On the Heavens, by Aristotle

Book III

1

WE have already discussed the first heaven and its parts, the moving stars within it, the matter of which these are composed and their bodily constitution, and we have also shown that they are ungenerated and indestructible. Now things that we call natural are either substances or functions and attributes of substances. As substances I class the simple bodies-fire, earth, and the other terms of the series-and all things composed of them; for example, the heaven as a whole and its parts, animals, again, and plants and their parts. By attributes and functions I mean the movements of these and of all other things in which they have power in themselves to cause movement, and also their alterations and reciprocal transformations. It is obvious, then, that the greater part of the inquiry into nature concerns bodies: for a natural substance is either a body or a thing which cannot come into existence without body and magnitude. This appears plainly from an analysis of the character of natural things, and equally from an inspection of the instances of inquiry into nature. Since, then, we have spoken of the primary element, of its bodily constitution, and of its freedom from destruction and generation, it remains to speak of the other two. In speaking of them we shall be obliged also to inquire into generation and destruction. For if there is generation anywhere, it must be in these elements and things composed of them.

This is indeed the first question we have to ask: is generation a fact or not? Earlier speculation was at variance both with itself and with the views here put forward as to the true answer to this question. Some removed generation and destruction from the world altogether. Nothing that is, they said, is generated or destroyed, and our conviction to the contrary is an illusion. So maintained the school of Melissus and Parmenides. But however excellent their theories may otherwise be, anyhow they cannot be held to speak as students of nature. There may be things not subject to generation or any kind of movement, but if so they belong to another and a higher inquiry than the study of nature. They, however, had no idea of any form of being other than the substance of things perceived; and when they saw, what no one previously had seen, that there could be no knowledge or wisdom without some such unchanging entities, they naturally transferred what was true of them to things perceived. Others, perhaps intentionally, maintain precisely the contrary opinion to this. It has been asserted that everything in the world was subject to generation and nothing was ungenerated, but that after being generated some things remained indestructible while the rest were again destroyed. This had been asserted in the first instance by Hesiod and his followers, but afterwards outside his circle by the earliest natural philosophers. But what these thinkers maintained was that all else has been generated and, as they said, ‘is flowing away, nothing having any solidity, except one single thing which persists as the basis of all these transformations. So we may interpret the statements of Heraclitus of Ephesus and many others. And some subject all bodies whatever to generation, by means of the composition and separation of planes.

Discussion of the other views may be postponed. But this last theory which composes every body of planes is, as the most superficial observation shows, in many respects in plain contradiction with mathematics. It is, however, wrong to remove the foundations of a science unless you can replace them with others more convincing. And, secondly, the same theory which composes solids of planes clearly composes planes of lines and lines of points, so that a part of a line need not be a line. This matter has been already considered in our discussion of movement, where we have shown that an indivisible length is impossible. But with respect to natural bodies there are impossibilities involved in the view which asserts indivisible lines, which we may briefly consider at this point. For the impossible consequences which result from this view in the mathematical sphere will reproduce themselves when it is applied to physical bodies, but there will be difficulties in physics which are not present in mathematics; for mathematics deals with an abstract and physics with a more concrete object. There are many attributes necessarily present in physical bodies which are necessarily excluded by indivisibility; all attributes, in fact, which are divisible. There can be nothing divisible in an indivisible thing, but the attributes of bodies are all divisible in one of two ways. They are divisible into kinds, as colour is divided into white and black, and they are divisible per accidens when that which has them is divisible. In this latter sense attributes which are simple are nevertheless divisible. Attributes of this kind will serve, therefore, to illustrate the impossibility of the view. It is impossible, if two parts of a thing have no weight, that the two together should have weight. But either all perceptible bodies or some, such as earth and water, have weight, as these thinkers would themselves admit. Now if the point has no weight, clearly the lines have not either, and, if they have not, neither have the planes. Therefore no body has weight. It is, further, manifest that their point cannot have weight. For while a heavy thing may always be heavier than something and a light thing lighter than something, a thing which is heavier or lighter than something need not be itself heavy or light, just as a large thing is larger than others, but what is larger is not always large. A thing which, judged absolutely, is small may none the less be larger than other things. Whatever, then, is heavy and also heavier than something else, must exceed this by something which is heavy. A heavy thing therefore is always divisible. But it is common ground that a point is indivisible. Again, suppose that what is heavy or weight is a dense body, and what is light rare. Dense differs from rare in containing more matter in the same cubic area. A point, then, if it may be heavy or light, may be dense or rare. But the dense is divisible while a point is indivisible. And if what is heavy must be either hard or soft, an impossible consequence is easy to draw. For a thing is soft if its surface can be pressed in, hard if it cannot; and if it can be pressed in it is divisible.

