Translated with introduction and notes by A.E. Taylor

Four Kinds of Causes← TOC→Mathematicians, Pythagoreans, and Eleatics


Teleology and the Formative Principle

One might even fancy that this point was first investigated by Hesiod, or any other of the poets who assumed sexual Love or Desire as a principle in things--Parmenides,66 for instance, who says, in his description of the formation of the universe: "So Love she devised as earliest-born of all the gods." So Hesiod67 writes, "First of all things was the Abyss (χάος), and next broad-breasted Earth, and Love conspicuous above all the immortal ones," implying that there must be in the world some cause to set things in motion and bring them together. (How the question of priority is to be settled between these authors is a point of which we may be allowed to postpone the consideration.) But, further, since it was patent that there is also present in the universe (985 a) the opposite of good, and not only Order and Beauty, but also Disorder and Ugliness, and that the evil and unseemly things are more numerous than the good and beautiful, another poet introduced the concepts of Love68 and Strife as the respective causes of each class. For if one follows out the statements of Empedocles with attention to his meaning, and not to its lisping expression in words, it will be found that he treats Love as the cause of good things, Strife as the cause of evil. Hence, if one said that in a sense Empedocles designated, and was the first to designate, Good and Evil as principles, the remark would probably be just, since that which is the cause of all good things is the Good itself [and that which is the cause of all evil things is Evil itself].

As I have said, then, the writers just referred to manifestly had formed the conception, to the degree already indicated, of two of the senses of Cause which have been distinguished in my discourses on Physics--the Matter and the Source of Motion. Their exposition, however, was obscure and confused, and might be likened to the conduct of untrained recruits in battle. In the general mêlée such recruits often deal admirable blows, but they do not deal them with science. Similarly, these philosophers do not seem to understand the significance of their own statements, for it is patent that, speaking generally, they make little or no application of them. Anaxagoras, for instance, uses his "Mind" as a mechanical69 device for the production of order in Nature, and when he is at a loss to say by what cause some result is necessitated, then he drags in Mind as a last resource, but in all other cases he assigns anything and everything rather than Mind as the cause of what occurs.70 Empedocles, again, though he makes more use of his causes than the other, does not make adequate use of them, nor does he succeed in attaining consistency where he does employ them. At least, he frequently treats Love as a separating and Strife as a combining agency.71 Thus, when the Universe is resolved into its rudiments72 by Strife, fire and each of the other four are combined into one, but when they coalesce again into the One, under the influence of Love, the parts of each are necessarily separated again. Empedocles, then, differed from his predecessors in being the first to introduce this cause in a double form; he assumes, not a single source of motion, but a pair which are opposed to one another. He was also the first to assert that the number of the so-called material elements is four. Yet, he does not employ them as four, but as if they were only two, treating fire on the one side by itself, and the elements (985 b) opposed to it--earth, air, and water--on the other, as if they were a single nature. One can discover this from his verses by careful reflection. Such, then, were the nature and number of the principles assumed by Empedocles.

But Leucippus and his follower, Democritus, say that the elements are the Full and the Void, call­ing the one Being and the other Non-being. The full and solid they call Being, the void and rare Non-being. (This, too, is why they say that Non-being is just as real as Being, for the Void is as real as Body.73) These are, they declare, the material causes of things. And just as those who regard the underlying nature of things as one derive everything else from the modifications of this substrate, assuming density and rarity as the fundamental distinction between these modi­fications, so Leucippus and Democritus assert that the differences74 are the causes of everything else. Now, of these they say there are three— shape, order, and position. For Being, they say, differs only in contour (ῥυσμός), arrangement (διαθιγή), situation (τροπή). Of these terms, contour means shape, arrangement means order (διαθιγή), and situation means position.75 Thus, e.g., A differs from N in shape, AN from NA in order. Z from N in position. Like the rest of the philosophers, they also indolently neglected the question whence or how motion is communicated to things. This, then, is the point to which the investigation of these two kinds of cause seems to have been carried by the earlier thinkers.

Taylor's Notes

(Taylor's footnotes have been converted to endnotes)


[66]. Parmenides, 133; R. P., 101a. Aristotle is probably intending an allusion to Plato, Symposium, 178b, where both the verse of Parmenides and part of the verses from Hesiod are quoted.

[67]. Hesiod. Theogony, 116-118.

[68]. φιλία, "affection," "mutual attraction." Empedocles (for whom see Burnet, op. cit. pp. 245-247) uses for the principle of attraction the names of φιλότης (= Aristotle's (φιλία) and Aphrodite (= Aristotle's ἔρως, sexual attraction) indifferently.

[69]. μηχανῇ. The metaphor is from the machine used in the theatre to hoist up the god who appears to "cut the knot" of an otherwise insoluble dramatic tangle. The idiomatic English rendering would be: "He treats Mind as a sort of fairy godmother."

[70]. An obvious allusion to the complaint of Socrates in Plato, Phaedo, 98b. ff:: As I went on to read further, I found that the man made no use of his ‘Mind,' and assigned no real causes for the order in things, but alleged as causes airs, ethers, waters, and a host of other monstrosities."

[71]. For this criticism, cf. Metaphysics, B, 1000a 26: "It is true that he assumes a certain principle as the cause of dissolution, viz., Strife. But one has to suppose that Strife just as truly produces everything except the One." For a full commentary on this, see Burnet, op. cit. p. 246.

[72]. στοιχείων. The word, which primarily means a letter of the alphabet, is taken by Aristotle from Plato, Theaetetus, 201e ff, where the analysis of a complex into its simple factors is illustrated by the spelling of a syllable. Aristotle's definition of στοιχεῖον, which I shall henceforth render "element," is (Metaphysics, Δ 3, 1014a 26) "an ultimate factor present in a complex, not further divisible in respect of its kind into factors which differ in kind." The term was, of course, unknown to Empedocles, whose name for his "elementary bodies" is simply "roots of things."

[73]. The Greek text has "for Body is real as Void." The context shows that we must emend the reading of the MS. into the sense given above. The simplest method of doing this is, with Zeller, to substitute ἔλαττον for μᾶλλον in 985b 8.

[74]. i. e., the differences between the atoms of which according to this school Being, or Body, is composed.

[75]. Aristotle explains the unfamiliar technical expressions of the Atomists, which are all words belonging to their native Ionic dialect, by Attic equivalents. I fear my attempt to find unfamiliar synonyms for such common technical terms as shape, order, position is not altogether happy, but it is the best I can do. Z is said below to differ from N only in position because it is the same figure rotated through a right angle. The paleographical correction of this sentence by Diels does not affect the sense, and I have therefore been content to keep the traditional text.

Created for Peithô's Web from Aristotle on his predecessors; being the first book of his Metaphysics; tr. from the text edition of W. Christ, with introd. and notes by A. E. Taylor. Chicago, Open Court, 1907.Taylor's footnotes have been converted to endnotes. Greek unicode text entered with Peithô's Younicoder.
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