Translated with introduction and notes by A.E. Taylor

The Peculiarities of Plato← TOC→The Defects of the Pre-Aristotelian Systems


The Four Conceptions of Cause United in Aristotle

We have now summarily and in outline answered the questions, what thinkers have treated of principles and of reality, and what doctrines they have taught. This much, however, can be gathered from our sketch of them, viz., that of all who have discussed principles and causes none has spoken of any kind except those which have been distinguished in our discourses on Physics. They are all unmistakably, though obscurely, trying to formulate these. Some of them understand their principle in the sense of a material cause, whether this be regarded as one or as several, as a body or as something incorporeal. e.g., Plato, with his Great and Small; the Italians, with their Unlimited; Empedocles, with his fire, earth, water, and air; Anaxagoras, with the infinity of his homoeomerous bodies. All these, then, have formed the concept of cause in this sense, as likewise all those who make a first principle of air,104 or fire,105 or water,106 or a body denser than fire but finer than air;107 for, in fact, some have identified the prime element with such a body. These thinkers, then, apprehended only this form of cause; others had apprehended cause, also, in the sense of the source of motion, e.g., those who make a principle of Love and Strife, or Mind, or sexual Love. The what108 or essential nature109 has not been explicitly assigned by any of them, but the authors of the theory of Ideas have come nearest to recognizing it. For they (988 b) neither conceive the Ideas as the material of sensible things and the One as that of the Ideas, nor do they regard them as providing the source of motion (indeed, they say that they are rather causes of motionlessness and rest), but the what is supplied to everything else by the Ideas, and to the Ideas by the One. The end for the sake of which actions, changes, and movements take place they do, in a sense, introduce as a cause, but not in this form, nor in one corresponding to its real character. For those who speak of Mind or Love assume these causes, indeed, as something good, but not in the sense that anything is or comes to be for the sake of them, but only in the sense that motions are initiated by them. Similarly, those110 who assert that Being, or the One, are entities of this kind111 assert, indeed, that they are a cause of existence, but not that anything is or comes to be for the sake of them. Consequently they, in a sense, both assert and deny that the Good is a cause, for they treat it as such, not absolutely but per accidens.112 They all thus appear to supply evidence that our own determination of the number and kind of the senses of cause is correct, since they have all failed to conceive of any further sense of cause. Further, it is clear that we must investigate these principles either as they stand in their entirety or a selection of them. We will next, however, examine possible difficulties in the doctrines of the individual thinkers, and their views about principles.

Taylor's Notes

(Taylor's footnotes have been converted to endnotes)


[104]. Anaximenes, Diogenes.

[105]. Heraclitus.

[106]. Thales (Hippo).

[107]. On the identification of the philosopher thus designated, see Burnet, op. cit. 56-58, and references given there. I hold with Burnet that the criticism of the doctrine in De Caelo, 303b 12, proves that the allusion is to Anaximander.

[108]. τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι

[109]τὴν οὐσίαν

[110]. i. e., Plato and his followers.

[111]i. e., Sources of motion.

[112]. i.e., they treat "the Good" as being a cause only in a relative and derivative sense, because it happens also to be something which mechanically initiates movement.

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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