previous next
[988a] [1] The fact, however, is just the reverse, and the theory is illogical; for whereas the Platonists derive multiplicity from matter although their Form generates only once,1 it is obvious that only one table can be made from one piece of timber, and yet he who imposes the form upon it, although he is but one, can make many tables. Such too is the relation of male to female: the female is impregnated in one coition, but one male can impregnate many females. And these relations are analogues of the principles referred to.

This, then, is Plato's verdict upon the question which we are investigating. From this account it is clear that he only employed two causes2: that of the essence, and the material cause; for the Forms are the cause of the essence in everything else, and the One is the cause of it in the Forms.He also tells us what the material substrate is of which the Forms are predicated in the case of sensible things, and the One in that of the Forms—that it is this the duality, the "Great and Small." Further, he assigned to these two elements respectively the causation of good3 and of evil; a problem which, as we have said,4 had also been considered by some of the earlier philosophers, e.g. Empedocles and Anaxagoras.

We have given only a concise and summary account of those thinkers who have expressed views about the causes [20] and reality, and of their doctrines. Nevertheless we have learned thus much from them: that not one of those who discuss principle or cause has mentioned any other type than those which we we have distinguished in the Physics.5 Clearly it is after these types that they are groping, however uncertainly.Some speak of the first principle as material, whether they regard it as one or several, as corporeal or incorporeal: e.g. Plato speaks of the "Great and Small"; the Italians6 of the Unlimited; Empedocles of Fire, Earth, Water and Air; Anaxagoras of the infinity of homoeomeries.All these have apprehended this type of cause; and all those too who make their first principle air or water or "something denser than fire but rarer than air"7(for some have so described the primary element). These, then, apprehended this cause only, but others apprehended the source of motion—e.g. all such as make Love and Strife, or Mind, or Desire a first principle.As for the essence or essential nature, nobody has definitely introduced it;

1 Aristotle's objection is that it is unreasonable that a single operation of the formal upon the material principle should result in more than one product; i.e. that the material principle should be in itself duplicative.

2 Plato refers several times in the dialogues to an efficient cause (e.g. the Demiurgus,Plat. Soph. 265b-d, Plat. Tim. 28c ff.) and a final cause (e.g. Plat. Phil. 20d, 53e, Plat. Tim. 29d ff.); but Aristotle does not seem to take these allusions seriously.

3 Cf. Plat. Phil. 25e-26b.

4 Aristot. Met. 3.17; 4.3.

5 Aristot. Phys. 2.3

6 See note on Aristot. Met. 5.15.

7 The various references in Aristotle to material principles intermediate between certain pairs of "elements" have been generally regarded as applying to Anaximander's ἄπειρον or Indeterminate; but the references are so vague (cf. Aristot. Met. 7.6, Aristot. Phys.187a 14, 189b 3, 203a 18) that it seems better to connect them with later and minor members of the Milesian school. Cf. Ross's note ad loc.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (1924)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide References (17 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: