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Written 350 B.C.E
Translated by W. D. Ross
"ALL men by nature desire to know. An indication of this
is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness
they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight.
For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do
anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason
is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light
many differences between things.
"By nature animals are born with
the faculty of sensation, and from sensation memory is produced in some
of them, though not in others. And therefore the former are more intelligent
and apt at learning than those which cannot remember; those which are incapable
of hearing sounds are intelligent though they cannot be taught, e.g. the
bee, and any other race of animals that may be like it; and those which
besides memory have this sense of hearing can be taught.
other than man live by appearances and memories, and have but little of
connected experience; but the human race lives also by art and reasonings.
Now from memory experience is produced in men; for the several memories
of the same thing produce finally the capacity for a single experience.
And experience seems pretty much like science and art, but really science
and art come to men through experience; for 'experience made art', as Polus
says, 'but inexperience luck.' Now art arises when from many notions gained
by experience one universal judgement about a class of objects is produced.
For to have a judgement that when Callias was ill of this disease this
did him good, and similarly in the case of Socrates and in many individual
cases, is a matter of experience; but to judge that it has done good to
all persons of a certain constitution, marked off in one class, when they
were ill of this disease, e.g. to phlegmatic or bilious people when burning
with fevers-this is a matter of art.
"With a view to action experience
seems in no respect inferior to art, and men of experience succeed even
better than those who have theory without experience. (The reason is that
experience is knowledge of individuals, art of universals, and actions
and productions are all concerned with the individual; for the physician
does not cure man, except in an incidental way, but Callias or Socrates
or some other called by some such individual name, who happens to be a
man. If, then, a man has the theory without the experience, and recognizes
the universal but does not know the individual included in this, he will
often fail to cure; for it is the individual that is to be cured.) But
yet we think that knowledge and understanding belong to art rather than
to experience, and we suppose artists to be wiser than men of experience
(which implies that Wisdom depends in all cases rather on knowledge); and
this because the former know the cause, but the latter do not. For men
of experience know that the thing is so, but do not know why, while the
others know the 'why' and the cause. Hence we think also that the masterworkers
in each craft are more honourable and know in a truer sense and are wiser
than the manual workers, because they know the causes of the things that
are done (we think the manual workers are like certain lifeless things
which act indeed, but act without knowing what they do, as fire burns,-but
while the lifeless things perform each of their functions by a natural
tendency, the labourers perform them through habit); thus we view them
as being wiser not in virtue of being able to act, but of having the theory
for themselves and knowing the causes. And in general it is a sign of the
man who knows and of the man who does not know, that the former can teach,
and therefore we think art more truly knowledge than experience is; for
artists can teach, and men of mere experience cannot.
do not regard any of the senses as Wisdom; yet surely these give the most
authoritative knowledge of particulars. But they do not tell us the 'why'
of anything-e.g. why fire is hot; they only say that it is hot.
first he who invented any art whatever that went beyond the common perceptions
of man was naturally admired by men, not only because there was something
useful in the inventions, but because he was thought wise and superior
to the rest. But as more arts were invented, and some were directed to
the necessities of life, others to recreation, the inventors of the latter
were naturally always regarded as wiser than the inventors of the former,
because their branches of knowledge did not aim at utility. Hence when
all such inventions were already established, the sciences which do not
aim at giving pleasure or at the necessities of life were discovered, and
first in the places where men first began to have leisure. This is why
the mathematical arts were founded in Egypt; for there the priestly caste
was allowed to be at leisure.
"We have said in the Ethics what
the difference is between art and science and the other kindred faculties;
but the point of our present discussion is this, that all men suppose what
is called Wisdom to deal with the first causes and the principles of things;
so that, as has been said before, the man of experience is thought to be
wiser than the possessors of any sense-perception whatever, the artist
wiser than the men of experience, the masterworker than the mechanic, and
the theoretical kinds of knowledge to be more of the nature of Wisdom than
the productive. Clearly then Wisdom is knowledge about certain principles
"Since we are seeking this knowledge, we must inquire of what kind
are the causes and the principles, the knowledge of which is Wisdom. If
one were to take the notions we have about the wise man, this might perhaps
make the answer more evident. We suppose first, then, that the wise man
knows all things, as far as possible, although he has not knowledge of
each of them in detail; secondly, that he who can learn things that are
difficult, and not easy for man to know, is wise (sense-perception is common
to all, and therefore easy and no mark of Wisdom); again, that he who is
more exact and more capable of teaching the causes is wiser, in every branch
of knowledge; and that of the sciences, also, that which is desirable on
its own account and for the sake of knowing it is more of the nature of
Wisdom than that which is desirable on account of its results, and the
superior science is more of the nature of Wisdom than the ancillary; for
the wise man must not be ordered but must order, and he must not obey another,
but the less wise must obey him.
"Such and so many are the notions,
then, which we have about Wisdom and the wise. Now of these characteristics
that of knowing all things must belong to him who has in the highest degree
universal knowledge; for he knows in a sense all the instances that fall
under the universal. And these things, the most universal, are on the whole
the hardest for men to know; for they are farthest from the senses. And
the most exact of the sciences are those which deal most with first principles;
for those which involve fewer principles are more exact than those which
involve additional principles, e.g. arithmetic than geometry. But the science
which investigates causes is also instructive, in a higher degree, for
the people who instruct us are those who tell the causes of each thing.
