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Aristotle METAPHYSICA Book 11 Part 5

The same thing cannot be and not be

1. There is a principle in things, about which we cannot be deceived, but must always, on the contrary recognize the truth, - viz. that the same thing cannot at one and the same time be and not be, or admit any other similar pair of opposites. About such matters there is no proof in the full sense, though there is proof ad hominem. For it is not possible to infer this truth itself from a more certain principle, yet this is necessary if there is to be completed proof of it in the full sense. But he who wants to prove to the asserter of opposites that he is wrong must get from him an admission which shall be identical with the principle that the same thing cannot be and not be at one and the same time, but shall not seem to be identical; for thus alone can his thesis be demonstrated to the man who asserts that opposite statements can be truly made about the same subject. Those, then, who are to join in argument with one another must to some extent understand one another; for if this does not happen how are they to join in argument with one another? Therefore every word must be intelligible and indicate something, and not many things but only one; and if it signifies more than one thing, it must be made plain to which of these the word is being applied. He, then, who says 'this is and is not' denies what he affirms, so that what the word signifies, he says it does not signify; and this is impossible. Therefore if 'this is' signifies something, one cannot truly assert its contradictory.

2. Further, if the word signifies something and this is asserted truly, this connexion must be necessary; and it is not possible that that which necessarily is should ever not be; it is not possible therefore to make the opposed affirmations and negations truly of the same subject. Further, if the affirmation is no more true than the negation, he who says 'man' will be no more right than he who says 'not-man'. It would seem also that in saying the man is not a horse one would be either more or not less right than in saying he is not a man, so that one will also be right in saying that the same person is a horse; for it was assumed to be possible to make opposite statements equally truly. It follows then that the same person is a man and a horse, or any other animal.

3. While, then, there is no proof of these things in the full sense, there is a proof which may suffice against one who will make these suppositions. And perhaps if one had questioned Heraclitus himself in this way one might have forced him to confess that opposite statements can never be true of the same subjects. But, as it is, he adopted this opinion without understanding what his statement involves. But in any case if what is said by him is true, not even this itself will be true - viz. that the same thing can at one and the same time both be and not be. For as, when the statements are separated, the affirmation is no more true than the negation, in the same way - the combined and complex statement being like a single affirmation - the whole taken as an affirmation will be no more true than the negation. Further, if it is not possible to affirm anything truly, this itself will be false - the assertion that there is no true affirmation. But if a true affirmation exists, this appears to refute what is said by those who raise such objections and utterly destroy rational discourse.


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