many.
Since, then, we are looking for 'originative sources' of perceptible
body; and since 'perceptible' is equivalent to 'tangible', and 'tangible'
is that of which the perception is touch; it is clear that not all the
contrarieties constitute 'forms' and 'originative sources' of body, but
only those which correspond to touch. For it is in accordance with a contrariety-a
contrariety, moreover, of tangible qualities-that the primary bodies are
differentiated. That is why neither whiteness (and blackness), nor sweetness
(and bitterness), nor (similarly) any quality belonging to the other perceptible
contrarieties either, constitutes an 'element'. And yet vision is prior
to touch, so that its object also is prior to the object of touch. The
object of vision, however, is a quality of tangible body not qua tangible,
but qua something else-qua something which may well be naturally prior
to the object of touch.
Accordingly, we must segregate the tangible differences and contrarieties,
and distinguish which amongst them are primary. Contrarieties correlative
to touch are the following: hot-cold, dry-moist, heavy-light, hard-soft,
viscous-brittle, rough-smooth, coarse-fine. Of these (i) heavy and light
are neither active nor susceptible. Things are not called 'heavy' and 'light'
because they act upon, or suffer action from, other things. But the 'elements'
must be reciprocally active and susceptible, since they 'combine' and are
transformed into one another. On the other hand (ii) hot and cold, and
dry and moist, are terms, of which the first pair implies power to act
and the second pair susceptibility. 'Hot' is that which 'associates' things
of the same kind (for 'dissociating', which people attribute to Fire as
its function, is 'associating' things of the same class, since its effect
is to eliminate what is foreign), while 'cold' is that which brings together,
i.e. 'associates', homogeneous and heterogeneous things alike. And moise
is that which, being readily adaptable in shape, is not determinable by
any limit of its own: while 'dry' is that which is readily determinable
by its own limit, but not readily adaptable in shape.
From moist and dry are derived (iii) the fine and coarse, viscous
and brittle, hard and soft, and the remaining tangible differences. For
(a) since the moist has no determinate shape, but is readily adaptable
and follows the outline of that which is in contact with it, it is characteristic
of it to be 'such as to fill up'. Now 'the fine' is 'such as to fill up'.
For the fine' consists of subtle particles; but that which consists of
small particles is 'such as to fill up', inasmuch as it is in contact whole
with whole-and 'the fine' exhibits this character in a superlative degree.
Hence it is evident that the fine derives from the moist, while the coarse
derives from the dry. Again (b) the viscous' derives from the moist: for
'the viscous' (e.g. oil) is a 'moist' modified in a certain way. 'The brittle',
on the other hand, derives from the dry: for 'brittle' is that which is
completely dry-so completely, that its solidification has actually been
due to failure of moisture. Further (c) 'the soft' derives from the moist.
For 'soft' is that which yields to pressure by retiring into itself, though
it does not yield by total displacement as the moist does-which explains
why the moist is not 'soft', although 'the soft' derives from the moist.
'The hard', on the other hand, derives from the dry: for 'hard' is that
which is solidified, and the solidified is dry.
The terms 'dry' and 'moist' have more senses than one. For 'the
damp', as well as the moist, is opposed to the dry: and again 'the solidified',
as well as the dry, is opposed to the moist. But all these qualities derive
from the dry and moist we mentioned first.' For (i) the dry is opposed
to the damp: i.e. 'damp' is that which has foreign moisture on its surface
('sodden' being that which is penetrated to its core), while 'dry' is that
which has lost foreign moisture. Hence it is evident that the damp will
derive from the moist, and 'the dry' which is opposed to it will derive
from the primary dry. Again (ii) the 'moist' and the solidified derive
in the same way from the primary pair. For 'moist' is that which contains
moisture of its-own deep within it ('sodden' being that which is deeply
penetrated by foreign mosture), whereas 'solidigied' is that which has
lost this inner moisture. Hence these too derive from the primary pair,
the 'solidified' from the dry and the 'solidified' from the dry the 'liquefiable'
from the moist.
It is clear, then, that all the other differences reduce to the
first four, but that these admit of no further reduction. For the hot is
not essentially moist or dry, nor the moist essentially hot or cold: nor
are the cold and the dry derivative forms, either of one another or of
the hot and the moist. Hence these must be four.
The elementary qualities are four, and any four terms can be combined
in six couples. Contraries, however, refuse to be coupled: for it is impossible
for the same thing to be hot and cold, or moist and dry. Hence it is evident
that the 'couplings' of the elementary qualities will be four: hot with
dry and moist with hot, and again cold with dry and cold with moist. And
these four couples have attached themselves to the apparently 'simple'
bodies (Fire, Air, Water, and Earth) in a manner consonant with theory.
For Fire is hot and dry, whereas Air is hot and moist (Air being a sort
of aqueous vapour); and Water is cold and moist, while Earth is cold and
dry. Thus the differences are reasonably distributed among the primary
bodies, and the number of the latter is consonant with theory. For all
who make the simple bodies 'elements' postulate either one, or two, or
three, or four. Now (i) those who assert there is one only, and then generate
everything else by condensation and rarefaction, are in effect making their
'originative sources' two, viz. the rare and the dense, or rather the hot
and the cold: for it is these which are the moulding forces, while the
'one' underlies them as a 'matter'. But (ii) those who postulate two from
the start-as Parmenides postulated Fire and Earth-make the intermediates
(e.g. Air and Water) blends of these. The same course is followed (iii)
by those who advocate three. (We may compare what Plato does in Me Divisions':
for he makes 'the middle' a blend.) Indeed, there is practically no difference
between those who postulate two and those who postulate three, except that
the former split the middle 'element' into two, while the latter treat
it as only one. But (iv) some advocate four from the start, e.g. Empedocles:
yet he too draws them together so as to reduce them to the two, for he
opposes all the others to Fire.