And understanding and knowledge pursued for their own sake are found most
in the knowledge of that which is most knowable (for he who chooses to
know for the sake of knowing will choose most readily that which is most
truly knowledge, and such is the knowledge of that which is most knowable);
and the first principles and the causes are most knowable; for by reason
of these, and from these, all other things come to be known, and not these
by means of the things subordinate to them. And the science which knows
to what end each thing must be done is the most authoritative of the sciences,
and more authoritative than any ancillary science; and this end is the
good of that thing, and in general the supreme good in the whole of nature.
Judged by all the tests we have mentioned, then, the name in question falls
to the same science; this must be a science that investigates the first
principles and causes; for the good, i.e. the end, is one of the causes.
"That it is not a science of production is clear even from the
history of the earliest philosophers. For it is owing to their wonder that
men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally
at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated
difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the
moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the
universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant
(whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the
myth is composed of wonders); therefore since they philosophized order
to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order
to know, and not for any utilitarian end. And this is confirmed by the
facts; for it was when almost all the necessities of life and the things
that make for comfort and recreation had been secured, that such knowledge
began to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any
other advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for his own
sake and not for another's, so we pursue this as the only free science,
for it alone exists for its own sake.
"Hence also the possession
of it might be justly regarded as beyond human power; for in many ways
human nature is in bondage, so that according to Simonides 'God alone can
have this privilege', and it is unfitting that man should not be content
to seek the knowledge that is suited to him. If, then, there is something
in what the poets say, and jealousy is natural to the divine power, it
would probably occur in this case above all, and all who excelled in this
knowledge would be unfortunate. But the divine power cannot be jealous
(nay, according to the proverb, 'bards tell a lie'), nor should any other
science be thought more honourable than one of this sort. For the most
divine science is also most honourable; and this science alone must be,
in two ways, most divine. For the science which it would be most meet for
God to have is a divine science, and so is any science that deals with
divine objects; and this science alone has both these qualities; for (1)
God is thought to be among the causes of all things and to be a first principle,
and (2) such a science either God alone can have, or God above all others.
All the sciences, indeed, are more necessary than this, but none is better.
"Yet the acquisition of it must in a sense end in something which
is the opposite of our original inquiries. For all men begin, as we said,
by wondering that things are as they are, as they do about self-moving
marionettes, or about the solstices or the incommensurability of the diagonal
of a square with the side; for it seems wonderful to all who have not yet
seen the reason, that there is a thing which cannot be measured even by
the smallest unit. But we must end in the contrary and, according to the
proverb, the better state, as is the case in these instances too when men
learn the cause; for there is nothing which would surprise a geometer so
much as if the diagonal turned out to be commensurable.
stated, then, what is the nature of the science we are searching for, and
what is the mark which our search and our whole investigation must
"Evidently we have to acquire knowledge of the original causes
(for we say we know each thing only when we think we recognize its first
cause), and causes are spoken of in four senses. In one of these we mean
the substance, i.e. the essence (for the 'why' is reducible finally to
the definition, and the ultimate 'why' is a cause and principle); in another
the matter or substratum, in a third the source of the change, and in a
fourth the cause opposed to this, the purpose and the good (for this is
the end of all generation and change). We have studied these causes sufficiently
in our work on nature, but yet let us call to our aid those who have attacked
the investigation of being and philosophized about reality before us. For
obviously they too speak of certain principles and causes; to go over their
views, then, will be of profit to the present inquiry, for we shall either
find another kind of cause, or be more convinced of the correctness of
those which we now maintain.
"Of the first philosophers, then,
most thought the principles which were of the nature of matter were the
only principles of all things. That of which all things that are consist,
the first from which they come to be, the last into which they are resolved
(the substance remaining, but changing in its modifications), this they
say is the element and this the principle of things, and therefore they
think nothing is either generated or destroyed, since this sort of entity
is always conserved, as we say Socrates neither comes to be absolutely
when he comes to be beautiful or musical, nor ceases to be when loses these
characteristics, because the substratum, Socrates himself remains. just
so they say nothing else comes to be or ceases to be; for there must be
some entity-either one or more than one-from which all other things come
to be, it being conserved.
"Yet they do not all agree as to the
number and the nature of these principles. Thales, the founder of this
type of philosophy, says the principle is water (for which reason he declared
that the earth rests on water), getting the notion perhaps from seeing
that the nutriment of all things is moist, and that heat itself is generated
from the moist and kept alive by it (and that from which they come to be
is a principle of all things). He got his notion from this fact, and from
the fact that the seeds of all things have a moist nature, and that water
is the origin of the nature of moist things.
"Some think that even
the ancients who lived long before the present generation, and first framed
accounts of the gods, had a similar view of nature; for they made Ocean
and Tethys the parents of creation, and described the oath of the gods
as being by water, to which they give the name of Styx; for what is oldest
is most honourable, and the most honourable thing is that by which one
swears. It may perhaps be uncertain whether this opinion about nature is
primitive and ancient, but Thales at any rate is said to have declared
himself thus about the first cause. Hippo no one would think fit to include
among these thinkers, because of the paltriness of his thought.
and Diogenes make air prior to water, and the most primary of the simple
bodies, while Hippasus of Metapontium and Heraclitus of Ephesus say this
of fire, and Empedocles says it of the four elements (adding a fourth-earth-to
those which have been named); for these, he says, always remain and do
not come to be, except that they come to be more or fewer, being aggregated
into one and segregated out of one.