Moreover, no weight can consist of parts not possessing weight. For how, except by the merest fiction, can they specify the number and character of the parts which will produce weight? And, further, when one weight is greater than another, the difference is a third weight; from which it will follow that every indivisible part possesses weight. For suppose that a body of four points possesses weight. A body composed of more than four points will superior in weight to it, a thing which has weight. But the difference between weight and weight must be a weight, as the difference between white and whiter is white. Here the difference which makes the superior weight heavier is the single point which remains when the common number, four, is subtracted. A single point, therefore, has weight.

Further, to assume, on the one hand, that the planes can only be put in linear contact would be ridiculous. For just as there are two ways of putting lines together, namely, end to and side by side, so there must be two ways of putting planes together. Lines can be put together so that contact is linear by laying one along the other, though not by putting them end to end. But if, similarly, in putting the lanes together, superficial contact is allowed as an alternative to linear, that method will give them bodies which are not any element nor composed of elements. Again, if it is the number of planes in a body that makes one heavier than another, as the Timaeus explains, clearly the line and the point will have weight. For the three cases are, as we said before, analogous. But if the reason of differences of weight is not this, but rather the heaviness of earth and the lightness of fire, then some of the planes will be light and others heavy (which involves a similar distinction in the lines and the points); the earthplane, I mean, will be heavier than the fire-plane. In general, the result is either that there is no magnitude at all, or that all magnitude could be done away with. For a point is to a line as a line is to a plane and as a plane is to a body. Now the various forms in passing into one another will each be resolved into its ultimate constituents. It might happen therefore that nothing existed except points, and that there was no body at all. A further consideration is that if time is similarly constituted, there would be, or might be, a time at which it was done away with. For the indivisible now is like a point in a line. The same consequences follow from composing the heaven of numbers, as some of the Pythagoreans do who make all nature out of numbers. For natural bodies are manifestly endowed with weight and lightness, but an assemblage of units can neither be composed to form a body nor possess weight.

