Metaphysics (Ross, 1908)/Book 4

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Chapter 1[edit]

There is a science which investigates being as being and the attributes which belong to this in virtue of its own nature. Now this is not the same as any of the so-called special sciences; for none of these others deals generally with being as being. They cut off a part of being and investigate the attributes of this part—this is what the mathematical sciences for instance do. Now since we are seeking the first principles and the highest causes, clearly there must be some thing to which these belong in virtue of its own nature. If then our predecessors who sought the elements of existing things were seeking these same principles, it is necessary that the elements must be elements of being not by accident but just because it is being. Therefore it is of being as being that we also must grasp the first causes.

Chapter 2[edit]

There are many senses in which a thing may be said to 'be', but they are related to one central point, one definite kind of thing, and have not merely the epithet 'being' in common. Everything which is healthy is related to health, one thing in the sense that it preserves health, another in the sense that it produces it, another in the sense that it is a symptom of health, another because it is capable of it. And that which is medical is relative to the medical art, one thing in the sense that it possesses it, another in the sense that it is naturally adapted to it, another in the sense that it is a function of the medical art. And we shall find other words used similarly to these. So, too, there are many senses in which a thing is said to be, but all refer to one starting-point; some things are said to be because they are substances, others because they are affections of substance, others because they are a process towards substance, or destructions or privations or qualities of substance, or productive or generative of substance, or of things which are relative to substance, or negations of some of these things or of substance itself. It is for this reason that we say even of non-being that it is non-being. As, then, there is one science which deals with all healthy things, the same applies in the other cases also. For not only in the case of things which have one common notion does the investigation belong to one science, but also in the case of things which are related to one common nature; for even these in a sense have one common notion. It is clear then that it is the work of one science also to study all things that are, qua being.—But everywhere science deals chiefly with that which is primary, and on which the other things depend, and in virtue of which they get their names. If, then, this is substance, it is of substances that the philosopher must grasp the principles and the causes.

Now for every single class of things, as there is one perception, so there is one science, as for instance grammar, being one science, investigates all articulate sounds. Therefore to investigate all the species of being qua being, is the work of a science which is generically one, and to investigate the several species is the work of the specific parts of the science.

If, now, being and unity are the same and are one thing in the sense that they are implied in one another as principle and cause are, not in the sense that they are explained by the same definition (though it makes no difference even if we interpret them similarly—in fact this would strengthen our case); for 'one man' and 'existent man' and 'man' are the same thing, and the doubling of the words in 'the man is one and is a man does not give any new meaning (it is clear that his unity is not severed from his humanity either in coming to be or in ceasing to be; and similarly his being is not severed), so that it is obvious that the addition in these cases means the same thing, and unity is nothing apart from being[1]; and if, further, the essence of each thing is one in no merely accidental way, and similarly is from its very nature something that is:—all this being so, there must be exactly as many species of being as of unity. And to investigate the essence of these is tne work of a science which is generically one—I mean, for instance, the discussion of the same and the similar and the other concepts of this sort; and nearly all contraries are reducible to this source; but let us take them as having been investigated in the 'Selection of Contraries'[2] .—And there are as many parts of philosophy as there are kinds of substance, so that there must necessarily be among them a first philosophy and one which follows this. For being and unity fall immediately into genera; and therefore the sciences too will correspond to these genera. For 'philosopher' is like 'mathematician' with its variety of meanings; for mathematics also has parts, and there is a first and a second science and other successive ones within the sphere of mathematics.[3]

