Aristotle, Physics -- excerpts.

Written 350 B.C.E

Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye

Book II, Part 1:

Of things that exist, some exist by nature, some from other causes.
'By nature' the animals and their parts exist, and the plants and the simple bodies (earth, fire, air, water)-for we say that these and the like exist 'by nature'.

All the things mentioned present a feature in which they differ from things which are not constituted by nature. Each of them has within itself a principle of motion and of stationariness (in respect of place, or of growth and decrease, or by way of alteration). On the other hand, a bed and a coat and anything else of that sort, qua receiving these designations i.e. in so far as they are products of art-have no innate impulse to change. But in so far as they happen to be composed of stone or of earth or of a mixture of the two, they do have such an impulse, and just to that extent which seems to indicate that nature is a source or cause of being moved and of being at rest in that to which it belongs primarily, in virtue of itself and not in virtue of a concomitant attribute.

I say 'not in virtue of a concomitant attribute', because (for instance) a man who is a doctor might cure himself. Nevertheless it is not in so far as he is a patient that he possesses the art of medicine: it merely has happened that the same man is doctor and patient-and that is why these attributes are not always found together. So it is with all other artificial products. None of them has in itself the source of its own production. But while in some cases (for instance houses and the other products of manual labour) that principle is in something else external to the thing, in others those which may cause a change in themselves in virtue of a concomitant attribute-it lies in the things themselves (but not in virtue of what they are).

'Nature' then is what has been stated. Things 'have a nature'which have a principle of this kind. Each of them is a substance; for it is a subject, and nature always implies a subject in which it inheres.

The term 'according to nature' is applied to all these things and also to the attributes which belong to them in virtue of what they are, for instance the property of fire to be carried upwards-which is not a 'nature' nor 'has a nature' but is 'by nature' or 'according to nature'.

Book III, Part 2:

. . . .

The mover too is moved, as has been said-every mover, that is, which is capable of motion, and whose immobility is rest-when a thing is subject to motion its immobility is rest. For to act on the movable as such is just to move it. But this it does by contact, so that at the same time it is also acted on. Hence we can define motion as the fulfilment of the movable qua movable, the cause of the attribute being contact with what can move so that the mover is also acted on. The mover or agent will always be the vehicle of a form, either a 'this' or 'such', which, when it acts, will be the source and cause of the change, e.g. the full-formed man begets man from what is potentially man.

Part 3

The solution of the difficulty that is raised about the motion-whether it is in the movable-is plain. It is the fulfilment of this potentiality, and by the action of that which has the power of causing motion; and the actuality of that which has the power of causing motion is not other than the actuality of the movable, for it must be the fulfilment of both. A thing is capable of causing motion because it can do this, it is a mover because it actually does it. But it is on the movable that it is capable of acting. Hence there is a single actuality of both alike, just as one to two and two to one are the same interval, and the steep ascent and the steep descent are one-for these are one and the same, although they can be described in different ways. So it is with the mover and the moved.

This view has a dialectical difficulty. Perhaps it is necessary that the actuality of the agent and that of the patient should not be the same. The one is 'agency' and the other 'patiency'; and the outcome and completion of the one is an 'action', that of the other a 'passion'. Since then they are both motions, we may ask: in what are they, if they are different? Either (a) both are in what is acted on and moved, or (b) the agency is in the agent and the patiency in the patient. (If we ought to call the latter also 'agency', the word would be used in two senses.)

Now, in alternative (b), the motion will be in the mover, for the same statement will hold of 'mover' and 'moved'. Hence either every mover will be moved, or, though having motion, it will not be moved.

If on the other hand (a) both are in what is moved and acted on-both the agency and the patiency (e.g. both teaching and learning, though they are two, in the learner), then, first, the actuality of each will not be present in each, and, a second absurdity, a thing will have two motions at the same time. How will there be two alterations of quality in one subject towards one definite quality? The thing is impossible: the actualization will be one.

But (some one will say) it is contrary to reason to suppose that there should be one identical actualization of two things which are different in kind. Yet there will be, if teaching and learning are the same, and agency and patiency. To teach will be the same as to learn, and to act the same as to be acted on-the teacher will necessarily be learning everything that he teaches, and the agent will be acted on. One may reply:

(1) It is not absurd that the actualization of one thing should be in another. Teaching is the activity of a person who can teach, yet the operation is performed on some patient-it is not cut adrift from a subject, but is of A on B.

(2) There is nothing to prevent two things having one and the same actualization, provided the actualizations are not described in the same way, but are related as what can act to what is acting.

(3) Nor is it necessary that the teacher should learn, even if to act and to be acted on are one and the same, provided they are not the same in definition (as 'raiment' and 'dress'), but are the same merely in the sense in which the road from Thebes to Athens and the road from Athens to Thebes are the same, as has been explained above. For it is not things which are in a way the same that have all their attributes the same, but only such as have the same definition. But indeed it by no means follows from the fact that teaching is the same as learning, that to learn is the same as to teach, any more than it follows from the fact that there is one distance between two things which are at a distance from each other, that the two vectors AB and Ba, are one and the same. To generalize, teaching is not the same as learning, or agency as patiency, in the full sense, though they belong to the same subject, the motion; for the 'actualization of X in Y' and the 'actualization of Y through the action of X' differ in definition.

What then Motion is, has been stated both generally and particularly. It is not difficult to see how each of its types will be defined-alteration is the fulfillment of the alterable qua alterable (or, more scientifically, the fulfilment of what can act and what can be acted on, as such)-generally and again in each particular case, building, healing, &c. A similar definition will apply to each of the other kinds of motion.


The Internet Classics Archive 20 August 2004 <>