previous next
[1083b] [1] number cannot have a separate abstract existence.

From these considerations it is also clear that the third alternative1—that Ideal number and mathematical number are the same—is the worst; for two errors have to be combined to make one theory. (1.) Mathematical number cannot be of this nature, but the propounder of this view has to spin it out by making peculiar assumptions; (2.) his theory must admit all the difficulties which confront those who speak of Ideal number.

The Pythagorean view in one way contains fewer difficulties than the view described above, but in another way it contains further difficulties peculiar to itself. By not regarding number as separable, it disposes of many of the impossibilities; but that bodies should be composed of numbers, and that these numbers should be mathematical, is impossible.2 For (a) it is not true to speak of indivisible magnitudes3; (b) assuming that this view is perfectly true, still units at any rate have no magnitude; and how can a magnitude be composed of indivisible parts? Moreover arithmetical number consists of abstract units. But the Pythagoreans identify number with existing things; at least they apply mathematical propositions to bodies as though they consisted of those numbers.4

Thus if number, [20] if it is a self-subsistent reality, must be regarded in one of the ways described above, and if it cannot be regarded in any of these ways, clearly number has no such nature as is invented for it by those who treat it as separable.

Again, does each unit come from the Great and the Small, when they are equalized5; or does one come from the Small and another from the Great? If the latter, each thing is not composed of all the elements, nor are the units undifferentiated; for one contains the Great, and the other the Small, which is by nature contrary to the Great.Again, what of the units in the Ideal 3? because there is one over. But no doubt it is for this reason that in an odd number they make the Ideal One the middle unit.6 If on the other hand each of the units comes from both Great and Small, when they are equalized, how can the Ideal 2 be a single entity composed of the Great and Small? How will it differ from one of its units? Again, the unit is prior to the 2; because when the unit disappears the 2 disappears.Therefore the unit must be the Idea of an Idea, since it is prior to an Idea, and must have been generated before it. From what, then? for the indeterminate dyad, as we have seen,7 causes duality.

Again, number must be either infinite or finite (for they make number separable,

1 Cf. Aristot. Met. 13.6.7.

2 See Introduction.

3 This is proved in Aristot. De Gen. et. Corr. 315b 24-317a 17.

4 See Introduction.

5 Cf. Aristot. Met. 13.7.5 n. Aristotle is obviously referring to the two units in the Ideal 2.

6 Cf. DieIs, Vorsokratiker 270. 18.

7 Aristot. Met. 13.7.18.

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