Now since it is the work of one science to investigate opposites, and plurality is opposite to unity, and it belongs to one science to investigate the negation and the privation because in both cases we are really investigating unity, to which the negation or the privation refers (for we either say simply that unity is not present, or that it is not present in some particular class; in the latter case the characteristic difference of the class modifies the meaning of 'unity', as compared with the meaning conveyed in the bare negation; for the negation means just the absence of unity, while in privation there is also implied an underlying nature of which the privation is predicated[4]),—since, then, plurality is opposite to unity, in view of all these facts, the contraries of the concepts we named above, the other and the dissimilar and the unequal, and everything else which is derived either from these or from plurality and unity, must fall within the province of the science above-named.—And contrariety is one of these concepts, for contrariety is a kind of difference, and difference is a kind of otherness. Therefore, since there are many senses in which a thing is said to be one, these terms also will have many senses, but yet it belongs to one science to consider them all; for a term belongs to different sciences not if it has different senses, but if its definitions neither are identical nor can be referred to one central meaning. And since all things are referred to that which is primary, as for instance all things which are one are referred to the primary one, we must say that this holds good also of the same and the other and of contraries in general; so that after distinguishing the various senses of each, we must then explain by reference to what is primary in each term, saying how they are related to it; some in the sense that they possess it, others in the sense that they produce it, and others in other such ways.

It is evident then[5] that it belongs to one science to be able to give an account of these concepts as well as of substance. This was one of the questions in our book of problems.

And it is the function of the philosopher to be able to investigate all things. For if it is not the function of the philosopher, who is it who will inquire whether Socrates and Socrates seated are the same thing, or whether one thing has one contrary, or what contrariety is, or how many meanings it has? And similarly with all other such questions. Since, then, these are essential modifications of unity qua unity and of being qua being, not qua numbers or lines or fire, it is clear that it belongs to this science to investigate both the essence of these concepts and their properties. And those who study these properties err not by leaving the sphere of philosophy,[6] but by forgetting that substance, of which they have no correct idea, is prior to these other things. For number qua number has peculiar attributes, such as oddness and evenness, commensurability and equality, excess and defect, and these belong to numbers either in themselves or in relation to one another. And similarly the solid and the motionless and that which is in motion and the weightless and that which has weight have other peculiar properties. So too certain properties are peculiar to being as such, and it is about these that the philosopher has to investigate the truth.—An indication of this may be mentioned:—dialecticians and sophists assume the same guise as the philosopher, for sophistic is philosophy which exists only in semblance, and dialecticians embrace all things in their dialectic, and being is common to all things; but evidently their dialectic embraces these subjects because these are proper to philosophy.—For sophistic and dialectic turn on the same class of things as philosophy, but this differs from dialectic in the nature of the faculty required and from sophistic in respect of the purpose of the philosophic life. Dialectic is merely critical where philosophy claims to know, and sophistic is what appears to be philosophy but is not.[7]

Again, in the list of contraries one of the two columns[8] is privative, and all contraries are reducible to being and non-being, and to unity and plurality, as for instance rest belongs to unity and movement to plurality. And nearly all thinkers agree that being and substance are composed of contraries; at least all name contraries as their first principles—some name odd and even, some hot and cold, some limit and the unlimited, some love and strife. And everything else is evidently reducible to unity and plurality (this reduction we must take for granted[9]), and the principles stated by other thinkers fall entirely under these as their genera. It is obvious then from these considerations too that it belongs to one science to examine being qua being. For all things are either contraries or composed of contraries, and unity and plurality are the starting-points of all contraries. And these belong to one science, whether they have or have not one common notion. Probably they have not; yet even if 'one' has several meanings, the other meanings will be related to the primary meaning—and similarly in the case of the contraries.—And if being or unity is not a universal and the same in every instance, or is not separable from the particular instances (as in fact it probably is not; the unity is in some cases that of common reference, in some cases that of serial succession),—just for this reason it does not belong to the geometer to inquire what is contrariety or completeness or being or unity or the same or the other, but only to presuppose these concepts and reason from this starting-point.—Obviously then it is the work of one science to examine being qua being, and the attributes which belong to it qua being, and the same science will examine not only substances but also their attributes, both those above named and the concepts 'prior' and 'posterior', genus and species, whole and part, and the others of this sort.[10]

Chapter 3[edit]

