Concerning Nature, by Plutarch

Book I.

It being our determination to discourse of Natural Philosophy, we judge it necessary, in the first place and chiefly, to divide the body of philosophy into its proper members, so that we may know what is that which is called philosophy, and what part of it is physical, or the explanation of natural things. The Stoics affirm that wisdom is the knowledge of things human and divine; that philosophy is the pursuit of that art which is convenient to this knowledge; that virtue is the sole and sovereign art which is thus convenient; and this distributes itself into three general parts — natural, moral, and logical. By which just reason (they say) philosophy is tripartite; of which one natural, the other moral, the third logical. The natural when our inquiries are concerning the world and all things contained in it; the ethical is the employment of our minds in those things which concern the manners of man’s life; the logical (which they also call dialectical) regulates our conversation with others in speaking. Aristotle, Theophrastus, and after them almost all the Peripatetics give the same division of philosophy. It is absolutely requisite that the complete person he contemplator of things which have a being, and the practiser of those thing which are decent; and this easily appears by the following instances. If the question be proposed, whether the sun, which is so conspicuous to us, be informed of a soul or inanimate, he that makes this disquisition is the thinking man; for he proceeds no farther than to consider the nature of that thing which is proposed. Likewise, if the question be propounded, whether the world be infinite, or whether beyond the system of this world there is any real being, all these things are the objects about which the understanding of man is conversant. But if these be the questions — what measures must be taken to compose the well-ordered life of man, what are the best methods to govern and educate children, or what are the exact rules whereby sovereigns may command and establish laws — all these queries are proposed for the sole end of action, and the man skilled therein is the moral and practical man.

Chapter I.

What is Nature?

Since we have undertaken to make a diligent search into Nature, I cannot but conclude it necessary to declare what Nature is. It is very absurd to attempt a discourse of the essence of natural things, and not to understand what is the power and sphere of Nature. If Aristotle be credited, Nature is the principle of motion and rest, in that thing in which it exists as a principle and not by accident. For all things that are conspicuous to our eyes, which are neither fortuitous nor necessary, nor have a divine original, nor acknowledge any such like cause, are called natural and enjoy their proper nature. Of this sort are earth, fire, water, air, plants, animals; to these may be added all things produced from them, such as showers, hail, thunders, hurricanes, and winds. All these confess they had a beginning, none of these were from eternity, but had something as the origin of them; and likewise animals and plants have a principle whence they are produced. But Nature, which in all these things hath the priority, is not only the principle of motion but of repose; whatsoever enjoys the principle of motion, the same has a possibility to find a dissolution. Therefore on this account it is that Nature is the principle of motion and rest.

Chapter II.

What is the Difference Between a Principle and an Element?

The followers of Aristotle and Plato conclude that elements are discriminated from principles. Thales the Milesian supposeth that a principle and the elements are one and the same thing, but it is evident that they vastly differ one from another. For the elements are things compounded; but we do pronounce that principles admit not of a composition, nor are the effects of any other being. Those which we call elements are earth, water, air, and fire. But we call those principles which have nothing prior to them out of which they are produced; for otherwise not these themselves, but rather those things whereof they are produced, would be the principles. Now there are some things which have a pre-existence to earth and water, from which they are begotten; to wit, matter, which is without form or shape; then form, which we call [Greek omitted] (actuality); and lastly, privation. Thales therefore is most in error, by affirming that water is both an element and a principle.

Chapter III.

What are Principles?

Thales the Milesian doth affirm that water is the principle from whence all things in the universe spring. This person appears to be the first of philosophers; from him the Ionic sect took its denomination, for there are many families and successions amongst philosophers. After he had professed philosophy in Egypt, when he was very old, he returned to Miletus. He pronounced, that all things had their original from water, and into water all things are resolved. His first ground was, that whatsoever was the prolific seed of all animals was a principle, and that is moist; so that it is probable that all things receive their original from humidity. His second reason was, that all plants are nourished and fructified by that thing which is moist, of which being deprived they wither away. Thirdly, that that fire of which the sun and stars are made is nourished by watery exhalations — yea, and the world itself; which moved Homer to sing that the generation of it was from water:—

The ocean is
Of all things the kind genesis.
(Iliad, xiv. 246.)

