Aristotle - The Organon ANALYTICA POSTERIORA Book 2 Part 8

Whether essential nature is demonstrable


1. We must now start afresh and consider which of these conclusions are sound and which are not, and what is the nature of definition, and whether essential nature is in any sense demonstrable and definable or in none.

2. Now to know its essential nature is, as we said, the same as to know the cause of a thing's existence, and the proof of this depends on the fact that a thing must have a cause. Moreover, this cause is either identical with the essential nature of the thing or distinct from it; and if its cause is distinct from it, the essential nature of the thing is either demonstrable or indemonstrable. Consequently, if the cause is distinct from the thing's essential nature and demonstration is possible, the cause must be the middle term, and, the conclusion proved being universal and affirmative, the proof is in the first figure. So the method just examined of proving it through another essential nature would be one way of proving essential nature, because a conclusion containing essential nature must be inferred through a middle which is an essential nature just as a 'peculiar' property must be inferred through a middle which is a 'peculiar' property; so that of the two definable natures of a single thing this method will prove one and not the other.

3. Now it was said before that this method could not amount to demonstration of essential nature - it is actually a dialectical proof of it - so let us begin again and explain by what method it can be demonstrated. When we are aware of a fact we seek its reason, and though sometimes the fact and the reason dawn on us simultaneously, yet we cannot apprehend the reason a moment sooner than the fact; and clearly in just the same way we cannot apprehend a thing's definable form without apprehending that it exists, since while we are ignorant whether it exists we cannot know its essential nature. Moreover we are aware whether a thing exists or not sometimes through apprehending an element in its character, and sometimes accidentally, as, for example, when we are aware of thunder as a noise in the clouds, of eclipse as a privation of light, or of man as some species of animal, or of the soul as a self-moving thing. As often as we have accidental knowledge that the thing exists, we must be in a wholly negative state as regards awareness of its essential nature; for we have not got genuine knowledge even of its existence, and to search for a thing's essential nature when we are unaware that it exists is to search for nothing. On the other hand, whenever we apprehend an element in the thing's character there is less difficulty. Thus it follows that the degree of our knowledge of a thing's essential nature is determined by the sense in which we are aware that it exists. Let us then take the following as our first instance of being aware of an element in the essential nature. Let A be eclipse, C the moon, B the earth's acting as a screen. Now to ask whether the moon is eclipsed or not is to ask whether or not B has occurred. But that is precisely the same as asking whether A has a defining condition; and if this condition actually exists, we assert that A also actually exists. Or again we may ask which side of a contradiction the defining condition necessitates: does it make the angles of a triangle equal or not equal to two right angles? When we have found the answer, if the premisses are immediate, we know fact and reason together; if they are not immediate, we know the fact without the reason, as in the following example: let C be the moon, A eclipse, B the fact that the moon fails to produce shadows though she is full and though no visible body intervenes between us and her. Then if B, failure to produce shadows in spite of the absence of an intervening body, is attributable A to C, and eclipse, is attributable to B, it is clear that the moon is eclipsed, but the reason why is not yet clear, and we know that eclipse exists, but we do not know what its essential nature is. But when it is clear that A is attributable to C and we proceed to ask the reason of this fact, we are inquiring what is the nature of B: is it the earth's acting as a screen, or the moon's rotation or her extinction? But B is the definition of the other term, viz. in these examples, of the major term A; for eclipse is constituted by the earth acting as a screen. Thus, (1) 'What is thunder?' 'The quenching of fire in cloud', and (2) 'Why does it thunder?' 'Because fire is quenched in the cloud', are equivalent. Let C be cloud, A thunder, B the quenching of fire. Then B is attributable to C, cloud, since fire is quenched in it; and A, noise, is attributable to B; and B is assuredly the definition of the major term A. If there be a further mediating cause of B, it will be one of the remaining partial definitions of A.

4. We have stated then how essential nature is discovered and becomes known, and we see that, while there is no syllogism - i.e. no demonstrative syllogism - of essential nature, yet it is through syllogism, viz. demonstrative syllogism, that essential nature is exhibited. So we conclude that neither can the essential nature of anything which has a cause distinct from itself be known without demonstration, nor can it be demonstrated; and this is what we contended in our preliminary discussions.

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