We must state whether it belongs to one or to different sciences to inquire into the truths which are in mathematics called axioms, and into substance. Evidently the inquiry into these also belongs to one science, and that the science of the philosopher; for these truths hold good for everything that is, and not for some special genus apart from others. And all men use them, for they are true of being qua being, and each genus has being. But men use them just so far as to satisfy their purposes; that is, as far as the genus, whose attributes they are proving, extends. Therefore since these truths clearly hold good for all things qua being (for this is what is common to them), he who studies being qua being will inquire into them too.—And for this reason no one who is conducting a special inquiry tries to say anything about their truth or falsehood,—neither the geometer nor the arithmetician. Some natural philosophers indeed have done so, and their procedure was intelligible enough; for they thought that they alone were inquiring about the whole of nature and of being. But since there is one kind of thinker who is even above the natural philosopher (for nature is only one particular genus of being), the discussion of these truths also will belong to him whose inquiry is universal and deals with primary substance. Physics also is a kind of Wisdom, but it is not the first kind.—And the attempts of some who discuss the terms on which truth should be accepted, are due to a want of training in logic; for they should know these things already when they come to a special study, and not be inquiring into them while they are pursuing it.—Evidently then the philosopher, who is studying the nature of all substance, must inquire also into the principles of syllogism.

But he who knows best about each genus must be able to state the most certain principles of his subject, so that he whose subject is being qua being must be able to state the most certain principles of all things. This is the philosopher, and the most certain principle of all is that regarding which it is impossible to be mistaken; for such a principle must be both the best known (for all men may be mistaken about things which they do not know), and non-hypothetical. For a principle which every one must have who knows anything about being, is not a hypothesis; and that which every one must know who knows anything, he must already have when he comes to a special study. Evidently then such a principle is the most certain of all; which principle this is, we proceed to say. It is, that the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect; we must presuppose, in face of dialectical objections, any further qualifications which might be added. This, then, is the most certain of all principles, since it answers to the definition given above. For it is impossible for any one to believe the same thing to be and not to be, as some think Heraclitus says; for what a man says he does not necessarily believe. If it is impossible that contrary attributes should belong at the same time to the same subject (the usual qualifications must be presupposed in this premise too), and if an opinion which contradicts another is contrary to it, obviously it is impossible for the same man at the same time to believe the same thing to be and not to be; for if a man were mistaken in this point he would have contrary opinions at the same time. It is for this reason that all who are carrying out a demonstration reduce it to this as an ultimate belief; for this is naturally the starting-point even for all the other axioms.[11]

Chapter 4[edit]

There are some who, as we have said, both themselves assert that it is possible for the same thing to be and not to be, and say that people can judge this to be the case. And among others many writers about nature use this language. But we have now posited that it is impossible for anything at the same time to be and not to be, and by this means have shown that this is the most indisputable of all principles.[12]—Some indeed demand that even this shall be demonstrated, but this they do through want of education, for not to know of what things one may demand demonstration, and of what one may not, argues simply want of education. For it is impossible that there should be demonstration of absolutely everything; there would be an infinite regress, so that there would still be no demonstration. But if there are things of which one should not demand demonstration, these persons cannot say what principle they regard as more indemonstrable than the present one.

We can, however, demonstrate negatively even that this view is impossible, if our opponent will only say something; and if he says nothing, it is absurd to attempt to reason with one who will not reason about anything, in so far as he refuses to reason. For such a man, as such, is seen already to be no better than a mere plant. Now negative demonstration I distinguish from demonstration proper, because in a demonstration one might be thought to be begging the question, but if another person is responsible for the assumption we shall have negative proof, not demonstration. The starting-point for all such arguments is not the demand that our opponent shall say that something either is or is not (for this one might perhaps take to be a begging of the question), but that he shall say something which is significant both for himself and for another; for this is necessary, if he really is to say anything. For, if he means nothing, such a man will not be capable of reasoning, either with himself or with another. But if any one grants this, demonstration will be possible; for we shall already have something definite. The person responsible for the proof, however, is not he who demonstrates but he who listens; for while disowning reason he listens to reason. [And again he who admits this has admitted that something is true apart from demonstration, so that not everything will be 'so and not so'.[13]]