Anaximander, who himself was a Milesian, assigns the principle of all things to the Infinite, from whence all things flow, and into the same are corrupted; hence it is that infinite worlds are framed, and those dissolve again into that whence they have their origin. And thus he farther proceeds, For what other reason is there of an Infinite but this, that there may be nothing deficient as to the generation or subsistence of what is in Nature? There is his error, that he doth not acquaint us what this Infinite is, whether it be air, or water, or earth, or any other such like body. Besides he is mistaken, in that, giving us the material cause, he is silent as to the efficient cause of beings; for this thing which he makes his Infinite can be nothing but matter; but operation cannot come about in the sphere of matter, except an efficient cause be annexed. Anaximenes his fellow-citizen pronounceth, that air is the principle of all beings; from it all receive their original, and into it all return. He affirms that our soul is nothing but air; it is that which constitutes and preserves; the whole world is invested with spirit and air. For spirit and air are synonymous. This person is in this deficient, in that he concludes that of pure air, which is a simple body and is made of one only form, all animals are composed. It is not possible to think that a single principle should be the matter of all things, from whence they receive their subsistence; besides this there must be an operating cause. Silver (for example) is not of itself sufficient to frame a drinking cup; an operator also is required, which is the silversmith. The like may be applied to vessels made of wood, brass, or any other material.

Anaxagoras the Clazomenian asserted Homoeomeries (or parts similar or homogeneous) to be the original cause of all beings; it seemed to him impossible that anything could arise of nothing or be dissolved into nothing. Let us therefore instance in nourishment, which appears simple and uniform, such as bread which we owe to Ceres and water which we drink. Of this very nutriment, our hair, our veins, our arteries, nerves, bones, and all our other parts are nourished. These things thus being performed, it must be granted that the nourishment which is received by us contains all those things by which these of us are produced. In it there are those particles which are producers of blood, bones, nerves, and all other parts; these particles (he thought) reason discovers for us. For it is not necessary that we should reduce all things under the objects of sense; for bread and water are fitted to the senses, yet in them there are those particles latent which are discoverable only by reason. It being therefore plain that there are particles in the nourishment similar to what is produced by it, he terms these homogeneous parts, averring that they are the principles of beings. Matter is according to him these similar parts, and the efficient cause is a Mind, which orders all things that have an existence. Thus he begins his discourse: “All things were confused one among another; but Mind divided and brought them to order.” In this he is to be commended, that he yokes together matter and an intellectual agent.

Archelaus the son of Apollodorus, the Athenian, pronounceth, that the principles of all things have their origin from an infinite air rarefied or condensed. Air rarefied is fire, condensed is water.

These philosophers, the followers of Thales, succeeding one another, made up that sect which takes to itself the denomination of the Ionic.

Pythagoras the Samian, the son of Mnesarchus, from another origin deduces the principles of all things; it was he who first called philosophy by its name. He thought the first principles to be numbers, and those symmetries in them which he styles harmonies; and the composition of both he terms elements, called geometrical. Again, he places unity and the indefinite binary number amongst the principles. One of these principles ends in an efficient and forming cause, which is Mind, and that is God; the other to the passive and material part, and that is the visible world. Moreover, the nature of number (he saith) consists in the ten; for all people, whether Grecians or barbarians, reckon from one to ten, and thence return to one again. Farther he avers the virtue of ten consists in the quaternion; the reason whereof is this — if any person start from one, and add numbers so as to take in the quaternary, he shall complete the number ten; if he passes the four, he shall go beyond the ten; for one, two, three, and four being added up together make ten. The nature of numbers, therefore, if we regard the units, abideth in the ten; but if we regard its power, in the four. Therefore the Pythagoreans say that their most sacred oath is by that god who delivered to them the quaternary.

By th’ founder of the sacred number four,
Eternal Nature’s font and source, they swore.

Of this number the soul of man is composed; for mind, knowledge, opinion, and sense are the four that complete the soul, from which all sciences, all arts, all rational faculties derive themselves. For what our mind perceives, it perceives after the manner of a thing that is one, the soul itself being a unity; as for instance, a multitude of persons are not the object of our sense nor are comprehended by us, for they are infinite; our understanding gives the general concept of A MAN, in which all individuals agree. The number of individuals is infinite; the generic or specific nature of all being is a unit, or to be apprehended as one only thing; from this one conception we give the genuine measures of all existence, and therefore we affirm that a certain class of beings are rational and discoursive. But when we come to give the nature of a horse, it is that animal which neighs; and this being common to all horses, it is manifest that the understanding, which hath such like conceptions, is in its nature unity. It follows that the number called the infinite binary must be science; in every demonstration or belief belonging to science, and in every syllogism, we draw that conclusion which is in dispute from those propositions which are by all granted, by which means another proposition is obtained from the premises. The comprehension of these we call knowledge; for which reason science is the binary number. But opinion is the ternary; for that rationally follows from comprehension. The objects of opinion are many things, and the ternary number denotes a multitude, as “Thrice happy Grecians”; for which reason Pythagoras admits the ternary. This sect of philosophers is called the Italic, by reason Pythagoras started his school in Italy; his hatred of the tyranny of Polycrates enforced him to abandon his native country Samos. Heraclitus and Hippasus of Metapontum suppose that fire gives the origination to all beings, that they all flow from fire, and in fire they all conclude; for of fire when first quenched the world was constituted. The first part of the world, being most condensed and contracted within itself, made the earth; but part of that earth being loosened and made thin by fire, water was produced; afterwards this water being exhaled and rarefied into vapors became air; after all this the world itself, and all other corporeal beings, shall be dissolved by fire in the universal conflagration. By them therefore it appears that fire is what gives beginning to all things, and is that in which all things receive their period.

