Physics

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Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC

4

But chance also and spontaneity are reckoned among causes: many things are said both to be and to come to be as a result of chance and spontaneity. We must inquire therefore in what manner chance and spontaneity are present among the causes enumerated, and whether they are the same or different, and generally what chance and spontaneity are.

Some people even question whether they are real or not. They say that nothing happens by chance, but that everything which we ascribe to chance or spontaneity has some definite cause, e.g. coming ’by chance’ into the market and finding there a man whom one wanted but did not expect to meet is due to one’s wish to go and buy in the market. Similarly in other cases of chance it is always possible, they maintain, to find something which is the cause; but not chance, for if chance were real, it would seem strange indeed, and the question might be raised, why on earth none of the wise men of old in speaking of the causes of generation and decay took account of chance; whence it would seem that they too did not believe that anything is by chance. But there is a further circumstance that is surprising. Many things both come to be and are by chance and spontaneity, and although know that each of them can be ascribed to some cause (as the old argument said which denied chance), nevertheless they speak of some of these things as happening by chance and others not. For this reason also they ought to have at least referred to the matter in some way or other.

Certainly the early physicists found no place for chance among the causes which they recognized-love, strife, mind, fire, or the like. This is strange, whether they supposed that there is no such thing as chance or whether they thought there is but omitted to mention it-and that too when they sometimes used it, as Empedocles does when he says that the air is not always separated into the highest region, but ’as it may chance’. At any rate he says in his cosmogony that ’it happened to run that way at that time, but it often ran otherwise.’ He tells us also that most of the parts of animals came to be by chance.

There are some too who ascribe this heavenly sphere and all the worlds to spontaneity. They say that the vortex arose spontaneously, i.e. the motion that separated and arranged in its present order all that exists. This statement might well cause surprise. For they are asserting that chance is not responsible for the existence or generation of animals and plants, nature or mind or something of the kind being the cause of them (for it is not any chance thing that comes from a given seed but an olive from one kind and a man from another); and yet at the same time they assert that the heavenly sphere and the divinest of visible things arose spontaneously, having no such cause as is assigned to animals and plants. Yet if this is so, it is a fact which deserves to be dwelt upon, and something might well have been said about it. For besides the other absurdities of the statement, it is the more absurd that people should make it when they see nothing coming to be spontaneously in the heavens, but much happening by chance among the things which as they say are not due to chance; whereas we should have expected exactly the opposite.

Others there are who, indeed, believe that chance is a cause, but that it is inscrutable to human intelligence, as being a divine thing and full of mystery.

Thus we must inquire what chance and spontaneity are, whether they are the same or different, and how they fit into our division of causes.

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Chicago: Aristotle, "4," Physics, trans. R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=49US2ASSEMJ8A9X.

MLA: Aristotle. "4." Physics, translted by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye, Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=49US2ASSEMJ8A9X.

Harvard: Aristotle, '4' in Physics, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=49US2ASSEMJ8A9X.