Sam Ghandchiسام قندچي Futurism and Aristotle's Pluralism

Sam Ghandchi

آینده نگری و پلورالیسم ارسطو

P.S. 11/28/20: Aristotle: Philosophical or Political Secularism

P.S. 10/15/20: Contrariety, Contradiction, and a Huge Dilemma in the Realm of Iranian Politics

Related Papers: 1




Table of Contents

In Lieu of a Preface-Futurism and Pluralism


I. Aristotle’s Appraisal of His Predecessors

   Ia. Naturalist Philosophers

   Ib. Idealist Philosophers

II. Nature of the First Principles

III. Unity and Being

IV. The Role of Contrarieties

V. Aristotle’s Ideal Pluralism


{BW is The Basic Works of Aristotle, Richard McKeon Edition, Random House, NY, 1941}


In Lieu of a Preface-Futurism and Pluralism


More than twenty years ago I wrote two papers about monism and pluralism.  The importance of this discussion for me was because of futurism, because I saw that of the two main intellectual currents of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century, that had the future of humanity in its focus, the former, namely liberalism which had a pluralist thinking ended in expanding democracy whereas the latter, namely communism became a dictatorial ideology. Of course, there were communist currents such as Structuralists of France who were pluralists but most of the socialist and communist trends of the Nineteenth Century had a monist view of history, as I have thoroughly explained  in my paper on monism (1).


For the futurist intellectual current of the 21st Century, this issue has been and is of high significance so that they will not end up in dictatorship, this is why I saw the research about pluralism in Western philosophy to be of high value and extensively wrote about the history of pluralism in the Western thought (2) and continued my research about the topic.


Of course I need to note that it is the very economic and social conditions of seeing the state as the savior to free society from social and economic hardships, that the enforces the monist view, but the philosophical thought itself, in its turn, impacts the programs of political parties and groups and thus understanding the philosophical subject matter of monism and pluralism in itself, is also of high importance.


What I noticed was that in all these philosophical schools of the West, one of the most influential philosophers of the history of Western philosophy who had the main impact with regards to growth of pluralism in the Western thought had been Aristotle. This is why I did a research about the status of monism and pluralism in Aristotle's thought and its result is in the following paper which you see and I hope this to be a small contribution to show the importance of this discourse for the readers and particularly for those who care for futurist thinking.


Why the discourse of monism and pluralism is discussed with regards to the future?  When we look at the past, all decisions are ended and we see a totality of a solid whole which is observable by a monist viewpoint as Marxists like Plekhanov viewed world history.  Whereas future is simultaneously multiple futures and if the monist view of the past is extended to the future, the future will be in chains and will have to continue in a singular and concluded path and in a society where a powerful state has the control of all affairs of society, and when social institutions allow the state to have such a control, namely in a closed society, this means destruction of choice, and freedom of individuals will be curtailed by the ensuing dictatorship.  Even free societies like France during World War II lost their freedom for some time and fell under the grips of dictatorship.


In fact, the belief of followers of Heraclitus in the simultaneity of two contradictory characteristics in one thing which is masterfully rejected by Aristotle was revived centuries later in the Nineteenth Century.  Aristotle writes, "People look for a unifying formula, between potency and complete reality. But...the proximate matter and the form are one and the same thing, the one potentially, and the other actually. Therefore, it is like asking what in general is the cause of unity, and of a thing’s being one; for each thing is a unity, and the potential and the actual are somehow one. Therefore, there is no other cause here unless there is something which caused the movement from potency into actuality. And all things which have no matter are without qualification essentially unities [Metaphysics, Book VIII, 1045b 15-25, p. 820]."


Basically all the faults of the theory of contradictions instead of contrarieties, that fascism and communism propagated in the Nineteenth Century, had been noted by Aristotle over two thousand years ago in rejection of Heraclitus, when he writes "...Contradiction admits of no intermediate,  while contraries admit of one, clearly contradiction and contrariety are not the same  [Ibid., Book X, 1055b 1-4, p. 842]. [My emphasis. -S.G.].”  The same way theory of contradictions is proposed in nineteenth century and the discourse of contrarieties is forgotten.  In contrast, in Aristotle's view "unity and plurality are the starting-points of all contraries [Ibid., Book IV, 1004b 26-35 & 1005a 1-5, p. 735]." Aristotle by postulating the dichotomy of monism and pluralism separates his philosophy from monism.  In other words Aristotle accepts both contrarieties and contradictions and his theory of mean is founded on this viewpoint.


The general picture of Aristotle’s metaphysics is a hierarchy of concepts that refers to concrete things and in the order of explanation, the universals are first and particulars are last, whereas in the order of sensation, the particulars come first and universals are the last. In the order of sensation, the most fundamental concept is substance which is followed by the concepts of unity (or being) and first principles. In the order of explanation, it is the opposite and first principles are the primary concepts followed by unity (or being) and substance. Plurality has primacy in the world as it is, and unity has primacy in our ideas and explanations. In other words, unity is the farthest from the perceptive reality and may be even subjective, and plurality is the closest to the perceptive reality and is the state of objective reality.


Aristotle’s realism on one side and his analysis of metaphysical concepts on the other makes his pluralism a very intriguing outlook. His pluralistic outlook enables him to start with a great number of facts and arrive at the most concrete conclusions. Systematizing ‘the many’ is his method which proved much more fruitful that starting with the sacred *One*.


Later on in the evolution of this outlook, at the end of Middle Ages, by the most notable philosopher of that period, William of Ockhams (c. 1280-1347), who was excommunicated from the Franciscan Order and the Church, Ockham's Razor was proposed, as expressed in the following way: "It is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer," and great philosophers of the Twentieth Century such as Karl Popper have explained its value in our times.  Ockham's Razor is a useful logical method in Aristotle's pluralistic method, using probability theory and Ockham's Razor, one can use as many elements as *needed* for any specific analysis.  Thus, instead of apriori reduction of the multiplicity to a singularity, one will have a tool to deal with multitude.  In other words, the huge task of using a multiplicity of factors for analysis would no longer cause a despairing refuge in monism.


Another point that I need to note is that as I have mentioned in my paper on monism, for the monist philosophies of the Nineteenth Century, Lamarckian variations of evolutionary theory and even some of Darwin's claims about the role of individual performance and initiatives did not change the nineteenth century collectivist appraisal of Darwin's discovery.  It was thought that Darwin's theory had proved monism and unity of nature through contradictions and thus dynamic monism or dialectics could pronounce itself as the result of science and this was another factor for the success of monism in the progressive viewpoints of that era.


Hoping for a democratic and secular futurist republic in Iran,


Sam Ghandchi

May 2, 2006

*English edition was originally written in 1984. With this new edition, a Persian translation is also added. SG




“Unity and Plurality are the starting-points of all contraries [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book IV, 1005a 4-5, BW, P.735] ."


Monism, in a broad sense, is an outlook which alleges to infer all phenomena or relations in the world from one single principle. This principle may assume various forms such as matter, mind, God, or One. In other words, all the sundry things in the world are regarded as manifestations of a unifying whole. In contrast, pluralism avows diversity of principles and does not start from a preconceived unity. It does not deny ‘wholes’ but ‘wholes’ are not prior to individual things. Pluralism upholds multiplicity of reality and the individual uniqueness of various entities while scrutinizing their common features and their relations. Both monism and pluralism have had varied forms throughout the history of philosophy, but the above description may serve as a generalization of these two metaphysical outlooks. The controversy between monism and pluralism and whether the distinction is fundamental or not is as old as philosophy itself. Although personally I consider partiality towards either side to be fundamental in any philosophy (3), the purpose of this paper is not to argue for my position.


