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Aristotle - The Organon ANALYTICA POSTERIORA Book 2 Part 12

Middle term as cause

1. The effect may be still coming to be, or its occurrence may be past or future, yet the cause will be the same as when it is actually existent - for it is the middle which is the cause - except that if the effect actually exists the cause is actually existent, if it is coming to be so is the cause, if its occurrence is past the cause is past, if future the cause is future. For example, the moon was eclipsed because the earth intervened, is becoming eclipsed because the earth is in process of intervening, will be eclipsed because the earth will intervene, is eclipsed because the earth intervenes.

2. To take a second example: assuming that the definition of ice is solidified water, let C be water, A solidified, B the middle, which is the cause, namely total failure of heat. Then B is attributed to C, and A, solidification, to B: ice when B is occurring, has formed when B has occurred, and will form when B shall occur.

3. This sort of cause, then, and its effect come to be simultaneously when they are in process of becoming, and exist simultaneously when they actually exist; and the same holds good when they are past and when they are future. But what of cases where they are not simultaneous? Can causes and effects different from one another form, as they seem to us to form, a continuous succession, a past effect resulting from a past cause different from itself, a future effect from a future cause different from it, and an effect which is coming-to-be from a cause different from and prior to it? Now on this theory it is from the posterior event that we reason (and this though these later events actually have their source of origin in previous events -- a fact which shows that also when the effect is coming-to-be we still reason from the posterior event), and from the event we cannot reason (we cannot argue that because an event A has occurred, therefore an event B has occurred subsequently to A but still in the past - and the same holds good if the occurrence is future) - cannot reason because, be the time interval definite or indefinite, it will never be possible to infer that because it is true to say that A occurred, therefore it is true to say that B, the subsequent event, occurred; for in the interval between the events, though A has already occurred, the latter statement will be false. And the same argument applies also to future events; i.e. one cannot infer from an event which occurred in the past that a future event will occur. The reason of this is that the middle must be homogeneous, past when the extremes are past, future when they are future, coming to be when they are coming-to-be, actually existent when they are actually existent; and there cannot be a middle term homogeneous with extremes respectively past and future. And it is a further difficulty in this theory that the time interval can be neither indefinite nor definite, since during it the inference will be false. We have also to inquire what it is that holds events together so that the coming-to-be now occurring in actual things follows upon a past event. It is evident, we may suggest, that a past event and a present process cannot be 'contiguous', for not even two past events can be 'contiguous'. For past events are limits and atomic; so just as points are not 'contiguous' neither are past events, since both are indivisible. For the same reason a past event and a present process cannot be 'contiguous', for the process is divisible, the event indivisible. Thus the relation of present process to past event is analogous to that of line to point, since a process contains an infinity of past events. These questions, however, must receive a more explicit treatment in our general theory of change.

4. The following must suffice as an account of the manner in which the middle would be identical with the cause on the supposition that coming-to-be is a series of consecutive events: for in the terms of such a series too the middle and major terms must form an immediate premiss; e.g. we argue that, since C has occurred, therefore A occurred: and C's occurrence was posterior, A's prior; but C is the source of the inference because it is nearer to the present moment, and the starting-point of time is the present. We next argue that, since D has occurred, therefore C occurred. Then we conclude that, since D has occurred, therefore A must have occurred; and the cause is C, for since D has occurred C must have occurred, and since C has occurred A must previously have occurred.

5. If we get our middle term in this way, will the series terminate in an immediate premiss, or since, as we said, no two events are 'contiguous', will a fresh middle term always intervene because there is an infinity of middles? No: though no two events are 'contiguous', yet we must start from a premiss consisting of a middle and the present event as major. The like is true of future events too, since if it is true to say that D will exist, it must be a prior truth to say that A will exist, and the cause of this conclusion is C; for if D will exist, C will exist prior to D, and if C will exist, A will exist prior to it. And here too the same infinite divisibility might be urged, since future events are not 'contiguous'. But here too an immediate basic premiss must be assumed. And in the world of fact this is so: if a house has been built, then blocks must have been quarried and shaped. The reason is that a house having been built necessitates a foundation having been laid, and if a foundation has been laid blocks must have been shaped beforehand. Again, if a house will be built, blocks will similarly be shaped beforehand; and proof is through the middle in the same way, for the foundation will exist before the house.

6. Now we observe in Nature a certain kind of circular process of coming-to-be; and this is possible only if the middle and extreme terms are reciprocal, since conversion is conditioned by reciprocity in the terms of the proof. This - the convertibility of conclusions and premisses - has been proved in our early chapters, and the circular process is an instance of this. In actual fact it is exemplified thus: when the earth had been moistened an exhalation was bound to rise, and when an exhalation had risen cloud was bound to form, and from the formation of cloud rain necessarily resulted and by the fall of rain the earth was necessarily moistened: but this was the starting-point, so that a circle is completed; for posit any one of the terms and another follows from it, and from that another, and from that again the first.

7. Some occurrences are universal (for they are, or come-to-be what they are, always and in ever case); others again are not always what they are but only as a general rule: for instance, not every man can grow a beard, but it is the general rule. In the case of such connexions the middle term too must be a general rule. For if A is predicated universally of B and B of C, A too must be predicated always and in every instance of C, since to hold in every instance and always is of the nature of the universal. But we have assumed a connexion which is a general rule; consequently the middle term B must also be a general rule. So connexions which embody a general rule - i.e. which exist or come to be as a general rule - will also derive from immediate basic premisses.


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