MoboReader> Literature > Complete Works of Plutarch — Volume 3: Essays and Miscellanies

   Chapter 1 WHAT ARE PRINCIPLES

Complete Works of Plutarch — Volume 3: Essays and Miscellanies By Plutarch Characters: 11838

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Thales the Milesian doth affirm that water is the principle from whence all things in the universe spring. This person appears to be the first of philosophers; from him the Ionic sect took its denomination, for there are many families and successions amongst philosophers. After he had professed philosophy in Egypt, when he was very old, he returned to Miletus. He pronounced, that all things had their original from water, and into water all things are resolved. His first ground was, that whatsoever was the prolific seed of all animals was a principle, and that is moist; so that it is probable that all things receive their original from humidity. His second reason was, that all plants are nourished and fructified by that thing which is moist, of which being deprived they wither away. Thirdly, that that fire of which the sun and stars are made is nourished by watery exhalations,-yea, and the world itself; which moved Homer to sing that the generation of it was from water:-

The ocean is

Of all things the kind genesis.

(Iliad, xiv. 246.)

Anaximander, who himself was a Milesian, assigns the principle of all things to the Infinite, from whence all things flow, and into the same are corrupted; hence it is that infinite worlds are framed, and those dissolve again into that whence they have their origin. And thus he farther proceeds, For what other reason is there of an Infinite but this, that there may be nothing deficient as to the generation or subsistence of what is in Nature? There is his error, that he doth not acquaint us what this Infinite is, whether it be air, or water, or earth, or any other such like body. Besides he is mistaken, in that, giving us the material cause, he is silent as to the efficient cause of beings; for this thing which he makes his Infinite can be nothing but matter; but operation cannot come about in the sphere of matter, except an efficient cause be annexed.

Anaximenes his fellow-citizen pronounceth, that air is the principle of all beings; from it all receive their original, and into it all return. He affirms that our soul is nothing but air; it is that which constitutes and preserves; the whole world is invested with spirit and air. For spirit and air are synonymous. This person is in this deficient, in that he concludes that of pure air, which is a simple body and is made of one only form, all animals are composed. It is not possible to think that a single principle should be the matter of all things, from whence they receive their subsistence; besides this there must be an operating cause. Silver (for example) is not of itself sufficient to frame a drinking cup; an operator also is required, which is the silversmith. The like may be applied to vessels made of wood, brass, or any other material.

Anaxagoras the Clazomenian asserted Homoeomeries (or parts similar or homogeneous) to be the original cause of all beings; it seemed to him impossible that anything could arise of nothing or be dissolved into nothing. Let us therefore instance in nourishment, which appears simple and uniform, such as bread which we owe to Ceres and water which we drink. Of this very nutriment, our hair, our veins, our arteries, nerves, bones, and all our other parts are nourished. These things thus being performed, it must be granted that the nourishment which is received by us contains all those things by which these of us are produced. In it there are those particles which are producers of blood, bones, nerves, and all other parts; these particles (he thought) reason discovers for us. For it is not necessary that we should reduce all things under the objects of sense; for bread and water are fitted to the senses, yet in them there are those particles latent which are discoverable only by reason. It being therefore plain that there are particles in the nourishment similar to what is produced by it, he terms these homogeneous parts, averring that they are the principles of beings. Matter is according to him these similar parts, and the efficient cause is a Mind, which orders all things that have an existence. Thus he begins his discourse: "All things were confused one among another; but Mind divided and brought them to order." In this he is to be commended, that he yokes together matter and an intellectual agent.

Archelaus the son of Apollodorus, the Athenian, pronounceth, that the principles of all things have their origin from an infinite air rarefied or condensed. Air rarefied is fire, condensed is water.

These philosophers, the followers of Thales, succeeding one another, made up that sect which takes to itself the denomination of the Ionic.

Pythagoras the Samian, the son of Mnesarchus, from another origin deduces the principles of all things; it was he who first called philosophy by its name. He thought the first principles to be numbers, and those symmetries in them which he styles harmonies; and the composition of both he terms elements, called geometrical. Again, he places unity and the indefinite binary number amongst the principles. One of these principles ends in an efficient and forming cause, which is Mind, and that is God; the other to the passive and material part, and that is the visible world. Moreover, the nature of number (he saith) consists in the ten; for all people, whether Grecians or barbarians, reckon from one to ten, and thence return to one again. Farther he avers the virtue of ten consists in the quaternion; the reason whereof is this,-if any person start from one, and add numbers so as to take in the quaternary, he shall complete the number ten; if he passes the four, he shall go beyond the ten; for one, two, three, and four being added up together make ten. The nature of numbers, therefore, if we regard the units, abideth in the ten; but if we regard its power, in the four. Therefore the Pythagoreans say that their most sacred oath is by that god who d

elivered to them the quaternary.