Epicurus the son of Neocles, the Athenian, his philosophical sentiments being the same with those of Democritus, affirms that the principles of all being are bodies which are only perceptible by reason; they admit not of a vacuity, nor of any original, but being of a self-existence are eternal and incorruptible; they are not liable to any diminution, they are indestructible, nor is it possible for them to receive any transformation of parts, or admit of any alterations; of these reason is only the discoverer; they are in a perpetual motion in vacuity, and by means of the empty space; for the vacuum itself is infinite, and the bodies that move in it are infinite. Those bodies acknowledge these three accidents, figure, magnitude, and gravity. Democritus acknowledged but two, magnitude and figure. Epicurus added the third, to wit, gravity; for he pronounced that it is necessary that bodies receive their motion from that impression which springs from gravity, otherwise they could not be moved. The figures of atoms cannot be incomprehensible, but they are not infinite. These figures are neither hooked nor trident-shaped nor ring-shaped, such figures as these being exposed to collision; but the atoms are impassible, impenetrable; they have indeed figures of their own, which are conceived only by reason. It is called an atom, by reason not of its smallness but of its indivisibility; in it no vacuity, no passible affection is to be found. And that there is an atom is perfectly clear; for there are elements which have a perpetual duration, and there are animals which admit of a vacuity, and there is a unity.

Empedocles the Agrigentine, the son of Meton, affirms that there are four elements, fire, air, earth, and water, and two powers which bear the greatest command in nature, concord and discord, of which one is the union, the other the division of beings. Thus he sings,

Hear first the four roots of all created things:—
Bright shining Jove, Juno that beareth life,
Pluto beneath the earth, and Nestis who
Doth with her tears water the human fount.

By Jupiter he understands fire and ether, by Juno that gives life he means the air, by Pluto the earth, by Nestis and the spring of all mortals (as it were) seed and water.

Socrates the son of Sophroniscus, and Plato son of Ariston, both natives of Athens, entertain the same opinion concerning the universe; for they suppose three principles, God, matter, and the idea. God is the universal understanding; matter is that which is the first substratum, accommodated for the generation and corruption of beings; the idea is an incorporeal essence, existing in the cogitations and apprehensions of God; for God is the soul and mind of the world.

Aristotle the son of Nichomachus, the Stagirite, constitutes three principles; Entelecheia (which is the same with form), matter, and privation. He acknowledges four elements, and adds a certain fifth body, which is ethereal and not obnoxious to mutation.

Zeno son of Mnaseas, the native of Citium, avers these to be principles, God and matter, the first of which is the efficient cause, the other the passible and receptive. Four more elements he likewise confesses.

Chapter IV.

How Was This World Composed in that Order and After that Manner it is?

The world being broken and confused, after this manner it was reduced into figure and composure as now it is. The insectible bodies or atoms, by a wild and fortuitous motion, without any governing power, incessantly and swiftly were hurried one amongst another, many bodies being jumbled together; upon this account they have a diversity in the figures and magnitude. These therefore being so jumbled together, those bodies which were the greatest and heaviest sank into the lowest place; they that were of a lesser magnitude, being round, smooth, and slippery, these meeting with those heavier bodies were easily broken into pieces, and were carried into higher places. But when that force whereby these variously particles figured particles fought with and struck one another, and forced the lighter upwards, did cease, and there was no farther power left to drive them into superior regions, yet they were wholly hindered from descending downwards, and were compelled to reside in those places capable to receive them; and these were the heavenly spaces, unto which a multitude of these small bodies were hurled, and these being thus shivered fell into coherence and mutual embraces, and by this means the heaven was produced. Then a various and great multitude of atoms enjoying the same nature, as it is before asserted, being hurried aloft, did form the stars. The multitude of these exhaled bodies, having struck and broke the air in shivers, forced a passage through it; this being turned into wind invested the stars, as it moved, and whirled them about, by which means to this present time that circulary motion which these stars have in the heavens is maintained. Much after the same manner the earth was made; for by those little particles whose gravity made them to reside in the lower places the earth was formed. The heaven, fire, and air were constituted of those particles which were carried aloft. But a great deal of matter remaining in the earth, this being condensed by the driving of the winds and the air from the stars, every little part and form of it was compressed, which created the element of water; but this being fluidly disposed did run into those places which were hollow, and these places were those that were capable to receive and protect it; or the water, subsisting by itself, did make the lower places hollow. After this manner the principal parts of the world were constituted.