"Anaxagoras of Clazomenae,
who, though older than Empedocles, was later in his philosophical activity,
says the principles are infinite in number; for he says almost all the
things that are made of parts like themselves, in the manner of water or
fire, are generated and destroyed in this way, only by aggregation and
segregation, and are not in any other sense generated or destroyed, but
"From these facts one might think that the only
cause is the so-called material cause; but as men thus advanced, the very
facts opened the way for them and joined in forcing them to investigate
the subject. However true it may be that all generation and destruction
proceed from some one or (for that matter) from more elements, why does
this happen and what is the cause? For at least the substratum itself does
not make itself change; e.g. neither the wood nor the bronze causes the
change of either of them, nor does the wood manufacture a bed and the bronze
a statue, but something else is the cause of the change. And to seek this
is to seek the second cause, as we should say,-that from which comes the
beginning of the movement. Now those who at the very beginning set themselves
to this kind of inquiry, and said the substratum was one, were not at all
dissatisfied with themselves; but some at least of those who maintain it
to be one-as though defeated by this search for the second cause-say the
one and nature as a whole is unchangeable not only in respect of generation
and destruction (for this is a primitive belief, and all agreed in it),
but also of all other change; and this view is peculiar to them. Of those
who said the universe was one, then none succeeded in discovering a cause
of this sort, except perhaps Parmenides, and he only inasmuch as he supposes
that there is not only one but also in some sense two causes. But for those
who make more elements it is more possible to state the second cause, e.g.
for those who make hot and cold, or fire and earth, the elements; for they
treat fire as having a nature which fits it to move things, and water and
earth and such things they treat in the contrary way.
men and the principles of this kind had had their day, as the latter were
found inadequate to generate the nature of things men were again forced
by the truth itself, as we said, to inquire into the next kind of cause.
For it is not likely either that fire or earth or any such element should
be the reason why things manifest goodness and, beauty both in their being
and in their coming to be, or that those thinkers should have supposed
it was; nor again could it be right to entrust so great a matter to spontaneity
and chance. When one man said, then, that reason was present-as in animals,
so throughout nature-as the cause of order and of all arrangement, he seemed
like a sober man in contrast with the random talk of his predecessors.
We know that Anaxagoras certainly adopted these views, but Hermotimus of
Clazomenae is credited with expressing them earlier. Those who thought
thus stated that there is a principle of things which is at the same time
the cause of beauty, and that sort of cause from which things acquire
"One might suspect that Hesiod was the first to look for such a
thing-or some one else who put love or desire among existing things as
a principle, as Parmenides, too, does; for he, in constructing the genesis
of the universe, says:- "
"Love first of all the Gods she planned. "
"And Hesiod says:- "
"First of all things was chaos made, and then
"And love, 'mid all the gods pre-eminent,
which implies that among existing things there must be from the
first a cause which will move things and bring them together. How these
thinkers should be arranged with regard to priority of discovery let us
be allowed to decide later; but since the contraries of the various forms
of good were also perceived to be present in nature-not only order and
the beautiful, but also disorder and the ugly, and bad things in greater
number than good, and ignoble things than beautiful-therefore another thinker
introduced friendship and strife, each of the two the cause of one of these
two sets of qualities. For if we were to follow out the view of Empedocles,
and interpret it according to its meaning and not to its lisping expression,
we should find that friendship is the cause of good things, and strife
of bad. Therefore, if we said that Empedocles in a sense both mentions,
and is the first to mention, the bad and the good as principles, we should
perhaps be right, since the cause of all goods is the good itself.
thinkers, as we say, evidently grasped, and to this extent, two of the
causes which we distinguished in our work on nature-the matter and the
source of the movement-vaguely, however, and with no clearness, but as
untrained men behave in fights; for they go round their opponents and often
strike fine blows, but they do not fight on scientific principles, and
so too these thinkers do not seem to know what they say; for it is evident
that, as a rule, they make no use of their causes except to a small extent.
For Anaxagoras uses reason as a deus ex machina for the making of the world,
and when he is at a loss to tell from what cause something necessarily
is, then he drags reason in, but in all other cases ascribes events to
anything rather than to reason. And Empedocles, though he uses the causes
to a greater extent than this, neither does so sufficiently nor attains
consistency in their use. At least, in many cases he makes love segregate
things, and strife aggregate them. For whenever the universe is dissolved
into its elements by strife, fire is aggregated into one, and so is each
of the other elements; but whenever again under the influence of love they
come together into one, the parts must again be segregated out of each
"Empedocles, then, in contrast with his precessors, was
the first to introduce the dividing of this cause, not positing one source
of movement, but different and contrary sources. Again, he was the first
to speak of four material elements; yet he does not use four, but treats
them as two only; he treats fire by itself, and its opposite-earth, air,
and water-as one kind of thing. We may learn this by study of his verses.
"This philosopher then, as we say, has spoken of the principles
in this way, and made them of this number. Leucippus and his associate
Democritus say that the full and the empty are the elements, calling the
one being and the other non-being-the full and solid being being, the empty
non-being (whence they say being no more is than non-being, because the
solid no more is than the empty); and they make these the material causes
of things. And as those who make the underlying substance one generate
all other things by its modifications, supposing the rare and the dense
to be the sources of the modifications, in the same way these philosophers
say the differences in the elements are the causes of all other qualities.
These differences, they say, are three-shape and order and position. For
they say the real is differentiated only by 'rhythm and 'inter-contact'
and 'turning'; and of these rhythm is shape, inter-contact is order, and
turning is position; for A differs from N in shape, AN from NA in order,
M from W in position. The question of movement-whence or how it is to belong
to things-these thinkers, like the others, lazily neglected.
the two causes, then, as we say, the inquiry seems to have been pushed
thus far by the early philosophers.