Aristotle is mostly considered to be a pluralist. This paper focuses on how he posits pluralism and whether or not he deems the problem of monism and pluralism as fundamental. Moreover, if the problem of monism and pluralism is not fundamental in his philosophy, I would like to establish its status in the scheme of Aristotle’s metaphysics. Some Aristotle scholars like Joseph Owens believe that “ is inadequate to consider the Platonic ‘one and many’ as the fundamental problem of Aristotle...this holds only within sensible species [Owens, Joseph, The Doctrine of being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics, 3rd ed, Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto, Canada, 1978, P.459]." Nonetheless, Owens thinks that Aristotle’s outlook is pluralistic; he writes: “unlike Parmenides, and to a lesser degree Plato, he does not commence by taking a ‘one’ and asking how it can be many. He is taking ‘many’ and asking how it can be one. [Ibid., P.460].” Hopefully, by the end of this paper, the plausibility of the foregoing appraisals ‘- of Aristotle’s position can be determined.


In this commentary, I will first examine Aristotle’s appraisal of his predecessors’ views on pluralism/monism. This should reveal which features in Aristotle’s thought are unique and which are shared with other shades of monism and pluralism. Then, the next four parts are devoted to a discussion of Aristotle’s own thoughts on the subject.



I. Aristotle’s Appraisal of his Predecessors


Appraising the works of his predecessors is characteristic of Aristotle’s method in every philosophical inquiry. He tries to examine their views to determine their achievements as well as their shortcomings. He uses this method in his Metaphysics in order to draw the reader’s attention to the crucial intricacies of his predecessors’ views. Before explicating Aristotle’s historical analysis of the controversy between monism and pluralism, I would like to emphasize two metaphysical beliefs that underlie his appraisals:


1) Aristotle believes only in the existence of objective reality. He does not believe in the existence of subjective ideas. He explicitly proclaims this view in Book IV of Metaphysics: “...the view that neither the sensible qualities nor the sensations would exist is doubtless true (for they are affections of the perceiver) [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book IV, 1010b 32033, BW, P.747].” This notion of existence is further elaborated at the end of Book XIII where he writes: “...numbers and spatial magnitudes cannot exist apart from things...he who first supposed that the Forms exist and that the Forms are numbers and that the objects of mathematics exist, naturally separated the two” [Ibid., Book XIII, 1085b 35 & 1086a 1214, P. 909]. This metaphysical belief separates Aristotle from idealists like Pythagoreans and Plato and, insofar as his conviction about existence is concerned, aligns him on the side of the naturalist philosophers.


2) Aristotle’s dissatisfaction with monism and his partiality towards pluralism is the second metaphysical belief underlying his historical analysis. Aristotle’s exact position on this subject should become evident later in this paper. Nonetheless, his partiality towards pluralism can be perceived in his historical appraisal as well. He does not view all naturalist philosophers the same. He has a strong repugnance for Heraclitus, whose monism is more exacting to unravel. Next is his opposition to Parmenides. And finally, is his inclination toward Empedocles. Actually, the first one (Heraclitus) represented dynamic monism (4), the second one propounded static monism (5), and the third expounded pluralism (6) among the pre-Socratics. Thus, Aristotle’s criticism of the first two is to discard their principles, whereas his criticism of Empedocles tends to correct and develop his principles.


Keeping the above two positions in mind, i.e. Aristotle’s partiality towards realism and pluralism, we can fathom the specifics of his historical analysis more easily.



Ia. Naturalist Philosophers


In Metaphysics, Book I, Aristotle explicates the ideas about the first cause in Thales (water), Anaximenes (air), Heraclitus (fire), and Empedocles (four elements). However, his main arguments are directed at the three philosophers of the naturalistic tradition who represent static monism, dynamic monism, and pluralism, i.e. Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Empedocles. It is probably difficult to regard Parmenides as a naturalist, however, his doctrine is discussed to demonstrate the extreme consequences of monism. Aristotle’s discussion of Parmenides is short -- probably because his thoughts did not have much influence among the Greek philosophers of Aristotle’s time. Aristotle actually contrasts Parmenides’ doctrine with that of the other extreme of the monistic tradition, the Heracliteans, (who believed in absolute change) in order to point out how they arrive at the same results (though in a different form) as the Parmenidean doctrines of immutability.  Thus, Parmenides is brought up to show the absurdities of his apparent opponents, the Heracliteans, who, at that time, did have much influence among Greek philosophers.


Chronologically, the Parmenidean tradition of static monism was propounded by Xenophanes and Melissus prior to Parmenides. Aristotle in his investigation of first causes in Book I refers to them:

"Now these thinkers, as we said, must be neglected for the purposes of the present inquiry -- two of them entirely, as being a little too naive, viz. Xenophanes and Melissus; but Parmenides seems in places to speak with more insight. For, claiming that, besides the existent, nothing non-existent exists, he thinks that of necessity one thing exists, viz, the existent and nothing else... [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book I, 986b 25-30, BW, p. 699]."

In fact, Aristotle is against both Parmenidean monism and its staticism. He writes: “These thinkers say the universe is unchangeable [Ibid., 17, p. 699].”  Parmenides thought that words are expressions of reality and since they do not change, neither does the reality. Aristotle just makes an allusion to Parmenides’ problem saying: “Parmenides seems to fasten on that which is one in definition... [Ibid., 1819, p. 699].  In other words, Parmenides has confused definitions with reality and this is the source of his monism and staticism. (The problem about the implications of definitions is discussed when I examine Aristotle’s criticism of Socrates and Plato). All that Aristotle mentions with respect to Parmenides, is to refresh the memory of his readers about Parmenides’ absurdities in order to refute the Heracliteans. He tries to show that the latter succumb to the same absurdities as their opponents,  the Parmenideans.


Aristotle introduces the second type of monism as the doctrine of  “...some of the natural philosophers... [who] ...assume being to be one and yet generate it out of the one as out of matter... [they] add change, since they generate the universe [Ibid., 14-17. p. 699].”  Heraclitus is the prominent figure of this dynamic monism and Aristotle reveals the implications of this type of monism. He mentions:

"...the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject and in the same respect; we must presuppose, to guard against dialectical objections, any further qualifications which might be added. the most certain of all is impossible for anyone to believe the same thing to be and not to be, as some think Heraclitus says [Ibid., Book IV, lOO5b 18-24, p. 736-7]."

Moreover, he explains the absurdities that ensue from believing solely in change in the world and neglecting rest. He argues that:

"...because they saw that all this world of nature is in movement and that about that which changes no true statement can be made, they said that of course, regarding that which everywhere in every respect is changing, nothing could be affirmed. It was this belief that blossomed into the most extreme of the views..., that of the professed Heracliteans, such as was held by Cratylus, who finally did not think it right to say anything but only moved his finger, and criticized Heraclitus for saying that it is impossible to step twice into the same river; for he thought one could not do it even once."


