On the Heavens

Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


It remains to say what bodies are subject to generation, and why. Since in every case knowledge depends on what is primary, and the elements are the primary constituents of bodies, we must ask which of such bodies are elements, and why; and after that what is their number and character. The answer will be plain if we first explain what kind of substance an element is. An element, we take it, is a body into which other bodies may be analysed, present in them potentially or in actuality (which of these, is still disputable), and not itself divisible into bodies different in form. That, or something like it, is what all men in every case mean by element. Now if what we have described is an element, clearly there must be such bodies. For flesh and wood and all other similar bodies contain potentially fire and earth, since one sees these elements exuded from them; and, on the other hand, neither in potentiality nor in actuality does fire contain flesh or wood, or it would exude them. Similarly, even if there were only one elementary body, it would not contain them. For though it will be either flesh or bone or something else, that does not at once show that it contained these in potentiality: the further question remains, in what manner it becomes them. Now Anaxagoras opposes Empedocles’ view of the elements. Empedocles says that fire and earth and the related bodies are elementary bodies of which all things are composed; but this Anaxagoras denies. His elements are the homoeomerous things, viz. flesh, bone, and the like. Earth and fire are mixtures, composed of them and all the other seeds, each consisting of a collection of all the homoeomerous bodies, separately invisible; and that explains why from these two bodies all others are generated. (To him fire and aither are the same thing.) But since every natural body has it proper movement, and movements are either simple or mixed, mixed in mixed bodies and simple in simple, there must obviously be simple bodies; for there are simple movements. It is plain, then, that there are elements, and why.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "3," On the Heavens, trans. J. L. Stocks Original Sources, accessed September 28, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D3HFF3WQCKYQTB3.

MLA: Aristotle. "3." On the Heavens, translted by J. L. Stocks, Original Sources. 28 Sep. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D3HFF3WQCKYQTB3.

Harvard: Aristotle, '3' in On the Heavens, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 28 September 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D3HFF3WQCKYQTB3.