"Contemporaneously with these philosophers and before them, the
so-called Pythagoreans, who were the first to take up mathematics, not
only advanced this study, but also having been brought up in it they thought
its principles were the principles of all things. Since of these principles
numbers are by nature the first, and in numbers they seemed to see many
resemblances to the things that exist and come into being-more than in
fire and earth and water (such and such a modification of numbers being
justice, another being soul and reason, another being opportunity-and similarly
almost all other things being numerically expressible); since, again, they
saw that the modifications and the ratios of the musical scales were expressible
in numbers;-since, then, all other things seemed in their whole nature
to be modelled on numbers, and numbers seemed to be the first things in
the whole of nature, they supposed the elements of numbers to be the elements
of all things, and the whole heaven to be a musical scale and a number.
And all the properties of numbers and scales which they could show to agree
with the attributes and parts and the whole arrangement of the heavens,
they collected and fitted into their scheme; and if there was a gap anywhere,
they readily made additions so as to make their whole theory coherent.
E.g. as the number 10 is thought to be perfect and to comprise the whole
nature of numbers, they say that the bodies which move through the heavens
are ten, but as the visible bodies are only nine, to meet this they invent
a tenth--the 'counter-earth'. We have discussed these matters more exactly
"But the object of our review is that we may learn from
these philosophers also what they suppose to be the principles and how
these fall under the causes we have named. Evidently, then, these thinkers
also consider that number is the principle both as matter for things and
as forming both their modifications and their permanent states, and hold
that the elements of number are the even and the odd, and that of these
the latter is limited, and the former unlimited; and that the One proceeds
from both of these (for it is both even and odd), and number from the One;
and that the whole heaven, as has been said, is numbers.
members of this same school say there are ten principles, which they arrange
in two columns of cognates-limit and unlimited, odd and even, one and plurality,
right and left, male and female, resting and moving, straight and curved,
light and darkness, good and bad, square and oblong. In this way Alcmaeon
of Croton seems also to have conceived the matter, and either he got this
view from them or they got it from him; for he expressed himself similarly
to them. For he says most human affairs go in pairs, meaning not definite
contrarieties such as the Pythagoreans speak of, but any chance contrarieties,
e.g. white and black, sweet and bitter, good and bad, great and small.
He threw out indefinite suggestions about the other contrarieties, but
the Pythagoreans declared both how many and which their contraricties are.
"From both these schools, then, we can learn this much, that the
contraries are the principles of things; and how many these principles
are and which they are, we can learn from one of the two schools. But how
these principles can be brought together under the causes we have named
has not been clearly and articulately stated by them; they seem, however,
to range the elements under the head of matter; for out of these as immanent
parts they say substance is composed and moulded.
"From these facts
we may sufficiently perceive the meaning of the ancients who said the elements
of nature were more than one; but there are some who spoke of the universe
as if it were one entity, though they were not all alike either in the
excellence of their statement or in its conformity to the facts of nature.
The discussion of them is in no way appropriate to our present investigation
of causes, for. they do not, like some of the natural philosophers, assume
being to be one and yet generate it out of the one as out of matter, but
they speak in another way; those others add change, since they generate
the universe, but these thinkers say the universe is unchangeable. Yet
this much is germane to the present inquiry: Parmenides seems to fasten
on that which is one in definition, Melissus on that which is one in matter,
for which reason the former says that it is limited, the latter that it
is unlimited; while Xenophanes, the first of these partisans of the One
(for Parmenides is said to have been his pupil), gave no clear statement,
nor does he seem to have grasped the nature of either of these causes,
but with reference to the whole material universe he says the One is God.
Now these thinkers, as we said, must be neglected for the purposes of the
present inquiry-two of them entirely, as being a little too naive, viz.
Xenophanes and Melissus; but Parmenides seems in places to speak with more
insight. For, claiming that, besides the existent, nothing non-existent
exists, he thinks that of necessity one thing exists, viz. the existent
and nothing else (on this we have spoken more clearly in our work on nature),
but being forced to follow the observed facts, and supposing the existence
of that which is one in definition, but more than one according to our
sensations, he now posits two causes and two principles, calling them hot
and cold, i.e. fire and earth; and of these he ranges the hot with the
existent, and the other with the non-existent.
"From what has been
said, then, and from the wise men who have now sat in council with us,
we have got thus much-on the one hand from the earliest philosophers, who
regard the first principle as corporeal (for water and fire and such things
are bodies), and of whom some suppose that there is one corporeal principle,
others that there are more than one, but both put these under the head
of matter; and on the other hand from some who posit both this cause and
besides this the source of movement, which we have got from some as single
and from others as twofold.
"Down to the Italian school, then,
and apart from it, philosophers have treated these subjects rather obscurely,
except that, as we said, they have in fact used two kinds of cause, and
one of these-the source of movement-some treat as one and others as two.
But the Pythagoreans have said in the same way that there are two principles,
but added this much, which is peculiar to them, that they thought that
finitude and infinity were not attributes of certain other things, e.g.
of fire or earth or anything else of this kind, but that infinity itself
and unity itself were the substance of the things of which they are predicated.
This is why number was the substance of all things. On this subject, then,
they expressed themselves thus; and regarding the question of essence they
began to make statements and definitions, but treated the matter too simply.
For they both defined superficially and thought that the first subject
of which a given definition was predicable was the substance of the thing
defined, as if one supposed that 'double' and '2' were the same, because
2 is the first thing of which 'double' is predicable. But surely to be
double and to be 2 are not the same; if they are, one thing will be many-a
consequence which they actually drew. From the earlier philosophers, then,
and from their successors we can learn thus much.
