Aristotle, Physics

LCL 228: 8-9

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Chapter I


By ‘understanding’ things we mean getting at their causes and constituent elements, and apprehending first principles. In the order of nature we think of things being built up from their elements, of effects following causes, and of movements and changes as obeying principles (184 a 10–16).

But our experience, on the other hand, introduces us first and most directly to concrete and individual objects and their behaviour, and we have to work back from them to general principles or ultimate elements. Our progress, then, in studying nature, must be from what is familiar to our senses to what is luminous to our intelligence, or from what is first or most accessible to us, to what is first or most fundamental in nature (a 16–26).

Names and definitions are related to synthetic and analytic concepts respectively (a 26–b 14). (Aristotle uses a single word (γνώριμον) alike for what can be directly recognized by the senses as fact, and for what is demanded or accepted by the mind as lying behind it and explaining it. The translation makes no attempt to follow him in this.)

[This prefatory chapter is to ‘clear up the question of the beginnings of the science of Nature’ (l. 15). The term ‘beginnings’ (ἀρχαί) is loosely used without clearly dis-


physics, I.

Aristotle’s Physics

Book I

Chapter I

Argument (continued)

tinguishing three senses: (a) the primary elements of natural things (ὅθεν πρῶτον γίγνεται ἐνυπάρχοντος, Met. 1013 a 4); (b) the starting-points of a science. In a systematic science, e.g. geometry, these are (i) the premisses or basic truths (ὅθεν γνωστὸν τὸ πρᾶγμα πρῶτον, 1013 a 14), which are ‘true, primary, immediate, and intrinsically more intelligible than the conclusion and prior to it,’ and are apprehended by intuition (νοῦς). Anal. Post. 71 b 20, 100 b 12. (ii) But the best starting-point for inquiry or learning (μαθήσεως οὐκ ἀπὸ τοῦ πρώτου καὶ τῆς τοῦ πράγματος ἀρχῆς ἐνίοτε ἀρκτέον, ἀλλ᾿ ὅθεν ῥᾷστ᾿ ἂν μάθοι, 1013 a 2) must be ‘things more immediately cognizable to us’ by sense-perception.

The path to knowledge starts from (b ii) the indistinct (συγκεχυμένον, cf. Poet. 1450 b 37) unanalysed whole (ὅλον) given by sense-perception, which has for its object the concrete individual thing (a man), but dimly discerns in this the universal (Man), Anal. Post. 100 a 16. The analysis of this universal into its constituent parts (μέρη, τὰ καθ’ ἕκαστα) carries us up towards the primary concepts and basic truths (b i), just as we understand the nature of a complex thing when we have analysed it into its elements (a).

This might lead us to expect that Aristotle would go on to establish, by induction from the data of sense-observation

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.aristotle-physics.1957