In fact, however, fire and air, and each of the bodies we have
mentioned, are not simple, but blended. The 'simple' bodies are indeed
similar in nature to them, but not identical with them. Thus the 'simple'
body corresponding to fire is 'such-as-fire, not fire: that which corresponds
to air is 'such-as-air': and so on with the rest of them. But fire is an
excess of heat, just as ice is an excess of cold. For freezing and boiling
are excesses of heat and cold respectively. Assuming, therefore, that ice
is a freezing of moist and cold, fire analogously will be a boiling of
dry and hot: a fact, by the way, which explains why nothing comes-to-be
either out of ice or out of fire.
The 'simple' bodies, since they are four, fall into two pairs which
belong to the two regions, each to each: for Fire and Air are forms of
the body moving towards the 'limit', while Earth and Water are forms of
the body which moves towards the 'centre'. Fire and Earth, moreover, are
extremes and purest: Water and Air, on the contrary are intermediates and
more like blends. And, further, the members of either pair are contrary
to those of the other, Water being contrary to Fire and Earth to Air; for
the qualities constituting Water and Earth are contrary to those that constitute
Fire and Air. Nevertheless, since they are four, each of them is characterized
par excellence a single quality: Earth by dry rather than by cold, Water
by cold rather than by moist, Air by moist rather than by hot, and Fire
by hot rather than by dry.
It has been established before' that the coming-to-be of the 'simple'
bodies is reciprocal. At the same time, it is manifest, even on the evidence
of perception, that they do come-to-be: for otherwise there would not have
been 'alteration, since 'alteration' is change in respect to the qualities
of the objects of touch. Consequently, we must explain (i) what is the
manner of their reciprocal transformation, and (ii) whether every one of
them can come to-be out of every one-or whether some can do so, but not
Now it is evident that all of them are by nature such as to change
into one another: for coming-to-be is a change into contraries and out
of contraries, and the 'elements' all involve a contrariety in their mutual
relations because their distinctive qualities are contrary. For in some
of them both qualities are contrary-e.g. in Fire and Water, the first of
these being dry and hot, and the second moist and cold: while in others
one of the qualities (though only one) is contrary-e.g. in Air and Water,
the first being moist and hot, and the second moist and cold. It is evident,
therefore, if we consider them in general, that every one is by nature
such as to come-to-be out of every one: and when we come to consider them
severally, it is not difficult to see the manner in which their transformation
is effected. For, though all will result from all, both the speed and the
facility of their conversion will differ in degree.
Thus (i) the process of conversion will be quick between those
which have interchangeable 'complementary factors', but slow between those
which have none. The reason is that it is easier for a single thing to
change than for many. Air, e.g. will result from Fire if a single quality
changes: for Fire, as we saw, is hot and dry while Air is hot and moist,
so that there will be Air if the dry be overcome by the moist. Again, Water
will result from Air if the hot be overcome by the cold: for Air, as we
saw, is hot and moist while Water is cold and moist, so that, if the hot
changes, there will be Water. So too, in the same manner, Earth will result
from Water and Fire from Earth, since the two 'elements' in both these
couples have interchangeable 'complementary factors'. For Water is moist
and cold while Earth is cold and dry-so that, if the moist be overcome,
there will be Earth: and again, since Fire is dry and hot while Earth is
cold and dry, Fire will result from Earth if the cold
It is evident, therefore, that the coming-to-be of the 'simple'
bodies will be cyclical; and that this cyclical method of transformation
is the easiest, because the consecutive 'clements' contain interchangeable
'complementary factors'. On the other hand (ii) the transformation of Fire
into Water and of Air into Earth, and again of Water and Earth into Fire
and Air respectively, though possible, is more difficult because it involves
the change of more qualities. For if Fire is to result from Water, both
the cold and the moist must pass-away: and again, both the cold and the
dry must pass-away if Air is to result from Earth. So' too, if Water and
Earth are to result from Fire and Air respectively-both qualities must
This second method of coming-to-be, then, takes a longer time.
But (iii) if one quality in each of two 'elements' pass-away, the transformation,
though easier, is not reciprocal. Still, from Fire plus Water there will
result Earth and Air, and from Air plus Earth Fire and Water. For there
will be Air, when the cold of the Water and the dry of the Fire have passed-away
(since the hot of the latter and the moist of the former are left): whereas,
when the hot of the Fire and the moist of the Water have passed-away, there
will be Earth, owing to the survival of the dry of the Fire and the cold
of the Water. So, too, in the same Way, Fire and Water will result from
Air plus Earth. For there will be Water, when the hot of the Air and the
dry of the Earth have passed-away (since the moist of the former and the
cold of the latter are left): whereas, when the moist of the Air and the
cold of the Earth have passed-away, there will be Fire, owing to the survival
of the hot of the Air and the dry of the Earth-qualities essentially constitutive
of Fire. Moreover, this mode of Fire's coming-to-be is confirmed by perception.
For flame is par excellence Fire: but flame is burning smoke, and smoke
consists of Air and Earth.
No transformation, however, into any of the 'simple' bodies can
result from the passingaway of one elementary quality in each of two 'elements'
when they are taken in their consecutive order, because either identical
or contrary qualities are left in the pair: but no 'simple' body can be
formed either out of identical, or out of contrary, qualities. Thus no
'simple' body would result, if the dry of Fire and the moist of Air were
to pass-away: for the hot is left in both. On the other hand, if the hot
pass-away out both, the contraries-dry and moist-are left. A similar result
will occur in all the others too: for all the consecutive 'elements' contain
one identical, and one contrary, quality. Hence, too, it clearly follows
that, when one of the consecutive 'elements' is transformed into one, the
coming-to-be is effected by the passing-away of a single quality: whereas,
when two of them are transformed into a third, more than one quality must
We have stated that all the 'elements' come-to-be out of any one
of them; and we have explained the manner in which their mutual conversion
takes place. Let us nevertheless supplement our theory by the following
speculations concerning them.