"After the systems we have named came the philosophy of Plato,
which in most respects followed these thinkers, but had pecullarities that
distinguished it from the philosophy of the Italians. For, having in his
youth first become familiar with Cratylus and with the Heraclitean doctrines
(that all sensible things are ever in a state of flux and there is no knowledge
about them), these views he held even in later years. Socrates, however,
was busying himself about ethical matters and neglecting the world of nature
as a whole but seeking the universal in these ethical matters, and fixed
thought for the first time on definitions; Plato accepted his teaching,
but held that the problem applied not to sensible things but to entities
of another kind-for this reason, that the common definition could not be
a definition of any sensible thing, as they were always changing. Things
of this other sort, then, he called Ideas, and sensible things, he said,
were all named after these, and in virtue of a relation to these; for the
many existed by participation in the Ideas that have the same name as they.
Only the name 'participation' was new; for the Pythagoreans say that things
exist by 'imitation' of numbers, and Plato says they exist by participation,
changing the name. But what the participation or the imitation of the Forms
could be they left an open question.
"Further, besides sensible
things and Forms he says there are the objects of mathematics, which occupy
an intermediate position, differing from sensible things in being eternal
and unchangeable, from Forms in that there are many alike, while the Form
itself is in each case unique.
"Since the Forms were the causes
of all other things, he thought their elements were the elements of all
things. As matter, the great and the small were principles; as essential
reality, the One; for from the great and the small, by participation in
the One, come the Numbers.
"But he agreed with the Pythagoreans
in saying that the One is substance and not a predicate of something else;
and in saying that the Numbers are the causes of the reality of other things
he agreed with them; but positing a dyad and constructing the infinite
out of great and small, instead of treating the infinite as one, is peculiar
to him; and so is his view that the Numbers exist apart from sensible things,
while they say that the things themselves are Numbers, and do not place
the objects of mathematics between Forms and sensible things. His divergence
from the Pythagoreans in making the One and the Numbers separate from things,
and his introduction of the Forms, were due to his inquiries in the region
of definitions (for the earlier thinkers had no tincture of dialectic),
and his making the other entity besides the One a dyad was due to the belief
that the numbers, except those which were prime, could be neatly produced
out of the dyad as out of some plastic material. Yet what happens is the
contrary; the theory is not a reasonable one. For they make many things
out of the matter, and the form generates only once, but what we observe
is that one table is made from one matter, while the man who applies the
form, though he is one, makes many tables. And the relation of the male
to the female is similar; for the latter is impregnated by one copulation,
but the male impregnates many females; yet these are analogues of those
"Plato, then, declared himself thus on the points
in question; it is evident from what has been said that he has used only
two causes, that of the essence and the material cause (for the Forms are
the causes of the essence of all other things, and the One is the cause
of the essence of the Forms); and it is evident what the underlying matter
is, of which the Forms are predicated in the case of sensible things, and
the One in the case of Forms, viz. that this is a dyad, the great and the
small. Further, he has assigned the cause of good and that of evil to the
elements, one to each of the two, as we say some of his predecessors sought
to do, e.g. Empedocles and Anaxagoras.
"Our review of those who have spoken about first principles and
reality and of the way in which they have spoken, has been concise and
summary; but yet we have learnt this much from them, that of those who
speak about 'principle' and 'cause' no one has mentioned any principle
except those which have been distinguished in our work on nature, but all
evidently have some inkling of them, though only vaguely. For some speak
of the first principle as matter, whether they suppose one or more first
principles, and whether they suppose this to be a body or to be incorporeal;
e.g. Plato spoke of the great and the small, the Italians of the infinite,
Empedocles of fire, earth, water, and air, Anaxagoras of the infinity of
things composed of similar parts. These, then, have all had a notion of
this kind of cause, and so have all who speak of air or fire or water,
or something denser than fire and rarer than air; for some have said the
prime element is of this kind.
"These thinkers grasped this cause
only; but certain others have mentioned the source of movement, e.g. those
who make friendship and strife, or reason, or love, a principle.
essence, i.e. the substantial reality, no one has expressed distinctly.
It is hinted at chiefly by those who believe in the Forms; for they do
not suppose either that the Forms are the matter of sensible things, and
the One the matter of the Forms, or that they are the source of movement
(for they say these are causes rather of immobility and of being at rest),
but they furnish the Forms as the essence of every other thing, and the
One as the essence of the Forms.
"That for whose sake actions and
changes and movements take place, they assert to be a cause in a way, but
not in this way, i.e. not in the way in which it is its nature to be a
cause. For those who speak of reason or friendship class these causes as
goods; they do not speak, however, as if anything that exists either existed
or came into being for the sake of these, but as if movements started from
these. In the same way those who say the One or the existent is the good,
say that it is the cause of substance, but not that substance either is
or comes to be for the sake of this. Therefore it turns out that in a sense
they both say and do not say the good is a cause; for they do not call
it a cause qua good but only incidentally.
"All these thinkers
then, as they cannot pitch on another cause, seem to testify that we have
determined rightly both how many and of what sort the causes are. Besides
this it is plain that when the causes are being looked for, either all
four must be sought thus or they must be sought in one of these four ways.
Let us next discuss the possible difficulties with regard to the way in
which each of these thinkers has spoken, and with regard to his situation
relatively to the first principles.
"Those, then, who say the universe is one and posit one kind of
thing as matter, and as corporeal matter which has spatial magnitude, evidently
go astray in many ways. For they posit the elements of bodies only, not
of incorporeal things, though there are also incorporeal things. And in
trying to state the causes of generation and destruction, and in giving
a physical account of all things, they do away with the cause of movement.
