Taylor’s Dissertation, Chapter 1

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Among the prodigies of genius who have largely benefited mankind by disseminating philosophy, Aristotle maintains a very distinguished rank. When we consider that he was not only well acquainted with every science, as his works abundantly evince, but that he wrote on almost every subject which is comprehended in the circle of human knowledge, and this with the most consummate accuracy and skill, we know not which to admire most, the penetration or extent of his mind. For capacious indeed must that mind have been which embraced the vast orb of existence, and left nothing unexplored in the heavens or the earth, and penetrating that genius which arrived at the luminous boundaries of human knowledge, and rendered them accessible to others. With a bold, yet not impious hand, he appears to have withdrawn the # awful veil of Nature herself, to have detected her most secret mysteries, and ranged through every part of her # variegated dominions. In short, he seems to have possessed, and to have exercised the power of reasoning in the greatest perfection possible to man; and such of his works as have escaped the ravages of time, will ever be considered by the genuine lovers of science, as treasures which from their singular excellence are destined to perish in no less a catastrophe than that of a deluge or conflagration. ■→PDF of the original, download

■→This text is also available in standard Polish (no discretional style).

To unfold the principal # dogmas of the philosophy of this sublime genius; to prove that his philosophy has not been understood since the destruction of the schools of the Philosophers by the Emperor Justinian; and to detect and expose the fallacy and nothingness of what has been called philosophy since the time of the Greeks, is the design of the present Dissertation.

As preparatory however to the development of his principal dogmas, it will be requisite to present the reader with a division of his works; to show what the end is of his philosophy, and which of his writings lead us to this end: what kind of diction he employs; why he designedly wrote with such obscurity; and to evince that his principal doctrines are conformable to those of Plato, and that he differs from his # divine master in appearance only, and not in reality.

Of his remaining works, therefore, some are theoretic, others practical, and others instrumental. Likewise of those treatises which are entirely theoretic or contemplative, some are theological, as his Metaphysics; others physical, as his eight books inscribed Physical Ausculation; and the books consequent to these, such as those On the Heavens, On Generation and Corruption, &c.; and others again are mathematical, such as his Mechanical Problems, and his treatise On Indivisible Lines. In like manner with respect to his practical writings, some are moral, as his Nicomachean and Eudemian Ethics, and those which are inscribed the Great Morals; or they are economical and political, as the treatises which are thus inscribed. Lastly, of the books which are called instrumental, some are on the art of demonstration, as his Posterior Analytics, others respecting things which precede a knowledge of the demonstrative syllogism, as his Prior Analytics, his treatise On Interpretation, and his Categories; and others again are respecting things which often become the subject of demonstration, or are subservient to it, such as his Topics, his Sophistical Elenchi, (or sophistical syllogisms of contradiction), and his books On the Art of Rhetoric. And such is the summary and # universal division of the writings of Aristotle.

In the second place, the end of Aristotle’s moral philosophy is perfection through the virtues, and the end of his contemplative Philosophy, an union with the one principle of all things : for he scientifically knew and unfolded this principle, as is evident from the 12th book of his Metaphysics, in which be clearly pronounces that the domination of many is not good. The common end, however, both of his moral and contemplative philosophy, which man ought to pursue, is the last and most perfect # felicity of which our nature is capable: and at the end of his Nicomachean Ethics he testifies that he who arrives at this felicity ought not to be called a man, but # a god. All the works of the Philosopher lead us to the attainment of this end. For some of them unfold to us the art of demonstration; others that we may become virtuous, instruct us in morals; and lastly, others lead us to the knowledge of natural things, and afterwards to those luminous beings, which have a supernatural subsistence.

In the third place, with respect to his diction, it is of that kind that the words may adhere to the sense and the sense to the words; a mode of writing both intellectual, and admirably adapted to the profundity of his conceptions. For he either immediately gives a solution to a doubt, or, connecting many doubts, he briefly solves all of them by one and the same solution. He is likewise never willing to deviate from evidence, which being produced either by intellect or # sense, he especially adduces and celebrates the latter when he disputes with those who in every thing consider sense as the standard of truth. Hence, there is such an irresistible strength in his demonstrations, that when he cannot persuade by assumptions not rashly introduced, he at least procures assent by the force of necessity.

This, too, is peculiar to Aristotle, that he was never willing to depart from nature, but even contemplated things which transcend nature through a natural habit and knowledge; just as, on the contrary, the divine Plato, after the manner of the Pythagoreans, contemplated whatever is natural, so far as it partakes of that which is divine and above nature. Hence the former considered theology physically, and the latter physics theologically. He likewise never employs fables and enigmas, and never ascends into the marvellous and the mystic, but adopts # obscurity of diction as a substitute for every other veil, and involved mode of writing; the reason of which we proposed to investigate, as the fourth object of inquiry.

Those more ancient than Aristotle, thinking that it was not fit to expose their # wisdom to the multitudes, instead of clear and explicit diction, adopted fables and enigmas, metaphors and similitudes; and under these as veils, concealed it from the # profane and vulgar eye. But the Stagirite praises, and employs obscurity of diction,{1} and perhaps accuses and avoids philosophical fables and enigmas, because some interpretation may be given of them by any one, though their real meaning is obvious but to a few. Perhaps too, he was of opinion that such obscurity of diction is better calculated to exercise the mind of the reader, to excite sagacity, and produce accurate attention. Certain indeed it is, that the present fashionable mode of writing, in which every author endeavours to adapt every subject to the apprehension of the meanest capacity, has debilitated the understanding of readers in general, has subjected works of profound erudition, to contempt, merely because they are not immediately obvious, and, as if the highest truths were on a level with the fictions of romance, has rendered investigation disgusting whenever it is abstruse. That this obscurity, however, in the writings of Aristotle does not arise from imbecility, will be obvious to those who are but moderately skilled in rhetoric. For such is the wonderful compression, such the pregnant brevity of his diction, that entire sentences are frequently comprised in a few words; and he condenses in a line what Cicero would dilate into a page. His books On Meteors, his Topics, and his Politics, likewise evince that he was capable of writing with perspicuity as well as precision; and among his lost works, Simplicius informs us, that his Epistles and Dialogues were most elegantly written. Indeed, says he, none even of the most illustrious writers is equal to Aristotle in Epistolary composition.

In order to show, fifthly, that Aristotle accords with Plato in the principal dogmas of his philosophy, I shall adduce, in the first place, what he says at the end of his Physics, where he terminates the doctrine concerning natural principles in # supernatural theology, as in a summit; and evinces that the whole of a natural and corporeal composition, is suspended from an incorporeal and intellectual goodness, which is above nature, and without any habitude to inferior beings. Having, therefore, demonstrated, of the first mover that he is one, immoveable, and without parts, he mentions as follows the third of these positions. These things therefore being determined, it is evident that it is impossible for that which first moves and is immovable, to have any magnitude. For if it possessed magnitude, it is necessary that it should either be finite or infinite. But that it is impossible there should be an infinite magnitude, has been before demonstrated in the Physics. And that a finite magnitude cannot have an infinite power, and that it is impossible for any thing to be moved in an infinite time by that which is finite, has been just now demonstrated. But the first mover produces a perpetual motion, and in an infinite time. It is evident, therefore, that he is indivisible, without parts, and has no magnitude.