Chapter V.

Whether the Universe is One Single Thing.

The Stoics pronounce that the world is one thing, and this they say is the universe and is corporeal.

But Empedocles’s opinion is, that the world is one; yet by no means the system of this world must be styled the universe, but that it is a small part of it, and the remainder is inactive matter.

What to Plato seems the truest he thus declares, that there is one world, and that world is the universe; and this he endeavors to evince by three arguments. First, that the world could not be complete and perfect, if it did not within itself include all beings. Secondly, nor could it give the true resemblance of its original and exemplar, if it were not the one only begotten thing. Thirdly, it could not be incorruptible, if there were any being out of its compass to whose power it might be obnoxious. But to Plato it may be thus returned. First, that the world is not complete and perfect, nor doth it contain all things within itself. And if man is a perfect being, yet he doth not encompass all things. Secondly, that there are many exemplars and originals of statues, houses, and pictures. Thirdly, how is the world perfect, if anything beyond it is possible to be moved about it? But the world is not incorruptible, nor can it be so conceived, because it had an original. To Metrodorus it seems absurd, that in a large field one only stalk should grow, and in an infinite space one only world exist; and that this universe is infinite is manifest by this, that there is an infinity of causes. Now if this world be finite and the causes producing it infinite, it follows that the worlds likewise be infinite; for where all causes concur, there the effects also must appear, let the causes be what they will, either atoms or elements.

Chapter VI.

Whence Did Men Obtain the Knowledge of the Existence and Essence of a Deity?

The Stoics thus define the essence of a god. It is a spirit intellectual and fiery, which acknowledges no shape, but is continually changed into what it pleases, and assimilates itself to all things. The knowledge of this deity they first received from the pulchritude of those things which so visibly appeared to us; for they concluded that nothing beauteous could casually or fortuitously be formed, but that it was framed from the art of a great understanding that produced the world. That the world is very resplendent is made perspicuous from the figure, the color, the magnitude of it, and likewise from the wonderful variety of those stars which adorn this world. The world is spherical; the orbicular hath the pre-eminence above all other figures, for being round itself it hath its parts like itself. (On this account, according to Plato, the understanding, which is the most sacred part of man, is in the head.) The color of it is most beauteous; for it is painted with blue; which, though little blacker than purple, yet hath such a shining quality, that by reason of the vehement efficacy of its color it cuts through such a space of air; whence it is that at so great a distance the heavens are to be contemplated. And in this very greatness of the world the beauty of it appears. View all things: that which contains the rest carries a beauty with it, as an animal or a tree. Also things which are visible to us accomplish the beauty of the world. The oblique circle called the Zodiac in heaven is with different images painted and distinguished:—

There’s Cancer, Leo, Virgo, and the Claws;
Scorpio, Arcitenens, and Capricorn;
Amphora, Pisces, then the Ram, and Bull;
The lovely pair of Brothers next succeed.
(From Aratus.)

There are a thousand others that give us the suitable reflections of the beauty of the world. Thus Euripides:—

The starry splendor of the skies,
The beautiful and varied work of that wise
Creator, Time.