But we shall say in answer to this argument also, that while there is some justification for their thinking that the changing, when it is changing does not exist, yet it is after all disputable; for that which is losing a quality has something of that which is being lost, and of that which is coming to be, something must already be [Ibid., lOlOa 6-18, p. 745-6].’’

Aristotle, in contrast to both Parmenides and Heraclitus, indicates that “...those who say all things are at rest are not right, nor are those who say all things are in movement.” Thus, he resolves the problem by positing both motion and rest in the world. Unfortunately, he is not consistent in this position; because on the one hand he believes that some things can either be in motion or at rest; but on the other hand, he does not exclude the possibility of other things being *always* in motion or at rest. In fact, he writes: " is not the case that all things are at rest or in motion sometimes and nothing for ever; for there is something which always moves the things that are in motion, and the first mover is itself unmoved [Ibid., 29-32, p. 751]."   I think this position is perplexing; on one hand, the first mover cannot be that ‘something’ which moves forever, because if it moves forever and ‘always moves the things that are in motion’, then why should the moving things ever come to rest while having their source of movement in eternal motion. On the other hand, if the first mover is not that ‘something’ which moves forever, then it cannot be unmoved unless it is in eternal rest, but this is contrary to the nature of the unmoved mover which, being the first mover, should have motion in common with all moving objects. In my opinion, to make Aristotle’s view consistent, one must posit ‘motion and rest’ as the principle of all things and discard eternal motion for any “unmoved mover.” Either we have to assume *every* thing capable of motion and rest, or at some point we will fall to Parmenidean or Heraclitean extremes. I think Aristotle did not recognize the heart of the problem and became entangled in the same difficulty at the level of the “unmoved mover,” however, I will not pursue this subject any further in this paper.


Aristotle’s appraisal of the reasons for the Heraclitean absurdity of simultaneity of being and non-being in one thing is extremely scientific. In Book IV, he explains two causes that have given rise to this belief. The first one is the confusion between potentiality and actuality. “For the same thing can be potentially at the same time two contraries, but it cannot actually [Ibid., lOO9a 3436, p. 744].” Thus, confusing the potentiality of ‘being’ and ‘non-being’ in a thing with their simultaneous actuality in it, led to the Heracliteans’ belief in the latter. The second cause of believing in this absurdity is the confusion between sensation and knowledge. For example, something can seem to be sweet and bitter at the same time, because two persons can have two opposite sensations about it. Nonetheless, the knowledge of the truth is independent of individual sensations and confusing knowledge with sensations is the source of such ludicrous beliefs that “the same object” is simultaneously “so and not so [Ibid., lOlOb 19, p.747].”


Aristotle criticizes Heraclitus on both grounds, i.e. believing in (1) absolute motion in the world and (2) the simultaneity of ‘to be’ and ‘not to be’, in order to show that the consequences of this dynamic monism are the same as Parmenidean static monism. In fact, he says:

"Indeed, those who say that things at the same time are and are not, should in consequence say that all things are at rest rather than that they are in movement; for there is nothing into which they can change, since all attributes belong already to all subjects [Ibid., IO1Oa 35-40, p. 746]."

Aristotle’s examination of the views of the pluralist Empedocles is an attempt to correct him. Reviewing Empedocles’ theory of basic elements, he writes: contrast with his predecessors, was the first...not positing one source of movement, but different and contrary sources. Again, he was the first to speak of four material elements; yet he does not use four, but treats them as two only; he treats fire by itself, and its opposites--earth, air, and water -- as one kind of thing [Ibid., Book I, 985a 30-34, p. 697]."

Aristotle also accepted four elements, but contrary to Empedocles, Aristotle recognized change [Ibid., 989a 2330, p. 7O4]. Moreover, Aristotle considered the four elements as two sets of contraries, rather than one, in his Physics. Therefore, Aristotle’s corrections of Empedocles serve to strengthen the latter’s pluralism. He describes Empedocles’ model of relation between the elements and things as follows:

"...he [ Empedocles] makes love segregate things and strife aggregate them. For whenever the universe is dissolved into its elements by strife, fire is aggregated into one, and so is each of the other elements; but whenever again under the influence of love they come together into one, the parts must again be segregated out of each element [Ibid., 989a 23-30, p. 7O4]."

High esteem pervades Aristotle’s criticism of Empedocles’ theory. He tries to show how Empedocles lapses into monism at some point and why. It seems that Empedocles applied his ‘love and strife’ theory only to describe God or the One, rather than the many, and this is where he approached monism. Aristotle explains:

"Even the man whom one might suppose to speak most consistently -- Empedocles -- even he has made the same mistake; for he maintains that strife is a principle that causes destruction, but even strife would seem no less to produce everything, except the One; for all things except God proceed by strife [Ibid., Book III, l000a 25-28, p. 726]."

Although he recognizes the above inconsistency in Empedocles, he praises Empedocles for his consistency in dealing with the elements. “So far at least he [Empedocles] alone speaks consistently; for he does not make some things perishable and others imperishable but makes all perishable except the elements [Ibid., l000b 17-20, p.727]."  Thus, Empedocles’ theory of ‘love and strife,’ if generalized to encompass everything, rather than the ‘One,’ and if the four elements are considered as two pairs of contraries, and supplemented by the recognizing qualitative changes in things, then it would approach Aristotle’s own ideal theory of causality. Not only this, but Aristotle also finds Empedocles to be the best spokesperson for his own theory of final causes. He writes that “...if we said that Empedocles in a sense both mentions, and is the first to mention, the bad and the good as principles, we should perhaps be right, since the cause of all goods is the good itself [Ibid., Book I, 985a 7-9, p. 696]."


It may seem strange that Aristotle did not feel the same affinity for another group of pluralist naturalist philosophers, Leucippus and Democritus, the atomists. I think this was due to their theory appearing like an idealist theory at the time. The atoms of Democritus were completely different from what we understand of atoms today. They were ghost-like imaginary objects, and as such, were totally irreconcilable with Aristotle’s realism. Furthermore, their postulation of infinite elements, as I will show later, was not acceptable by Aristotle. He writes that Leucippus and Democritus say:

"That the full and empty are the elements, calling the one being and the other non-being -- the full and solid being being, the empty non-being (whence they say being no more is than non-being, because the solid no more is than the empty); and they make these the material causes of things. And as those who make the underlying substance one generate all other things by its modifications...these philosophers say the differences in the elements are the causes of all other qualities. These differences they say are three...shape and order and position...The question of movement -- whence or how it belongs to things -- these thinkers, like others, lazily neglected [Ibid., 985b 4-20, p. 697]."

The above shows that in Aristotle’s eyes, the atomists were just presenting geometric differences as the basis of diversity in the world and in this respect, they resembled idealists and monists. The atomists’ belief in existence of non-being (void) was already refuted by Aristotle. Therefore, atomism could not be accepted by Aristotle, especially due to his realism.


In short, Aristotle’s appraisal of the naturalist philosophers posits the following convictions for the development of his own ideas:

1. Existence is different from non-existence and it is a self-contradictory confusion to think that ‘to be’ and ‘not to be’ can be simultaneous in any one thing in the same respect. In order to avoid confusion on this problem, we should distinguish between potentiality and actuality, as well as knowledge and sensation.

2. Elements are real and finite rather than imaginary and infinite (e.g. the elements of the atomists). The elements are two pairs of contraries -- fire, earth, air, and water. Things can undergo qualitative change in relation to their elements.