Simplicius justly observes, that Aristotle in what is here said by him accords with Plato. But, he adds, Plato discovers the intellectual God, the artificer of the world, from the essence itself of the mundane body; for separating true Being from that which is generated, he defines the former by a perpetual and invariable sameness of subsistence, as being allotted an essence, the whole of which is established at once and together, without interval, and impartibly in eternity; but asserts that the latter has its subsistence in becoming to be, or rising into existence, as being changed and moved, and having its existence co-extended with the circulations of time. On this account also it is # suspended from its cause as incapable of being self-subsistent: for it is perfectly impossible, says he, that it should be generated without # a cause. But the cause of that which is generated is true being, lest admitting that there is something generated prior to that which is generated, we should proceed to infinity; and for the same reason, the immutable is the cause of that which is mutable. Plato, therefore, in the Timaeus, discovers the demiurgus of the world, who is truly an intellectual God, and is always established in eternity, with an invariable sameness of subsistence; recurring from the mutable essence of the world to its immutable cause. But Aristotle, from the motion and mutation, and the divisible and finite subsistence of bodies, ascends to an immovable, immutable, and indivisible cause: for he demonstrates that it is necessary there should be a perpetual motion in beings, and consequently that there should be something which is perpetually moved, since motion is in that which is moved. He also demonstrates that every thing which is moved, is moved by something, and that the first mover is necessary immoveable, and the immutable cause of perpetual motion, to the natures which are proximately moved by it. But that generation with Plato, and motion with Aristotle, signify mutation, we may easily learn from this, that Plato divides that which is generated, as being changed, oppositely to that which possesses an invariable sameness of subsistence; but that Aristotle when he says, every thing which is moved, is moved by something, speaks not only about things which are properly moved, but also about such as are generated and corrupted, and in short such as are changed. In many places also he says, that the immovable is immutable, for it not only # surpasses motion properly so called, but also generation and corruption. But it appears to me, that this wonderful man clearly refuses to apply the term generation to things perpetual; because the phantasy easily supposes that things which are said to be generated, have a temporal beginning. And in this manner, indeed, the multitude are affected, not being able to co-extend their conceptions with perpetual fabrications; but adding a temporal beginning to that which is said to subsist from a cause, and to be generated. They also appear to understand with facility, if any one supposes a beginning, middle, and end, of the fabrication of things. The greater part of the wise too, looking to that which may be easily understood by their readers, in this manner fabricate the world, asserting that things first, second, and third were generated. And perhaps these wise men think they may be pardoned in so doing, since theologists also do not refuse thus to unfold the generations of the gods, adapting their conceptions to the capacity of their readers. But Aristotle perceiving, as it appears, that the multitude always erroneously understand such assertions, and conceive at the same time a temporal beginning, could not endure to speak of the world as being made; and clearly refuses to call things perpetual generated. Hence he uses the word motion, which signifies the same thing as generation, but does not require a temporal beginning. Indeed, that he does not refuse the term generated, when applied to things which have their being to infinity, is evident from the third book of the Physics, when speaking of the infinite, he says, “Since to be is multifariously predicated, as a day and a contest, in consequence of another and another being always generated, so likewise the infinite.” The beginning of the demonstration, therefore, is with both philosophers the same, leading from the mutable to the immutable. But afterwards, the one says that every thing which is moved, is moved by something; and the other, that whatever is generated, has its generation from a cause. And the one demonstrates that the first mover is immovable, immutable, and without parts; but the other, that the cause of that which is generated is true being. That however which is without parts, the whole of which is at once, and which possesses an invariable sameness of subsistence, is a thing of this kind; and which, indeed, the being perfectly immutable signifies.

Since, however, some are of opinion, that Aristotle asserts the first mover, whom he celebrates as intellect, eternity, and God, to be alone the final, but not the # producing cause of the world, and especially of the heavens, which he frequently says are perpetual, and on this account unbegotten, and that he moves as the desirable, it will be well to show that in this also he accords with his preceptor, who asserts divinity not only to be the final, but also the producing cause of the heavens, and of the whole world. Plato then, in the Timaeus, when he says, “Let us relate through what cause the composing artificer constituted generation and this universe; he was good, &c”, evidently asserts divinity to be both the final and producing cause of the world. Also when he says, “Placing intellect in soul, and soul in body, he fabricated the universe, that it might be the most beautiful, and the most excellent work according to nature;” and nearly through the whole dialogue, he celebrates the demiurgus, as looking to good. In the speech also of the demiurgus to the celestial gods, he clearly shows that the demiurgus himself proximately produces celestial natures, but sublunary through the celestial. For the first demiurgus says to the junior, or celestial gods, “Gods of gods, of whom I am the demiurgus and father.” And in the course of his speech, he adds, “Three genera of mortals remain: but these not being generated, the heaven will be imperfect;” now calling the world heaven, in the same manner as Aristotle. He proceeds, “But it is necessary that these should be generated, if the world is to be sufficiently perfect. These, however, being generated by me, and participating of life, will become equal to the gods. In order, therefore, that mortal natures may exist, and that this universe may be truly all, convert yourselves according to nature, to the fabrication of animals.” But the words, “These however being generated by me,” manifest that if they were generated by a cause which possesses an invariable sameness of subsistence, or as Aristotle would say, by an immovable cause, they would necessarily be perpetual. And that Aristotle indeed asserts, that God or the first mover is the final cause of the world, is doubted by no one. That he also admits him to be the producing cause appears to be sufficiently evident from his assert ing in the division of causes in the second book of the Physics, the producing came to be that whence the principle of motion is derived. Again, he says, “it is that whence the first principle of mutation or rest originates. Thus he who consults is a cause of this kind, and a father of his child; and in short the maker of that which is made.” What assertions, therefore, can more perspicuously manifest than these that the first mover is a producing cause? In the first book of his treatise On the Heaven, he clearly says, “that neither God nor nature make any thing in vain.” And in the same book he says, “that eternity derives its appellation from subsisting always, being immortal and divine; whence also being and life are imparted to other things, to some more accurately, and to others more obscurely.” But it is evident, that as all things partake of good through the final cause, so likewise they are and live through the demiurgic cause. In his first book too, On Generation and Corruption, he evinces that the first mover is a producing cause, when investigating the causes of perpetual generation, he thus writes: “But there being one cause whence we say the principle of motion is derived (and this as we have before observed is according to Aristotle a producing cause) and matter also being one cause, the former must be said to be a cause of this kind. For of this cause there is one such cause immoveable, through the whole of time, and another which is perpetually moved.” Aristotle, therefore, asserts, that the producing cause is twofold: the one immovable, which is the cause of all things; but the other perpetually moved (or the celestial orbs), which is the cause of sublunary natures. In the first book likewise of his Metaphysics, praising Anaxagoras, and prior to him Hermotimus, as not only assigning the material causes of the universe, but also beholding intellect as the producing and final cause, he thus writes: “He therefore who asserted, that as in animals, so also in nature, intellect is the cause both of the world, and of all order, will appear like one sober, when compared with those antients that spoke rashly.” Having observed, therefore, that Anaxagoras, and prior to him Hermotimus, mentioned a cause of this kind, he adds, “those therefore who entertained this opinion, together with establishing a principle of things, which is the cause of their subsisting in a beautiful manner, established also a principle which is the cause of motion to things.” Hence, he praises those who admitted intellect to be a final and producing cause; just as a little before he praised Anaxagoras, because asserting intellect to be the principle of motion, he preserved it impassive and unmingled.{2}

