Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


There are many senses in which motion is said to be ’one’: for we use the term ’one’ in many senses.

Motion is one generically according to the different categories to which it may be assigned: thus any locomotion is one generically with any other locomotion, whereas alteration is different generically from locomotion.

Motion is one specifically when besides being one generically it also takes place in a species incapable of subdivision: e.g. colour has specific differences: therefore blackening and whitening differ specifically; but at all events every whitening will be specifically the same with every other whitening and every blackening with every other blackening. But white is not further subdivided by specific differences: hence any whitening is specifically one with any other whitening. Where it happens that the genus is at the same time a species, it is clear that the motion will then in a sense be one specifically though not in an unqualified sense: learning is an example of this, knowledge being on the one hand a species of apprehension and on the other hand a genus including the various knowledges. A difficulty, however, may be raised as to whether a motion is specifically one when the same thing changes from the same to the same, e.g. when one point changes again and again from a particular place to a particular place: if this motion is specifically one, circular motion will be the same as rectilinear motion, and rolling the same as walking. But is not this difficulty removed by the principle already laid down that if that in which the motion takes place is specifically different (as in the present instance the circular path is specifically different from the straight) the motion itself is also different? We have explained, then, what is meant by saying that motion is one generically or one specifically.

Motion is one in an unqualified sense when it is one essentially or numerically: and the following distinctions will make clear what this kind of motion is. There are three classes of things in connexion with which we speak of motion, the ’that which’, the ’that in which’, and the ’that during which’. I mean that there must he something that is in motion, e.g. a man or gold, and it must be in motion in something, e.g. a place or an affection, and during something, for all motion takes place during a time. Of these three it is the thing in which the motion takes place that makes it one generically or specifically, it is the thing moved that makes the motion one in subject, and it is the time that makes it consecutive: but it is the three together that make it one without qualification: to effect this, that in which the motion takes place (the species) must be one and incapable of subdivision, that during which it takes place (the time) must be one and unintermittent, and that which is in motion must be one-not in an accidental sense (i.e. it must be one as the white that blackens is one or Coriscus who walks is one, not in the accidental sense in which Coriscus and white may be one), nor merely in virtue of community of nature (for there might be a case of two men being restored to health at the same time in the same way, e.g. from inflammation of the eye, yet this motion is not really one, but only specifically one).

Suppose, however, that Socrates undergoes an alteration specifically the same but at one time and again at another: in this case if it is possible for that which ceased to be again to come into being and remain numerically the same, then this motion too will be one: otherwise it will be the same but not one. And akin to this difficulty there is another; viz. is health one? and generally are the states and affections in bodies severally one in essence although (as is clear) the things that contain them are obviously in motion and in flux? Thus if a person’s health at daybreak and at the present moment is one and the same, why should not this health be numerically one with that which he recovers after an interval? The same argument applies in each case. There is, however, we may answer, this difference: that if the states are two then it follows simply from this fact that the activities must also in point of number be two (for only that which is numerically one can give rise to an activity that is numerically one), but if the state is one, this is not in itself enough to make us regard the activity also as one: for when a man ceases walking, the walking no longer is, but it will again be if he begins to walk again. But, be this as it may, if in the above instance the health is one and the same, then it must be possible for that which is one and the same to come to be and to cease to be many times. However, these difficulties lie outside our present inquiry.

Since every motion is continuous, a motion that is one in an unqualified sense must (since every motion is divisible) be continuous, and a continuous motion must be one. There will not be continuity between any motion and any other indiscriminately any more than there is between any two things chosen at random in any other sphere: there can be continuity only when the extremities of the two things are one. Now some things have no extremities at all: and the extremities of others differ specifically although we give them the same name of ’end’: how should e.g. the ’end’ of a line and the ’end’ of walking touch or come to be one? Motions that are not the same either specifically or generically may, it is true, be consecutive (e.g. a man may run and then at once fall ill of a fever), and again, in the torch-race we have consecutive but not continuous locomotion: for according to our definition there can be continuity only when the ends of the two things are one. Hence motions may be consecutive or successive in virtue of the time being continuous, but there can be continuity only in virtue of the motions themselves being continuous, that is when the end of each is one with the end of the other. Motion, therefore, that is in an unqualified sense continuous and one must be specifically the same, of one thing, and in one time. Unity is required in respect of time in order that there may be no interval of immobility, for where there is intermission of motion there must be rest, and a motion that includes intervals of rest will be not one but many, so that a motion that is interrupted by stationariness is not one or continuous, and it is so interrupted if there is an interval of time. And though of a motion that is not specifically one (even if the time is unintermittent) the time is one, the motion is specifically different, and so cannot really be one, for motion that is one must be specifically one, though motion that is specifically one is not necessarily one in an unqualified sense. We have now explained what we mean when we call a motion one without qualification.

Further, a motion is also said to be one generically, specifically, or essentially when it is complete, just as in other cases completeness and wholeness are characteristics of what is one: and sometimes a motion even if incomplete is said to be one, provided only that it is continuous.

And besides the cases already mentioned there is another in which a motion is said to be one, viz. when it is regular: for in a sense a motion that is irregular is not regarded as one, that title belonging rather to that which is regular, as a straight line is regular, the irregular being as such divisible. But the difference would seem to be one of degree. In every kind of motion we may have regularity or irregularity: thus there may be regular alteration, and locomotion in a regular path, e.g. in a circle or on a straight line, and it is the same with regard to increase and decrease. The difference that makes a motion irregular is sometimes to be found in its path: thus a motion cannot be regular if its path is an irregular magnitude, e.g. a broken line, a spiral, or any other magnitude that is not such that any part of it taken at random fits on to any other that may be chosen. Sometimes it is found neither in the place nor in the time nor in the goal but in the manner of the motion: for in some cases the motion is differentiated by quickness and slowness: thus if its velocity is uniform a motion is regular, if not it is irregular. So quickness and slowness are not species of motion nor do they constitute specific differences of motion, because this distinction occurs in connexion with all the distinct species of motion. The same is true of heaviness and lightness when they refer to the same thing: e.g. they do not specifically distinguish earth from itself or fire from itself. Irregular motion, therefore, while in virtue of being continuous it is one, is so in a lesser degree, as is the case with locomotion in a broken line: and a lesser degree of something always means an admixture of its contrary. And since every motion that is one can be both regular and irregular, motions that are consecutive but not specifically the same cannot be one and continuous: for how should a motion composed of alteration and locomotion be regular? If a motion is to be regular its parts ought to fit one another.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "4," Physics, trans. R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0 (Irvine, CA: World Library, Inc., 1996), Original Sources, accessed August 21, 2019,

MLA: Aristotle. "4." Physics, translted by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye, in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, Irvine, CA, World Library, Inc., 1996, Original Sources. 21 Aug. 2019.

Harvard: Aristotle, '4' in Physics, trans. . cited in 1996, Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, World Library, Inc., Irvine, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 21 August 2019, from