3. Final causes also should be considered among the first principles and all things are for individual ends, not for the sake of ‘the One’.

4. Both rest and motion are true things in the world of Nature.

5. Monism, whether static or dynamic, is inconsistent with reality. Atomism is not pluralism and is, in a sense, a geometric monism. Consistent pluralism should be realistic, include contraries, posit motion and rest, and finally, must take all four causes into account for its principles.


Ib. Idealist Philosophers


Aristotle’s appraisal of the idealists starts with the Pythagoreans who think “the whole heaven is...numbers [Ibid., 986a  20-21. p. 698]." He mentions two schools of Pythagoreans: one believing in one contrariety (odd and even) as the principle [Ibid.], and the other positing ten contrarieties (limited and unlimited, odd and even, one and plurality, right and left, male and female, resting and moving, straight and curved, light and darkness, good and bad, square and oblong) as the principles [Ibid., 986a 23-28, p.698]. He continues that “from both of these schools...we can learn...that the contraries are the principles of things [Ibid., 986b 3-4, p. 699].” Aristotle does not criticize the Pythagoreans for assuming contraries as principles, but because they are unable to explain “how there can be movement” [Ibid., 990a 9,  p. 705]. That is because they give primacy to the existence of numbers rather than the existing things. He emphasizes that for the Pythagoreans “infinity itself and unity itself were the substance of things” rather than the “attribute of certain things [Ibid., 987a 16-19,  p. 700].” Thus, Aristotle learns from the Pythagoreans to posit the first principles in the form of contrarieties and at the same time discards their idealistic appraisal of numbers as existing prior to the existing things.


Aristotle criticizes Anaxagoras along the same line-- expressing that for Anaxagoras everything is mixed except reason. Aristotle thinks that this position gives rise to the belief in One as the simple and unmixed (the mind) and the Other (everything else) [Ibid., 989b 15-20,  p. 705]. Thus, the Other is generated from the One and only the One has ultimate existence. As far as this doctrine making sense, its One, is the same as Plato’s Forms and One, being completely imaginary and having nothing to do with the things as we know them. Aristotle does not spend much time on this theory and proceeds straight to Plato, who shared and developed the views of Pythagoreans and Anaxagoras.


The criticism of Plato starts with a mention of Socrates’ line of thought. Aristotle writes: “Socrates...neglecting the world of nature as a whole...fixed thought for the first time on definitions; Plato accepted his teaching... [Ibid., 987b 1-4, p.700-1].”  Aristotle does not disagree with studying definitions (formal causes), but actually is against neglecting nature. He opposes reducing all four causes to the formal cause and shows how Plato’s use of two causes (i.e. material and formal) is ultimately reduced to only one cause (formal) and that reduction has given rise to idealistic monism in Plato. Aristotle gives the following account of Plato:

"Pythagoreans say that things exist by ‘imitation’ of numbers, and Plato says they exist by participation, changing the name. But what the participation or the imitation of the Forms could be they left an open question [Ibid., ll-14, p.7O1]."


"...he [Plato] agreed with the Pythagoreans in saying that the One is substance and not a predicate of something else; and in saying that the Numbers are the causes of the reality of other things he agreed with them; but positing a dyad and constructing the infinite out of great and small, instead of treating the infinite as one, is peculiar to him; and so is his view that the Numbers exist apart from sensible things, while they say that the things themselves are Numbers, and do not place the objects of mathematics between Forms and sensible things [Ibid., 24-29, p.7O1]."


"[Plato's] Forms are the causes of the essences of all other things and the One is the cause of the essence of the Forms [Ibid., 988a 9-11, p.7O2]... [Plato]  used only two causes that of the essence and the material cause [Ibid., 7-9, p.7O2]."

The above excerpts show that Aristotle’s criticism of Plato is on three grounds. The first is Plato’s view of separate existence for Forms and Numbers apart from concrete things. The second is Plato’s monism which is supplemented with a dyad (continuing influence of his first master, Heraclitus); nonetheless, this tripartite metaphysics does not differ much from other kinds of monism, because the One is the cause of everything via the Forms. The third ground is Plato’s consideration of only two causes (and mostly the formal cause) rather than all four causes.


Aristotle demonstrates in his criticism of Plato, that even Platonists’ treatment of the One as a concept or a definition reveals that the word *one* is used in different senses. This point serves as a guideline for Aristotle’s own appraisal of the different meanings of the word *one*, as discussed later in this paper. Aristotle writes:

"Platonists speak as if the One were homogeneous like fire or water; if this is so, the numbers will not be substances. Evidently, if there is a One-itself, and this is a first principle, ‘One’ is being used in more than one sense; for otherwise the theory is impossible [Ibid., 992a 7-10, p.7O9]."

In short, Aristotle’s appraisal of the idealist philosophers posits the following ideas in his metaphysics:

1. The primary existence should not be given to numbers, reason, or forms; but only the existing things are primary.

2. Considering the One itself and Infinity itself as substance, is contrary to reality.

3. 'One' has different senses and studying definitions can help to clarify some of the confusions of monism.

4. Positing principles as contrary pairs is appropriate if the causes are not limited to formal causes and all four causes are considered.

5. Tripartite Platonic metaphysics does not differ much from the other kinds of monism and is subject to the same objections.



Aristotle’s appraisal of his predecessors on the question of monism and pluralism led to the development of his own positions. Actually, from the appraisal of his predecessors, he focuses on the following three inquiries, addressed in the next three sections of this paper respectively, to formulate his own metaphysical outlook:

1. What are the first principles and what is their nature?

2. How both unity and being subsist?

3. What is the role of contrarieties?


II. Nature of the First Principles


Aristotle just paraphrases public opinion as the reason for believing in first principles. He writes that “...all men suppose what is called wisdom to deal with the first causes and the principles of things [Ibid., 981b 27-28, p.691].” Before trying to unravel the nature of first principles, we should review what we understand of principles. Aristotle speaks of “principle and cause” as synonymous words “implied in one another [Ibid., Book IV, 1003b 23, p.733].” Therefore, what is meant by causes must be determined prior to asking about original causes.

"We have to acquire knowledge of the original causes (for we say we know each thing only when we think we recognize its first cause), and causes are spoken of in four senses. In one of these we mean the substance, i.e. the essence (for the ‘why’ is reducible finally to the definition, and the ultimate ‘why’ is a cause and principle); in another the matter or substratum, in a third the source of the change, and in a fourth the cause opposed to this, the purpose and the good  (for this is the end of all generation and change) [Ibid., Book I, 983a 24-32, p.693]."

Thus, the original causes can be found as material, formal, efficient, and final causes. As we saw in the previous part, natural philosophers took original causes as mostly material causes and idealist philosophers as mostly formal causes. Today, if searching for original causes, we essentially look for efficient causes. Aristotle tries to consider all four and even emphasizes “that principles can not be the same [Ibid., Book III, 1000b 23-24, p.727]." because some things are perishable and some are not. Nevertheless, he mostly gives priority to final causes when searching for original causes. During Middle Ages, the Scholastics mostly reduced efficient causes to final causes. Spinoza was among the first to turn it around the other way, and reduced final causes to efficient causes, thus overcoming the Aristotelian repugnance of accepting the existence of ‘infinity.’ For a detailed explanation, please refer to my paper entitled "Spinoza's Refutation of Teleology" (7). Here I would just like to point out Aristotle’s inclination towards final causes. He writes:

"..the science of the end and of the good is of the nature of Wisdom (for the other things are for the sake of the end) [Ibid., Book I, 996b 12-13, p.718]."

