Home | Texts by category | | Quick Search:   
Works by Aristotle
Pages of Metaphysics

Previous | Next


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
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,

Previous | Next
Site Search