If Water, Air, and the like are a 'matter' of which the natural
bodies consist, as some thinkers in fact believe, these 'clements' must
be either one, or two, or more. Now they cannot all of them be one-they
cannot, e.g. all be Air or Water or Fire or Earth-because 'Change is into
contraries'. For if they all were Air, then (assuming Air to persist) there
will be 'alteration' instead of coming-to-be. Besides, nobody supposes
a single 'element' to persist, as the basis of all, in such a way that
it is Water as well as Air (or any other 'element') at the same time. So
there will be a certain contrariety, i.e. a differentiating quality: and
the other member of this contrariety, e.g. heat, will belong to some other
'element', e.g. to Fire. But Fire will certainly not be 'hot Air'. For
a change of that kind (a) is 'alteration', and (b) is not what is observed.
Moreover (c) if Air is again to result out of the Fire, it will do so by
the conversion of the hot into its contrary: this contrary, therefore,
will belong to Air, and Air will be a cold something: hence it is impossible
for Fire to be 'hot Air', since in that case the same thing will be simultaneously
hot and cold. Both Fire and Air, therefore, will be something else which
is the same; i.e. there will be some 'matter', other than either, common
The same argument applies to all the 'elements', proving that there
is no single one of them out of which they all originate. But neither is
there, beside these four, some other body from which they originate-a something
intermediate, e.g. between Air and Water (coarser than Air, but finer than
Water), or between Air and Fire (coarser than Fire, but finer than Air).
For the supposed 'intermediate' will be Air and Fire when a pair of contrasted
qualities is added to it: but, since one of every two contrary qualities
is a 'privation', the 'intermediate' never can exist-as some thinkers assert
the 'Boundless' or the 'Environing' exists-in isolation. It is, therefore,
equally and indifferently any one of the 'elements', or else it is
Since, then, there is nothing-at least, nothing perceptible-prior
to these, they must be all. That being so, either they must always persist
and not be transformable into one another: or they must undergo transformation-either
all of them, or some only (as Plato wrote in the Timacus).' Now it has
been proved before that they must undergo reciprocal transformation. It
has also been proved that the speed with which they come-to-be, one out
of another, is not uniform-since the process of reciprocal transformation
is relatively quick between the 'elements' with a 'complementary factor',
but relatively slow between those which possess no such factor. Assuming,
then, that the contrariety, in respect to which they are transformed, is
one, the elements' will inevitably be two: for it is 'matter' that is the
'mean' between the two contraries, and matter is imperceptible and inseparable
from them. Since, however, the 'elements' are seen to be more than two,
the contrarieties must at the least be two. But the contrarieties being
two, the 'elements' must be four (as they evidently are) and cannot be
three: for the couplings' are four, since, though six are possible, the
two in which the qualities are contrary to one another cannot
These subjects have been discussed before:' but the following arguments
will make it clear that, since the 'elements' are transformed into one
another, it is impossible for any one of them-whether it be at the end
or in the middle-to be an 'originative source' of the rest. There can be
no such 'originative element' at the ends: for all of them would then be
Fire or Earth, and this theory amounts to the assertion that all things
are made of Fire or Earth. Nor can a 'middle-element' be such an originative
source'-as some thinkers suppose that Air is transformed both into Fire
and into Water, and Water both into Air and into Earth, while the 'end-elements'
are not further transformed into one another. For the process must come
to a stop, and cannot continue ad infinitum in a straight line in either
direction, since otherwise an infinite number of contrarieties would attach
to the single 'element'. Let E stand for Earth, W for Water, A for Air,
and F for Fire. Then (i) since A is transformed into F and W, there will
be a contrariety belonging to A F. Let these contraries be whiteness and
blackness. Again (ii) since A is transformed into W, there will be another
contrariety: for W is not the same as F. Let this second contrariety be
dryness and moistness, D being dryness and M moistness. Now if, when A
is transformed into W, the 'white' persists, Water will be moist and white:
but if it does not persist, Water will be black since change is into contraries.
Water, therefore, must be either white or black. Let it then be the first.
On similar grounds, therefore, D (dryness) will also belong to F. Consequently
F (Fire) as well as Air will be able to be transformed into Water: for
it has qualities contrary to those of Water, since Fire was first taken
to be black and then to be dry, while Water was moist and then showed itself
white. Thus it is evident that all the 'elements' will be able to be transformed
out of one another; and that, in the instances we have taken, E (Earth)
also will contain the remaining two 'complementary factors', viz. the black
and the moist (for these have not yet been coupled).
We have dealt with this last topic before the thesis we set out
to prove. That thesis-viz. that the process cannot continue ad infinitum-will
be clear from the following considerations. If Fire (which is represented
by F) is not to revert, but is to be transformed in turn into some other
'element' (e.g. into Q), a new contrariety, other than those mentioned,
will belong to Fire and Q: for it has been assumed that Q is not the same
as any of the four, E W A and F. Let K, then, belong to F and Y to Q. Then
K will belong to all four, E W A and F: for they are transformed into one
another. This last point, however, we may admit, has not yet been proved:
but at any rate it is clear that if Q is to be transformed in turn into
yet another 'element', yet another contrariety will belong not only to
Q but also to F (Fire). And, similarly, every addition of a new 'element'
will carry with it the attachment of a new contrariety to the preceding
elements'. Consequently, if the 'elements' are infinitely many, there will
also belong to the single 'element' an infinite number of contrarieties.