Why does Aristotle retire in a final or end cause and not an infinity of efficient causes? The reason lies in his appraisal of the concept of infinity, which according to him cannot exist. This is exactly what Spinoza wrestles with in his Ethics in order to dissolve the need for final causes. Aristotle’s aversion to infinite regress is characteristic of most of the Aristotelian Corpus. The following passages may help to better illustrate his position:

"Evidently there is a first principle, and the causes of the things are neither an infinite series nor infinitely various in kind [Ibid., 994a 1-2, p.713]. [There is an impossibility of infinite regress, and] [Ibid., chapter 2] end is a limit [Ibid., 994b 16, p.714]. ...nothing infinite can exist; and if it could, at least the notion of infinity is not infinite [Ibid., 27-28, p.715]. But...if the kinds of causes had been infinite in number, then also knowledge would have been impossible [Ibid., 29-30, p.715]."

I do not find Aristotle’s arguments convincing, because if infinity is so difficult for knowledge to seize, defining the end (i.e. the finite), must prove even harder to achieve. I am in total agreement with Spinoza that final causes are not actually the objective limits, but are just expressions of human wishes, ignorance, assigned to external reality, to free us from the difficulty of the search itself. I will not pursue this inquiry any further in this paper, and have previously discussed this topic and Spinoza's refutation of final causes in "Sufism and Fatalism" (8), but as demonstrated in Part I of this paper, this issue is the main reason for Aristotle’s dislike of atomism. To summarize, for Aristotle, the first principles are understood as material, formal, efficient, and final causes, and among them, the final causes are the most prominent as first principles. With this understanding, let's now return to our original inquiry of this section and see what Aristotle thought of the *nature* of first principles.




As already discussed, for Aristotle, Wisdom deals with first causes [Ibid., 981b 27-28, p.691]. Thus, if we know the nature of Wisdom, we also know the nature of first causes. Aristotle writes “...that which is in the highest sense, object of knowledge, the science of substance, must be of the nature of Wisdom [Ibid., 996b 13-15, p. 718].” His reason evolves simply from common sense noting that “...he who recognizes what a thing is...knows more fully than...he who knows its quantity or quality...[Ibid., 15-8, p. 718].” In other words, the claim is prima facie from what is entailed in the definitions of "substance" and "Wisdom". Although the nature of substance is the same as the nature of first principles, but substance is not the same as principle. In the hierarchy of Aristotle’s metaphysics, principles are closer to universals whereas substances are closer to the individuals. The nature of both of them being a complex of matter and form, as potentiality and actuality, and thus neither one is completely universal or particular. I would draw the Aristotelian hierarchy in the following way. I should also *emphasize* that this hierarchy for Aristotle is *not* understood like the hierarchy of genera and species, because in this hierarchy, the noted concepts are compresent and there are no such strata in actuality (or reality).



Particulars as Lower Limits


(1) Substance


(2) Unity and Being


(3) Principle; Cause; Element


Universals as Upper Limits


I know that other pictures can also be offered, but I think the above is more consistent with most of Aristotle's Metaphysics. Below, I will attempt to bring my arguments for the above interpretation of Aristotle's metaphysics. Aristotle writes:

"Since the term ‘unity’ is used like the term ‘being,’ and the substance of that which is one is one, and the things whose substance is numerically one are numerically one, evidently neither unity nor being can be the substance of things, just as being an element or principle cannot be the substance, but we ask what, then, the principle is, that we may reduce the thing to something more knowable. Now of these concepts ‘being’ and ‘unity’ are more substantial that ‘principle’ or ‘element’ or ‘cause’, but not even the former are substance, since in general nothing that is common is substance; for substance does not belong to anything but to itself and to that which has it, of which it is the substance. Further, that which is one cannot be in many places at the same time; so that clearly no universal exists apart from its individuals [Ibid., Book VII, 1040b 17-28, P. 809]."

I will leave the discussion of unity and being for the next part. But, it is evident from the above excerpt corresponds to the diagram I offered of the Aristotelian hierarchy. The first level, substance, is the closest to the individuals and the farthest from universals whereas the third level is the farthest from the individuals and the closest to the universals; nevertheless, different strata, such as 'substance', 'being', 'principle', or 'particular' and 'universal', do not exist apart form the concrete things, in my interpretation of Aristotle’s metaphysics. In light of this elucidation, it is easy to apprehend why he states that  “ substance can consist of universals...[Ibid., 1O 15-16, p. 806]” or that  “...the objects of mathematics are not separable from sensible things and they are not the first principles [Ibid., Book XIV, 1093b 2729, p. 926]” because neither universals nor numbers can exist separate from particulars (concrete things) in the Aristotelian conceptual  hierarchy, and also they are in a higher rank relative to the first principles, and in lower rank relative to substance. He better explains the notion of substance in the following:

"that which is spoken of as form or substance is not produced, but the concrete thing which gets its name from this is produced, and that in everything which is generated matter is present, and one part of the thing is matter and the other is form [Ibid., Book VII, 1033b 17-20, p. 794]."


"...substance is of two kinds, the concrete thing and the formula...there is neither definition of nor demonstration about sensible individual substances, because they have matter whose nature is such that they are capable both of being and not being [Ibid., 1039b 20-30, p. 807]."

Thus, substances potentially can be or not be, but once actualized they are a complex of form and matter. Substances and principles are not universals because that would mean that there is something present in them and that is contrary to their nature [Ibid., Chapter 13, p. 804-6]. Nevertheless:

"...if they [principles] are not universals but of the nature of individuals, they will not be knowable; for the knowledge of anything is universal. Therefore if there is to be knowledge of the principles there must be other principles prior to them namely those that are universally predicated of them [Ibid., Book III, 1003a 12-17, p. 731]."

The above dilemma is solved if we assume the proposed table, i.e. substance and principles as concepts that are the closest and farthest to particulars respectively, or farthest and closest to universals respectively. I think actually Aristotle solves the problem in this manner when he writes:

"The statement that all knowledge is universal, so that the principles of things must also be universal and not separate substances, presents indeed, of all the points we have mentioned, the greatest difficulty, but yet the statement is in a sense true, although in a sense it is not. For knowledge, like the verb ‘to know,’ means two things, of which one is potential and one actual. The potency, being, as matter, universal and indefinite, deals with the universal and indefinite; but the actuality, being definite, deals with a definite object -- being a ‘this’, it deals with a ‘this’ [Ibid., Book XIII, 1087a 10-20, p. 911]."



In short, the above suffices to conclude that for Aristotle:

1. The First principles are of four kinds: material, formal, efficient, and final.

2. Final causes deserve the most to be considered as the first principles.

3. The nature of first principles is the same as the substances, i.e. a complex of form and matter.

4. Substance is potentially nearer to particulars whereas principle is potentially nearer to universals; nevertheless, in actuality both substances and the first principles coincide with concrete things.

5. Concrete things are prior in reality, or in the order of sensation, both to ‘substances’ and to the ‘first principles.’