2

The necessity that each of the simple bodies should have a natural movement may be shown as follows. They manifestly move, and if they have no proper movement they must move by constraint: and the constrained is the same as the unnatural. Now an unnatural movement presupposes a natural movement which it contravenes, and which, however many the unnatural movements, is always one. For naturally a thing moves in one way, while its unnatural movements are manifold. The same may be shown, from the fact of rest. Rest, also, must either be constrained or natural, constrained in a place to which movement was constrained, natural in a place movement to which was natural. Now manifestly there is a body which is at rest at the centre. If then this rest is natural to it, clearly motion to this place is natural to it. If, on the other hand, its rest is constrained, what is hindering its motion? Something, which is at rest: but if so, we shall simply repeat the same argument; and either we shall come to an ultimate something to which rest where it is or we shall have an infinite process, which is impossible. The hindrance to its movement, then, we will suppose, is a moving thing-as Empedocles says that it is the vortex which keeps the earth still-: but in that case we ask, where would it have moved to but for the vortex? It could not move infinitely; for to traverse an infinite is impossible, and impossibilities do not happen. So the moving thing must stop somewhere, and there rest not by constraint but naturally. But a natural rest proves a natural movement to the place of rest. Hence Leucippus and Democritus, who say that the primary bodies are in perpetual movement in the void or infinite, may be asked to explain the manner of their motion and the kind of movement which is natural to them. For if the various elements are constrained by one another to move as they do, each must still have a natural movement which the constrained contravenes, and the prime mover must cause motion not by constraint but naturally. If there is no ultimate natural cause of movement and each preceding term in the series is always moved by constraint, we shall have an infinite process. The same difficulty is involved even if it is supposed, as we read in the Timaeus, that before the ordered world was made the elements moved without order. Their movement must have been due either to constraint or to their nature. And if their movement was natural, a moment’s consideration shows that there was already an ordered world. For the prime mover must cause motion in virtue of its own natural movement, and the other bodies, moving without constraint, as they came to rest in their proper places, would fall into the order in which they now stand, the heavy bodies moving towards the centre and the light bodies away from it. But that is the order of their distribution in our world. There is a further question, too, which might be asked. Is it possible or impossible that bodies in unordered movement should combine in some cases into combinations like those of which bodies of nature’s composing are composed, such, I mean, as bones and flesh? Yet this is what Empedocles asserts to have occurred under Love. ‘Many a head’, says he, ‘came to birth without a neck.’ The answer to the view that there are infinite bodies moving in an infinite is that, if the cause of movement is single, they must move with a single motion, and therefore not without order; and if, on the other hand, the causes are of infinite variety, their motions too must be infinitely varied. For a finite number of causes would produce a kind of order, since absence of order is not proved by diversity of direction in motions: indeed, in the world we know, not all bodies, but only bodies of the same kind, have a common goal of movement. Again, disorderly movement means in reality unnatural movement, since the order proper to perceptible things is their nature. And there is also absurdity and impossibility in the notion that the disorderly movement is infinitely continued. For the nature of things is the nature which most of them possess for most of the time. Thus their view brings them into the contrary position that disorder is natural, and order or system unnatural. But no natural fact can originate in chance. This is a point which Anaxagoras seems to have thoroughly grasped; for he starts his cosmogony from unmoved things. The others, it is true, make things collect together somehow before they try to produce motion and separation. But there is no sense in starting generation from an original state in which bodies are separated and in movement. Hence Empedocles begins after the process ruled by Love: for he could not have constructed the heaven by building it up out of bodies in separation, making them to combine by the power of Love, since our world has its constituent elements in separation, and therefore presupposes a previous state of unity and combination.

These arguments make it plain that every body has its natural movement, which is not constrained or contrary to its nature. We go on to show that there are certain bodies whose necessary impetus is that of weight and lightness. Of necessity, we assert, they must move, and a moved thing which has no natural impetus cannot move either towards or away from the centre. Suppose a body A without weight, and a body B endowed with weight. Suppose the weightless body to move the distance CD, while B in the same time moves the distance CE, which will be greater since the heavy thing must move further. Let the heavy body then be divided in the proportion CE: CD (for there is no reason why a part of B should not stand in this relation to the whole). Now if the whole moves the whole distance CE, the part must in the same time move the distance CD. A weightless body, therefore, and one which has weight will move the same distance, which is impossible. And the same argument would fit the case of lightness. Again, a body which is in motion but has neither weight nor lightness, must be moved by constraint, and must continue its constrained movement infinitely. For there will be a force which moves it, and the smaller and lighter a body is the further will a given force move it. Now let A, the weightless body, be moved the distance CE, and B, which has weight, be moved in the same time the distance CD. Dividing the heavy body in the proportion CE:CD, we subtract from the heavy body a part which will in the same time move the distance CE, since the whole moved CD: for the relative speeds of the two bodies will be in inverse ratio to their respective sizes. Thus the weightless body will move the same distance as the heavy in the same time. But this is impossible. Hence, since the motion of the weightless body will cover a greater distance than any that is suggested, it will continue infinitely. It is therefore obvious that every body must have a definite weight or lightness. But since ‘nature’ means a source of movement within the thing itself, while a force is a source of movement in something other than it or in itself qua other, and since movement is always due either to nature or to constraint, movement which is natural, as downward movement is to a stone, will be merely accelerated by an external force, while an unnatural movement will be due to the force alone. In either case the air is as it were instrumental to the force. For air is both light and heavy, and thus qua light produces upward motion, being propelled and set in motion by the force, and qua heavy produces a downward motion. In either case the force transmits the movement to the body by first, as it were, impregnating the air. That is why a body moved by constraint continues to move when that which gave the impulse ceases to accompany it. Otherwise, i.e. if the air were not endowed with this function, constrained movement would be impossible. And the natural movement of a body may be helped on in the same way. This discussion suffices to show (1) that all bodies are either light or heavy, and (2) how unnatural movement takes place.