From this the knowledge of a god is conveyed to man; that the sun, the moon, and the rest of the stars, being carried under the earth, rise again in their proper color, magnitude, place, and times. Therefore they who by tradition delivered to us the knowledge and veneration of the gods did it by these three manner of ways:— first, from Nature; secondly, from fables; thirdly, from the testimony supplied by the laws of commonwealths. Philosophers taught the natural way; poets, the fabulous; and the political way is to be had from the constitutions of each commonwealth. All sorts of this learning are distinguished into these seven parts. The first is from things that are conspicuous, and the observation of those bodies which are in places superior to us. To men the heavenly bodies that are so visible did give the knowledge of the deity; when they contemplated that they are the causes of so great an harmony, that they regulate day and night, winter and summer, by their rising and setting, and likewise considered those things which by their influences in the earth do receive a being and do likewise fructify. It was manifest to men that the Heaven was the father of those things, and the Earth the mother; that the Heaven was the father is clear, since from the heavens there is the pouring down of waters, which have their spermatic faculty; the Earth the mother, because she receives them and brings forth. Likewise men considering that the stars are running (Greek omitted) in a perpetual motion, that the sun and moon give us the stimulus to view and contemplate (Greek omitted), they call them all gods (Greek omitted). In the second and third place, they thus distinguished the deities into those which are beneficial and those that are injurious to mankind. Those which are beneficial they call Jupiter, Juno, Mercury, Ceres; those who are mischievous the Dirae, Furies, and Mars. These, which threaten dangers and violence, men endeavor to appease and conciliate by sacred rites. The fourth and the fifth order of gods they assign to things and passions; to passions, Love, Venus, and Desire; the deities that preside over things, Hope, Justice, and Eunomia.

The sixth order of deities are the ones made by the poets; Hesiod, willing to find out a father for those gods that acknowledge an original, invented their progenitors —

Hyperion, Coeus, and Iapetus,
With Creius:
(Hesiod, “Theogony,” 134.)

upon which account this is called the fabulous. The seventh rank of the deities added to the rest are those which, by their beneficence to mankind, were honored with a divine worship, though they were born of mortal race; of this sort were Hercules, Castor and Pollux, and Bacchus. These are reputed to be of a human species; for of all beings that which is divine is most excellent, and man amongst all animals is adorned with the greatest beauty, is also the best, being adorned by virtue above the rest because of the gift of intellect: therefore it was thought that those who were admirable for excellence should resemble that which is the best and most beautiful.

Chapter VII.

What is God?

Some of the philosophers, such as Diagoras the Melian, Theodorus the Cyrenean, and Euemerus the Tegeatan, did deny unanimously that there were any gods; and Callimachus the Cyrenean discovered his mind concerning Euemerus in these Iambic verses, thus writing:—

To th’ ante-mural temple flock apace,
Where he that long ago composed of brass
Great Jupiter, Thrasonic old bald pate,
Now scribbles impious books — a boastful ass!

meaning books which prove there are no gods. Euripides the tragedian durst not openly declare his sentiment; the court of Areopagus terrified him. Yet he sufficiently manifested his thoughts by this method. He presented in his tragedy Sisyphus, the first and great patron of this opinion, and introduced himself as one agreeing with him:—

Disorder in those days did domineer,
And brutal power kept the world in fear.

Afterwards by the sanction of laws wickedness was suppressed; but by reason that laws could prohibit only public villanies, yet could not hinder many persons from acting secret impieties, some wise persons gave this advice, that we ought to blind truth with lying disguises, and persuade men that there is a God:—

There’s an eternal God does hear and see
And understand every impiety;
Though it in dark recess or thought committed be.

But this poetical fable ought to be rejected, he thought, along with Callimachus, who thus saith:—

If you believe a God, it must be meant
That you conceive this God omnipotent.

But God cannot do everything; for, if it were so, then a God could make snow black, and the fire cold, and him that is in a posture of sitting to be upright, and so on the contrary. The brave-speaking Plato pronounceth that God formed the world after his own image; but this smells rank of the old dotages, old comic writers would say; for how did God, casting his eye upon himself, frame this universe? Or how can God be spherical, and be inferior to man?

Anaxagoras avers that bodies did consist from all eternity, but the divine intellect did reduce them into their proper orders, and effected the origination of all beings. But Plato did not suppose that the primary bodies had their consistence and repose, but that they were moved confusedly and in disorder; but God, knowing that order was better than confusion, did digest them into the best methods. Both these were equally peccant; for both suppose God to be the great moderator of human affairs and for that cause to have formed this present world; when it is apparent that an immortal and blessed being, replenished with all his glorious excellencies, and not at all obnoxious to any sort of evil, but being wholly occupied with his own felicity and immortality, would not employ himself with the concerns of men; for certainly miserable is the being which, like a laborer or artificer, is molested by the troubles and cares which the forming and governing of this world must give him. Add to this, that the God whom these men profess was either not at all existing before this present world (when bodies were either reposed or in a disordered motion), or that at that time God did either sleep, or else was in a constant watchfulness, or that he did neither of these. Now neither the first nor the second can be entertained, because they suppose God to be eternal; if God from eternity was in a continual sleep, he was in an eternal death — and what is death but an eternal sleep? — but no sleep can affect a deity, for the immortality of God and alliance to death are vastly different. But if God was in a continual vigilance, either there was something wanting to make him happy, or else his beatitude was perfectly complete; but according to neither of these can God be said to be blessed; not according to the first, for if there be any deficiency there is no perfect bliss; not according to the second, for, if there be nothing wanting to the felicity of God, it must be a needless enterprise for him to busy himself in human affairs. And how can it be supposed that God administers by his own providence human concerns, when to vain and trifling persons prosperous things happen, to great and high adverse? Agamemnon was both

