Superphysics Superphysics
Part 4

Contrariety according to Aristotle

by Aristotle Icon
4 minutes  • 839 words

Contrariety is the greatest difference between things.

Things which differ in genus have no way to one another, but are too far distant and are not comparable; and for things that differ in species the extremes from which generation takes place are the contraries, and the distance between extremes-and therefore that between the contraries-is the greatest.

But surely that which is greatest in each class is complete. For that is greatest which cannot be exceeded, and that is complete beyond which nothing can be found.

For the complete difference marks the end of a series (just as the other things which are called complete are so called because they have attained an end), and beyond the end there is nothing; for in everything it is the extreme and includes all else, and therefore there is nothing beyond the end, and the complete needs nothing further. From this, then, it is clear that contrariety is complete difference; and as contraries are so called in several senses, their modes of completeness will answer to the various modes of contrariety which attach to the contraries.

One thing has more than one contrary (for neither can there be anything more extreme than the extreme, nor can there be more than two extremes for the one interval), and, to put the matter generally, this is clear if contrariety is a difference, and if difference, and therefore also the complete difference, must be between two things.

The other commonly accepted definitions of contraries are also necessarily true.

  1. The complete difference the greatest difference (for we can get no difference beyond it of things differing either in genus or in species; for it has been shown that there is no ‘difference’ between anything and the things outside its genus, and among the things which differ in species the complete difference is the greatest)

  2. the things in the same genus which differ most are contrary (for the complete difference is the greatest difference between species of the same genus)

  3. the things in the same receptive material which differ most are contrary (for the matter is the same for contraries)

  4. of the things which fall under the same faculty the most different are contrary (for one science deals with one class of things, and in these the complete difference is the greatest)

The primary contrariety is that between positive state and privation-not every privation, however (for ‘privation’ has several meanings), but that which is complete.

The other contraries must be called so with reference to these, either because:

  • they possess these
  • they produce or tend to produce them
  • they are acquisitions or losses of these or of other contraries.

The kinds of opposition are:

  • contradiction
  • privation
  • contrariety
  • relation.

Of these the first is contradiction, and contradiction admits of no intermediate, while contraries admit of one, clearly contradiction and contrariety are not the same. But privation is a kind of contradiction; for what suffers privation, either in general or in some determinate way, either that which is quite incapable of having some attribute or that which, being of such a nature as to have it, has it not; here we have already a variety of meanings, which have been distinguished elsewhere.

Privation, therefore, is a contradiction or incapacity which is determinate or taken along with the receptive material. This is the reason why, while contradiction does not admit of an intermediate, privation sometimes does; for everything is equal or not equal, but not everything is equal or unequal, or if it is, it is only within the sphere of that which is receptive of equality.

If, then, the comings-to-be which happen to the matter start from the contraries, and proceed either from the form and the possession of the form or from a privation of the form or shape, clearly all contrariety must be privation, but presumably not all privation is contrariety (the reason being that that has suffered privation may have suffered it in several ways); for it is only the extremes from which changes proceed that are contraries.

Every contrariety involves, as one of its terms, a privation. But not all cases are alike.

Inequality is the privation of equality and unlikeness of likeness.

On the other hand, vice is the privation of virtue. But the cases differ in a way already described; in one case we mean simply that the thing has suffered privation, in another case that it has done so either at a certain time or in a certain part (e.g. at a certain age or in the dominant part), or throughout. This is why in some cases there is a mean (there are men who are neither good nor bad), and in others there is not (a number must be either odd or even).

Further, some contraries have their subject defined, others have not. Therefore it is evident that one of the contraries is always privative; but it is enough if this is true of the first-i.e. the generic-contraries, e.g. the one and the many; for the others can be reduced to these.