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[993a] [30]

The study of Truth is in one sense difficult, in another easy. This is shown by the fact that whereas no one person can obtain an adequate grasp of it, we cannot all fail in the attempt; [993b] [1] each thinker makes some statement about the natural world, and as an individual contributes little or nothing to the inquiry; but a combination of all conjectures results in something considerable.Thus in so far as it seems that Truth is like the proverbial door which no one can miss,1 in this sense our study will be easy; but the fact that we cannot, although having some grasp of the whole, grasp a particular part, shows its difficulty. However, since difficulty also can be accounted for in two ways, its cause may exist not in the objects of our study but in ourselves:just as it is with bats' eyes in respect of daylight, so it is with our mental intelligence in respect of those things which are by nature most obvious.

It is only fair to be grateful not only to those whose views we can share but also to those who have expressed rather superficial opinions. They too have contributed something; by their preliminary work they have formed our mental experience.If there had been no Timotheus,2 we should not possess much of our music; and if there had been no Phrynis,3 there would have been no Timotheus. It is just the same in the case of those who have theorized about reality: we have derived certain views from some of them, and they in turn were indebted to others.

Moreover, philosophy is rightly called [20] a knowledge of Truth. The object of theoretic knowledge is truth, while that of practical knowledge is action; for even when they are investigating how a thing is so, practical men study not the eternal principle but the relative and immediate application.But we cannot know the truth apart from the cause. Now every thing through which a common quality is communicated to other things is itself of all those things in the highest degree possessed of that quality (e.g. fire is hottest, because it is the cause of heat in everything else); hence that also is most true which causes all subsequent things to be true.Therefore in every case the first principles of things must necessarily be true above everything else—since they are not merely sometimes true, nor is anything the cause of their existence, but they are the cause of the existence of other things,—and so as each thing is in respect of existence, so it is in respect of truth. [994a] [1]

Moreover, it is obvious that there is some first principle, and that the causes of things are not infinitely many either in a direct sequence or in kind. For the material generation of one thing from another cannot go on in an infinite progression (e.g. flesh from earth, earth from air, air from fire, and so on without a stop); nor can the source of motion (e.g. man be moved by air, air by the sun, the sun by Strife,4 with no limit to the series).In the same way neither can the Final Cause recede to infinity—walking having health for its object, and health happiness, and happiness something else: one thing always being done for the sake of another.And it is just the same with the Formal Cause. For in the case of all intermediate terms of a series which are contained between a first and last term, the prior term is necessarily the cause of those which follow it; because if we had to say which of the three is the cause, we should say "the first." At any rate it is not the last term, because what comes at the end is not the cause of anything. Neither, again, is the intermediate term, which is only the cause of one(and it makes no difference whether there is one intermediate term or several, nor whether they are infinite or limited in number). But of series which are infinite in this way, and in general of the infinite, all the parts are equally intermediate, down to the present moment. Thus if there is no first term, there is no cause at all.

On the other hand there can be no infinite progression downwards [20] (where there is a beginning in the upper direction) such that from fire comes water, and from water earth, and in this way some other kind of thing is always being produced. There are two senses in which one thing "comes from" another—apart from that in which one thing is said to come after another, e.g. the Olympian "from"5 the Isthmian games—either as a man comes from a child as it develops, or as air comes from water.Now we say that a man "comes from" a child in the sense that that which has become something comes from that which is becoming: i.e. the perfect from the imperfect. (For just as "becoming" is always intermediate between being and not-being, so is that which is becoming between what is and what is not. The learner is becoming informed, and that is the meaning of the statement that the informed person "comes from" the learner.)On the other hand A comes from B in the sense that water comes from air by the destruction of B. Hence the former class of process is not reversible [994b] [1] (e.g. a child cannot come from a man, for the result of the process of becoming is not the thing which is becoming, but that which exists after the process is complete. So day comes from early dawn, because it is after dawn; and hence dawn does not come from day). But the other class is reversible.In both cases progression to infinity is impossible; for in the former the intermediate terms must have an end, and in the second the process is reversible, for the destruction of one member of a pair is the generation of the other. At the same time the first cause, being eternal, cannot be destroyed; because, since the process of generation is not infinite in the upper direction, that cause which first, on its destruction, became something else, cannot possibly be eternal.6

Further, the Final cause of a thing is an end , and is such that it does not happen for the sake of some thing else, but all other things happen for its sake. So if there is to be a last term of this kind, the series will not be infinite; and if there is no such term, there will be no Final cause. Those who introduce infinity do not realize that they are abolishing the nature of the Good (although no one would attempt to do anything if he were not likely to reach some limit);nor would there be any intelligence in the world, because the man who has intelligence always acts for the sake of something, and this is a limit, because the end is a limit.

