On Generation and Corruption

Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


As to our own theory- we have given a general account of the causes in an earlier work, we have now explained and distinguished the ’matter’ and the ’form’. Further, since the change which is motion has been proved to be eternal, the continuity of the occurrence of coming-to-be follows necessarily from what we have established: for the eternal motion, by causing ’the generator’ to approach and retire, will produce coming-to-be uninterruptedly. At the same time it is clear that we were right when, in an earlier work, we called motion (not coming-to-be) ’the primary form of change’. For it is far more reasonable that what is should cause the coming-to-be of what is not, than that what is not should cause the being of what is. Now that which is being moved is, but that which is coming-to-be is not: hence, also, motion is prior to coming-to-be.

We have assumed, and have proved, that coming-to-be and passing-away happen to things continuously; and we assert that motion causes coming-to-be. That being so, it is evident that, if the motion be single, both processes cannot occur since they are contrary to one another: for it is a law of nature that the same cause, provided it remain in the same condition, always produces the same effect, so that, from a single motion, either coming-to-be or passing-away will always result. The movements must, on the contrary, be more than one, and they must be contrasted with one another either by the sense of their motion or by its irregularity: for contrary effects demand contraries as their causes.

This explains why it is not the primary motion that causes coming-to-be and passing-away, but the motion along the inclined circle: for this motion not only possesses the necessary continuity, but includes a duality of movements as well. For if coming-to-be and passing-away are always to be continuous, there must be some body always being moved (in order that these changes may not fail) and moved with a duality of movements (in order that both changes, not one only, may result). Now the continuity of this movement is caused by the motion of the whole: but the approaching and retreating of the moving body are caused by the inclination. For the consequence of the inclination is that the body becomes alternately remote and near; and since its distance is thus unequal, its movement will be irregular. Therefore, if it generates by approaching and by its proximity, it- this very same body- destroys by retreating and becoming remote: and if it generates by many successive approaches, it also destroys by many successive retirements. For contrary effects demand contraries as their causes; and the natural processes of passing-away and coming-to-be occupy equal periods of time. Hence, too, the times- i.e. the lives- of the several kinds of living things have a number by which they are distinguished: for there is an Order controlling all things, and every time (i.e. every life) is measured by a period. Not all of them, however, are measured by the same period, but some by a smaller and others by a greater one: for to some of them the period, which is their measure, is a year, while to some it is longer and to others shorter.

And there are facts of observation in manifest agreement with our theories. Thus we see that coming-to-be occurs as the sun approaches and decay as it retreats; and we see that the two processes occupy equal times. For the durations of the natural processes of passing-away and coming-to-be are equal. Nevertheless it often happens that things pass-away in too short a time. This is due to the ’intermingling’ by which the things that come-to-be and pass-away are implicated with one another. For their matter is ’irregular’, i.e. is not everywhere the same: hence the processes by which they come-to-be must be ’irregular’ too, i.e. some too quick and others too slow. Consequently the phenomenon in question occurs, because the ’irregular’ coming-to-be of these things is the passing-away of other things.

Coming-to-be and passing-away will, as we have said, always be continuous, and will never fail owing to the cause we stated. And this continuity has a sufficient reason on our theory. For in all things, as we affirm, Nature always strives after ’the better’. Now ’being’ (we have explained elsewhere the exact variety of meanings we recognize in this term) is better than ’not-being’: but not all things can possess ’being’, since they are too far removed from the ’originative source.’ God therefore adopted the remaining alternative, and fulfilled the perfection of the universe by making coming-to-be uninterrupted: for the greatest possible coherence would thus be secured to existence, because that ’coming-to-be should itself come-to-be perpetually’ is the closest approximation to eternal being.

The cause of this perpetuity of coming-to-be, as we have often said, is circular motion: for that is the only motion which is continuous. That, too, is why all the other things- the things, I mean, which are reciprocally transformed in virtue of their ’passions’ and their ’powers of action’ e.g. the ’simple’ bodies- imitate circular motion. For when Water is transformed into Air, Air into Fire, and the Fire back into Water, we say the coming-to-be ’has completed the circle’, because it reverts again to the beginning. Hence it is by imitating circular motion that rectilinear motion too is continuous.

These considerations serve at the same time to explain what is to some people a baffling problem- viz. why the ’simple’ bodies, since each of them is travelling towards its own place, have not become dissevered from one another in the infinite lapse of time. The reason is their reciprocal transformation. For, had each of them persisted in its own place instead of being transformed by its neighbour, they would have got dissevered long ago. They are transformed, however, owing to the motion with its dual character: and because they are transformed, none of them is able to persist in any place allotted to it by the Order.

It is clear from what has been said (i) that coming-to-be and passing-away actually occur, (ii) what causes them, and (iii) what subject undergoes them. But (a) if there is to be movement (as we have explained elsewhere, in an earlier work) there must be something which initiates it; if there is to be movement always, there must always be something which initiates it; if the movement is to be continuous, what initiates it must be single, unmoved, ungenerated, and incapable of ’alteration’; and if the circular movements are more than one, their initiating causes must all of them, in spite of their plurality, be in some way subordinated to a single ’originative source’. Further (b) since time is continuous, movement must be continuous, inasmuch as there can be no time without movement. Time, therefore, is a ’number’ of some continuous movement- a ’number’, therefore, of the circular movement, as was established in the discussions at the beginning. But (c) is movement continuous because of the continuity of that which is moved, or because that in which the movement occurs (I mean, e.g. the place or the quality) is continuous? The answer must clearly be ’because that which is moved is continuous’. (For how can the quality be continuous except in virtue of the continuity of the thing to which it belongs? But if the continuity of ’that in which’ contributes to make the movement continuous, this is true only of ’the place in which’; for that has ’magnitude’ in a sense.) But (d) amongst continuous bodies which are moved, only that which is moved in a circle is ’continuous’ in such a way that it preserves its continuity with itself throughout the movement. The conclusion therefore is that this is what produces continuous movement, viz. the body which is being moved in a circle; and its movement makes time continuous.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "Chapter 10," On Generation and Corruption, trans. H. H. Joachim Original Sources, accessed May 31, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=HCUIT9CYBVB2BMW.

MLA: Aristotle. "Chapter 10." On Generation and Corruption, translted by H. H. Joachim, Original Sources. 31 May. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=HCUIT9CYBVB2BMW.

Harvard: Aristotle, 'Chapter 10' in On Generation and Corruption, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 31 May 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=HCUIT9CYBVB2BMW.