Part 2 of the Simplified Metaphysics by Aristotle

What is the One? How must we conceive of It? Icon

September 29, 2015

The substance and nature of the One exists in two ways.

What is the One? How must we conceive of It?

Should we take the One itself as being a substance, as both the Pythagoreans say in earlier and Plato in later times?

Or is there an underlying nature that indicates that the One should be described more intelligibly as a physical substance which is similar to love, or to air, or to the indefinite?

If, then, no universal can be a substance, as has been said our discussion of substance and being, and if being itself cannot be a substance in the sense of a one apart from the many (for it is common to the many), but is only a predicate, clearly unity also cannot be a substance; for being and unity are the most universal of all predicates. Therefore, on the one hand, genera are not certain entities and substances separable from other things; and on the other hand the one cannot be a genus, for the same reasons for which being and substance cannot be genera.

Further, the position must be similar in all the kinds of unity.

‘Unity’ has many meanings just as ‘being’ has.

so that since in the sphere of qualities the one is something definite-some particular kind of thing-and similarly in the sphere of quantities, clearly we must in every category ask what the one is, as we must ask what the existent is, since it is not enough to say that its nature is just to be one or existent. But in colours the one is a colour, e.g. white, and then the other colours are observed to be produced out of this and black, and black is the privation of white, as darkness of light. Therefore if all existent things were colours, existent things would have been a number, indeed, but of what? Clearly of colours; and the ‘one’ would have been a particular ‘one’, i.e. white. And similarly if all existing things were tunes, they would have been a number, but a number of quarter-tones, and their essence would not have been number; and the one would have been something whose substance was not to be one but to be the quarter-tone. And similarly if all existent things had been articulate sounds, they would have been a number of letters, and the one would have been a vowel. And if all existent things were rectilinear figures, they would have been a number of figures, and the one would have been the triangle. And the same argument applies to all other classes. Since, therefore, while there are numbers and a one both in affections and in qualities and in quantities and in movement, in all cases the number is a number of particular things and the one is one something, and its substance is not just to be one, the same must be true of substances also; for it is true of all cases alike.

“That the one, then, in every class is a definite thing, and in no case is its nature just this, unity, is evident; but as in colours the one-itself which we must seek is one colour, so too in substance the one-itself is one substance. That in a sense unity means the same as being is clear from the facts that its meanings correspond to the categories one to one, and it is not comprised within any category (e.g. it is comprised neither in ‘what a thing is’ nor in quality, but is related to them just as being is); that in ‘one man’ nothing more is predicated than in ‘man’ (just as being is nothing apart from substance or quality or quantity); and that to be one is just to be a particular thing.

Part 3

The one and the many are opposed in several ways.

One is the opposition of the one and plurality as indivisible and divisible; for that which is either divided or divisible is called a plurality, and that which is indivisible or not divided is called one.

Now since opposition is of four kinds, and one of these two terms is privative in meaning, they must be contraries, and neither contradictory nor correlative in meaning. And the one derives its name and its explanation from its contrary, the indivisible from the divisible, because plurality and the divisible is more perceptible than the indivisible, so that in definition plurality is prior to the indivisible, because of the conditions of perception.

“To the one belong, as we indicated graphically in our distinction of the contraries, the same and the like and the equal, and to plurality belong the other and the unlike and the unequal. ‘The same’ has several meanings;

  1. We sometimes mean ’the same numerically’
  2. We call a thing the same if it is one both in definition and in number, e.g. you are one with yourself both in form and in matter
  3. If the definition of its primary essence is one; e.g. equal straight lines are the same, and so are equal and equal-angled quadrilaterals; there are many such, but in these equality constitutes unity.

“Things are like if, not being absolutely the same, nor without difference in respect of their concrete substance, they are the same in form; e.g. the larger square is like the smaller, and unequal straight lines are like; they are like, but not absolutely the same. Other things are like, if, having the same form, and being things in which difference of degree is possible, they have no difference of degree. Other things, if they have a quality that is in form one and same-e.g. whiteness-in a greater or less degree, are called like because their form is one. Other things are called like if the qualities they have in common are more numerous than those in which they differ-either the qualities in general or the prominent qualities; e.g. tin is like silver, qua white, and gold is like fire, qua yellow and red.

‘Other’ and ‘unlike’ also have several meanings.

“Other” is the opposite of the same (so that everything is either the same as or other than everything else).

In another sense things are other unless both their matter and their definition are one (so that you are other than your neighbour). The other in the third sense is exemplified in the objects of mathematics. ‘Other or the same’ can therefore be predicated of everything with regard to everything else-but only if the things are one and existent, for ‘other’ is not the contradictory of ’the same’; which is why it is not predicated of non-existent things (while ’not the same’ is so predicated). It is predicated of all existing things; for everything that is existent and one is by its very nature either one or not one with anything else.

“The other, then, and the same are thus opposed. But difference is not the same as otherness. For the other and that which it is other than need not be other in some definite respect (for everything that is existent is either other or the same), but that which is different is different from some particular thing in some particular respect, so that there must be something identical whereby they differ. And this identical thing is genus or species; for everything that differs differs either in genus or in species, in genus if the things have not their matter in common and are not generated out of each other (i.e. if they belong to different figures of predication), and in species if they have the same genus (‘genus’ meaning that identical thing which is essentially predicated of both the different things).

“Contraries are different, and contrariety is a kind of difference. That we are right in this supposition is shown by induction. For all of these too are seen to be different; they are not merely other, but some are other in genus, and others are in the same line of predication, and therefore in the same genus, and the same in genus. We have distinguished elsewhere what sort of things are the same or other in genus.

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