If someone, however, should enquire, why Aristotle does not so evidently assert God to be the producing, as he does that he is the final cause of the world, in answer to this, what was before said concerning a generated nature, must now be repeated. For since that which makes, makes that which is generated, and that which is generated, appears to co-introduce a temporal beginning of generation, on this account Aristotle refuses even to call perpetual bodies generated, though he frequently and clearly denominates the cause of them, a producing cause. And, perhaps, if it should be said, that the terms generated, and to make, are properly adapted to things in generation and corruption, which co-introduce a partial time, other appellations are to be used, in speaking of perpetual natures. And we may observe, indeed, that Aristotle does not refuse to call motion perpetual, though motion has its being in becoming to be, or in rising into existence; but he does not choose to assert of it perpetual generation; because that which is generated appears to be generated, not existing before, and again tends to corruption.

In the next place, it is requisite to observe, that though Aristotle with such apparent violence opposes Plato’s doctrine of ideas, yet he in reality accords with this doctrine. For that he was not an enemy to the dogma, that in the intellect of the fabricator of all things there are forms or ideas, which pre-subsist as paradigms, and as the productive principles of whatever has a perpetual subsistence in the universe, is evident from hence, that in the twelfth book of the Metaphysics, he asserts that there is a twofold order, one in the world, and another in the cause of the world, just as we say that there is one order in an army, and another in the commander of the army But where there is order there must necessarily be separation, and things which are orderly disposed. If any one, however, defines the order which is in the universe, this order cannot certainly accord with that which is in the intellect of the Demiurgus, and consequently the appellation of the one must be discordant with that of the other. Aristotle, therefore, not enduring those conceptions of ideas, which together with sensible appellations introduce definitions that comprehend in themselves a physical and material nature, refuses to call the causes of man and horse, man itself and horse itself, but is not averse to the first cause being called by purer names, such as good, essence, life, intellect, and energy. If then it should be said that these subsist in the divine intellect, but that they are not such as those which the sensible region contains, it may reasonably be contended that the same assertion may be made respecting man and horse, and every thing else of a similar kind. Aristotle, therefore, was in general averse to causes receiving the same appellations with their sensible effects; and this was the peculiarity of his philosophy, and the reason why he opposes with such apparent hostility the friends of ideas.