From what has been said earlier it is plain that there cannot be generation either of everything or in an absolute sense of anything. It is impossible that everything should be generated, unless an extra-corporeal void is possible. For, assuming generation, the place which is to be occupied by that which is coming to be, must have been previously occupied by void in which no body was. Now it is quite possible for one body to be generated out of another, air for instance out of fire, but in the absence of any pre-existing mass generation is impossible. That which is potentially a certain kind of body may, it is true, become such in actuality, But if the potential body was not already in actuality some other kind of body, the existence of an extra-corporeal void must be admitted.

3

It remains to say what bodies are subject to generation, and why. Since in every case knowledge depends on what is primary, and the elements are the primary constituents of bodies, we must ask which of such bodies are elements, and why; and after that what is their number and character. The answer will be plain if we first explain what kind of substance an element is. An element, we take it, is a body into which other bodies may be analysed, present in them potentially or in actuality (which of these, is still disputable), and not itself divisible into bodies different in form. That, or something like it, is what all men in every case mean by element. Now if what we have described is an element, clearly there must be such bodies. For flesh and wood and all other similar bodies contain potentially fire and earth, since one sees these elements exuded from them; and, on the other hand, neither in potentiality nor in actuality does fire contain flesh or wood, or it would exude them. Similarly, even if there were only one elementary body, it would not contain them. For though it will be either flesh or bone or something else, that does not at once show that it contained these in potentiality: the further question remains, in what manner it becomes them. Now Anaxagoras opposes Empedocles’ view of the elements. Empedocles says that fire and earth and the related bodies are elementary bodies of which all things are composed; but this Anaxagoras denies. His elements are the homoeomerous things, viz. flesh, bone, and the like. Earth and fire are mixtures, composed of them and all the other seeds, each consisting of a collection of all the homoeomerous bodies, separately invisible; and that explains why from these two bodies all others are generated. (To him fire and aither are the same thing.) But since every natural body has it proper movement, and movements are either simple or mixed, mixed in mixed bodies and simple in simple, there must obviously be simple bodies; for there are simple movements. It is plain, then, that there are elements, and why.

4

The next question to consider is whether the elements are finite or infinite in number, and, if finite, what their number is. Let us first show reason or denying that their number is infinite, as some suppose. We begin with the view of Anaxagoras that all the homoeomerous bodies are elements. Any one who adopts this view misapprehends the meaning of element. Observation shows that even mixed bodies are often divisible into homoeomerous parts; examples are flesh, bone, wood, and stone. Since then the composite cannot be an element, not every homoeomerous body can be an element; only, as we said before, that which is not divisible into bodies different in form. But even taking ‘element’ as they do, they need not assert an infinity of elements, since the hypothesis of a finite number will give identical results. Indeed even two or three such bodies serve the purpose as well, as Empedocles’ attempt shows. Again, even on their view it turns out that all things are not composed of homocomerous bodies. They do not pretend that a face is composed of faces, or that any other natural conformation is composed of parts like itself. Obviously then it would be better to assume a finite number of principles. They should, in fact, be as few as possible, consistently with proving what has to be proved. This is the common demand of mathematicians, who always assume as principles things finite either in kind or in number. Again, if body is distinguished from body by the appropriate qualitative difference, and there is a limit to the number of differences (for the difference lies in qualities apprehended by sense, which are in fact finite in number, though this requires proof), then manifestly there is necessarily a limit to the number of elements.

