Posterior Analytics (Bouchier)/Book II/Chapter VIII

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Posterior Analytics (Bouchier) by Aristotle, translated by E. S. Bouchier
Book II, Chapter VIII

Chapter VIII: How the Essence can be proved[edit]

When a thing is once known its essence and its cause are identified. The essence cannot be demonstrated, but before seeking for the cause one must know that the thing exists. Hence, though demonstration cannot give the essence, without it the essence could never be learned.

We must now consider which of our recent statements are well and which ill expressed; what consequently is the nature of definition, and whether it is possible to produce both a demonstration and a definition of a thing’s essential nature, or not. Now since, as we have said (Bk. II., Ch. 2), the knowledge of a thing’s nature is the same as knowledge of the cause of its nature, and the reason of this is that a cause exists for everything, this cause must be either the same as the subject itself or something different. If the latter, it must be either demonstrable or indemonstrable. If then it be other than the subject and also demonstrable, the cause must necessarily form the middle term of the demonstration, and the syllogism must be proved in the first figure, since that which is to be proved is a universal affirmative proposition.

Such is the only method of proving a thing’s essential nature by means of some other term, for in proofs of this sort the middle term also must be a substance, and one property of a thing is proved by means of another of its properties. Thus of two essential attributes of the same thing one may be proved, the other cannot (being taken as the cause or middle in the demonstration. That this method is not demonstration has been explained before, but it may be regarded as a dialectical proof of a thing’s essence.

We will now repeat our former statements concerning the way in which demonstration is concerned with the essence of subjects. Just as we begin to seek for the cause of a thing only when we are acquainted with the fact of a thing’s existence, while sometimes (though the cause cannot be learned before the fact) both fact and cause are learned simultaneously, so the essential form clearly cannot be learned without a previous knowledge that the thing exists. It is impossible to know what a thing is without knowing whether it exists. The latter fact we know sometimes from the accidental qualities of the thing itself, sometimes because we are acquainted with some of its essential attributes. To take an example of the second; we know that thunder exists from the noise in the clouds; that an eclipse exists from the interception of light; that man exists, because we know that an animal of a particular kind exists; that soul exists, because we know something to exist which moves itself. In every case where we know a thing only from its accidental qualities, we are necessarily ignorant of its essential nature, for, properly speaking, we do not know that it exists; and to search for a thing’s essential nature without even knowing that the thing exists is to search for a nonentity. But the process is easier when we know something of the subject’s essential nature. Thus the better the knowledge we have of the thing’s existence the more easily may we learn its essence. The following may stand as a first example of those cases where the knowledge of a thing’s existence gives us part of its essence. Let Eclipse be A. Moon C. Interposition of the earth B. To seek whether the moon is eclipsed or not is equivalent to enquiring whether B really exists or not, and that is the same as enquiring whether B is the cause of A. If that be the case, we say that B also exists. As a second example, take the question ‘with which of these two contradictory majors does the definition of triangle agree:—a triangle has its angles equal to two right angles; no triangle has its angles equal to two right angles’? If the premises are immediate truths we learn the fact and the cause of the quality simultaneously. If no demonstration be possible we know the fact but not the cause. Let C be the moon; A, eclipse; B, the impossibility of there being a shadow at full moon when nothing visible interposes. If then B (inability to cast a shadow when nothing interposes between us and the moon) be true of C, while A (being eclipsed) is true of B, the fact of an eclipse is evident, but the cause is not yet known. Thus we know that there is such a thing as an eclipse but not what its nature is.

When it is clear that A is true of B, to seek for the reason why it is true of B is the same thing as seeking for the nature of B, whether this be an exclusion of light, a turning away of the moon or an extinction of its light. Here then is the cause of the major term, in this case A, that is to say an eclipse is caused by an exclusion of light by the earth. As another example take the question, what is thunder? A quenching of fire in a cloud. Why does it thunder? Because fire is quenched in a cloud. Let cloud be C; Thunder A; Quenching of fire B. Now B is true of C, the cloud, for fire is quenched in the cloud; A, the noise, is true of B. Thus B is the cause of the major term A. If the middle term here given be included under another middle term the definition will be a prior one. We have then shewn how the nature of a thing is attained to and becomes known, and it follows that there can be no syllogism or demonstration proving a thing’s nature, though this may become clear as a result of syllogism and demonstration. Thus we cannot know a thing’s nature without demonstration, in cases where the cause is outside the thing; and yet it cannot itself be demonstrated, as we remarked in our previous statement of difficulties.