Further, they err in not positing the substance, i.e. the essence, as the
cause of anything, and besides this in lightly calling any of the simple
bodies except earth the first principle, without inquiring how they are
produced out of one anothers-I mean fire, water, earth, and air. For some
things are produced out of each other by combination, others by separation,
and this makes the greatest difference to their priority and posteriority.
For (1) in a way the property of being most elementary of all would seem
to belong to the first thing from which they are produced by combination,
and this property would belong to the most fine-grained and subtle of bodies.
For this reason those who make fire the principle would be most in agreement
with this argument. But each of the other thinkers agrees that the element
of corporeal things is of this sort. At least none of those who named one
element claimed that earth was the element, evidently because of the coarseness
of its grain. (Of the other three elements each has found some judge on
its side; for some maintain that fire, others that water, others that air
is the element. Yet why, after all, do they not name earth also, as most
men do? For people say all things are earth Hesiod says earth was produced
first of corporeal things; so primitive and popular has the opinion been.)
According to this argument, then, no one would be right who either says
the first principle is any of the elements other than fire, or supposes
it to be denser than air but rarer than water. But (2) if that which is
later in generation is prior in nature, and that which is concocted and
compounded is later in generation, the contrary of what we have been saying
must be true,-water must be prior to air, and earth to water.
much, then, for those who posit one cause such as we mentioned; but the
same is true if one supposes more of these, as Empedocles says matter of
things is four bodies. For he too is confronted by consequences some of
which are the same as have been mentioned, while others are peculiar to
him. For we see these bodies produced from one another, which implies that
the same body does not always remain fire or earth (we have spoken about
this in our works on nature); and regarding the cause of movement and the
question whether we must posit one or two, he must be thought to have spoken
neither correctly nor altogether plausibly. And in general, change of quality
is necessarily done away with for those who speak thus, for on their view
cold will not come from hot nor hot from cold. For if it did there would
be something that accepted the contraries themselves, and there would be
some one entity that became fire and water, which Empedocles denies.
regards Anaxagoras, if one were to suppose that he said there were two
elements, the supposition would accord thoroughly with an argument which
Anaxagoras himself did not state articulately, but which he must have accepted
if any one had led him on to it. True, to say that in the beginning all
things were mixed is absurd both on other grounds and because it follows
that they must have existed before in an unmixed form, and because nature
does not allow any chance thing to be mixed with any chance thing, and
also because on this view modifications and accidents could be separated
from substances (for the same things which are mixed can be separated);
yet if one were to follow him up, piecing together what he means, he would
perhaps be seen to be somewhat modern in his views. For when nothing was
separated out, evidently nothing could be truly asserted of the substance
that then existed. I mean, e.g. that it was neither white nor black, nor
grey nor any other colour, but of necessity colourless; for if it had been
coloured, it would have had one of these colours. And similarly, by this
same argument, it was flavourless, nor had it any similar attribute; for
it could not be either of any quality or of any size, nor could it be any
definite kind of thing. For if it were, one of the particular forms would
have belonged to it, and this is impossible, since all were mixed together;
for the particular form would necessarily have been already separated out,
but he all were mixed except reason, and this alone was unmixed and pure.
From this it follows, then, that he must say the principles are the One
(for this is simple and unmixed) and the Other, which is of such a nature
as we suppose the indefinite to be before it is defined and partakes of
some form. Therefore, while expressing himself neither rightly nor clearly,
he means something like what the later thinkers say and what is now more
clearly seen to be the case.
"But these thinkers are, after all,
at home only in arguments about generation and destruction and movement;
for it is practically only of this sort of substance that they seek the
principles and the causes. But those who extend their vision to all things
that exist, and of existing things suppose some to be perceptible and others
not perceptible, evidently study both classes, which is all the more reason
why one should devote some time to seeing what is good in their views and
what bad from the standpoint of the inquiry we have now before us.
'Pythagoreans' treat of principles and elements stranger than those of
the physical philosophers (the reason is that they got the principles from
non-sensible things, for the objects of mathematics, except those of astronomy,
are of the class of things without movement); yet their discussions and
investigations are all about nature; for they generate the heavens, and
with regard to their parts and attributes and functions they observe the
phenomena, and use up the principles and the causes in explaining these,
which implies that they agree with the others, the physical philosophers,
that the real is just all that which is perceptible and contained by the
so-called 'heavens'. But the causes and the principles which they mention
are, as we said, sufficient to act as steps even up to the higher realms
of reality, and are more suited to these than to theories about nature.
They do not tell us at all, however, how there can be movement if limit
and unlimited and odd and even are the only things assumed, or how without
movement and change there can be generation and destruction, or the bodies
that move through the heavens can do what they do.
one either granted them that spatial magnitude consists of these elements,
or this were proved, still how would some bodies be light and others have
weight? To judge from what they assume and maintain they are speaking no
more of mathematical bodies than of perceptible; hence they have said nothing
whatever about fire or earth or the other bodies of this sort, I suppose
because they have nothing to say which applies peculiarly to perceptible
"Further, how are we to combine the beliefs that the attributes
of number, and number itself, are causes of what exists and happens in
the heavens both from the beginning and now, and that there is no other
number than this number out of which the world is composed? When in one
particular region they place opinion and opportunity, and, a little above
or below, injustice and decision or mixture, and allege, as proof, that
each of these is a number, and that there happens to be already in this
place a plurality of the extended bodies composed of numbers, because these
attributes of number attach to the various places,-this being so, is this
number, which we must suppose each of these abstractions to be, the same
number which is exhibited in the material universe, or is it another than
this? Plato says it is different; yet even he thinks that both these bodies
and their causes are numbers, but that the intelligible numbers are causes,
while the others are sensible.
