On the Heavens
Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 117
Publication Date: This translation by J. L. Stocks, 1922
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On the Heavens is Aristotle's chief cosmological treatise: written in 350 BC it contains his astronomical theory and his ideas on the concrete workings of the terrestrial world. This work is significant as one of the defining pillars of the Aristotelian worldview, a school of philosophy that dominated intellectual thinking for almost two millennia. Similarly, this work and others by Aristotle were important seminal works by which much of scholasticism was derived.
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The science which has to do with nature clearly concerns itself for the most part with bodies and magnitudes and their properties and movements, but also with the principles of this sort of substance, as many as they may be. For of things constituted by nature some are bodies and magnitudes, some possess body and magnitude, and some are principles of things which possess these. Now a continuum is that which is divisible into parts always capable of subdivision, and a body is that which is every way divisible. A magnitude if divisible one way is a line, if two ways a surface, and if three a body. Beyond these there is no other magnitude, because the three dimensions are all that there are, and that which is divisible in three directions is divisible in all. For, as the Pythagoreans say, the world and all that is in it is determined by the number three, since beginning and middle and end give the number of an 'all', and the number they give is the triad. And so, having taken these three from nature as (so to speak) laws of it, we make further use of the number three in the worship of the Gods. Further, we use the terms in practice in this way. Of two things, or men, we say 'both', but not 'all': three is the first number to which the term 'all' has been appropriated. And in this, as we have said, we do but follow the lead which nature gives.
Therefore, since 'every' and 'all' and 'complete' do not differ from one another in respect of form, but only, if at all, in their matter and in that to which they are applied, body alone among magnitudes can be complete. For it alone is determined by the three dimensions, that is, is an 'all'. But if it is divisible in three dimensions it is every way divisible, while the other magnitudes are divisible in one dimension or in two alone: for the divisibility and continuity of magnitudes depend upon the number of the dimensions, one sort being continuous in one direction, another in two, another in all. All magnitudes, then, which are divisible are also continuous. Whether we can also say that whatever is continuous is divisible does not yet, on our present grounds, appear. One thing, however, is clear. We cannot pass beyond body to a further kind, as we passed from length to surface, and from surface to body. For if we could, it would cease to be true that body is complete magnitude. We could pass beyond it only in virtue of a defect in it; and that which is complete cannot be defective, since it has being in every respect. Now bodies which are classed as parts of the whole are each complete according to our formula, since each possesses every dimension. But each is determined relatively to that part which is next to it by contact, for which reason each of them is in a sense many bodies. But the whole of which they are parts must necessarily be complete, and thus, in accordance with the meaning of the word, have being, not in some respect only, but in every respect.
The question as to the nature of the whole, whether it is infinite in size or limited in its total mass, is a matter for subsequent inquiry. We will now speak of those parts of the whole which are specifically distinct. Let us take this as our starting-point. All natural bodies and magnitudes we hold to be, as such, capable of locomotion; for nature, we say, is their principle of movement. But all movement that is in place, all locomotion, as we term it, is either straight or circular or a combination of these two, which are the only simple movements. And the reason of this is that these two, the straight and the circular line, are the only simple magnitudes. Now revolution about the centre is circular motion, while the upward and downward movements are in a straight line, 'upward' meaning motion away from the centre, and 'downward' motion towards it. All simple motion, then, must be motion either away from or towards or about the centre. This seems to be in exact accord with what we said above: as body found its completion in three dimensions, so its movement completes itself in three forms.
Bodies are either simple or compounded of such; and by simple bodies I mean those which possess a principle of movement in their own nature, such as fire and earth with their kinds, and whatever is akin to them. Necessarily, then, movements also will be either simple or in some sort compound-simple in the case of the simple bodies, compound in that of the composite-and in the latter case the motion will be that of the simple body which prevails in the composition. Supposing, then, that there is such a thing as simple movement, and that circular movement is an instance of it, and that both movement of a simple body is simple and simple movement is of a simple body (for if it is movement of a compound it will be in virtue of a prevailing simple element), then there must necessarily be some simple body which revolves naturally and in virtue of its own nature with a circular movement. By constraint, of course, it may be brought to move with the motion of something else different from itself, but it cannot so move naturally, since there is one sort of movement natural to each of the simple bodies. Again, if the unnatural movement is the contrary of the natural and a thing can have no more than one contrary, it will follow that circular movement, being a simple motion, must be unnatural, if it is not natural, to the body moved. If then (1) the body, whose movement is circular, is fire or some other element, its natural motion must be the contrary of the circular motion. But a single thing has a single contrary; and upward and downward motion are the contraries of one another. If, on the other hand, (2) the body moving with this circular motion which is unnatural to it is something different from the elements, there will be some other motion which is natural to it. But this cannot be. For if the natural motion is upward, it will be fire or air, and if downward, water or earth. Further, this circular motion is necessarily primary.
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