First then this at least is obviously true, that the word 'be' or 'not be' has a definite meaning, so that not everything will be 'so and not so'.— Again, if 'man' has one meaning, let this be 'two-footed animal'; by having one meaning I understand this:—if 'man' means 'X', then if A is a man 'X' will be what 'being a man' means for him. And it makes no difference even if one were to say a word has several meanings, if only they are limited in number; for to each formula there might be assigned a different word. For instance, we might say that 'man' has not one meaning but several, one of which would be defined as 'two-footed animal', while there might be also several other formulae if only they were limited in number; for a peculiar name might be assigned to each of the formulae. If, however, they were not limited but one were to say that the word has an infinite number of meanings, obviously reasoning would be impossible; for not to have one meaning is to have no meaning, and if words have no meaning reasoning with other people, and indeed with oneself, has been annihilated; for it is impossible to think of anything if we do not think of one thing; but if this is possible, one name might be assigned to this thing. Let it be assumed then, as was said at the beginning,[14] that the name has a meaning and has one meaning; it is impossible, then, that 'being a man' should mean precisely 'not being a man', if 'man' is not only predicable of one subject but also has one meaning (for we do not identify 'having one meaning' with 'being predicable of one subject', since on that assumption even 'musical' and 'white' and 'man' would have had one meaning, so that all things would have been one; for they would all have had the same meaning).

And it will not be possible for the same thing to be and not to be, except in virtue of an ambiguity, just as one whom we call 'man', others might call 'not-man'; but the point in question is not this, whether the same thing can at the same time be and not be a man in name, but whether it can in fact. Now if 'man' and 'not-man' mean nothing different, obviously 'not being a man' will mean nothing different from 'being a man'; so that 'being a man' will be 'not being a man'; for they will be one. For being one means this—what we find in the case of 'raiment' and 'dress'—viz. that the definitory formula is one. And if 'being a man' and 'not being a man' are to be one, they must mean one thing. But it was shown earlier that they mean different things. Therefore, if it is true to say of anything that it is a man, it must be a two-footed animal; for this was what 'man' meant; and if this is necessary, it is impossible that the same thing should not be a two-footed animal; for this is what 'being necessary' means—that it is impossible for the thing not to be. It is, then, impossible that it should be at the same time true to say the same thing is a man and is not a man.

The same account holds good with regard to 'not being man', for 'being man' and 'being not-man' mean different things, since even 'being white' and 'being man' are different; for the former terms are much more opposed, so that they must a fortiori mean different things. And if any one says that 'white' means one and the same thing as 'man', again we shall say the same as what was said before, that it would follow that all things are one, and not only opposites. But if this is impossible, then what has been said will follow, if our opponent answers our question.

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  1. The argument is obscured by doubts as to the reading, but seems to be that being and unity are not severed from the particular thing which is and is one, and ∴ are not severed from one another.
  2. Fr. 1478b36-1479a5 (Fr. 31 ed. Rose, 1886).
  3. With 1004a2-9 cf. b. 995b10-13, 997a15-25.
  4. i.e. negation is simply the negation of an attribute; in privation some member of a definite class is said not to have the attribute in the form appropriate to that class.
  5. i. e. b. 995b20-27.
  6. Sc. which they do not do.
  7. With 1004b5-26 cf. b. 995b18-20, 997a25-33.
  8. Cf. note on a. 986a23.
  9. Cf. Fr. 1478b36-1479a5.
  10. With ch. 2 cf. b. 995b5-7, 996a18-b26.
  11. With ch. 3 cf. b. 995b7-10, 996b26-997a15.
  12. i.e. we have shown that since A cannot be both B and not-B, no one can think A is both B and not-B (1005b22-31).
  13. This sentence is probably out of place. For 'so and not so' cf. Pl. Theaet. 183 a.
  14. a31.