By th' founder of the sacred number four,

Eternal Nature's font and source, they swore.

Of this number the soul of man is composed; for mind, knowledge, opinion, and sense are the four that complete the soul, from which all sciences, all arts, all rational faculties derive themselves. For what our mind perceives, it perceives after the manner of a thing that is one, the soul itself being a unity; as for instance, a multitude of persons are not the object of our sense nor are comprehended by us, for they are infinite; our understanding gives the general concept of A MAN, in which all individuals agree. The number of individuals is infinite; the generic or specific nature of all being is a unit, or to be apprehended as one only thing; from this one conception we give the genuine measures of all existence, and therefore we affirm that a certain class of beings are rational and discoursive. But when we come to give the nature of a horse, it is that animal which neighs; and this being common to all horses, it is manifest that the understanding, which hath such like conceptions, is in its nature unity. It follows that the number called the infinite binary must be science; in every demonstration or belief belonging to science, and in every syllogism, we draw that conclusion which is in dispute from those propositions which are by all granted, by which means another proposition is obtained from the premises. The comprehension of these we call knowledge; for which reason science is the binary number. But opinion is the ternary; for that rationally follows from comprehension. The objects of opinion are many things, and the ternary number denotes a multitude, as "Thrice happy Grecians"; for which reason Pythagoras admits the ternary. This sect of philosophers is called the Italic, by reason Pythagoras started his school in Italy; his hatred of the tyranny of Polycrates enforced him to abandon his native country Samos.

Heraclitus and Hippasus of Metapontum suppose that fire gives the origination to all beings, that they all flow from fire, and in fire they all conclude; for of fire when first quenched the world was constituted. The first part of the world, being most condensed and contracted within itself, made the earth; but part of that earth being loosened and made thin by fire, water was produced; afterwards this water being exhaled and rarefied into vapors became air; after all this the world itself, and all other corporeal beings, shall be dissolved by fire in the universal conflagration. By them therefore it appears that fire is what gives beginning to all things, and is that in which all things receive their period.

Epicurus the son of Neocles, the Athenian, his philosophical sentiments being the same with those of Democritus, affirms that the principles of all being are bodies which are only perceptible by reason; they admit not of a vacuity, nor of any original, but being of a self-existence are eternal and incorruptible; they are not liable to any diminution, they are indestructible, nor is it possible for them to receive any transformation of parts, or admit of any alterations; of these reason is only the discoverer; they are in a perpetual motion in vacuity, and by means of the empty space; for the vacuum itself is infinite, and the bodies that move in it are infinite. Those bodies acknowledge these three accidents, figure, magnitude, and gravity. Democritus acknowledged but two, magnitude and figure. Epicurus added the third, to wit, gravity; for he pronounced that it is necessary that bodies receive their motion from that impression which springs from gravity, otherwise they could not be moved. The figures of atoms cannot be incomprehensible, but they are not infinite. These figures are neither hooked nor trident-shaped nor ring-shaped, such figures as these being exposed to collision; but the atoms are impassible, impenetrable; they have indeed figures of their own, which are conceived only by reason. It is called an atom, by reason not of its smallness but of its indivisibility; in it no vacuity, no passible affection is to be found. And that there is an atom is perfectly clear; for there are elements which have a perpetual duration, and there are animals which admit of a vacuity, and there is a unity.

Empedocles the Agrigentine, the son of Meton, affirms that there are four elements, fire, air, earth, and water, and two powers which bear the greatest command in nature, concord and discord, of which one is the union, the other the division of beings. Thus he sings,

Hear first the four roots of all created things:-

Bright shining Jove, Juno that beareth life,

Pluto beneath the earth, and Nestis who

Doth with her tears water the human fount.

By Jupiter he understands fire and ether, by Juno that gives life he means the air, by Pluto the earth, by Nestis and the spring of all mortals (as it were) seed and water.

Socrates the son of Sophroniscus, and Plato son of Ariston, both natives of Athens, entertain the same opinion concerning the universe; for they suppose three principles, God, matter, and the idea. God is the universal understanding; matter is that which is the first substratum, accommodated for the generation and corruption of beings; the idea is an incorporeal essence, existing in the cogitations and apprehensions of God; for God is the soul and mind of the world.

Aristotle the son of Nichomachus, the Stagirite, constitutes three principles; Entelecheia (which is the same with form), matter, and privation. He acknowledges four elements, and adds a certain fifth body, which is ethereal and not obnoxious to mutation.

Zeno son of Mnaseas, the native of Citium, avers these to be principles, God and matter, the first of which is the efficient cause, the other the passible and receptive. Four more elements he likewise confesses.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares