Superphysics Superphysics
Parts 2-3

Everything is Finite and Not Infinite

by Aristotle Icon
5 minutes  • 951 words

The causes of things are neither:

  • an infinite series nor
  • infinitely various in kind.

Instead, there is a first principle.

One thing cannot come from another, as from matter, inifinitely (e.g. flesh from earth, earth from air, air from fire, and so on without stopping).

The sources of movement cannot form an endless series (man for instance being acted on by air, air by the sun, the sun by Strife, and so on without limit).

Similarly, the final causes cannot go on infinitely,-walking being for the sake of health, this for the sake of happiness, happiness for the sake of something else, and so one thing always for the sake of another.

The case of the essence is similar. For in the case of intermediates, which have a last term and a term prior to them, the prior must be the cause of the later terms.

For if we had to say which of the three is the cause, we should say the first; surely not the last, for the final term is the cause of none; nor even the intermediate, for it is the cause only of one. (It makes no difference whether there is one intermediate or more, nor whether they are infinite or finite in number.)

But of series which are infinite in this way, and of the infinite in general, all the parts down to that now present are alike intermediates; so that if there is no first there is no cause at all.

Nor can there be an infinite process downwards, with a beginning in the upward direction, so that water should proceed from fire, earth from water, and so always some other kind should be produced.

For one thing comes from another in two ways-not in the sense in which ‘from’ means ‘after’ (as we say ‘from the Isthmian games come the Olympian’), but either

  • as the man comes from the boy, by the boy’s changing, or
  • as air comes from water.

By ‘as the man comes from the boy’ we mean:

  • ‘as that which has come to be from that which is coming to be’ or
  • ‘as that which is finished from that which is being achieved’

Becoming is between being and not being.

  • That which is becoming is always between that which is and that which is not.

The learner is a man of science in the making. This is what is meant when we say that from a learner a man of science is being made.

On the other hand, coming from another thing as water comes from air implies the destruction of the other thing. This is why:

  • changes of the former kind are not reversible, and
  • the boy does not come from the man (for it is not that which comes to be something that comes to be as a result of coming to be, but that which exists after the coming to be

For it is thus that the day, too, comes from the morning-in the sense that it comes after the morning.

This is why the morning cannot come from the day. But changes of the other kind are reversible.

But in both cases it is impossible that the number of terms should be infinite.

For the terms of the former kind, being intermediates, must have an end. The terms of the latter kind change back into one another. The destruction of either is the generation of the other.

At the same time, it is impossible that the first cause, being eternal, should be destroyed.

  • This is because the process of becoming is not infinite in the upward direction, that which is the first thing by whose destruction something came to be must be non-eternal.

The final cause is a sort of end which is not for the sake of something else, but for whose sake everything else is.

So that if there is to be a last term of this sort, the process will not be infinite; but if there is no such term, there will be no final cause, but those who maintain the infinite series eliminate the Good without knowing it (yet no one would try to do anything if he were not going to come to a limit); nor would there be reason in the world; the reasonable man, at least, always acts for a purpose, and this is a limit; for the end is a limit.

But the essence, also, cannot be reduced to another definition which is fuller in expression.

For the original definition is always more of a definition, and not the later one; and in a series in which the first term has not the required character, the next has not it either.

Those who speak thus destroy science; for it is not possible to have this till one comes to the unanalysable terms. And knowledge becomes impossible; for how can one apprehend things that are infinite in this way?

For this is not like the case of the line, to whose divisibility there is no stop, but which we cannot think if we do not make a stop (for which reason one who is tracing the infinitely divisible line cannot be counting the possibilities of section), but the whole line also must be apprehended by something in us that does not move from part to part.-Again, nothing infinite can exist; and if it could, at least the notion of infinity is not infinite.

But if the kinds of causes had been infinite in number, then also knowledge would have been impossible; for we think we know, only when we have ascertained the causes, that but that which is infinite by addition cannot be gone through in a finite time.

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