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[1074b] [1]

A tradition has been handed down by the ancient thinkers of very early times, and bequeathed to posterity in the form of a myth, to the effect that these heavenly bodies are gods,1 and that the Divine pervades the whole of nature.The rest of their tradition has been added later in a mythological form to influence the vulgar and as a constitutional and utilitarian expedient2; they say that these gods are human in shape or are like certain other animals,3 and make other statements consequent upon and similar to those which we have mentioned.Now if we separate these statements and accept only the first, that they supposed the primary substances to be gods, we must regard it as an inspired saying and reflect that whereas every art and philosophy has probably been repeatedly developed to the utmost and has perished again, these beliefs of theirs have been preserved as a relic of former knowledge. To this extent only, then, are the views of our forefathers and of the earliest thinkers intelligible to us.

The subject of Mind involves certain difficulties. Mind is held to be of all phenomena the most supernatural; but the question of how we must regard it if it is to be of this nature involves certain difficulties. If Mind thinks nothing, where is its dignity? It is in just the same state as a man who is asleep. If it thinks, but something else determines its thinking, then since that which is its essence is not thinking but potentiality,4 [20] it cannot be the best reality; because it derives its excellence from the act of thinking.Again, whether its essence is thought or thinking, what does it think? It must think either itself or something else; and if something else, then it must think either the same thing always, or different things at different times. Then does it make any difference, or not, whether it thinks that which is good or thinks at random?Surely it would be absurd for it to think about some subjects. Clearly, then, it thinks that which is most divine and estimable, and does not change; for the change would be for the worse, and anything of this kind would immediately imply some sort of motion. Therefore if Mind is not thinking but a potentiality, (a) it is reasonable to suppose that the continuity of its thinking is laborious5; (b) clearly there must be something else which is more excellent than Mind; i.e. the object of thought;for both thought and the act of thinking will belong even to the thinker of the worst thoughts.6 Therefore if this is to be avoided (as it is, since it is better not to see some things than to see them), thinking cannot be the supreme good. Therefore Mind thinks itself, if it is that which is best; and its thinking is a thinking of thinking.

Yet it seems that knowledge and perception and opinion and understanding are always of something else, and only incidentally of themselves.And further, if to think is not the same as to be thought, in respect of which does goodness belong to thought? for the act of thinking and the object of thought have not the same essence.

1 This statement is not literally true. The planets do not seem to have been associated with the gods of popular mythology until the fourth century B.C. (see Burnet, E.G.P. p. 23 n.). But Aristotle's general meaning seems to be that the gods were identified with the primary natural forces; and this is substantially true.

2 Cf. Aristot. Met. 2.3.1.

3 e.g. the Egyptian deities. Zoomorphism in Greek religion is a doubtful quantity.

4 i.e., if its thinking is determined by something else, Mind is only a potentiality, and not (as described in Aristot. Met. 12.7.1-9) the highest actuality.

5 Cf. Aristot. Met. 9.8.18.

6 If Mind is a potentiality, since a potentiality is of contraries, Mind may think that which is worst.

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