But if that be so, it will be impossible to define any 'element': impossible
also for any to come-to-be. For if one is to result from another, it will
have to pass through such a vast number of contrarieties-and indeed even
more than any determinate number. Consequently (i) into some 'elements'
transformation will never be effected-viz. if the intermediates are infinite
in number, as they must be if the 'elements' are infinitely many: further
(ii) there will not even be a transformation of Air into Fire, if the contrarieties
are infinitely many: moreover (iii) all the 'elements' become one. For
all the contrarieties of the 'elements' above F must belong to those below
F, and vice versa: hence they will all be one.
As for those who agree with Empedocles that the 'elements' of body
are more than one, so that they are not transformed into one another-one
may well wonder in what sense it is open to them to maintain that the 'elements'
are comparable. Yet Empedocles says 'For these are all not only
If it is meant that they are comparable in their amount, all the
'comparables' must possess an identical something whereby they are measured.
If, e.g. one pint of Water yields ten of Air, both are measured by the
same unit; and therefore both were from the first an identical something.
On the other hand, suppose (ii) they are not 'comparable in their amount'
in the sense that so-much of the one yields so much of the other, but comparable
in 'power of action (a pint of Water, e.g. having a power of cooling equal
to that of ten pints of Air); even so, they are 'comparable in their amount',
though not qua 'amount' but qua Iso-much power'. There is also (iii) a
third possibility. Instead of comparing their powers by the measure of
their amount, they might be compared as terms in a 'correspondence': e.g.
'as x is hot, so correspondingly y is white'. But 'correspondence', though
it means equality in the quantum, means similarity in a quale. Thus it
is manifestly absurd that the 'simple' bodies, though they are not transformable,
are comparable not merely as 'corresponding', but by a measure of their
powers; i.e. that so-much Fire is comparable with many times-that-amount
of Air, as being 'equally' or 'similarly' hot. For the same thing, if it
be greater in amount, will, since it belongs to the same kind, have its
ratio correspondingly increased.
A further objection to the theory of Empedocles is that it makes
even growth impossible, unless it be increase by addition. For his Fire
increases by Fire: 'And Earth increases its own frame and Ether increases
Ether." These, however, are cases of addition: but it is not by addition
that growing things are believed to increase. And it is far more difficult
for him to account for the coming-to-be which occurs in nature. For the
things which come-to-be by natural process all exhibit, in their coming-to-be,
a uniformity either absolute or highly regular: while any exceptions any
results which are in accordance neither with the invariable nor with the
general rule are products of chance and luck. Then what is the cause determining
that man comes-to-be from man, that wheat (instead of an olive) comes-to-be
from wheat, either invariably or generally? Are we to say 'Bone comes-to-be
if the "elements" be put together in such-and such a manner'? For, according
to his own estatements, nothing comes-to-be from their 'fortuitous consilience',
but only from their 'consilience' in a certain proportion. What, then,
is the cause of this proportional consilience? Presumably not Fire or Earth.
But neither is it Love and Strife: for the former is a cause of 'association'
only, and the latter only of 'dissociation'. No: the cause in question
is the essential nature of each thing-not merely to quote his words) 'a
mingling and a divorce of what has been mingled'. And chance, not proportion,
'is the name given to these occurrences': for things can be 'mingled'
The cause, therefore, of the coming-to-be of the things which owe
their existence to nature is that they are in such-and-such a determinate
condition: and it is this which constitutes, the 'nature' of each thing-a
'nature' about which he says nothing. What he says, therefore, is no explanation
of 'nature'. Moreover, it is this which is both 'the excellence' of each
thing and its 'good': whereas he assigns the whole credit to the 'mingling'.
(And yet the 'elements' at all events are 'dissociated' not by Strife,
but by Love: since the 'elements' are by nature prior to the Deity, and
they too are Deities.)
Again, his account of motion is vague. For it is not an adequate
explanation to say that 'Love and Strife set things moving, unless the
very nature of Love is a movement of this kind and the very nature of Strife
a movement of that kind. He ought, then, either to have defined or to have
postulated these characteristic movements, or to have demonstrated them-whether
strictly or laxly or in some other fashion. Moreover, since (a) the 'simple'
bodies appear to move 'naturally' as well as by compulsion, i.e. in a manner
contrary to nature (fire, e.g. appears to move upwards without compulsion,
though it appears to move by compulsion downwards); and since (b) what
is 'natural' is contrary to that which is due to compulsion, and movement
by compulsion actually occurs; it follows that 'natural movement' can also
occur in fact. Is this, then, the movement that Love sets going? No: for,
on the contrary, the 'natural movement' moves Earth downwards and resembles
'dissociation', and Strife rather than Love is its cause-so that in general,
too, Love rather than Strife would seem to be contrary to nature. And unless
Love or Strife is actually setting them in motion, the 'simple' bodies
themselves have absolutely no movement or rest. But this is paradoxical:
and what is more, they do in fact obviously move. For though Strife 'dissociated',
it was not by Strife that the 'Ether' was borne upwards. On the contrary,
sometimes he attributes its movement to something like chance ('For thus,
as it ran, it happened to meet them then, though often otherwise"), while
at other times he says it is the nature of Fire to be borne upwards, but
'the Ether' (to quote his words) 'sank down upon the Earth with long roots'.
With such statements, too, he combines the assertion that the Order of
the World is the same now, in the reign of Strife, as it was formerly in
the reign of Love. What, then, is the 'first mover' of the 'elements'?
What causes their motion? Presumably not Love and Strife: on the contrary,
these are causes of a particular motion, if at least we assume that 'first
mover' to be an originative source'.