A virtuous prince, for warlike acts renowned,
(“Iliad,” iii. 179.)

and by an adulterer and adulteress was vanquished and perfidiously slain. Hercules, after he had freed the life of man from many things that were pernicious to it, perished by the witchcraft and poison of Deianira.

Thales said that the intelligence of the world was God.

Anaximander concluded that the stars were heavenly deities.

Democritus said that God, being a globe of fire, is the intelligence and the soul of the world.

Pythagoras says that, of his principles, unity is God; and the good, which is indeed the nature of a unity, is mind itself; but the binary number, which is infinite, is a daemon, and evil, — about which the multitude of material beings and this visible world are related.

Socrates and Plato agree that God is that which is one, hath its original from its own self, is of a singular subsistence, is one only being perfectly good; all these various names signifying goodness do all centre in mind; hence God is to be understood as that mind and intellect, which is a separate idea, that is to say, pure and unmixed of all matter, and not mingled with anything subject to passions.

Aristotle’s sentiment is, that God hath his residence in superior regions, and hath placed his throne in the sphere of the universe, and is a separate idea; which sphere is an ethereal body, which is by him styled the fifth essence or quintessence. For there is a division of the universe into spheres, which are contiguous by their nature but appear to reason to be separated; and he concludes that each of the spheres is an animal, composed of a body and soul; the body of them is ethereal, moved orbicularly, the soul is the rational form, which is unmoved, and yet is the cause that the sphere is in motion.

The Stoics affirm that God is a thing more common and obvious, and is a mechanic fire which every way spreads itself to produce the world; it contains in itself all seminal virtues, and by this means all things by a fatal necessity were produced. This spirit, passing through the whole world, received different names from the mutations in the matter through which it ran in its journey. God therefore is the world, the stars, the earth, and (highest of all) the mind in the heavens. In the judgment of Epicurus all the gods are anthropomorphites, or have the shape of men; but they are perceptible only by reason, for their nature admits of no other manner of being apprehended, their parts being so small and fine that they give no corporeal representations. The same Epicurus asserts that there are four other natural beings which are immortal: of this sort are atoms, the vacuum, the infinite, and the similar parts; and these last are called Homoeomeries and likewise elements.

Chapter VIII.

Of Those that are Called Geniuses and Heroes

Having treated of the essence of the deities in a just order, it follows that we discourse of daemons and heroes. Thales, Pythagoras, Plato, and the Stoics do conclude that daemons are essences endowed with souls; that the heroes are the souls separated from their bodies, some are good, some are bad; the good are those whose souls are good, the evil those whose souls are wicked. All this is rejected by Epicurus.

Chapter IX.

Of Matter.

Matter is that first being which is substrate for generation, corruption, and all other alterations.

The disciples of Thales and Pythagoras, with the Stoics, are of opinion that matter is changeable, mutable, convertible, and sliding through all things.

The followers of Democritus aver that the vacuum, the atom, and the incorporeal substance are the first beings, and not obnoxious to passions.

Aristotle and Plato affirm that matter is of that species which is corporeal, void of any form, species, figure, and quality, but apt to receive all forms, that she may be the nurse, the mother, and origin of all other beings. But they that do say that water, earth, air, and fire are matter do likewise say that matter cannot be without form, but conclude it is a body; but they that say that individual particles and atoms are matter do say that matter is without form.

Chapter X.

Of Ideas.

An idea is a being incorporeal, not subsisting by itself, but gives figure unto shapeless matter, and becomes the cause of its phenomena.

Socrates and Plato conjecture that these ideas are beings separate from matter, subsisting in the understanding and imagination of the deity, that is, of mind.

Aristotle accepted forms and ideas; but he doth not believe them separated from matter, or patterns of the things God has made.

Those Stoics, that are of the school of Zeno, profess that ideas are nothing else but the conceptions of our own mind.

Chapter XI.

Of Causes.