There is, further, another view-that of Leucippus and Democritus of Abdera-the implications of which are also unacceptable. The primary masses, according to them, are infinite in number and indivisible in mass: one cannot turn into many nor many into one; and all things are generated by their combination and involution. Now this view in a sense makes things out to be numbers or composed of numbers. The exposition is not clear, but this is its real meaning. And further, they say that since the atomic bodies differ in shape, and there is an infinity of shapes, there is an infinity of simple bodies. But they have never explained in detail the shapes of the various elements, except so far to allot the sphere to fire. Air, water, and the rest they distinguished by the relative size of the atom, assuming that the atomic substance was a sort of master-seed for each and every element. Now, in the first place, they make the mistake already noticed. The principles which they assume are not limited in number, though such limitation would necessitate no other alteration in their theory. Further, if the differences of bodies are not infinite, plainly the elements will not be an infinity. Besides, a view which asserts atomic bodies must needs come into conflict with the mathematical sciences, in addition to invalidating many common opinions and apparent data of sense perception. But of these things we have already spoken in our discussion of time and movement. They are also bound to contradict themselves. For if the elements are atomic, air, earth, and water cannot be differentiated by the relative sizes of their atoms, since then they could not be generated out of one another. The extrusion of the largest atoms is a process that will in time exhaust the supply; and it is by such a process that they account for the generation of water, air, and earth from one another. Again, even on their own presuppositions it does not seem as if the clements would be infinite in number. The atoms differ in figure, and all figures are composed of pyramids, rectilinear the case of rectilinear figures, while the sphere has eight pyramidal parts. The figures must have their principles, and, whether these are one or two or more, the simple bodies must be the same in number as they. Again, if every element has its proper movement, and a simple body has a simple movement, and the number of simple movements is not infinite, because the simple motions are only two and the number of places is not infinite, on these grounds also we should have to deny that the number of elements is infinite.

5

Since the number of the elements must be limited, it remains to inquire whether there is more than one element. Some assume one only, which is according to some water, to others air, to others fire, to others again something finer than water and denser than air, an infinite body-so they say-bracing all the heavens.

Now those who decide for a single element, which is either water or air or a body finer than water and denser than air, and proceed to generate other things out of it by use of the attributes density and rarity, all alike fail to observe the fact that they are depriving the element of its priority. Generation out of the elements is, as they say, synthesis, and generation into the elements is analysis, so that the body with the finer parts must have priority in the order of nature. But they say that fire is of all bodies the finest. Hence fire will be first in the natural order. And whether the finest body is fire or not makes no difference; anyhow it must be one of the other bodies that is primary and not that which is intermediate. Again, density and rarity, as instruments of generation, are equivalent to fineness and coarseness, since the fine is rare, and coarse in their use means dense. But fineness and coarseness, again, are equivalent to greatness and smallness, since a thing with small parts is fine and a thing with large parts coarse. For that which spreads itself out widely is fine, and a thing composed of small parts is so spread out. In the end, then, they distinguish the various other substances from the element by the greatness and smallness of their parts. This method of distinction makes all judgement relative. There will be no absolute distinction between fire, water, and air, but one and the same body will be relatively to this fire, relatively to something else air. The same difficulty is involved equally in the view elements and distinguishes them by their greatness and smallness. The principle of distinction between bodies being quantity, the various sizes will be in a definite ratio, and whatever bodies are in this ratio to one another must be air, fire, earth, and water respectively. For the ratios of smaller bodies may be repeated among greater bodies.

Those who start from fire as the single element, while avoiding this difficulty, involve themselves in many others. Some of them give fire a particular shape, like those who make it a pyramid, and this on one of two grounds. The reason given may be-more crudely-that the pyramid is the most piercing of figures as fire is of bodies, or-more ingeniously-the position may be supported by the following argument. As all bodies are composed of that which has the finest parts, so all solid figures are composed of pryamids: but the finest body is fire, while among figures the pyramid is primary and has the smallest parts; and the primary body must have the primary figure: therefore fire will be a pyramid. Others, again, express no opinion on the subject of its figure, but simply regard it as the of the finest parts, which in combination will form other bodies, as the fusing of gold-dust produces solid gold. Both of these views involve the same difficulties. For (1) if, on the one hand, they make the primary body an atom, the view will be open to the objections already advanced against the atomic theory. And further the theory is inconsistent with a regard for the facts of nature. For if all bodies are quantitatively commensurable, and the relative size of the various homoeomerous masses and of their several elements are in the same ratio, so that the total mass of water, for instance, is related to the total mass of air as the elements of each are to one another, and so on, and if there is more air than water and, generally, more of the finer body than of the coarser, obviously the element of water will be smaller than that of air. But the lesser quantity is contained in the greater. Therefore the air element is divisible. And the same could be shown of fire and of all bodies whose parts are relatively fine. (2) If, on the other hand, the primary body is divisible, then (a) those who give fire a special shape will have to say that a part of fire is not fire, because a pyramid is not composed of pyramids, and also that not every body is either an element or composed of elements, since a part of fire will be neither fire nor any other element. And (b) those whose ground of distinction is size will have to recognize an element prior to the element, a regress which continues infinitely, since every body is divisible and that which has the smallest parts is the element. Further, they too will have to say that the same body is relatively to this fire and relatively to that air, to others again water and earth.

