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Greek Mathematics

XIV. Aristotle

(a) First Principles

Aristot. Anal. Post. i. 10, 76 a 30–77 a 2

Λέγω δ᾿ ἀρχὰς ἐν ἑκάστῳ γένει ταύτας, ἃς ὅτι ἔστι μὴ ἐνδέχεται δεῖξαι. τί μὲν οὖν σημαίνει καὶ τὰ πρῶτα καὶ τὰ ἐκ τούτων, λαμβάνεται· ὅτι δ᾿ ἔστι, τὰς μὲν ἀρχὰς ἀνάγκη λαμβάνειν, τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα δεικνύναι, οἷον τί μονὰς ἢ τί τὸ εὐθὺ καὶ τρίγωνον· εἶναι δὲ τὴν μονάδα λαβεῖν καὶ μέγεθος, τὰ δ᾿ ἕτερα δεικνύναι.

Ἔστι δ᾿ ὧν χρῶνται ἐν ταῖς ἀποδεικτικαῖς ἐπιστήμαις τὰ μὲν ἴδια ἑκάστης ἐπιστήμης τὰ δὲ κοινά, κοινὰ δὲ κατ᾿ ἀναλογίαν, ἐπεὶ χρήσιμόν γε ὅσον ἐν τῷ ὑπὸ τὴν ἐπιστήμην γένει.

Ἴδια μὲν οἷον γραμμὴν εἶναι τοιανδί, καὶ τὸ εὐθύ, κοινὰ δὲ οἷον τὸ ἴσα ἀπὸ ἴσων ἂν ἀφέλῃ, ὅτι ἴσα τὰ λοιπά. ἱκανὸν δ᾿ ἕκαστον τούτων ὅσον ἐν τῷ γένει· ταὐτὸ γὰρ ποιήσει, κἂν μὴ κατὰ πάντων

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Greek Mathematics

XIV. Aristotlea

(a) First Principles

Aristotle, Posterior Analytics i. 10, 76 a 30–77 a 2

I mean by the first principles in every genus those elements whose existence cannot be proved. The meaning both of these primary elements and of those deduced from them is assumed; in the case of first principles, their existence is also assumed, but in the case of the others deduced from them it has to be proved. Examples are given by the unit, the straight and triangular; for we must assume the existence of the unit and magnitude, but in the case of the others it has to be proved.

Of the first principles used in the demonstrative sciences some are peculiar to each science, and some are common, but common only by analogy, inasmuch as they are useful only in so far as they fall within the genus coming under the science in question.

Examples of peculiar first principles are given by the definitions of the line and the straight; common first principles are such as that, when equals are taken from equals, the remainders are equal. Only so much of these common first principles is needed as falls within the genus in question; for such a first principle will have the same force even though not

  • aAristotle interspersed his writings with illustrations from mathematics, and as he lived just before Euclid he throws valuable light on the transformation which Euclid effected. A large number of the mathematical passages in Aristotle’s works are translated, with valuable notes, in Sir Thomas Heath’s posthumous book Mathematics in Aristotle.
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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.aristotle-mathematical_works.1939