OF PRINCIPLES, AND WHAT THEY ARE.
THALES the Milesian doth affirm that water is the principle whence all things in the universe spring. This
person appears to be the first of philosophers; from
him the Ionic sect took its denomination, for there are
many families and successions amongst philosophers. After
he had professed philosophy in Egypt, when he was very
old, he returned to Miletus. He pronounced, that all things
had their original from water, and into water all things are
resolved. His first reason was, that whatsoever was the
prolific seed of all animals was a principle, and that is
moist; so that it is probable that all things receive their
original from humidity. His second reason was, that all
plants are nourished and fructified by that thing which is
moist, of which being deprived they wither away. Thirdly,
that that fire of which the sun and stars are made is nourished by watery exhalations,—yea, and the world itself;
which moved Homer to sing that the generation of it was
The ocean is
Of all things the kind genesis.
Anaximander, who himself was a Milesian, assigns the
principle of all things to the Infinite, from whence all things
flow, and into the same are corrupted; hence it is that infinite worlds are framed, and those vanish again into that
whence they have their original. And thus he farther
proceeds, For what other reason is there of an Infinite
but this, that there may be nothing deficient as to the generation or subsistence of what is in nature? There is his
error, that he doth not acquaint us what this Infinite is,
whether it be air, or water, or earth, or any other such
like body. Besides he is peccant, in that, giving us the
material cause, he is silent as to the efficient cause of beings;
for this thing which he makes his Infinite can be nothing
but matter; but operation cannot take place in the sphere
of matter, except an efficient cause be annexed.
Anaximenes his fellow-citizen pronounceth, that air is the
principle of all beings; from it all receive their original,
and into it all return. He affirms that our soul is nothing
but air; it is that which constitutes and preserves; the
whole world is invested with spirit and air. For spirit
and air are synonymous. This person is in this deficient,
that he concludes that of pure air, which is a simple body
and is made of one only form, all animals are composed.
It is not possible to think that a single principle should be
the matter of all things, from whence they receive their
subsistence; besides this there must be an operating cause.
Silver (for example) is not of itself sufficient to frame a
drinking cup; an operator also is required, which is the
silversmith. The like may be applied to vessels made of
wood, brass, or any other material.
Anaxagoras the Clazomenian asserted Homoeomeries
(or parts similar or homogeneous) to be the original cause
of all beings; it seemed to him impossible that any thing
could arise of nothing or be resolved into nothing. Let
us therefore instance in nourishment, which appears simple and uniform, such as bread which we owe to Ceres,
and water which we drink. Of this very nutriment, our
hair, our veins, our arteries, nerves, bones, and all our
other parts are nourished. These things thus being performed, it must be granted that the nourishment which is
received by us contains all those things by which these
parts of us are increased. In it there are those particles
which are producers of blood, bones, nerves, and all other
parts; which particles (as he thought) reason discovers
for us. For it is not necessary that we should reduce all
things under the objects of sense; for bread and water are
fitted to the senses, yet in them there are those particles
latent which are discoverable only by reason. It being
therefore evident that there are particles in the nourishment similar to what is produced thereby, he terms these
homogeneous parts, averring that they are the principles
of beings. Matter is according to him these similar parts,
and the efficient cause is a Mind, which orders all things
that have an existence. Thus he begins his discourse:
‘All things were confused one among another; but Mind
divided and reduced them to order.’ In this he is to be
commended, that he yokes together matter and an intellectual agent.
Archelaus the son of Apollodorus, the Athenian, pronounceth, that the principles of all things have their original from an infinite air rarefied or condensed. Air rarefied
is fire, condensed is water.
These philosophers, the followers of Thales, succeeding
one another, made up that sect which takes to itself the
denomination of the Ionic.
Pythagoras the Samian, the son of Mnesarchus, from
another origin deduces the principles of all things; it was
he who first gave philosophy its name. He assigns the first
principles to be numbers, and those symmetries resulting
from them which he styles harmonies; and the result of
both combined he terms elements, called geometrical.
Again, he enumerates unity and the indefinite binary number amongst the principles. One of these principles tends
to an efficient and forming cause, which is Mind, and that
is God; the other to the passive and material part, and
that is the visible world. Moreover the nature of number (he saith) consists in the ten; for all people, whether
Grecians or barbarians, reckon from one to ten, and thence
return to one again. Farther he avers the virtue of ten
consists in the quaternion; the reason whereof is this,—
if any person reckon from one, and by addition place his
numbers so as to take in the quaternary, he shall complete
the number ten; if he exceed the four, he shall go beyond
the ten; for one, two, three, and four being cast up together
make up ten. The nature of numbers, therefore, if we regard
the units, resteth in the ten; but if we regard its
power, in the four. Therefore the Pythagoreans say that
their most sacred oath is by that God who delivered to
them the quaternary.