III. Unity and Being


According to Aristotle, being and unity are synonymous, predicated from substance. He demonstrates this position by explaining the usage of the words 'one' and 'existent'. For example, “...‘one man’ and ‘man’ are the same thing, and so are ‘existent man’ and ‘man’...[Ibid., Book IV, 1003b 27, p. 733].” He continues: “...being and unity are the same and one thing in the sense that they are implied in one another as principle and cause are ...[Ibid., 22-25, p. 733]." Later Aristotelian Scholastics came up with transcendentia with a definitive list of ens, unum, bonum, verum, res, and aliquid, thought to be related to Supreme Good and True Light, which they thought could not be subsumed under the Aristotelian categories. Even a philosopher of Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant, thought whatever is beyond possible experience is transcendent, and hence unknowable.  Nonetheless, as far as Aristotle himself is concerned, he sees the synonymy of unity and being as self-evident, and does not elaborate much on this point.


Aristotle's main question is to investigate the relationship between these two synonymous concepts, unity and being, on one side, and the concept of substance on the other. He writes:

"The inquiry that is both the hardest of all and the most necessary for knowledge of the truth is whether being and unity are the substances of things and whether each of them, without being anything else, is being or unity respectively, or we must inquire what being and unity are, with the implication that they have some other underlying nature. For some people think they are of the former, others think they are of the latter character. Plato and the Pythagoreans thought being and unity are nothing else, but this was their nature, their essence being just unity and being. But the natural philosophers take a different line, e.g. Empedocles -- as though reducing it to something more intelligible -- says what unity is; for he would seem to say it is love: at least, this is for all things the cause of their being one. Others say this unity and being, of which things consist and have been made, is fire, and others say it is air. A similar view is expressed by those who make the elements more than one; for those also must say that unity and being are precisely all the things which they say are principles [Ibid., Book III, lOOla 3-18, p. 727]."

Aristotle does not agree with the Pythagoreans and Platonists who think of unity and being as separate substances. He criticizes them that:

" all cases the number is a number of particular things and the one is one something, and its substance is not just to be one, the same must be true of substances also; for it is true of all cases alike [Ibid., Book X, 1054a 5-10, p. 839]."


"...if there is to be a being -- itself and a unity -- itself, there is much difficulty in seeing how there will be anything else besides these -- I mean, how things will be more than one in number. For what is different from being does not exist, so that it necessarily follows, according to the arguments of Parmenides, that all things that are are one and this is being [Ibid., Book III, lOOla 27-35, p. 728]."

Despite refuting the idealists, Aristotle does not completely side with the naturalists either. Natural philosophers, whether monists or pluralists, look into elements for the source of unity and being. Aristotle, on the other hand, regards ‘unity’ and ‘being’ as more primitive concepts than ‘elements’ or ‘principles’ and, similar to the scheme introduced in the previous section, he considers unity and being as concepts closer to substance than to elements or principles. For him, even “nature is only one particular genus of being...[Ibid., Book IV, 1005a 34-35, p. 736]” thus, being is even prior to nature. He tries to explicate the problem in the following way:

"It is not possible that either unity or being should be a single genus of things; for the differentiae of any genus must each of them both have being and be one, but is not possible for the genus taken apart from its species (any more than for the species of the genus) to be predicated of its proper differentiae; so that if unity or being is a genus, no differentiae will either have being or be one. But if unity and being are not genera, neither will they be principles, if the genera are the principles [Ibid., Book III, 998b 2128, p. 723]."


"If then, no universal can be a substance, as has been said in our discussion of substance, and if being itself cannot be a substance in the sense of a one apart of the many (for it is common to the many), but is only a predicate, clearly unity cannot be a substance; for being and unity are the most universals of all predicates. Therefore, on the one hand, genera are not certain entities and substances separable from other things; and on the other hand the one cannot be a genus, for the same reasons for which being and substance cannot be genera [Ibid., Book X, 1053b 17-24, p. 838]."

Thus, if unity and being are not genera/species, or universals/substances, and their status is somewhere between substances and principles in Aristotle’s conceptual hierarchy, then how can we know about them? Aristotle’s solution is very simple:

"...we must in every category ask what the one is, as we must ask what the existent is, since it is not enough to say that its nature is just to be one or existent [Ibid., 26-28, p. 838]."

Moreover, he thinks that there is not much to be said about the cause of a thing being one because “...insofar as a thing is an organic unity, it cannot be acted on by itself, for it is one and not two different things [Ibid., Book IX, 1046a 26-28, p. 821].” He elaborates on his thought by bringing the distinction between potential and actual cause from his physics as follows:

"People look for a unifying formula, between potency and complete reality. But...the proximate matter and the form are one and the same thing, the one potentially, and the other actually. Therefore, it is like asking what in general is the cause of unity, and of a thing’s being one; for each thing is a unity, and the potential and the actual are somehow one. Therefore, there is no other cause here unless there is something which caused the movement from potency into actuality. And all things which have no matter are without qualification essentially unities. [Ibid., Book VIII, 1045b 15-25, p. 820]"



The above should suffice to show that Aristotle’s examination of unity and being places these concepts between the concepts of substance and principle. Furthermore, he considers them neither as universals nor genera (or species) and reduces them to attributes of concrete things. In short, unity and being are concepts predicable of existing things and to enhance our knowledge about these concepts we should understand what the ‘one’ or ‘existent’ is, there is no other way but to investigate the one thing or the existent thing.


In the opening of Metaphysics, Book X, Aristotle explicates the various uses of the word *one*. His conclusion is that *one* is used to denote “...the naturally continuous and the whole, and the individual and the universal. And all these are one because in some cases the movement, in others the thought or the definition is indivisible [Ibid., Book X, 1052a 33-37, p. 835]. He considers the essential meaning of *one* as: “...‘to be one’ means ‘to be indivisible’...[Ibid., 1052b 15-16, p. 836].” Understanding *one* as the indivisible is what underlies all Aristotle’s analysis of unity, monism, etc.


In the opening of Book VII, Aristotle explicates the different senses of ‘being.’ He recognizes four senses of the term ‘being’: 1) accidental attribute of substance, 2) figures of predication (indication of different categories), 3) truth of a statement, and 4) indication of potentiality and actuality. The second is what he considers the most as what we mean by ‘being’: mostly being a quantity, quality, and other categorical predicates. Moreover, it is evident that all these meanings just refer to what a substance is. Thus, he indicates that actually “being is, is just the question, what substance is [Ibid., Book VII, 1028b 3-5, p. 784].”


In summary, Aristotle’s appraisal of unity and being affirms the following conclusions:

1. Unity and being are the same, predicated from substance.

2. Unity and being do not exist separate from concrete things.

3. Unity and being are not genera/species or universal and substance.

4. Unity and being in the Aristotelian conceptual hierarchy are a stratum between substance and principle.

5. Unity of matter and form is a concurrence of potentiality and actuality of concrete things.

6. Unity and being are nothing but the one-ness and the existence within every category of things.

7. Unity and being mean to be indivisible and also mean being a quantity, quality, and other categorical predicates.

8. The above shows that unity and being do not occupy the position of supremacy in Aristotle’s metaphysics. Conversely, the substance is what is prior to them and his whole arguments thrust aside any need to start from the One. The substances are the starting point of his philosophy and they are not one but are ‘many.’