The common error of all views which assume a single element is that they allow only one natural movement, which is the same for every body. For it is a matter of observation that a natural body possesses a principle of movement. If then all bodies are one, all will have one movement. With this motion the greater their quantity the more they will move, just as fire, in proportion as its quantity is greater, moves faster with the upward motion which belongs to it. But the fact is that increase of quantity makes many things move the faster downward. For these reasons, then, as well as from the distinction already established of a plurality of natural movements, it is impossible that there should be only one element. But if the elements are not an infinity and not reducible to one, they must be several and finite in number.

6

First we must inquire whether the elements are eternal or subject to generation and destruction; for when this question has been answered their number and character will be manifest. In the first place, they cannot be eternal. It is a matter of observation that fire, water, and every simple body undergo a process of analysis, which must either continue infinitely or stop somewhere. (1) Suppose it infinite. Then the time occupied by the process will be infinite, and also that occupied by the reverse process of synthesis. For the processes of analysis and synthesis succeed one another in the various parts. It will follow that there are two infinite times which are mutually exclusive, the time occupied by the synthesis, which is infinite, being preceded by the period of analysis. There are thus two mutually exclusive infinites, which is impossible. (2) Suppose, on the other hand, that the analysis stops somewhere. Then the body at which it stops will be either atomic or, as Empedocles seems to have intended, a divisible body which will yet never be divided. The foregoing arguments show that it cannot be an atom; but neither can it be a divisible body which analysis will never reach. For a smaller body is more easily destroyed than a larger; and a destructive process which succeeds in destroying, that is, in resolving into smaller bodies, a body of some size, cannot reasonably be expected to fail with the smaller body. Now in fire we observe a destruction of two kinds: it is destroyed by its contrary when it is quenched, and by itself when it dies out. But the effect is produced by a greater quantity upon a lesser, and the more quickly the smaller it is. The elements of bodies must therefore be subject to destruction and generation.

Since they are generated, they must be generated either from something incorporeal or from a body, and if from a body, either from one another or from something else. The theory which generates them from something incorporeal requires an extra-corporeal void. For everything that comes to be comes to be in something, and that in which the generation takes place must either be incorporeal or possess body; and if it has body, there will be two bodies in the same place at the same time, viz. that which is coming to be and that which was previously there, while if it is incorporeal, there must be an extra-corporeal void. But we have already shown that this is impossible. But, on the other hand, it is equally impossible that the elements should be generated from some kind of body. That would involve a body distinct from the elements and prior to them. But if this body possesses weight or lightness, it will be one of the elements; and if it has no tendency to movement, it will be an immovable or mathematical entity, and therefore not in a place at all. A place in which a thing is at rest is a place in which it might move, either by constraint, i.e. unnaturally, or in the absence of constraint, i.e. naturally. If, then, it is in a place and somewhere, it will be one of the elements; and if it is not in a place, nothing can come from it, since that which comes into being and that out of which it comes must needs be together. The elements therefore cannot be generated from something incorporeal nor from a body which is not an element, and the only remaining alternative is that they are generated from one another.

