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Aristotle METAPHYSICA Book 13 Part 3

Mathematics, harmonics, optics, good and beauty

1. For just as the universal propositions of mathematics deal not with objects which exist separately, apart from extended magnitudes and from numbers, but with magnitudes and numbers, not however qua such as to have magnitude or to be divisible, clearly it is possible that there should also be both propositions and demonstrations about sensible magnitudes, not however qua sensible but qua possessed of certain definite qualities. For as there are many propositions about things merely considered as in motion, apart from what each such thing is and from their accidents, and as it is not therefore necessary that there should be either a mobile separate from sensibles, or a distinct mobile entity in the sensibles, so too in the case of mobiles there will be propositions and sciences, which treat them however not qua mobile but only qua bodies, or again only qua planes, or only qua lines, or qua divisibles, or qua indivisibles having position, or only qua indivisibles. Thus since it is true to say without qualification that not only things which are separable but also things which are inseparable exist (for instance, that mobiles exist), it is true also to say without qualification that the objects of mathematics exist, and with the character ascribed to them by mathematicians. And as it is true to say of the other sciences too, without qualification, that they deal with such and such a subject - not with what is accidental to it (e.g. not with the pale, if the healthy thing is pale, and the science has the healthy as its subject), but with that which is the subject of each science - with the healthy if it treats its object qua healthy, with man if qua man: - so too is it with geometry; if its subjects happen to be sensible, though it does not treat them qua sensible, the mathematical sciences will not for that reason be sciences of sensibles - nor, on the other hand, of other things separate from sensibles. Many properties attach to things in virtue of their own nature as possessed of each such character; e.g. there are attributes peculiar to the animal qua female or qua male (yet there is no 'female' nor 'male' separate from animals); so that there are also attributes which belong to things merely as lengths or as planes. And in proportion as we are dealing with things which are prior in definition and simpler, our knowledge has more accuracy, i.e. simplicity. Therefore a science which abstracts from spatial magnitude is more precise than one which takes it into account; and a science is most precise if it abstracts from movement, but if it takes account of movement, it is most precise if it deals with the primary movement, for this is the simplest; and of this again uniform movement is the simplest form.

2. The same account may be given of harmonics and optics; for neither considers its objects qua sight or qua voice, but qua lines and numbers; but the latter are attributes proper to the former. And mechanics too proceeds in the same way. Therefore if we suppose attributes separated from their fellow attributes and make any inquiry concerning them as such, we shall not for this reason be in error, any more than when one draws a line on the ground and calls it a foot long when it is not; for the error is not included in the premisses.

3. Each question will be best investigated in this way - by setting up by an act of separation what is not separate, as the arithmetician and the geometer do. For a man qua man is one indivisible thing; and the arithmetician supposed one indivisible thing, and then considered whether any attribute belongs to a man qua indivisible. But the geometer treats him neither qua man nor qua indivisible, but as a solid. For evidently the properties which would have belonged to him even if perchance he had not been indivisible, can belong to him even apart from these attributes. Thus, then, geometers speak correctly; they talk about existing things, and their subjects do exist; for being has two forms - it exists not only in complete reality but also materially.

4. Now since the good and the beautiful are different (for the former always implies conduct as its subject, while the beautiful is found also in motionless things), those who assert that the mathematical sciences say nothing of the beautiful or the good are in error. For these sciences say and prove a great deal about them; if they do not expressly mention them, but prove attributes which are their results or their definitions, it is not true to say that they tell us nothing about them. The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a special degree. And since these (e.g. order and definiteness) are obviously causes of many things, evidently these sciences must treat this sort of causative principle also (i.e. the beautiful) as in some sense a cause. But we shall speak more plainly elsewhere about these matters.


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