Thomas Taylor’s notes

{1} That Aristotle was designedly obscure in his acroamatic or more abstruse writings, is evident from the following extract from the Commentary of Simplicius on the Physics of Aristotle, fol. 2. i. e.
“The writings of Aristotle receiving a twofold division, into the exoteric, such as the historical, and those composed in the form of dialogue; and, in short, those which do not pay attention to extreme accuracy, and into the acroamatic, to which class the present treatise belongs — this being the case, in his acroamatic writings, he studies obscurity, through this deterring the more indolent, as if their very appearance evinced they were not written for them. Alexander, then, after the subversion of Persia, wrote to him as follows:
— Alexander wishing prosperity to Aristotle. You have not done right in publishing your acroamatic works: for in what shall we surpass others, if the doctrines in which we were instructed become common to all men? I indeed would rather excell others in the knowledge of the most excellent things than in power.
To this Aristotle returned the following answer:
— Aristotle to king Alexander, wishing prosperity. You wrote to me concerning my acroamatic works, thinking that they ought not to have been divulged. Know, therefore, that they are published and not published; for they can be understood by my auditors alone. Farewell”
Simplicius adds, that, according to “Plutarch, this letter of Alexander refers to the Metaphysics of Aristotle. Conformably to this, also, Simplicius in the Preface to his Commentary on the Categories, observes: i. e. Aristotle neither employed fables nor enigmas like some philosophers before him, but preferred obscurity to every other veil”.

{2} Simplicius informs us, that his preceptor, the celebrated Ammonius Hermeus, wrote a book to prove, that Aristotle considered God to be the producing cause of the world. From this work, which is unfortunately lost, some of the above observations of Simplicius are derived.

Vocabulary notes

# a god: a living entity; one congruent in (fore)thought; a discretional verbal style.
Perseus broad search:
Words containing the graphemic shape god in Greek;
Words in Greek to contain the lexeme god;
Select items: isotheos, isodaimon.
Items to compare: morph theo; thesis; of one mind, common sense; feel welcome to the Sense in common (in English), Sensuum alii sunt externi, alii interni; illi sunt quinque: visus, auditus, olfactus, gustus, tactus; hi duo: sensus communis, et phantasia sive imaginatio, ad quam pertinet memoria.

Ancient Greeks were of course aware that to build a house, it took land and workmanship. Their “gods” were titles or consciously reverberated myths, classic linguists to have picked up the title/inscription manner for style. Thomas Taylor mentions the discretional verbal style in the paragraph right after next. The Dissertation was published after Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, where the style is open, though Aristotelian influence present. The Age of Reason would follow the Aristotelian method closely, in considering theology with regard to terms of physics.

# awful: abiding by laws, as of physics, from English awe & ful, see more in Wiktionary.

# a cause: also a thing or sake by etymology, cf. Wiktionary; in Latin, motivation, pretext, situation or contention as well, Wiktionary; for legal and financial terms cf. sine qua non, Wikipedia. In theory making, the original or starting premise for reasoning, left by the ancients to be theory itself, in their guesswork about the universe (a self-subsistent, never-moving and never-changing premise that continues to exist invariably in no terms of magnitude); in myth making, a producing cause might be a creative premise, as for fabular development, cf. Perseus;
# suspended from its cause: not the same as the cause itself, but in logical proximity to the quality of the origin, source, or beginning.

# divine: learned as to be able to guide in text; cf. πρό φημί (profemi), to tell before, cf. ■→Wiktionary.

# dogma: a tenet, see more in ■→Wiktionary.

# felicity: happiness, cf. ■→Perseus.

# obscurity of diction: a discretional verbal style; see more in ■→Wiktionary, Latin, adjective, reference 5.

# profane: unfamiliar with, not conversant in, never having seen the text (access happened to be very limited, those times), etc. cf. Perseus.

# sense: exemplar, specimen, matter suitable to be presented to the senses; see more in ■→Wiktionary, noun, reference 5.

# supernatural theology: theory on comprehensive norms; cf. the Latin super in Wiktionary, and Perseus on the Greek υπο, also in Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

# surpassing: of a broader causal extent, cf. sur in Wiktionary, and the note above.

Notes for Emily Dickinson’s poetry

Fascicles and print, the poetic correlative with Webster 1828, Latin and Greek inspiration, an Aristotelian motif, Things perpetual — these are not in time, but in eternity. More

Poems
Life | Love | Nature | Time and Eternity

# universal: general purpose; see more in ■→Wiktionary.

# variegate: to allow multiple frames or forms; From Latin varie & agere, cf. Wycliffe Gloss, ■→Algat; cf. ■→Wiktionary.

# wisdom: judgment, opinion; see more in ■→Wiktionary.


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