An additional paradox is that the soul should consist of the 'elements',
or that it should be one of them. How are the soul's 'alterations' to take
Place? How, e.g. is the change from being musical to being unmusical, or
how is memory or forgetting, to occur? For clearly, if the soul be Fire,
only such modifications will happen to it as characterize Fire qua Fire:
while if it be compounded out of the elements', only the corporeal modifications
will occur in it. But the changes we have mentioned are none of them
The discussion of these difficulties, however, is a task appropriate
to a different investigation:' let us return to the 'elements' of which
bodies are composed. The theories that 'there is something common to all
the "elements"', and that they are reciprocally transformed', are so related
that those who accept either are bound to accept the other as well. Those,
on the other hand, who do not make their coming-to-be reciprocal-who refuse
to suppose that any one of the 'elements' comes-to-be out of any other
taken singly, except in the sense in which bricks come-to-be out of a wall-are
faced with a paradox. How, on their theory, are flesh and bones or any
of the other compounds to result from the 'elements' taken
Indeed, the point we have raised constitutes a problem even for
those who generate the 'elements' out of one another. In what manner does
anything other than, and beside, the 'elements' come-to-be out of them?
Let me illustrate my meaning. Water can come-to-be out of Fire and Fire
out of Water; for their substralum is something common to them both. But
flesh too, presumably, and marrow come-to-be out of them. How, then, do
such things come to-be? For (a) how is the manner of their coming-to-be
to be conceived by those who maintain a theory like that of Empedocles?
They must conceive it as composition-just as a wall comes-to-be out of
bricks and stones: and the 'Mixture', of which they speak, will be composed
of the 'elements', these being preserved in it unaltered but with their
small particles juxtaposed each to each. That will be the manner, presumably,
in which flesh and every other compound results from the 'elements'. Consequently,
it follows that Fire and Water do not come-to-be 'out of any and every
part of flesh'. For instance, although a sphere might come-to-be out of
this part of a lump of wax and a pyramid out of some other part, it was
nevertheless possible for either figure to have come-to-be out of either
part indifferently: that is the manner of coming-to-be when 'both Fire
and Water come-to-be out of any and every part of flesh'. Those, however,
who maintain the theory in question, are not at liberty to conceive that
'both come-to-be out of flesh' in that manner, but only as a stone and
a brick 'both come-to-be out of a wall'-viz. each out of a different place
or part. Similarly (b) even for those who postulate a single matter of
their 'elements' there is a certain difficulty in explaining how anything
is to result from two of them taken together-e.g. from 'cold' and hot',
or from Fire and Earth. For if flesh consists of both and is neither of
them, nor again is a 'composition' of them in which they are preserved
unaltered, what alternative is left except to identify the resultant of
the two 'elements' with their matter? For the passingaway of either 'element'
produces either the other or the matter.
Perhaps we may suggest the following solution. (i) There are differences
of degree in hot and cold. Although, therefore, when either is fully real
without qualification, the other will exist potentially; yet, when neither
exists in the full completeness of its being, but both by combining destroy
one another's excesses so that there exist instead a hot which (for a 'hot')
is cold and a cold which (for a 'cold') is hot; then what results from
these two contraries will be neither their matter, nor either of them existing
in its full reality without qualification. There will result instead an
'intermediate': and this 'intermediate', according as it is potentially
more hot than cold or vice versa, will possess a power-of-heating that
is double or triple its power-of-cooling, or otherwise related thereto
in some similar ratio. Thus all the other bodies will result from the contraries,
or rather from the 'elements', in so far as these have been 'combined':
while the elements' will result from the contraries, in so far as these
'exist potentially' in a special sense-not as matter 'exists potentially',
but in the sense explained above. And when a thing comes-to-be in this
manner, the process is cobination'; whereas what comes-to-be in the other
manner is matter. Moreover (ii) contraries also 'suffer action', in accordance
with the disjunctively-articulated definition established in the early
part of this work.' For the actually-hot is potentially-cold and the actually
cold potentially-hot; so that hot and cold, unless they are equally balanced,
are transformed into one another (and all the other contraries behave in
a similar way). It is thus, then, that in the first place the 'elements'
are transformed; and that (in the second place) out of the 'elements' there
come-to-be flesh and bones and the like-the hot becoming cold and the cold
becoming hot when they have been brought to the 'mean'. For at the 'mean'
is neither hot nor cold. The 'mean', however, is of considerable extent
and not indivisible. Similarly, it is qua reduced to a 'mean' condition
that the dry and the moist, as well as the contraries we have used as examples,
produce flesh and bone and the remaining compounds.
All the compound bodies-all of which exist in the region belonging
to the central body-are composed of all the 'simple' bodies. For they all
contain Earth because every 'simple' body is to be found specially and
most abundantly in its own place. And they all contain Water because (a)
the compound must possess a definite outline and Water, alone of the 'simple'
bodies, is readily adaptable in shape: moreover (b) Earth has no power
of cohesion without the moist. On the contrary, the moist is what holds
it together; for it would fall to pieces if the moist were eliminated from
They contain Earth and Water, then, for the reasons we have given:
and they contain Air and Fire, because these are contrary to Earth and
Water (Earth being contrary to Air and Water to Fire, in so far as one
Substance can be 'contrary' to another). Now all compounds presuppose in
their coming-to-be constituents which are contrary to one another: and
in all compounds there is contained one set of the contrasted extremes.
Hence the other set must be contained in them also, so that every compound
will include all the 'simple' bodies.
Additional evidence seems to be furnished by the food each compound
takes. For all of them are fed by substances which are the same as their
constituents, and all of them are fed by more substances than one. Indeed,
even the plants, though it might be thought they are fed by one substance
only, viz. by Water, are fed by more than one: for Earth has been mixed
with the Water. That is why farmers too endeavour to mix before watering.
Although food is akin to the matter, that which is fed is the 'figure'-i.e.
the 'form' taken along with the matter. This fact enables us to understand
why, whereas all the 'simple' bodies come-to-be out of one another, Fire
is the only one of them which (as our predecessors also assert) 'is fed'.
For Fire alone-or more than all the rest-is akin to the 'form' because
it tends by nature to be borne towards the limit. Now each of them naturally
tends to be borne towards its own place; but the 'figure'-i.e. the 'form'-Of
them all is at the limits.
