previous next
[1029b] [1] It is convenient to advance to the more intelligible1; for learning is always acquired in this way, by advancing through what is less intelligible by nature to what is more so. And just as in actions it is our task to start from the good of the individual and make absolute good good for the individual,2 so it is our task to start from what is more intelligible to oneself and make what is by nature intelligible intelligible to oneself.Now that which is intelligible and primary to individuals is often but slightly intelligible, and contains but little reality; but nevertheless, starting from that which is imperfectly intelligible but intelligible to oneself, we must try to understand the absolutely intelligible; advancing, as we have said, by means of these very things which are intelligible to us.

Since we distinguished at the beginning3 the number of ways in which substance is defined, and since one of these appeared to be essence, we must investigate this.First, let us make certain linguistic statements about it.

The essence of each thing is that which it is said to be per se. "To be you" is not "to be cultured," because you are not of your own nature cultured. Your essence, then, is that which you are said to be

of your own nature. But not even all of this is the essence; for the essence is not that which is said to be per se in the sense that whiteness is said to belong to a surface,4 because "being a surface" is not "being white."Nor is the essence the combination of both, "being a white surface." Why? Because the word itself is repeated. [20] Hence the formula of the essence of each thing is that which defines the term but does not contain it. Thus if "being a white surface" is the same as "being a smooth surface," "white" and "smooth" are one and the same.5

But since in the other categories too there are compounds with substance (because there is a substrate for each category, e.g. quality, quantity, time, place and motion), we must inquire whether there is a formula of the essence of each one of them; whether these compounds, e.g. "white man," also have an essence. Let the compound be denoted by X.6 What is the essence of X?

"But this is not even a per se expression." We reply that there are two ways in which a definition can be not per se true of its subject: (a) by an addition, and (b) by an omission.In one case the definition is not per se true because the term which is being defined is combined with something else; as if, e.g., in defining whiteness one were to state the definition of a white man. In the other, because something else (which is not in the definition) is combined with the subject; as if, e.g., X were to denote "white man," and X were defined as "white." "White man" is white,

1 sc. by nature. All learning proceeds by induction from that which is intelligible to us (i.e., the complex facts and objects of our experience, which are bound up with sensation and therefore less intelligible in themselves), to that which is intelligible in itself (i.e., the simple universal principles of scientific knowledge).

2 Cf. Aristot. Ethics 1129b 5.

3 Aristot. Met. 7.3.1.

4 Cf. Aristot. Met. 5.18.3, 4.

5 The statement that "to be a white surface" is the same as "to be a smooth surface" tells us nothing fresh about surface; it simply identifies "white" with "smooth." Aristotle has in mind Democritus's theory of color (that it is an impression conveyed to our eyes from the superficial texture of the object; Theophrastus, De Sensu 73-75); cf.Aristot. De Sensu 442b 11, Aristot. De Gen. et Corr. 316a 1.

6 Literally "cloak," but the word is chosen quite arbitrarily. Cf. Aristot. Met. 8.6.4.

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