Nor again can the Formal cause be referred back to another fuller definition;for the prior definition is always closer, and the posterior is not; and where the original definition does not apply, neither does the subsequent one. [20] Further, those who hold such a view do away with scientific knowledge, for on this view it is impossible to know anything until one comes to terms which cannot be analyzed.Understanding, too, is impossible; for how can one conceive of things which are infinite in this way? It is different in the case of the line, which, although in respect of divisibility it never stops, yet cannot be conceived of unless we make a stop (which is why, in examining an infinite7 line, one cannot count the sections).8Even matter has to be conceived under the form of something which changes,9 and there can be nothing which is infinite.10 In any case the concept of infinity is not infinite.11

Again, if the kinds of causes were infinite in number it would still be impossible to acquire knowledge; for it is only when we have become acquainted with the causes that we assume that we know a thing; and we cannot, in a finite time, go completely through what is additively infinite.

The effect of a lecture depends upon the habits of the listener; because we expect the language to which we are accustomed, [995a] [1] and anything beyond this seems not to be on the same level, but somewhat strange and unintelligible on account of its unfamiliarity; for it is the familiar that is intelligible. The powerful effect of familiarity is clearly shown by the laws, in which the fanciful and puerile survivals prevail, through force of habit, against our recognition of them.Thus some people will not accept the statements of a speaker unless he gives a mathematical proof; others will not unless he makes use of illustrations; others expect to have a poet adduced as witness. Again, some require exactness in everything, while others are annoyed by it, either because they cannot follow the reasoning or because of its pettiness; for there is something about exactness which seems to some people to be mean, no less in an argument than in a business transaction.

Hence one must have been already trained how to take each kind of argument, because it is absurd to seek simultaneously for knowledge and for the method of obtaining it; and neither is easy to acquire. Mathematical accuracy is not to be demanded in everything, but only in things which do not contain matter.Hence this method is not that of natural science, because presumably all nature is concerned with matter. Hence we should first inquire what nature is; for in this way it will become clear what the objects of natural science are [and whether it belongs to one science or more than one to study the causes [20] and principles of things].12

1 Leutsch and Schneidewin, Paroemiographi, 2.678.

2 Of Miletus, 446 (?)—357 B.C.

3 Of Mytilene; he is referred to as still alive in Aristoph. Cl. 971. Both Phrynis and Timotheus are criticized in the fragment of Pherecrates Chirontranslated by Rogers in the appendix to his ed. of the Clouds.

4 Aristotle is evidently thinking of Empedocles' system.

5 ἐκ means not only "from" but "after"; Aristotle dismisses this latter meaning. The Isthmian fell alternatively in the same year as the Olympian festival; when this happened the former was held in the spring and the latter in the summer. Cf. Aristot. Met. 5.24.5.

6 The argument is elliptical and confused. The meaning is this: Since there is an upward limit, there is a first cause which is eternal, being independent of any other cause. Therefore this cause cannot cause other things by its destruction, in the manner just described.

7 i.e. infinitely divisible.

8 It does not follow that we can apprehend that which is infinite because we can apprehend a line which is infinitely divisible. We can only really apprehend the line by setting a limit to its divisibility and regarding it simply as divisible into a very great (but not infinite) number of sections. An infinite number of sections can neither be apprehended nor counted.

9 Matter too, which is infinite in its varieties, can only be apprehended in the form of concrete sensible objects which are liable to change. This seems to be the meaning of the text, but Ross's reading and interpretation may be right: see his note ad loc.

10 i.e. not actually, but only potentially.

11 Cf. the third note above.

12 These words have evidently been inserted to form a kind of link with the subject matter of the Metaphysics. The book is almost certainly part of a quite independent treatise; see Introduction.

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