Thus we have explained that all the compound bodies are composed
of all the 'simple' bodies.
Since some things are such as to come-to-be and pass-away, and
since coming-to-be in fact occurs in the region about the centre, we must
explain the number and the nature of the 'originative sources' of all coming-to-be
alike: for a grasp of the true theory of any universal facilitates the
understanding of its specific forms.
The 'originative sources', then, of the things which come-to-be
are equal in number to, and identical in kind with, those in the sphere
of the eternal and primary things. For there is one in the sense of 'matter',
and a second in the sense of 'form': and, in addition, the third 'originative
source' must be present as well. For the two first are not sufficient to
bring things into being, any more than they are adequate to account for
the primary things.
Now cause, in the sense of material origin, for the things which
are such as to come-to-be is 'that which can be-and-not-be': and this is
identical with'that which can come-to-be-and-pass-away', since the latter,
while it is at one time, at another time is not. (For whereas some things
are of necessity, viz. the eternal things, others of necessity are not.
And of these two sets of things, since they cannot diverge from the necessity
of their nature, it is impossible for the first not to he and impossible
for the second to he. Other things, however, can both be and not he.) Hence
coming-to-be and passing-away must occur within the field of 'that which
can be-and not-be'. This, therefore, is cause in the sense of material
origin for the things which are such as to come-to-be; while cause, in
the sense of their 'end', is their 'figure' or 'form'-and that is the formula
expressing the essential nature of each of them.
But the third 'originative source' must be present as well-the
cause vaguely dreamed of by all our predecessors, definitely stated by
none of them. On the contrary (a) some amongst them thought the nature
of 'the Forms' was adequate to account for coming-to-be. Thus Socrates
in the Phaedo first blames everybody else for having given no explanation;
and then lays it down; that 'some things are Forms, others Participants
in the Forms', and that 'while a thing is said to "be" in virtue of the
Form, it is said to "come-to-be" qua sharing in," to "pass-away" qua "losing,"
the 'Form'. Hence he thinks that 'assuming the truth of these theses, the
Forms must be causes both of coming-to-be and of passing-away'. On the
other hand (b) there were others who thought 'the matter' was adequate
by itself to account for coming-to-be, since 'the movement originates from
Neither of these theories, however, is sound. For (a) if the Forms
are causes, why is their generating activity intermittent instead of perpetual
and continuous-since there always are Participants as well as Forms? Besides,
in some instances we see that the cause is other than the Form. For it
is the doctor who implants health and the man of science who implants science,
although 'Health itself' and 'Science itself' are as well as the Participants:
and the same principle applies to everything else that is produced in accordance
with an art. On the other hand (b) to say that 'matter generates owing
to its movement' would be, no doubt, more scientific than to make such
statements as are made by the thinkers we have been criticizing. For what
'alters' and transfigures plays a greater part in bringing, things into
being; and we are everywhere accustomed, in the products of nature and
of art alike, to look upon that which can initiate movement as the producing
cause. Nevertheless this second theory is not right
For, to begin with, it is characteristic of matter to suffer action,
i.e. to be moved: but to move, i.e. to act, belongs to a different 'power'.
This is obvious both in the things that come-to-be by art and in those
that come to-be by nature. Water does not of itself produce out of itself
an animal: and it is the art, not the wood, that makes a bed. Nor is this
their only error. They make a second mistake in omitting the more controlling
cause: for they eliminate the essential nature, i.e. the 'form'. And what
is more, since they remove the formal cause, they invest the forces they
assign to the 'simple' bodies-the forces which enable these bodies to bring
things into being-with too instrumental a character. For 'since' (as they
say) 'it is the nature of the hot to dissociate, of the cold to bring together,
and of each remaining contrary either to act or to suffer action', it is
out of such materials and by their agency (so they maintain) that everything
else comes-to-be and passes-away. Yet (a) it is evident that even Fire
is itself moved, i.e. suffers action. Moreover (b) their procedure is virtually
the same as if one were to treat the saw (and the various instruments of
carpentry) as 'the cause' of the things that come-to-be: for the wood must
be divided if a man saws, must become smooth if he planes, and so on with
the remaining tools. Hence, however true it may be that Fire is active,
i.e. sets things moving, there is a further point they fail to observe-viz.
that Fire is inferior to the tools or instruments in the manner in which
it sets things moving.
As to our own theory-we have given a general account of the causes
in an earlier work,' we have now explained and distinguished the 'matter'
and the 'form'. Further, since the change which is motion has been proved'
to be eternal, the continuity of the occurrence of coming-to-be follows
necessarily from what we have established: for the eternal motion, by causing
'the generator' to approach and retire, will produce coming-to-be uninterruptedly.
At the same time it is clear that we were right when, in an earlier work,'
we called motion (not coming-to-be) 'the primary form of change'. For it
is far more reasonable that what is should cause the coming-to-be of what
is not, than that what is not should cause the being of what is. Now that
which is being moved is, but that which is coming-to-be is not: hence,
also, motion is prior to coming-to-be.
We have assumed, and have proved, that coming-to-be and passing-away
happen to things continuously; and we assert that motion causes coming-to-be.
That being so, it is evident that, if the motion be single, both processes
cannot occur since they are contrary to one another: for it is a law of
nature that the same cause, provided it remain in the same condition, always
produces the same effect, so that, from a single motion, either coming-to-be
or passing-away will always result. The movements must, on the contrary,
be more than one, and they must be contrasted with one another either by
the sense of their motion or by its irregularity: for contrary effects
demand contraries as their causes.
