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[1091b] [1] This difficulty arises not from ascribing goodness to the first principle as an attribute, but from treating unity as a principle, and a principle in the sense of an element, and then deriving number from unity. The early poets agree with this view in so far as they assert that it was not the original forces—such as Night, Heaven, Chaos or Ocean—but Zeus who was king and ruler.It was, however, on the ground of the changing of the rulers of the world that the poets were led to state these theories; because those of them who compromise by not describing everything in mythological language—e.g. Pherecydes1 and certain others—make the primary generator the Supreme Good; and so do the Magi,2 and some of the later philosophers such as Empedocles and Anaxagoras: the one making Love an element,3 and the other making Mind a first principle.4 And of those who hold that unchangeable substances exist, some5 identify absolute unity with absolute goodness; but they considered that the essence of goodness was primarily unity.

This, then, is the problem: which of these two views we should hold.Now it is remarkable if that which is primary and eternal and supremely self-sufficient does not possess this very quality, viz. self-sufficiency and immunity, in a primary degree and as something good. Moreover, it is imperishable and self-sufficient for no other reason than because it is good. [20] Hence it is probably true to say that the first principle is of this nature. But to say that this principle is unity, or if not that, that it is an element, and an element of numbers, is impossible; for this involves a serious difficulty, to avoid which some thinkers6 have abandoned the theory (viz. those who agree that unity is a first principle and element, but of mathematical number). For on this view all units become identical with some good, and we get a great abundance of goods.7 Further, if the Forms are numbers, all Forms become identical with some good. Again, let us assume that there are Ideas of anything that we choose. If there are Ideas only of goods, the Ideas will not be substances8; and if there are Ideas of substances also, all animals and plants, and all things that participate in the Ideas, will be goods.9

Not only do these absurdities follow, but it also follows that the contrary element, whether it is plurality or the unequal, i.e. the Great and Small, is absolute badness. Hence one thinker10 avoided associating the Good with unity, on the ground that since generation proceeds from contraries, the nature of plurality would then necessarily be bad.Others11 hold that inequality is the nature of the bad. It follows, then, that all things partake of the Bad except one—absolute unity; and that numbers partake of it in a more unmitigated form than do spatial magnitudes12;

1 Of Syros (circa 600-525 B.C.). He made Zeus one of the three primary beings (Diels,Vorsokratiker201, 202).

2 The Zoroastrian priestly caste.

3 Cf. Aristot. Met. 3.1.13.

4 Cf. Aristot. Met. 1.3.16.

5 Plato; cf. Aristot. Met. 1.6.10.

6 Speusippus and his followers; cf. sect. 3.

7 If unity is goodness, and every unit is a kind of unity, every unit must be a kind of goodness—which is absurd.

8 Because they are Ideas not of substances but of qualities.

9 Because the Ideas are goods.

10 Speusippus.

11 Plato and Xenocrates.

12 As being more directly derived from the first principles. Cf. Aristot. Met. 1.9.23 n.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (4):
    • Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1.984b
    • Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1.988a
    • Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1.992a
    • Aristotle, Metaphysics, 3.996a
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