"Let us leave the Pythagoreans for the present; for it is enough
to have touched on them as much as we have done. But as for those who posit
the Ideas as causes, firstly, in seeking to grasp the causes of the things
around us, they introduced others equal in number to these, as if a man
who wanted to count things thought he would not be able to do it while
they were few, but tried to count them when he had added to their number.
For the Forms are practically equal to-or not fewer than-the things, in
trying to explain which these thinkers proceeded from them to the Forms.
For to each thing there answers an entity which has the same name and exists
apart from the substances, and so also in the case of all other groups
there is a one over many, whether the many are in this world or are eternal.
"Further, of the ways in which we prove that the Forms exist, none
is convincing; for from some no inference necessarily follows, and from
some arise Forms even of things of which we think there are no Forms. For
according to the arguments from the existence of the sciences there will
be Forms of all things of which there are sciences and according to the
'one over many' argument there will be Forms even of negations, and according
to the argument that there is an object for thought even when the thing
has perished, there will be Forms of perishable things; for we have an
image of these. Further, of the more accurate arguments, some lead to Ideas
of relations, of which we say there is no independent class, and others
introduce the 'third man'.
"And in general the arguments for the
Forms destroy the things for whose existence we are more zealous than for
the existence of the Ideas; for it follows that not the dyad but number
is first, i.e. that the relative is prior to the absolute,-besides all
the other points on which certain people by following out the opinions
held about the Ideas have come into conflict with the principles of the
"Further, according to the assumption on which our belief
in the Ideas rests, there will be Forms not only of substances but also
of many other things (for the concept is single not only in the case of
substances but also in the other cases, and there are sciences not only
of substance but also of other things, and a thousand other such difficulties
confront them). But according to the necessities of the case and the opinions
held about the Forms, if Forms can be shared in there must be Ideas of
substances only. For they are not shared in incidentally, but a thing must
share in its Form as in something not predicated of a subject (by 'being
shared in incidentally' I mean that e.g. if a thing shares in 'double itself',
it shares also in 'eternal', but incidentally; for 'eternal' happens to
be predicable of the 'double'). Therefore the Forms will be substance;
but the same terms indicate substance in this and in the ideal world (or
what will be the meaning of saying that there is something apart from the
particulars-the one over many?). And if the Ideas and the particulars that
share in them have the same form, there will be something common to these;
for why should '2' be one and the same in the perishable 2's or in those
which are many but eternal, and not the same in the '2' itself' as in the
particular 2? But if they have not the same form, they must have only the
name in common, and it is as if one were to call both Callias and a wooden
image a 'man', without observing any community between them.
all one might discuss the question what on earth the Forms contribute to
sensible things, either to those that are eternal or to those that come
into being and cease to be. For they cause neither movement nor any change
in them. But again they help in no wise either towards the knowledge of
the other things (for they are not even the substance of these, else they
would have been in them), or towards their being, if they are not in the
particulars which share in them; though if they were, they might be thought
to be causes, as white causes whiteness in a white object by entering into
its composition. But this argument, which first Anaxagoras and later Eudoxus
and certain others used, is very easily upset; for it is not difficult
to collect many insuperable objections to such a view.
all other things cannot come from the Forms in any of the usual senses
of 'from'. And to say that they are patterns and the other things share
in them is to use empty words and poetical metaphors. For what is it that
works, looking to the Ideas? And anything can either be, or become, like
another without being copied from it, so that whether Socrates or not a
man Socrates like might come to be; and evidently this might be so even
if Socrates were eternal. And there will be several patterns of the same
thing, and therefore several Forms; e.g. 'animal' and 'two-footed' and
also 'man himself' will be Forms of man. Again, the Forms are patterns
not only sensible things, but of Forms themselves also; i.e. the genus,
as genus of various species, will be so; therefore the same thing will
be pattern and copy.
"Again, it would seem impossible that the
substance and that of which it is the substance should exist apart; how,
therefore, could the Ideas, being the substances of things, exist apart?
In the Phaedo' the case is stated in this way-that the Forms are causes
both of being and of becoming; yet when the Forms exist, still the things
that share in them do not come into being, unless there is something to
originate movement; and many other things come into being (e.g. a house
or a ring) of which we say there are no Forms. Clearly, therefore, even
the other things can both be and come into being owing to such causes as
produce the things just mentioned.
"Again, if the Forms are numbers,
how can they be causes? Is it because existing things are other numbers,
e.g. one number is man, another is Socrates, another Callias? Why then
are the one set of numbers causes of the other set? It will not make any
difference even if the former are eternal and the latter are not. But if
it is because things in this sensible world (e.g. harmony) are ratios of
numbers, evidently the things between which they are ratios are some one
class of things. If, then, this--the matter--is some definite thing, evidently
the numbers themselves too will be ratios of something to something else.
E.g. if Callias is a numerical ratio between fire and earth and water and
air, his Idea also will be a number of certain other underlying things;
and man himself, whether it is a number in a sense or not, will still be
a numerical ratio of certain things and not a number proper, nor will it
be a of number merely because it is a numerical ratio.
from many numbers one number is produced, but how can one Form come from
many Forms? And if the number comes not from the many numbers themselves
but from the units in them, e.g. in 10,000, how is it with the units? If
they are specifically alike, numerous absurdities will follow, and also
if they are not alike (neither the units in one number being themselves
like one another nor those in other numbers being all like to all); for
in what will they differ, as they are without quality? This is not a plausible
view, nor is it consistent with our thought on the matter.
they must set up a second kind of number (with which arithmetic deals),
and all the objects which are called 'intermediate' by some thinkers; and
how do these exist or from what principles do they proceed? Or why must
they be intermediate between the things in this sensible world and the
"Further, the units in must each come from a
prior but this is impossible.