This explains why it is not the primary motion that causes coming-to-be
and passingaway, but the motion along the inclined circle: for this motion
not only possesses the necessary continuity, but includes a duality of
movements as well. For if coming-to-be and passing-away are always to be
continuous, there must be some body always being moved (in order that these
changes may not fail) and moved with a duality of movements (in order that
both changes, not one only, may result). Now the continuity of this movement
is caused by the motion of the whole: but the approaching and retreating
of the moving body are caused by the inclination. For the consequence of
the inclination is that the body becomes alternately remote and near; and
since its distance is thus unequal, its movement will be irregular. Therefore,
if it generates by approaching and by its proximity, it-this very same
body-destroys by retreating and becoming remote: and if it generates by
many successive approaches, it also destroys by many successive retirements.
For contrary effects demand contraries as their causes; and the natural
processes of passing-away and coming-to-be occupy equal periods of time.
Hence, too, the times-i.e. the lives-of the several kinds of living things
have a number by which they are distinguished: for there is an Order controlling
all things, and every time (i.e. every life) is measured by a period. Not
all of them, however, are measured by the same period, but some by a smaller
and others by a greater one: for to some of them the period, which is their
measure, is a year, while to some it is longer and to others
And there are facts of observation in manifest agreement with our
theories. Thus we see that coming-to-be occurs as the sun approaches and
decay as it retreats; and we see that the two processes occupy equal times.
For the durations of the natural processes of passing-away and coming-to-be
are equal. Nevertheless it Often happens that things pass-away in too short
a time. This is due to the 'intermingling' by which the things that come-to-be
and pass-away are implicated with one another. For their matter is 'irregular',
i.e. is not everywhere the same: hence the processes by which they come-to-be
must be 'irregular' too, i.e. some too quick and others too slow. Consequently
the phenomenon in question occurs, because the 'irregular' coming-to-be
of these things is the passing-away of other things.
Coming-to-be and passing-away will, as we have said, always be
continuous, and will never fail owing to the cause we stated. And this
continuity has a sufficient reason on our theory. For in all things, as
we affirm, Nature always strives after 'the better'. Now 'being' (we have
explained elsewhere the exact variety of meanings we recognize in this
term) is better than 'not-being': but not all things can possess 'being',
since they are too far removed from the 'originative source. 'God therefore
adopted the remaining alternative, and fulfilled the perfection of the
universe by making coming-to-be uninterrupted: for the greatest possible
coherence would thus be secured to existence, because that 'coming-to-be
should itself come-to-be perpetually' is the closest approximation to eternal
The cause of this perpetuity of coming-to-be, as we have often
said, is circular motion: for that is the only motion which is continuous.
That, too, is why all the other things-the things, I mean, which are reciprocally
transformed in virtue of their 'passions' and their 'powers of action'
e.g. the 'simple' bodiesimitate circular motion. For when Water is transformed
into Air, Air into Fire, and the Fire back into Water, we say the coming-to-be
'has completed the circle', because it reverts again to the beginning.
Hence it is by imitating circular motion that rectilinear motion too is
These considerations serve at the same time to explain what is
to some people a baffling problem-viz. why the 'simple' bodies, since each
them is travelling towards its own place, have not become dissevered from
one another in the infinite lapse of time. The reason is their reciprocal
transformation. For, had each of them persisted in its own place instead
of being transformed by its neighbour, they would have got dissevered long
ago. They are transformed, however, owing to the motion with its dual character:
and because they are transformed, none of them is able to persist in any
place allotted to it by the Order.
It is clear from what has been said (i) that coming-to-be and passing-away
actually occur, (ii) what causes them, and (iii) what subject undergoes
them. But (a) if there is to be movement (as we have explained elsewhere,
in an earlier work') there must be something which initiates it; if there
is to be movement always, there must always be something which initiates
it; if the movement is to be continuous, what initiates it must be single,
unmoved, ungenerated, and incapable of 'alteration'; and if the circular
movements are more than one, their initiating causes must all of them,
in spite of their plurality, be in some way subordinated to a single 'originative
source'. Further (b) since time is continuous, movement must be continuous,
inasmuch as there can be no time without movement. Time, therefore, is
a 'number' of some continuous movement-a 'number', therefore, of the circular
movement, as was established in the discussions at the beginning. But (c)
is movement continuous because of the continuity of that which is moved,
or because that in which the movement occurs (I mean, e.g. the place or
the quality) is continuous? The answer must clearly be 'because that which
is moved is continuous'. (For how can the quality be continuous except
in virtue of the continuity of the thing to which it belongs? But if the
continuity of 'that in which' contributes to make the movement continuous,
this is true only of 'the place in which'; for that has 'magnitude' in
a sense.) But (d) amongst continuous bodies which are moved, only that
which is moved in a circle is 'continuous' in such a way that it preserves
its continuity with itself throughout the movement. The conclusion therefore
is that this is what produces continuous movement, viz. the body which
is being moved in a circle; and its movement makes time
Wherever there is continuity in any process (coming-to-be or 'alteration'
or any kind of change whatever) we observe consecutiveness', i.e. this
coming-to-be after that without any interval. Hence we must investigate
whether, amongst the consecutive members, there is any whose future being
is necessary; or whether, on the contrary, every one of them may fail to
come-to-be. For that some of them may fail to occur, is clear. (a) We need
only appeal to the distinction between the statements 'x will be' and 'x
is about to which depends upon this fact. For if it be true to say of x
that it 'will be', it must at some time be true to say of it that 'it is':
whereas, though it be true to say of x now that 'it is about to occur',
it is quite possible for it not to come-to-be-thus a man might not walk,
though he is now 'about to' walk. And (b) since (to appeal to a general
principle) amongst the things which 'are' some are capable also of 'not-being',
it is clear that the same ambiguous character will attach to them no less
when they are coming-to-be: in other words, their coming-to-be will not
Then are all the things that come-to-be of this contingent character?
Or, on the contrary, is it absolutely necessary for some of them to come-to-be?