By th' founder of the sacred number four,
Eternal Nature's font and root, they swore.
Of this number the soul of man is composed; for mind,
knowledge, opinion, and sense are the four that complete
the soul, from which all sciences, all arts, all rational faculties derive themselves. For what our mind perceives, it
perceives after the manner of a thing that is one, the soul
itself being a unity; as for instance, a multitude of persons are not the object of our sense nor are comprehended
by us, for they are infinite; our understanding gives the general notion of a man,
in which all individuals agree. The
number of individuals is infinite; the generic or specific
nature of all being is a unit, or to be apprehended as one
only thing; from this one conception we give the genuine
measures of all existence, and therefore we affirm that a
certain class of beings are rational and discoursive beings.
But when we come to give the nature of a horse, it is that
animal which neighs; and this being common to all horses,
it is manifest that the understanding, which hath such like
conceptions, is in its nature unity. The number which
is called the infinite binary must needs be science; in
every demonstration or belief belonging to science, and in
every syllogism, we draw that conclusion which is the
question doubted of, from those propositions which are by
all granted, by which means another proposition is demonstrated. The comprehension of these we call knowledge;
for which reason science is the binary number. But
opinion is the ternary; for that rationally follows from comprehension. The objects of opinion are many things, and
the ternary number denotes a multitude, as ‘Thrice happy
Grecians;’ for which reason Pythagoras admits the ternary.
This sect of philosophers is called the Italic, by
reason Pythagoras opened his school in Italy; his hatred
of the tyranny of Polycrates enforced him to leave his native country Samos.
Heraclitus and Hippasus of Metapontum suppose that
fire gives the origination to all beings, that they all flow
from fire, and in fire they all conclude; for of fire when
first quenched the world was constituted. The first part of
the world, being most condensed and contracted within
itself, made the earth; but part of that earth being loosened and made thin by fire, water was produced; afterwards this water being exhaled and rarefied into vapors
became air; after all this the world itself, and all other
corporeal beings, shall be dissolved by fire in the universal
conflagration. By them therefore it appears that fire is
what gives beginning to all things, and is that in which all
things receive their period.
Epicurus the son of Neocles, the Athenian, his philosophical sentiments being the same with those of Democritus, affirms that the principles of all being are bodies
which are perceptible only by reason; they admit not of
a vacuity, nor of any original, but being of a self-existence
are eternal and incorruptible; they are not liable to any
diminution, they are indestructible, nor is it possible for
them to receive any transformation of parts, or admit of any
alterations; of these reason only is the discoverer; they
are in a perpetual motion in vacuity, and by means of the
empty space; for the vacuum itself is infinite, and the
bodies that move in it are infinite. Those bodies acknowledge these three accidents, figure, magnitude, and gravity.
Democritus acknowledged but two, magnitude and figure.
Epicurus added the third, to wit, gravity; for he pronounced that it is necessary that bodies receive their motion from that impression which springs from gravity,
otherwise they could not be moved. The figures of atoms
cannot be apprehended by our senses, but they are not
infinite. These figures are neither hooked nor trident-shaped nor ring-shaped, such figures as these being easily
broken; but the atoms are impassible, impenetrable; they
have indeed figures proper to themselves, which are discovered only by reason. It is called an atom, by reason
not of its smallness but of its indivisibility; in it no vacuity, no passible affection is to be found. And that there
is an atom is perfectly clear; for there are elements which
have a perpetual duration, and there are animals which
admit of a vacuity, and there is a unity.
Empedocles the Agrigentine, the son of Meton, affirms
that there are four elements, fire, air, earth, and water, and
two powers which bear the greatest command in nature,
concord and discord, of which one is the union, the other
the division of beings. Thus he sings,
Mark the four roots of all created things:—
Bright shining Jove, Juno that giveth life,
Pluto beneath the earth, and Nestis who
Doth with her tears supply the mortal fount.
By Jupiter he means fire and aether, by Juno that gives
life he means the air, by Pluto the earth, by Nestis and
the fountain of all mortals (as it were) seed and water.
Socrates the son of Sophroniscus, and Plato son of Ariston, both natives of Athens, entertain the same opinion
concerning the universe; for they suppose three principles,
God, matter, and the idea. God is the universal understanding; matter is that which is the first substratum, accommodated for the generation and corruption of beings;
the idea is an incorporeal essence, existing in the cogitations and apprehensions of God; for God is the soul and
mind of the world.
Aristotle the son of Nichomachus, the Stagirite, constitutes three principles; Entelecheia (which is the same with
form), matter, and privation. He acknowledges four elements,
and adds a certain fifth body, which is ethereal and
not obnoxious to mutation.
Zeno son of Mnaseas, the native of Citium, avers these
principles to be God and matter, the first of which is the
efficient cause, the other the passible and receptive. Four
elements he likewise confesses.