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[993a] [1] On the other hand, assuming that this knowledge should turn out to be innate,1 it is astonishing that we should possess unawares the most important of the sciences. Further, how is one to know of what elements things consist? how is it to be established?Even this presents a difficulty, because the facts might be disputed, as happens in the case of certain syllables—for some say that ZA is composed of S, D and A, while others say that it is a distinct sound and not any one of those which are familiar to us.2

Further, how can one gain knowledge of the objects of a particular sense-perception without possessing that sense? Yet it should be possible, that if the elements of which all things consist, as composite sounds consist of their peculiar3 elements, are the same.

Thus it is obvious, from the statements of earlier thinkers also, that all inquiry is apparently directed towards the causes described in the Physics,4 and that we cannot suggest any other cause apart from these. They were, however, only vaguely conceived; and although in one sense they have all been stated before, in another they have not been stated at all.For the earliest philosophy speaks falteringly, as it were, on all subjects; being new and in its infancy. Even Empedocles says that bone exists by virtue of its ratio,5 which is the definition or essence of a thing.But by similar reasoning both flesh and every other thing, [20] or else nothing at all, must be ratio; for it must be because of this, and not because of their matter—which he calls fire, earth, water and air—that flesh and bone and every other thing exists.If anyone else had stated this, he would necessarily have agreed, but his own statement was not clear.

These and similar points have been explained already. We will now return to the difficulties which might be raised about these same questions, for they may throw some light upon subsequent difficulties.6

1 Cf. the doctrine of ἀνάμνησις (recollection), Plat. Meno 81c, Plat. Phaedo 72e.

2 στοιχεῖον means both "an element" and "a letter of the alphabet"; hence letters are often used as analogues of the material elements. The point here is: Is Z or rather the Greek ζ) a στοιχεῖον, or is it further analyzable? Since this can be disputed, we must expect differences of opinion about the elements in general.

3 Peculiar to them as sounds, not as individual sounds. If sights and sounds had the same elements, sight, which knows those elements as composing sights, would know them as composing sounds; i.e., we could see sounds.

4 Aristot. Phys. 2.3, 7.

5 Empedocles Fr. 96, 98 (Diels), Ritter and Preller 175. Aristotle says that Empedocles had some idea of the essence or formal cause, but did not apply it generally.

6 The reference is to Book 3. See Introduction.

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