Is there, in fact, a distinction in the field of 'coming-to-be' corresponding
to the distinction, within the field of 'being', between things that cannot
possibly 'not-be' and things that can 'not-be'? For instance, is it necessary
that solstices shall come-to-be, i.e. impossible that they should fail
to be able to occur?
Assuming that the antecedent must have come-to-be if the consequent
is to be (e.g. that foundations must have come-to-be if there is to be
a house: clay, if there are to be foundations), is the converse also true?
If foundations have come-to-be, must a house come-to-be? The answer seems
to be that the necessary nexus no longer holds, unless it is 'necessary'
for the consequent (as well as for the antecedent) to come-to-be-'necessary'
absolutely. If that be the case, however, 'a house must come to-be if foundations
have come-to-be', as well as vice versa. For the antecedent was assumed
to be so related to the consequent that, if the latter is to be, the antecedent
must have come-tobe before it. If, therefore, it is necessary that the
consequent should come-to-be, the antecedent also must have come-to-be:
and if the antecedent has come-to-be, then the consequent also must come-to-be-not,
however, because of the antecedent, but because the future being of the
consequent was assumed as necessary. Hence, in any sequence, when the being
of the consequent is necessary, the nexus is reciprocal-in other words,
when the antecedent has come-to-be the consequent must always come-to-be
Now (i) if the sequence of occurrences is to proceed ad infinitum
'downwards', the coming to-be of any determinate 'this' amongst the later
members of the sequence will not be absolutely, but only conditionally,
necessary. For it will always be necessary that some other member shall
have come-to-be before 'this' as the presupposed condition of the necessity
that 'this' should come-to-be: consequently, since what is 'infinite' has
no 'originative source', neither will there be in the infinite sequence
any 'primary' member which will make it 'necessary' for the remaining members
Nor again (ii) will it be possible to say with truth, even in regard
to the members of a limited sequence, that it is 'absolutely necessary'
for any one of them to come-to-be. We cannot truly say, e.g. that 'it is
absolutely necessary for a house to come-to-be when foundations have been
laid': for (unless it is always necessary for a house to be coming-to-be)
we should be faced with the consequence that, when foundations have been
laid, a thing, which need not always be, must always be. No: if its coming-to-be
is to be 'necessary', it must be 'always' in its coming-to-be. For what
is 'of necessity' coincides with what is 'always', since that which 'must
be' cannot possibly 'not-be'. Hence a thing is eternal if its 'being' is
necessary: and if it is eternal, its 'being' is necessary. And if, therefore,
the 'coming-to-be' of a thing is necessary, its 'coming-to-be' is eternal;
and if eternal, necessary.
It follows that the coming-to-be of anything, if it is absolutely
necessary, must be cyclical-i.e. must return upon itself. For coming to-be
must either be limited or not limited: and if not limited, it must be either
rectilinear or cyclical. But the first of these last two alternatives is
impossible if coming-to-be is to be eternal, because there could not be
any 'originative source' whatever in an infinite rectilinear sequence,
whether its members be taken 'downwards' (as future events) or 'upwards'
(as past events). Yet coming-to-be must have an 'originative source' (if
it is to be necessary and therefore eternal), nor can it be eternal if
it is limited. Consequently it must be cyclical. Hence the nexus must be
reciprocal. By this I mean that the necessary occurrence of 'this' involves
the necessary occurrence of its antecedent: and conversely that, given
the antecedent, it is also necessary for the consequent to come-to-be.
And this reciprocal nexus will hold continuously throughout the sequence:
for it makes no difference whether the reciprocal nexus, of which we are
speaking, is mediated by two, or by many, members.
It is in circular movement, therefore, and in cyclical coming-to-be
that the 'absolutely necessary' is to be found. In other words, if the
coming-to-be of any things is cyclical, it is 'necessary' that each of
them is coming-to-be and has come-to-be: and if the coming-to-be of any
things is 'necessary', their coming-to-be is cyclical.
The result we have reached is logically concordant with the eternity
of circular motion, i.e. the eternity of the revolution of the heavens
(a fact which approved itself on other and independent evidence),' since
precisely those movements which belong to, and depend upon, this eternal
revolution 'come-to-be' of necessity, and of necessity 'will be'. For since
the revolving body is always setting something else in motion, the movement
of the things it moves must also be circular. Thus, from the being of the
'upper revolution' it follows that the sun revolves in this determinate
manner; and since the sun revolves thus, the seasons in consequence come-to-be
in a cycle, i.e. return upon themselves; and since they come-to-be cyclically,
so in their turn do the things whose coming-to-be the seasons
Then why do some things manifestly come to-be in this cyclical
fashion (as, e.g. showers and air, so that it must rain if there is to
be a cloud and, conversely, there must be a cloud if it is to rain), while
men and animals do not 'return upon themselves' so that the same individual
comes-to-be a second time (for though your coming-to-be presupposes your
father's, his coming-to-be does not presuppose yours)? Why, on the contrary,
does this coming-to-be seem to constitute a rectilinear
In discussing this new problem, we must begin by inquiring whether
all things 'return upon themselves' in a uniform manner; or whether, on
the contrary, though in some sequences what recurs is numerically the same,
in other sequences it is the same only in species. In consequence of this
distinction, it is evident that those things, whose 'substance'-that which
is undergoing the process-is imperishable, will be numerically, as well
as specifically, the same in their recurrence: for the character of the
process is determined by the character of that which undergoes it. Those
things, on the other hand, whose 'substance' is perish, able (not imperishable)
must 'return upon themselves' in the sense that what recurs, though specifically
the same, is not the same numerically. That why, when Water comes-to-be
from Air and Air from Water, the Air is the same 'specifically', not 'numerically':
and if these too recur numerically the same, at any rate this does not
happen with things whose 'substance' comes-to-be-whose 'substance' is such
that it is essentially capable of not-being.