Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


One might also raise the question what the good is that things get from numbers because their composition is expressible by a number, either by one which is easily calculable or by an odd number. For in fact honey-water is no more wholesome if it is mixed in the proportion of three times three, but it would do more good if it were in no particular ratio but well diluted than if it were numerically expressible but strong. Again, the ratios of mixtures are expressed by the adding of numbers, not by mere numbers; e.g. it is ’three parts to two’, not ’three times two’. For in any multiplication the genus of the things multiplied must be the same; therefore the product 1X2X3 must be measurable by 1, and 4X5X6 by 4 and therefore all products into which the same factor enters must be measurable by that factor. The number of fire, then, cannot be 2X5X3X6 and at the same time that of water 2X3.

If all things must share in number, it must follow that many things are the same, and the same number must belong to one thing and to another. Is number the cause, then, and does the thing exist because of its number, or is this not certain? E.g. the motions of the sun have a number, and again those of the moon,-yes, and the life and prime of each animal. Why, then, should not some of these numbers be squares, some cubes, and some equal, others double? There is no reason why they should not, and indeed they must move within these limits, since all things were assumed to share in number. And it was assumed that things that differed might fall under the same number. Therefore if the same number had belonged to certain things, these would have been the same as one another, since they would have had the same form of number; e.g. sun and moon would have been the same. But why need these numbers be causes? There are seven vowels, the scale consists of seven strings, the Pleiades are seven, at seven animals lose their teeth (at least some do, though some do not), and the champions who fought against Thebes were seven. Is it then because the number is the kind of number it is, that the champions were seven or the Pleiad consists of seven stars? Surely the champions were seven because there were seven gates or for some other reason, and the Pleiad we count as seven, as we count the Bear as twelve, while other peoples count more stars in both. Nay they even say that X, Ps and Z are concords and that because there are three concords, the double consonants also are three. They quite neglect the fact that there might be a thousand such letters; for one symbol might be assigned to GP. But if they say that each of these three is equal to two of the other letters, and no other is so, and if the cause is that there are three parts of the mouth and one letter is in each applied to sigma, it is for this reason that there are only three, not because the concords are three; since as a matter of fact the concords are more than three, but of double consonants there cannot be more.

These people are like the old-fashioned Homeric scholars, who see small resemblances but neglect great ones. Some say that there are many such cases, e.g. that the middle strings are represented by nine and eight, and that the epic verse has seventeen syllables, which is equal in number to the two strings, and that the scansion is, in the right half of the line nine syllables, and in the left eight. And they say that the distance in the letters from alpha to omega is equal to that from the lowest note of the flute to the highest, and that the number of this note is equal to that of the whole choir of heaven. It may be suspected that no one could find difficulty either in stating such analogies or in finding them in eternal things, since they can be found even in perishable things.

But the lauded characteristics of numbers, and the contraries of these, and generally the mathematical relations, as some describe them, making them causes of nature, seem, when we inspect them in this way, to vanish; for none of them is a cause in any of the senses that have been distinguished in reference to the first principles. In a sense, however, they make it plain that goodness belongs to numbers, and that the odd, the straight, the square, the potencies of certain numbers, are in the column of the beautiful. For the seasons and a particular kind of number go together; and the other agreements that they collect from the theorems of mathematics all have this meaning. Hence they are like coincidences. For they are accidents, but the things that agree are all appropriate to one another, and one by analogy. For in each category of being an analogous term is found-as the straight is in length, so is the level in surface, perhaps the odd in number, and the white in colour.

Again, it is not the ideal numbers that are the causes of musical phenomena and the like (for equal ideal numbers differ from one another in form; for even the units do); so that we need not assume Ideas for this reason at least.

These, then, are the results of the theory, and yet more might be brought together. The fact that our opponnts have much trouble with the generation of numbers and can in no way make a system of them, seems to indicate that the objects of mathematics are not separable from sensible things, as some say, and that they are not the first principles.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "6," Metaphysics, trans. W. D. Ross in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0 (Irvine, CA: World Library, Inc., 1996), Original Sources, accessed April 24, 2018,

MLA: Aristotle. "6." Metaphysics, translted by W. D. Ross, in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, Irvine, CA, World Library, Inc., 1996, Original Sources. 24 Apr. 2018.

Harvard: Aristotle, '6' in Metaphysics, trans. . cited in 1996, Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, World Library, Inc., Irvine, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 24 April 2018, from