IV. The Role of Contrarieties


After learning what unity and being are, one needs to know how they are related to their opposites, plurality and non-being. If only substance is prior to being (or unity), then after the doctrine of substance, the most fundamental metaphysical assertions should be about unity (or being). But unity is indivisible and thus it is meaningless to talk about unity unless there is something *divisible*. That is, unity and plurality are at the same level of predication. As I noted in the previous section, Aristotle did not consider unity as a genus, but he says “...contraries are in the same genus [Ibid., Book X, 1058a 11, p. 848]." Now, unity and plurality, being contraries, have to be in the same genus and this is in contradiction to unity not being a genus. As far as I can see, Aristotle did not answer this apparent incongruity. As already noted, Aristotle regarded unity and being as synonymous terms, thus his primary problem is to clarify the dichotomy of unity and plurality. This is what I will try to investigate in this section. Here, I would like to determine how Aristotle considered the principle of contrariety itself, before proceeding to examine the specific dichotomy of unity and plurality. He writes:

" the list of contraries one of the two columns is privative, and all contraries are reducible to being and non-being, and to unity and plurality, as for instance rest belongs to unity and movement to plurality. And nearly all thinkers agree that being and substance are composed of contraries; at least all name contraries as their first principles -- some name odd and even [Pythagoreans], some hot and cold [Parmenides], some limit and the unlimited [Platonists], and some love and strife [Empedocles].  And all the others as well are evidently reducible to unity and plurality (this reduction we must take for granted) and the principles stated by other thinkers fall entirely under these as their genera. It is obvious then from these considerations too that it belongs to one science to examine being qua being. For all things are either contraries or composed of contraries, and unity and plurality are the starting-points of all contraries [Ibid., Book IV, 1004b 26-35 & 1005a 1-5, p. 735]." [Underlines are my emphasis. - S.G]

The above excerpt illustrates the crux of Aristotle’s metaphysics on the question of unity and plurality. It is evident that for him, after the doctrine of substance, the most fundamental concept in metaphysics is that of unity and plurality. If we return to what was inquired in the introduction for this paper that whether the problem of monism and pluralism is fundamental for Aristotle, we may now reply that (after the doctrine of substance) this dichotomy is the most fundamental question of his metaphysics.   It is typical of his pluralism that his belief in plurality is not followed by denying unity; instead, by postulating the dichotomy of unity and plurality, he sets his philosophy apart from monism. In every part of his philosophy, we can see that after studying the substances in each specific area, he contrasts his pluralism to other monistic views in this dichotomous way. However, this dichotomy has caused some commentators to doubt his partiality towards pluralism. My final appraisal of Aristotle’s pluralism must remain for the last part of this paper. Hereunder, I will try to explicate what he understands to be contrarieties because this knowledge is used by Aristotle when studying the specific ‘one and many’ contrariety. I think the following points are the most important in his discussion of contrarieties:


1. “Since things which differ may differ from one another more or less, there is also a greatest difference, and this I call contrariety [Ibid., Book X, 1055a 4-6, p. 841].”


2.  “...there cannot be an intermediate between contradictions, but on one subject we must either affirm or deny any one predicate [Ibid., Book IV, lOlib 23-25, p. 749].”  "...Contradiction admits of no intermediate,  while contraries admit of one, clearly contradiction and contrariety are not the same  [Ibid., Book X, 1055b 1-4, p. 842]. [My emphasis. -S.G.].”


3. “...intermediates are (1) all in the same genus and (2) intermediate between contraries, and (3) all compounded out of the contraries [Ibid., 1057b 32-35, p. 847].” This is the crux of Aristotle’s ‘theory of mean’ which was counter to both Heraclitus and Anaxagoras. Heraclitus considered only contradictions and did not understand contraries which do admit intermediates. On the other extreme, Anaxagoras only understood contrarieties and thus even thought that contradictions also admit intermediates. Aristotle considered both contrariety and contradiction and his theory of mean was founded on this conception. I am not going to discuss Aristotle’s theory of mean here, and only would like to draw attention to Aristotle’s opposition to both Heraclitus’ and Anaxagoras’ extremist views. Aristotle refutes them by saying:

"While the doctrine of Heraclitus, that all things are and are not, seems to make everything true, that of Anaxagoras, that there is an intermediate between the terms of a contradiction, seems to make everything false; for when things are mixed, the mixture is neither good nor not-good, so that one cannot say anything that is true [Ibid., Book IV, 1012a 24-29, p. 750]."

4. “ is impossible to affirm and deny truly at the same time, it is also impossible that contraries should belong to a subject at the same time, unless both belong to it in particular relations, or one in a particular relation and one without qualification [Ibid., lOlib 20-24, p. 749].” Thus, it means that contraries cannot be compresent in one thing.


5. “...contraries are in the same genus [Ibid., Book X, 1058a 11, p.848]." Aristotle considers some of the objections that may be brought up against this statement and clarifies the matter as shown below. Nevertheless, I still think that he has not answered the problem that can arise in relation to unity and plurality in this respect, as mentioned in beginning of this part. His clarification of one of the objections is:

"One might raise the question, why woman does not differ from man in species, when female and male are contrary and their difference is a contrariety, and why a female and a male animal are not different in species...[Ibid., Book X, 1058a 29-33, p. 848]."

"...But male and female, while they are modifications  peculiar to ‘animal,’ are so not in virtue of its essence but in the matter, i.e. the body [Ibid., 1058b 21-23, p. 849]."

6. Finally, Aristotle considers ‘perishable’ and ‘imperishable’ as contrary “attributes which are present of necessity [Ibid., 1059a 78, p. 850]” not “by accident [Ibid., 1058b 3739, p. 849].” I think this position is inconsistent with Aristotle’s belief in eternity. Because if imperishability is an attribute, it can change to its opposite in all things and there could be no eternal things. This inconsistency could be solved in at least two ways; one is to believe in perishability and imperishability as substantial characteristics, as attributes of substance by *necessity*, which would mean that some substances would be *always*perishable and *others* always imperishable. ‘Most scholastics took this view; and among the rationalists, Spinoza seems to have followed this route, though, he would no longer accept perishable ‘substances’ as substance and for him there was only one ‘substance’, which was imperishable and that was God. I think the second way to resolve the problem is to assume *every* thing perishable and imperishable and discard “eternal” things. This way, perishability and imperishability still remain attributes of substance, but there will be no room for Aristotle’s eternal objects. This solution is more in line with most of the modern philosophy. Although this subject is more complex than what I have presented here, this paper is not the place for more detailed analysis of the topic as it has more to do with the subject of immortality than with monism and pluralism. My aim was just to mention Aristotle’s position on the topic and its difficulties.




In summary, I should emphasize Aristotle’s following positions with regards to the topic of contrarieties:

1. After ‘substance,’ the most fundamental metaphysical concepts are unity and plurality.

2. Unity and plurality are the starting-points of all contrarieties.

3. Contrarieties cannot simultaneously belong to one thing.

4. Contrarieties have intermediates, but contradictions do not.

5. Contrarieties and intermediates are all in the same genus.

6.  Perishability and imperishability are contrary attributes of things by necessity.


V.  Aristotle’s Ideal Pluralism


As already mentioned in Part III, according to Aristotle “One...has all these meanings -- the naturally continuous and the whole, the individual and the universal. And all these are one because in some cases the movement, in others the thought or the definition is indivisible [Ibid., Book X, 1052a 33-37, p. 835].” In other words, the primary sense of one is being *indivisible*.  We must now see what he means by ‘many’. He writes:

"...‘many’ will have meanings opposite to those of ‘one’; some things are many because they are not continuous, others because their matter -- either the proximate matter or the ultimate -- is divisible in kind, others because the definitions which state their essence are more than one [Ibid., Book V, 1017a 3-8, p. 760]."

