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Works by Aristotle
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negative, and say that both the good and the beautiful appear in the
nature of things only when that nature has made some progress. (This
they do to avoid a real objection which confronts those who say, as
some do, that the one is a first principle. The objection arises not
from their ascribing goodness to the first principle as an
attribute, but from their making the one a principle-and a principle
in the sense of an element-and generating number from the one.) The
old poets agree with this inasmuch as they say that not those who
are first in time, e.g. Night and Heaven or Chaos or Ocean, reign
and rule, but Zeus. These poets, however, are led to speak thus only
because they think of the rulers of the world as changing; for those
of them who combine the two characters in that they do not use
mythical language throughout, e.g. Pherecydes and some others, make
the original generating agent the Best, and so do the Magi, and some
of the later sages also, e.g. both Empedocles and Anaxagoras, of
whom one made love an element, and the other made reason a
principle. Of those who maintain the existence of the unchangeable
substances some say the One itself is the good itself; but they
thought its substance lay mainly in its unity.
This, then, is the problem,-which of the two ways of speaking is
right. It would be strange if to that which is primary and eternal and
most self-sufficient this very quality--self-sufficiency and
self-maintenance--belongs primarily in some other way than as a
good. But indeed it can be for no other reason indestructible or
self-sufficient than because its nature is good. Therefore to say that
the first principle is good is probably correct; but that this
principle should be the One or, if not that, at least an element,
and an element of numbers, is impossible. Powerful objections arise,
to avoid which some have given up the theory (viz. those who agree
that the One is a first principle and element, but only of
mathematical number). For on this view all the units become
identical with species of good, and there is a great profusion of
goods. Again, if the Forms are numbers, all the Forms are identical
with species of good. But let a man assume Ideas of anything he
pleases. If these are Ideas only of goods, the Ideas will not be
substances; but if the Ideas are also Ideas of substances, all animals
and plants and all individuals that share in Ideas will be good.
These absurdities follow, and it also follows that the contrary
element, whether it is plurality or the unequal, i.e. the great and
small, is the bad-itself. (Hence one thinker avoided attaching the
good to the One, because it would necessarily follow, since generation
is from contraries, that badness is the fundamental nature of
plurality; while others say inequality is the nature of the bad.) It
follows, then, that all things partake of the bad except one--the
One itself, and that numbers partake of it in a more undiluted form
than spatial magnitudes, and that the bad is the space in which the
good is realized, and that it partakes in and desires that which tends
to destroy it; for contrary tends to destroy contrary. And if, as we
were saying, the matter is that which is potentially each thing,
e.g. that of actual fire is that which is potentially fire, the bad
will be just the potentially good.
All these objections, then, follow, partly because they make every
principle an element, partly because they make contraries
principles, partly because they make the One a principle, partly
because they treat the numbers as the first substances, and as capable
of existing apart, and as Forms.

If, then, it is equally impossible not to put the good among the
first principles and to put it among them in this way, evidently the
principles are not being correctly described, nor are the first
substances. Nor does any one conceive the matter correctly if he
compares the principles of the universe to that of animals and plants,
on the ground that the more complete always comes from the

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