A cause is that by which anything is produced, or by which anything is effected.

Plato gives this triple division of causes — the material, the efficient, and the final cause; the principal cause he judges to be the efficient, which is the mind and intellect.

Pythagoras and Aristotle judge the first causes are incorporeal beings, but those that are causes by accident or participation become corporeal substances; by this means the world is corporeal.

The Stoics grant that all causes are corporeal, inasmuch as they are physical.

Chapter XII.

Of Bodies.

A body is that being which hath these three dimensions, breadth, depth, and length; — or a bulk which makes a sensible resistance; — or whatsoever of its own nature possesseth a place.

Plato saith that it is neither heavy nor light in its own nature, when it exists in its own place; but being in the place where another should be, then it has an inclination by which it tends to gravity or levity.

Aristotle saith that, if we simply consider things in their own nature, the earth only is to be judged heavy, and fire light; but air and water are on occasions heavy and at other times light.

The Stoics think that of the four elements two are light, fire and air; two ponderous, earth and water; that which is naturally light doth by its own nature, not by any inclination, recede from its own centre; but that which is heavy doth by its own nature tend to its centre; for the centre is not a heavy thing in itself.

Epicurus thinks that bodies are not limited; but the first bodies, which are simple bodies, and all those composed of them, all acknowledge gravity; that all atoms are moved, some perpendicularly, some obliquely; some are carried aloft either by immediate impulse or with vibrations.

Chapter XIII.

Of Those Things that are Least in Nature.

Empedocles, before the four elements, introduceth the most minute bodies which resemble elements; but they did exist before the elements, having similar parts and orbicular.

Heraclitus brings in the smallest fragments, and those indivisible.

Chapter XIV.

Of Figures.

A figure is the exterior appearance, the circumscription, and the boundary of a body.

The Pythagoreans say that the bodies of the four elements are spherical, fire being in the supremest place only excepted, whose figure is conical.

Chapter XV.

Of Colors.

Color is the visible quality of a body.

The Pythagoreans called color the external appearance of a body. Empedocles, that which is consentaneous to the passages of the eye. Plato, that they are fires emitted from bodies, which have parts harmonious for the sight. Zeno the Stoic, that colors are the first figurations of matter. The Pythagoreans, that colors are of four sorts, white and black, red and pale; and they derive the variety of colors from the mixtures of the elements, and that seen in animals also from the variety of food and the air.

Chapter XVI.

Of the Division of Bodies.

The disciples of Thales and Pythagoras grant that all bodies are passible and divisible into infinity. Others hold that atoms and indivisible parts are there fixed, and admit not of a division into infinity. Aristotle, that all bodies are potentially but not actually divisible into infinity.

Chapter XVII.

How Bodies are Mixed and Contemperated One with Another.

The ancient philosophers held that the mixture of elements proceeded from the alteration of qualities; but the disciples of Anaxagoras and Democritus say it is done by apposition. Empedocles composes the elements of still minuter bulks, those which are the most minute and may be termed the element of elements. Plato assigns three bodies (but he will not allow these to be elements, nor properly so called), air, fire, and water, which are mutable into one another; but the earth is mutable into none of these.

Chapter XVIII.

Of a Vacuum.

All the natural philosophers from Thales to Plato rejected a vacuum. Empedocles says that there is nothing of a vacuity in Nature, nor anything superabundant. Leucippus, Democritus, Demetrius, Metrodorus, Epicurus, that the atoms are in number infinite; and that a vacuum is infinite in magnitude. The Stoics, that within the compass of the world there is no vacuum, but beyond it the vacuum is infinite. Aristotle, that the vacuum beyond the world is so great that the heaven has liberty to breathe into it, for the heaven is fiery.

Chapter XIX.

Of Place.

Plato, to define place, calls it that thing which in its own bosom receives forms and ideas; by which metaphor he denotes matter, being (as it were) a nurse or receptacle of beings. Aristotle, that it is the ultimate superficies of the circumambient body, contiguous to that which it doth encompass.

Chapter XX.

Of Space.

The Stoics and Epicureans make a place, a vacuum, and space to differ. A vacuum is that which is void of anything that may be called a body; place is that which is possessed by a body; a space that which is partly filled with a body, as a cask with wine.

Chapter XXI.

Of Time.

In the sense of Pythagoras, time is that sphere which encompasses the world. Plato says that it is a movable image of eternity, or the interval of the world’s motion.

Eratosthenes, that it is the solar motion.

Chapter XXII.

Of the Substance and Nature of Time.

