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Aristotle METAPHYSICA Book 6 Part 2

The accidental

1. But since the unqualified term 'being' has several meanings, of which one was seen to be the accidental, and another the true ('non-being' being the false), while besides these there are the figures of predication (e.g. the 'what', quality, quantity, place, time, and any similar meanings which 'being' may have), and again besides all these there is that which 'is' potentially or actually: - since 'being' has many meanings, we must say regarding the accidental, that there can be no scientific treatment of it. This is confirmed by the fact that no science practical, productive, or theoretical troubles itself about it. For on the one hand he who produces a house does not produce all the attributes that come into being along with the house; for these are innumerable; the house that has been made may quite well be pleasant for some people, hurtful for some, and useful to others, and different - to put it shortly from all things that are; and the science of building does not aim at producing any of these attributes. And in the same way the geometer does not consider the attributes which attach thus to figures, nor whether 'triangle' is different from 'triangle whose angles are equal to two right angles'. - And this happens naturally enough; for the accidental is practically a mere name. And so Plato was in a sense not wrong in ranking sophistic as dealing with that which is not. For the arguments of the sophists deal, we may say, above all with the accidental; e.g. the question whether 'musical' and 'lettered' are different or the same, and whether 'musical Coriscus' and 'Coriscus' are the same, and whether 'everything which is, but is not eternal, has come to be', with the paradoxical conclusion that if one who was musical has come to be lettered, he must also have been lettered and have come to be musical, and all the other arguments of this sort; the accidental is obviously akin to non-being. And this is clear also from arguments such as the following: things which are in another sense come into being and pass out of being by a process, but things which are accidentally do not. But still we must, as far as we can, say further, regarding the accidental, what its nature is and from what cause it proceeds; for it will perhaps at the same time become clear why there is no science of it.

2. Since, among things which are, some are always in the same state and are of necessity (not necessity in the sense of compulsion but that which we assert of things because they cannot be otherwise), and some are not of necessity nor always, but for the most part, this is the principle and this the cause of the existence of the accidental; for that which is neither always nor for the most part, we call accidental. For instance, if in the dog-days there is wintry and cold weather, we say this is an accident, but not if there is sultry heat, because the latter is always or for the most part so, but not the former. And it is an accident that a man is pale (for this is neither always nor for the most part so), but it is not by accident that he is an animal. And that the builder produces health is an accident, because it is the nature not of the builder but of the doctor to do this, - but the builder happened to be a doctor. Again, a confectioner, aiming at giving pleasure, may make something wholesome, but not in virtue of the confectioner's art; and therefore we say 'it was an accident', and while there is a sense in which he makes it, in the unqualified sense he does not. For to other things answer faculties productive of them, but to accidental results there corresponds no determinate art nor faculty; for of things which are or come to be by accident, the cause also is accidental. Therefore, since not all things either are or come to be of necessity and always, but, the majority of things are for the most part, the accidental must exist; for instance a pale man is not always nor for the most part musical, but since this sometimes happens, it must be accidental (if not, everything will be of necessity). The matter, therefore, which is capable of being otherwise than as it usually is, must be the cause of the accidental. And we must take as our starting-point the question whether there is nothing that is neither always nor for the most part. Surely this is impossible. There is, then, besides these something which is fortuitous and accidental. But while the usual exists, can nothing be said to be always, or are there eternal things? This must be considered later, but that there is no science of the accidental is obvious; for all science is either of that which is always or of that which is for the most part. (For how else is one to learn or to teach another? The thing must be determined as occurring either always or for the most part, e.g. that honey-water is useful for a patient in a fever is true for the most part.) But that which is contrary to the usual law science will be unable to state, i.e. when the thing does not happen, e.g.'on the day of new moon'; for even that which happens on the day of new moon happens then either always or for the most part; but the accidental is contrary to such laws. We have stated, then, what the accidental is, and from what cause it arises, and that there is no science which deals with it.


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