7

We must, therefore, turn to the question, what is the manner of their generation from one another? Is it as Empedocles and Democritus say, or as those who resolve bodies into planes say, or is there yet another possibility? (1) What the followers of Empedocles do, though without observing it themselves, is to reduce the generation of elements out of one another to an illusion. They make it a process of excretion from a body of what was in it all the time-as though generation required a vessel rather than a material-so that it involves no change of anything. And even if this were accepted, there are other implications equally unsatisfactory. We do not expect a mass of matter to be made heavier by compression. But they will be bound to maintain this, if they say that water is a body present in air and excreted from air, since air becomes heavier when it turns into water. Again, when the mixed body is divided, they can show no reason why one of the constituents must by itself take up more room than the body did: but when water turns into air, the room occupied is increased. The fact is that the finer body takes up more room, as is obvious in any case of transformation. As the liquid is converted into vapour or air the vessel which contains it is often burst because it does not contain room enough. Now, if there is no void at all, and if, as those who take this view say, there is no expansion of bodies, the impossibility of this is manifest: and if there is void and expansion, there is no accounting for the fact that the body which results from division cfpies of necessity a greater space. It is inevitable, too, that generation of one out of another should come to a stop, since a finite quantum cannot contain an infinity of finite quanta. When earth produces water something is taken away from the earth, for the process is one of excretion. The same thing happens again when the residue produces water. But this can only go on for ever, if the finite body contains an infinity, which is impossible. Therefore the generation of elements out of one another will not always continue.

(2) We have now explained that the mutual transformations of the elements cannot take place by means of excretion. The remaining alternative is that they should be generated by changing into one another. And this in one of two ways, either by change of shape, as the same wax takes the shape both of a sphere and of a cube, or, as some assert, by resolution into planes. (a) Generation by change of shape would necessarily involve the assertion of atomic bodies. For if the particles were divisible there would be a part of fire which was not fire and a part of earth which was not earth, for the reason that not every part of a pyramid is a pyramid nor of a cube a cube. But if (b) the process is resolution into planes, the first difficulty is that the elements cannot all be generated out of one another. This they are obliged to assert, and do assert. It is absurd, because it is unreasonable that one element alone should have no part in the transformations, and also contrary to the observed data of sense, according to which all alike change into one another. In fact their explanation of the observations is not consistent with the observations. And the reason is that their ultimate principles are wrongly assumed: they had certain predetermined views, and were resolved to bring everything into line with them. It seems that perceptible things require perceptible principles, eternal things eternal principles, corruptible things corruptible principles; and, in general, every subject matter principles homogeneous with itself. But they, owing to their love for their principles, fall into the attitude of men who undertake the defence of a position in argument. In the confidence that the principles are true they are ready to accept any consequence of their application. As though some principles did not require to be judged from their results, and particularly from their final issue! And that issue, which in the case of productive knowledge is the product, in the knowledge of nature is the unimpeachable evidence of the senses as to each fact.

The result of their view is that earth has the best right to the name element, and is alone indestructible; for that which is indissoluble is indestructible and elementary, and earth alone cannot be dissolved into any body but itself. Again, in the case of those elements which do suffer dissolution, the ‘suspension’ of the triangles is unsatisfactory. But this takes place whenever one is dissolved into another, because of the numerical inequality of the triangles which compose them. Further, those who hold these views must needs suppose that generation does not start from a body. For what is generated out of planes cannot be said to have been generated from a body. And they must also assert that not all bodies are divisible, coming thus into conflict with our most accurate sciences, namely the mathematical, which assume that even the intelligible is divisible, while they, in their anxiety to save their hypothesis, cannot even admit this of every perceptible thing. For any one who gives each element a shape of its own, and makes this the ground of distinction between the substances, has to attribute to them indivisibility; since division of a pyramid or a sphere must leave somewhere at least a residue which is not sphere or a pyramid. Either, then, a part of fire is not fire, so that there is a body prior to the element-for every body is either an element or composed of elements-or not every body is divisible.