Plato says that the heavenly motion is time. Most of the Stoics that motion is time. Most philosophers think that time had no commencement; Plato, that time had only in intelligence a beginning.

Chapter XXIII.

Of Motion.

Plato and Pythagoras say that motion is a difference and alteration in matter. Aristotle, that it is the actual operation of that which may be moved. Democritus, that there is but one sort of motion, and it is that which is vibratory. Epicurus, that there are two species of motion, one perpendicular, and the other oblique. Herophilus, that one species of motion is obvious only to reason, the other to sense. Heraclitus utterly denies that there is anything of quiet or repose in nature; for that is the state of the dead; one sort of motion is eternal, which he assigns to beings eternal, the other perishable, to those things which are perishable.

Chapter XXIV.

Of Generation and Corruption.

Parmenides Melissus, and Zeno deny that there are any such things as generation and corruption, for they suppose that the universe is unmovable. Empedocles, Epicurus, and other philosophers that combine in this, that the world is framed of small corporeal particles meeting together, affirm that corruption and generation are not so properly to be accepted; but there are conjunctions and separations, which do not consist in any distinction according to their qualities, but are made according to quantity by coalition or disjunction. Pythagoras, and all those who take for granted that matter is subject to mutation, say that generation and corruption are to be accepted in their proper sense, and that they are accomplished by the alteration, mutation, and dissolution of elements.

Chapter XXV.

Of Necessity.

Thales says that necessity is omnipotent, and that it exerciseth an empire over everything. Pythagoras, that the world is invested by necessity. Parmenides and Democritus, that there is nothing in the world but what is necessary, and that this same necessity is otherwise called fate, justice, providence, and the architect of the world.

Chapter XXVI.

Of the Nature of Necessity.

But Plato distinguisheth and refers some things to Providence, others to necessity. Empedocles makes the nature of necessity to be that cause which employs principles and elements. Democritus makes it to be a resistance, impulse, and force of matter. Plato sometimes says that necessity is matter; at other times, that it is the habitude or respect of the efficient cause towards matter.

Chapter XXVII.

Of Destiny or Fate.

Heraclitus, who attributes all things to fate, makes necessity to be the same thing with it. Plato admits of a necessity in the minds and the acts of men, but yet he introduceth a cause which flows from ourselves. The Stoics, in this agreeing with Plato, say that necessity is a cause invincible and violent; that fate is the ordered complication of causes, in which there is an intexture of those things which proceed from our own determination, so that certain things are to be attributed to fate, others not.

Chapter XXVIII.

Of the Nature of Fate.

According to Heraclitus, the essence of fate is a certain reason which penetrates the substance of all being; and this is an ethereal body, containing in itself that seminal faculty which gives an original to every being in the universe. Plato affirms that it is the eternal reason and the eternal law of the nature of the world. Chrysippus, that it is a spiritual faculty, which in due order doth manage and rule the universe. Again, in his book styled the “Definitions,” that fate is the reason of the world, or that it is that law whereby Providence rules and administers everything that is in the world; or it is that reason by which all things have been, all things are, and all things will be produced. The Stoics say that it is a chain of causes, that is, it is an order and connection of causes which cannot be resisted. Posidonius, that it is a being the third in degree from Jupiter; the first of beings is Jupiter, the second Nature, and the third Fate.

Chapter XXIX.

Of Fortune.

Plato says, that it is an accidental cause and a casual consequence in things which proceed from the election and counsel of men. Aristotle, that it is an accidental cause in those things done by an impulse for a certain end; and this cause is uncertain and unstable: there is a great deal of difference betwixt that which flows from chance and that which falls out by Fortune; for that which is fortuitous allows also chance, and belongs to things practical; but what is by chance cannot be also by Fortune, for it belongs to things without action: Fortune, moreover, pertains to rational beings, but chance to rational and irrational beings alike, and even to inanimate things. Epicurus, that it is a cause not always consistent, but various as to persons, times, and manners. Anaxagoras and the Stoics, that it is that cause which human reason cannot comprehend; for there are some things which proceed from necessity, some things from Fate, some from choice and free-will, some from Fortune, some from chance.

Chapter XXX.

Of Nature.

Empedocles affirms that Nature is nothing else but the mixture and separation of the elements; for thus he writes in the first book of his natural philosophy:—

Nature gives neither life nor death,
Mutation makes us die or breathe.
The elements first are mixed, then each
Do part: this Nature is in mortal speech.

Anaxagoras is of the same opinion, that Nature is coalition and separation, that is, generation and corruption.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/plutarch/nature/book1.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24