Thus, for Aristotle, ‘one’ essentially means ‘indivisible’ and ‘many’ means divisible. Nevertheless, he is careful to show some apparent paradoxes that arise from counter posing ‘one’ and ‘many’ in their different meanings. He depicts the paradoxes as follows:

"Since one thing has one contrary, we might raise the question how the one is opposed to the many, and the equal to the great and the small [Ibid., Book X, 1055b 30-32, p. 843] ."


"We might raise similar questions about the one and the many. For if the many are absolutely opposed to the one, certain impossible results follow. One will then be few, whether few be treated as singular or plural; for the many are opposed also to the few [Ibid., 1056b 3-7, p. 844] ."

Aristotle explicates these apparent paradoxes by returning to the meaning of the words to show that these paradoxes are the result of referring to different meanings of the words ‘one’ and ‘many’ at different instances. In addition, in these various meanings, they are no longer actually contraries. He presents his solution as follows:

"Plurality is contrary neither to the few (the many being contrary to this as excessive plurality to plurality exceeded), nor to the one in every sense; but in one sense these are contrary, as has been said because the former is divisible and the latter indivisible, while in another sense they are relative as knowledge to the knowable, if plurality is number and the one is a measure [Ibid., 1057a 12-16, p. 845] ."

Thus, Aristotle elaborates the meanings of the words ‘one’ and ‘many’ and shows that they are contraries in the sense of being ‘indivisible’ and ‘divisible’ respectively. That is, other meanings are like the case with any homonymous words which must not cause us to confuse the concepts behind each different meaning. Aristotle’s realism on one side and his analysis of metaphysical concepts on the other makes his pluralism a very intriguing outlook. His pluralistic outlook enables him to start with a great number of facts and arrive at the most concrete conclusions. Systematizing ‘the many’ is his method which proved much more fruitful that starting with the sacred *One*. To better elucidate my final arguments, in the following few paragraphs, I try to depict a schematic conclusion of my whole analysis.




The general picture of Aristotle’s metaphysics as understood from the above, can be perceived in the following manner. There is a hierarchy of concepts that refers to concrete things and in the order of explanation, the universals are first and particulars are last, whereas in the order of sensation, the particulars come first and universals are the last. In the order of sensation, the most fundamental concept is substance which is followed by the concepts of unity (or being) and first principles. In the order of explanation, it is the opposite and first principles are the primary concepts followed by unity (or being) and substance.


Aristotle's Model of Pluralism























































Therefore, in both orders, the unity/plurality dichotomy is the second fundamental problem. If we start from substance (i.e. order of sensation) we will see plurality and going to its contrary (unity) is our way to arrive at the first principles. If we start from the first principles, (i.e. order of explanation), then we will see unity and going to its contrary (plurality) is the way to explain the substances. As already mentioned, the relation between substance, unity/plurality, and first principles is not like that of substance, species, and genera; the former are just conceptual terms used to describe any one concrete thing. Thus, since either way (order of sense or order of explanation) we face the dichotomy of unity/plurality, probably we could say that this dichotomy is as fundamental as either substance or first principles.


An alternate interpretation may be offered, though I am doubtful; one could even think of unity as the first principle which although being material, formal, efficient, and final causes, can ultimately be reduced to the final cause. Also, one could assume the plurality to be the substances or concrete things. In this scheme, unity can be referred to as the state of rest and indivisibility of the final cause and plurality viewed as the state of motion and divisibility of substance (or concrete things). Then, the whole world can be reduced to two poles: on one side Unity, Final Cause, or God, etc., and on the other, plurality, substances, or things. If one accepts this interpretation, then the unity/plurality dichotomy would be the most fundamental concept of Aristotle’s metaphysics.


Whichever one accepts (the first interpretation of Aristotle’s metaphysical scheme or the second one), the unity/plurality dichotomy occupies a position of prominence and is a fundamental concept in Aristotle’s metaphysics. As already noted, “...unity and plurality are the starting-points of all contrarieties [Ibid., Book IV, 1004b 26-35 & 1005a 1-5, p.735].” To discover whether plurality or unity are primary in Aristotle’s metaphysics, we should ask which one is prior in the order of sensation, because Aristotle, in all his philosophy, gives primacy to the sensible things rather than to the abstract ideas. I already examined this fact in the first and second parts of this paper. Thus one should proceed in the order of sensation to determine whether monism or pluralism is defended.


Aristotle writes in his Physics “The universal is more knowable in the order of explanation, the particular in the order of sense [Book I, 189a 5-10, BW, p.228].” Based on the two interpretations of Aristotle’s metaphysics in this paper, plurality is next to particulars and unity is next to the universals. Therefore, plurality has primacy in the world as it is, and unity has primacy in our ideas and explanations. In other words, unity is the farthest from the perceptive reality and may be even subjective, and plurality is the closest to the perceptive reality and is the state of objective reality. The following excerpt may help to better see this analysis. Aristotle further explains:

"The one and the many are opposed in several ways, of which one is the opposition of the one and plurality as indivisible and divisible; for that which is either divided or divisible is called a plurality, and that which is indivisible or not divided is called one. Now since opposition is of four kinds, one of these two terms is privative in meaning, they must be contraries, and neither contradictory nor correlative in meaning.  And the one derives its name and its explanation from its contrary, the indivisible from the divisible, because the plurality and the divisible is more perceptible than the indivisible, so that in definition, plurality is prior to the indivisible, because of the conditions of perception [Ibid., Book X, 1054a 20-30, p. 839] [ emphasis]."

Thus, I can conclude that pluralism is what is defended in Aristotle’s Metaphysics though as I explained, with all the intricacies of Aristotle’s unique metaphysical scheme. Returning to the beginning of this paper, I think Owens is right in asserting that Aristotle “does not commence by taking a ‘one’ and asking how it can be many. He is taking ‘many’ and asking how it can be one.” Nevertheless, I think that Owens is not right in saying that: “it is inadequate to consider the Platonic ‘one and many’ as the fundamental problem of Aristotle...[stating that] this holds only within sensible species.” As I have shown, it is true that ‘one and many’ is not *the* fundamental problem of Aristotle. However, insofar as it is *a* fundamental issue for Aristotle, it does not hold *only* within sensible species but holds for anything conceivable, and is ingrained in the foundations of Aristotle's metaphysical outlook.





1. Marxist Thought & Monism - Second Edition
اندیشه مارکسیستی و مونیسم -یکتاگرائی - ویرایش دوم


2. Pluralism in the Western Thought
پلورالیسم در اندیشه غرب - کثرت گرائی


3. Ibid


4. Marxist Thought & Monism - Second Edition
اندیشه مارکسیستی و مونیسم -یکتاگرائی - ویرایش دوم


5. Ibid


6. Pluralism in the Western Thought
پلورالیسم در اندیشه غرب - کثرت گرائی


7. Spinoza's Refutation of Teleology
اسپینوزا در رد علت غائی


8. Sufism and Fatalism - A Brief Note
صوفیگری و تقدیر گرائی- یک یادداشت کوتاه





















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