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[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,1 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"2 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

1 Aristotle is evidently thinking of Empedocles' system.

2 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.

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