On the Motion of Animals

Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


There is a further difficulty about the motions of the parts of the heavens which, as akin to what has gone before, may be considered next. For if one could overcome by force of motion the immobility of the earth he would clearly move it away from the centre. And it is plain that the power from which this force would originate will not be infinite, for the earth is not infinite and therefore its weight is not. Now there are more senses than one of the word ’impossible’. When we say it is impossible to see a sound, and when we say it is impossible to see the men in the moon, we use two senses of the word; the former is of necessity, the latter, though their nature is to be seen, cannot as a fact be seen by us. Now we suppose that the heavens are of necessity impossible to destroy and to dissolve, whereas the result of the present argument would be to do away with this necessity. For it is natural and possible for a motion to exist greater than the force by dint of which the earth is at rest, or than that by dint of which Fire and Aether are moved. If then there are superior motions, these will be dissolved in succession by one another: and if there actually are not, but might possibly be (for the earth cannot be infinite because no body can possibly be infinite), there is a possibility of the heavens being dissolved. For what is to prevent this coming to pass, unless it be impossible? And it is not impossible unless the opposite is necessary. This difficulty, however, we will discuss elsewhere.

To resume, must there be something immovable and at rest outside of what is moved, and no part of it, or not? And must this necessarily be so also in the case of the universe? Perhaps it would be thought strange were the origin of movement inside. And to those who so conceive it the word of Homer would appear to have been well spoken:

’Nay, ye would not pull Zeus, highest of all from heaven to the plain, no not even if ye toiled right hard; come, all ye gods and goddesses! Set hands to the chain’; for that which is entirely immovable cannot possibly be moved by anything. And herein lies the solution of the difficulty stated some time back, the possibility or impossibility of dissolving the system of the heavens, in that it depends from an original which is immovable.

Now in the animal world there must be not only an immovable without, but also within those things which move in place, and initiate their own movement. For one part of an animal must be moved, and another be at rest, and against this the part which is moved will support itself and be moved; for example, if it move one of its parts; for one part, as it were, supports itself against another part at rest.

But about things without life which are moved one might ask the question whether all contain in themselves both that which is at rest and that which initiates movement, and whether they also, for instance fire, earth, or any other inanimate thing, must support themselves against something outside which is at rest. Or is this impossible and must it not be looked for rather in those primary causes by which they are set in motion? For all things without life are moved by something other, and the origin of all things so moved are things which move themselves. And out of these we have spoken about animals (for they must all have in themselves that which is at rest, and without them that against which they are supported); but whether there is some higher and prime mover is not clear, and an origin of that kind involves a different discussion. Animals at any rate which move themselves are all moved supporting themselves on what is outside them, even when they inspire and expire; for there is no essential difference between casting a great and a small weight, and this is what men do when they spit and cough and when they breathe in and breathe out.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "Chapter 4," On the Motion of Animals, trans. A. S. L. Farquharson Original Sources, accessed July 18, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DAMMDRH9U6Y4VQ3.

MLA: Aristotle. "Chapter 4." On the Motion of Animals, translted by A. S. L. Farquharson, Original Sources. 18 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DAMMDRH9U6Y4VQ3.

Harvard: Aristotle, 'Chapter 4' in On the Motion of Animals, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 18 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DAMMDRH9U6Y4VQ3.