8

In general, the attempt to give a shape to each of the simple bodies is unsound, for the reason, first, that they will not succeed in filling the whole. It is agreed that there are only three plane figures which can fill a space, the triangle, the square, and the hexagon, and only two solids, the pyramid and the cube. But the theory needs more than these because the elements which it recognizes are more in number. Secondly, it is manifest that the simple bodies are often given a shape by the place in which they are included, particularly water and air. In such a case the shape of the element cannot persist; for, if it did, the contained mass would not be in continuous contact with the containing body; while, if its shape is changed, it will cease to be water, since the distinctive quality is shape. Clearly, then, their shapes are not fixed. Indeed, nature itself seems to offer corroboration of this theoretical conclusion. Just as in other cases the substratum must be formless and unshapen-for thus the ‘all-receptive’, as we read in the Timaeus, will be best for modelling-so the elements should be conceived as a material for composite things; and that is why they can put off their qualitative distinctions and pass into one another. Further, how can they account for the generation of flesh and bone or any other continuous body? The elements alone cannot produce them because their collocation cannot produce a continuum. Nor can the composition of planes; for this produces the elements themselves, not bodies made up of them. Any one then who insists upon an exact statement of this kind of theory, instead of assenting after a passing glance at it, will see that it removes generation from the world.

Further, the very properties, powers, and motions, to which they paid particular attention in allotting shapes, show the shapes not to be in accord with the bodies. Because fire is mobile and productive of heat and combustion, some made it a sphere, others a pyramid. These shapes, they thought, were the most mobile because they offer the fewest points of contact and are the least stable of any; they were also the most apt to produce warmth and combustion, because the one is angular throughout while the other has the most acute angles, and the angles, they say, produce warmth and combustion. Now, in the first place, with regard to movement both are in error. These may be the figures best adapted to movement; they are not, however, well adapted to the movement of fire, which is an upward and rectilinear movement, but rather to that form of circular movement which we call rolling. Earth, again, they call a cube because it is stable and at rest. But it rests only in its own place, not anywhere; from any other it moves if nothing hinders, and fire and the other bodies do the same. The obvious inference, therefore, is that fire and each several element is in a foreign place a sphere or a pyramid, but in its own a cube. Again, if the possession of angles makes a body produce heat and combustion, every element produces heat, though one may do so more than another. For they all possess angles, the octahedron and dodecahedron as well as the pyramid; and Democritus makes even the sphere a kind of angle, which cuts things because of its mobility. The difference, then, will be one of degree: and this is plainly false. They must also accept the inference that the mathematical produce heat and combustion, since they too possess angles and contain atomic spheres and pyramids, especially if there are, as they allege, atomic figures. Anyhow if these functions belong to some of these things and not to others, they should explain the difference, instead of speaking in quite general terms as they do. Again, combustion of a body produces fire, and fire is a sphere or a pyramid. The body, then, is turned into spheres or pyramids. Let us grant that these figures may reasonably be supposed to cut and break up bodies as fire does; still it remains quite inexplicable that a pyramid must needs produce pyramids or a sphere spheres. One might as well postulate that a knife or a saw divides things into knives or saws. It is also ridiculous to think only of division when allotting fire its shape. Fire is generally thought of as combining and connecting rather than as separating. For though it separates bodies different in kind, it combines those which are the same; and the combining is essential to it, the functions of connecting and uniting being a mark of fire, while the separating is incidental. For the expulsion of the foreign body is an incident in the compacting of the homogeneous. In choosing the shape, then, they should have thought either of both functions or preferably of the combining function. In addition, since hot and cold are contrary powers, it is impossible to allot any shape to the cold. For the shape given must be the contrary of that given to the hot, but there is no contrariety between figures. That is why they have all left the cold out, though properly either all or none should have their distinguishing figures. Some of them, however, do attempt to explain this power, and they contradict themselves. A body of large particles, they say, is cold because instead of penetrating through the passages it crushes. Clearly, then, that which is hot is that which penetrates these passages, or in other words that which has fine particles. It results that hot and cold are distinguished not by the figure but by the size of the particles. Again, if the pyramids are unequal in size, the large ones will not be fire, and that figure will produce not combustion but its contrary.

From what has been said it is clear that the difference of the elements does not depend upon their shape. Now their most important differences are those of property, function, and power; for every natural body has, we maintain, its own functions, properties, and powers. Our first business, then, will be to speak of these, and that inquiry will enable us to explain the differences of each from each.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 12:59