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Aristotle METAPHYSICA Book 11 Part 3

A single science of things many and different in genus

1. Since the science of the philosopher treats of being qua being universally and not in respect of a part of it, and 'being' has many senses and is not used in one only, it follows that if the word is used equivocally and in virtue of nothing common to its various uses, being does not fall under one science (for the meanings of an equivocal term do not form one genus); but if the word is used in virtue of something common, being will fall under one science. The term seems to be used in the way we have mentioned, like 'medical' and 'healthy'. For each of these also we use in many senses. Terms are used in this way by virtue of some kind of reference, in the one case to medical science, in the other to health, in others to something else, but in each case to one identical concept. For a discussion and a knife are called medical because the former proceeds from medical science, and the latter is useful to it. And a thing is called healthy in a similar way; one thing because it is indicative of health, another because it is productive of it. And the same is true in the other cases. Everything that is, then, is said to 'be' in this same way; each thing that is is said to 'be' because it is a modification of being qua being or a permanent or a transient state or a movement of it, or something else of the sort. And since everything that is may be referred to something single and common, each of the contrarieties also may be referred to the first differences and contrarieties of being, whether the first differences of being are plurality and unity, or likeness and unlikeness, or some other differences; let these be taken as already discussed. It makes no difference whether that which is be referred to being or to unity. For even if they are not the same but different, at least they are convertible; for that which is one is also somehow being, and that which is being is one.

2. But since every pair of contraries falls to be examined by one and the same science, and in each pair one term is the privative of the other though one might regarding some contraries raise the question, how they can be privately related, viz. those which have an intermediate, e.g. unjust and just - in all such cases one must maintain that the privation is not of the whole definition, but of the infima species. if the just man is 'by virtue of some permanent disposition obedient to the laws', the unjust man will not in every case have the whole definition denied of him, but may be merely 'in some respect deficient in obedience to the laws', and in this respect the privation will attach to him; and similarly in all other cases.

3. As the mathematician investigates abstractions (for before beginning his investigation he strips off all the sensible qualities, e.g. weight and lightness, hardness and its contrary, and also heat and cold and the other sensible contrarieties, and leaves only the quantitative and continuous, sometimes in one, sometimes in two, sometimes in three dimensions, and the attributes of these qua quantitative and continuous, and does not consider them in any other respect, and examines the relative positions of some and the attributes of these, and the commensurabilities and incommensurabilities of others, and the ratios of others; but yet we posit one and the same science of all these things -- geometry) -- the same is true with regard to being. For the attributes of this in so far as it is being, and the contrarieties in it qua being, it is the business of no other science than philosophy to investigate; for to physics one would assign the study of things not qua being, but rather qua sharing in movement; while dialectic and sophistic deal with the attributes of things that are, but not of things qua being, and not with being itself in so far as it is being; therefore it remains that it is the philosopher who studies the things we have named, in so far as they are being. Since all that is is to 'be' in virtue of something single and common, though the term has many meanings, and contraries are in the same case (for they are referred to the first contrarieties and differences of being), and things of this sort can fall under one science, the difficulty we stated at the beginning appears to be solved, - I mean the question how there can be a single science of things which are many and different in genus.


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