"Further, why is a number, when taken
all together, one?
"Again, besides what has been said, if the units
are diverse the Platonists should have spoken like those who say there
are four, or two, elements; for each of these thinkers gives the name of
element not to that which is common, e.g. to body, but to fire and earth,
whether there is something common to them, viz. body, or not. But in fact
the Platonists speak as if the One were homogeneous like fire or water;
and if this is so, the numbers will not be substances. Evidently, if there
is a One itself and this is a first principle, 'one' is being used in more
than one sense; for otherwise the theory is impossible.
wish to reduce substances to their principles, we state that lines come
from the short and long (i.e. from a kind of small and great), and the
plane from the broad and narrow, and body from the deep and shallow. Yet
how then can either the plane contain a line, or the solid a line or a
plane? For the broad and narrow is a different class from the deep and
shallow. Therefore, just as number is not present in these, because the
many and few are different from these, evidently no other of the higher
classes will be present in the lower. But again the broad is not a genus
which includes the deep, for then the solid would have been a species of
plane. Further, from what principle will the presence of the points in
the line be derived? Plato even used to object to this class of things
as being a geometrical fiction. He gave the name of principle of the line-and
this he often posited-to the indivisible lines. Yet these must have a limit;
therefore the argument from which the existence of the line follows proves
also the existence of the point.
"In general, though philosophy
seeks the cause of perceptible things, we have given this up (for we say
nothing of the cause from which change takes its start), but while we fancy
we are stating the substance of perceptible things, we assert the existence
of a second class of substances, while our account of the way in which
they are the substances of perceptible things is empty talk; for 'sharing',
as we said before, means nothing.
"Nor have the Forms any connexion
with what we see to be the cause in the case of the arts, that for whose
sake both all mind and the whole of nature are operative,-with this cause
which we assert to be one of the first principles; but mathematics has
come to be identical with philosophy for modern thinkers, though they say
that it should be studied for the sake of other things. Further, one might
suppose that the substance which according to them underlies as matter
is too mathematical, and is a predicate and differentia of the substance,
ie. of the matter, rather than matter itself; i.e. the great and the small
are like the rare and the dense which the physical philosophers speak of,
calling these the primary differentiae of the substratum; for these are
a kind of excess and defect. And regarding movement, if the great and the
small are to he movement, evidently the Forms will be moved; but if they
are not to be movement, whence did movement come? The whole study of nature
has been annihilated.
"And what is thought to be easy-to show that
all things are one-is not done; for what is proved by the method of setting
out instances is not that all things are one but that there is a One itself,-if
we grant all the assumptions. And not even this follows, if we do not grant
that the universal is a genus; and this in some cases it cannot be.
can it be explained either how the lines and planes and solids that come
after the numbers exist or can exist, or what significance they have; for
these can neither be Forms (for they are not numbers), nor the intermediates
(for those are the objects of mathematics), nor the perishable things.
This is evidently a distinct fourth class.
"In general, if we search
for the elements of existing things without distinguishing the many senses
in which things are said to exist, we cannot find them, especially if the
search for the elements of which things are made is conducted in this manner.
For it is surely impossible to discover what 'acting' or 'being acted on',
or 'the straight', is made of, but if elements can be discovered at all,
it is only the elements of substances; therefore either to seek the elements
of all existing things or to think one has them is incorrect.
how could we learn the elements of all things? Evidently we cannot start
by knowing anything before. For as he who is learning geometry, though
he may know other things before, knows none of the things with which the
science deals and about which he is to learn, so is it in all other cases.
Therefore if there is a science of all things, such as some assert to exist,
he who is learning this will know nothing before. Yet all learning is by
means of premisses which are (either all or some of them) known before,-whether
the learning be by demonstration or by definitions; for the elements of
the definition must be known before and be familiar; and learning by induction
proceeds similarly. But again, if the science were actually innate, it
were strange that we are unaware of our possession of the greatest of sciences.
"Again, how is one to come to know what all things are made of,
and how is this to be made evident? This also affords a difficulty; for
there might be a conflict of opinion, as there is about certain syllables;
some say za is made out of s and d and a, while others say it is a distinct
sound and none of those that are familiar.
"Further, how could
we know the objects of sense without having the sense in question? Yet
we ought to, if the elements of which all things consist, as complex sounds
consist of the clements proper to sound, are the same.
"It is evident, then, even from what we have said before, that
all men seem to seek the causes named in the Physics, and that we cannot
name any beyond these; but they seek these vaguely; and though in a sense
they have all been described before, in a sense they have not been described
at all. For the earliest philosophy is, on all subjects, like one who lisps,
since it is young and in its beginnings. For even Empedocles says bone
exists by virtue of the ratio in it. Now this is the essence and the substance
of the thing. But it is similarly necessary that flesh and each of the
other tissues should be the ratio of its elements, or that not one of them
should; for it is on account of this that both flesh and bone and everything
else will exist, and not on account of the matter, which he names,-fire
and earth and water and air. But while he would necessarily have agreed
if another had said this, he has not said it clearly.
questions our views have been expressed before; but let us return to enumerate
the difficulties that might be raised on these same points; for perhaps
we may get from them some help towards our later difficulties.