Question 8: How Can We Know The Infinite Individuals?by Aristotle
- If there is nothing apart from individual things, and the individuals are infinitely many, how can we know the infinite individuals?
All things that we come to know, we come to know in so far as they have some unity and identity, and in so far as some attribute belongs to them universally.
“But if this is necessary, and there must be something apart from the individuals, it will be necessary that the genera exist apart from the individuals, either the lowest or the highest genera; but we found by discussion just now that this is impossible.
If we admit in the fullest sense that something exists apart from the concrete thing, whenever something is predicated of the matter, must there, if there is something apart, be something apart from each set of individuals, or from some and not from others, or from none?
(A) If there is nothing apart from individuals, there will be no object of thought, but all things will be objects of sense, and there will not be knowledge of anything, unless we say that sensation is knowledge.
Nothing will be eternal or unmovable; for all perceptible things perish and are in movement. But if there is nothing eternal, neither can there be a process of coming to be; for there must be something that comes to be, i.e. from which something comes to be, and the ultimate term in this series cannot have come to be, since the series has a limit and since nothing can come to be out of that which is not. Further, if generation and movement exist there must also be a limit; for no movement is infinite, but every movement has an end, and that which is incapable of completing its coming to be cannot be in process of coming to be; and that which has completed its coming to be must he as soon as it has come to be. Further, since the matter exists, because it is ungenerated, it is a fortiori reasonable that the substance or essence, that which the matter is at any time coming to be, should exist; for if neither essence nor matter is to be, nothing will be at all, and since this is impossible there must be something besides the concrete thing, viz. the shape or form.
But again (B) if we are to suppose this, it is hard to say in which cases we are to suppose it and in which not. For evidently it is not possible to suppose it in all cases; we could not suppose that there is a house besides the particular houses.-Besides this, will the substance of all the individuals, e.g. of all men, be one? This is paradoxical, for all the things whose substance is one are one. But are the substances many and different? This also is unreasonable.-At the same time, how does the matter become each of the individuals, and how is the concrete thing these two elements?
- If they are one in kind only, nothing will be numerically one, not even unity-itself and being-itself; and how will knowing exist, if there is not to be something common to a whole set of individuals?
But if there is a common element which is numerically one, and each of the principles is one, and the principles are not as in the case of perceptible things different for different things (e.g. since this particular syllable is the same in kind whenever it occurs, the elements it are also the same in kind; only in kind, for these also, like the syllable, are numerically different in different contexts),-if it is not like this but the principles of things are numerically one, there will be nothing else besides the elements (for there is no difference of meaning between ’numerically one’ and ‘individual’; for this is just what we mean by the individual-the numerically one, and by the universal we mean that which is predicable of the individuals). Therefore it will be just as if the elements of articulate sound were limited in number; all the language in the world would be confined to the ABC, since there could not be two or more letters of the same kind.
- Modern and ancient philosophers have neglected to understand whether the principles of perishable and those of imperishable things are the same or different.
If they are the same, how are some things perishable and others imperishable, and for what reason?
The school of Hesiod and all the theologians thought only of what was plausible to themselves, and had no regard to us.
They assert the first principles to be gods and born of gods. they say that the beings which did not taste of nectar and ambrosia became mortal;
They use words familiar to themselves, yet what they have said about the very application of these causes is above our comprehension.
For if the gods taste of nectar and ambrosia for their pleasure, these are in no wise the causes of their existence; and if they taste them to maintain their existence, how can gods who need food be eternal?-But into the subtleties of the mythologists it is not worth our while to inquire seriously; those, however, who use the language of proof we must cross-examine and ask why, after all, things which consist of the same elements are, some of them, eternal in nature, while others perish.
These philosophers mention no cause. It is unreasonable that things should be as they say, evidently the principles or causes of things cannot be the same. Even the man whom one might suppose to speak most consistently-Empedocles, even he has made the same mistake; for he maintains that strife is a principle that causes destruction, but even strife would seem no less to produce everything, except the One; for all things excepting God proceed from strife. At least he says:- "
“From which all that was and is and will be hereafter-
“Trees, and men and women, took their growth,
“And beasts and birds and water-nourished fish,
“And long-aged gods. "
“The implication is evident even apart from these words; for if strife had not been present in things, all things would have been one, according to him; for when they have come together, ’then strife stood outermost.’ Hence it also follows on his theory that God most blessed is less wise than all others; for he does not know all the elements; for he has in him no strife, and knowledge is of the like by the like. ‘For by earth,’ he says, "
“we see earth, by water water,
“By ether godlike ether, by fire wasting fire,
“Love by love, and strife by gloomy strife. "
But-and this is the point we started from this at least is evident, that on his theory it follows that strife is as much the cause of existence as of destruction. And similarly love is not specially the cause of existence; for in collecting things into the One it destroys all other things. And at the same time Empedocles mentions no cause of the change itself, except that things are so by nature.
“But when strife at last waxed great in the limbs of the
“And sprang to assert its rights as the time was fulfilled
“Which is fixed for them in turn by a mighty oath. "
“This implies that change was necessary; but he shows no cause of the necessity. But yet so far at least he alone speaks consistently; for he does not make some things perishable and others imperishable, but makes all perishable except the elements. The difficulty we are speaking of now is, why some things are perishable and others are not, if they consist of the same principles.
“Let this suffice as proof of the fact that the principles cannot be the same. But if there are different principles, one difficulty is whether these also will be imperishable or perishable. For if they are perishable, evidently these also must consist of certain elements (for all things that perish, perish by being resolved into the elements of which they consist); so that it follows that prior to the principles there are other principles.
But this is impossible, whether the process has a limit or proceeds to infinity. Further, how will perishable things exist, if their principles are to be annulled? But if the principles are imperishable, why will things composed of some imperishable principles be perishable, while those composed of the others are imperishable?
This is not probable, but is either impossible or needs much proof. Further, no one has even tried to maintain different principles; they maintain the same principles for all things. But they swallow the difficulty we stated first as if they took it to be something trifling.