1.1 What is science? (Book 1, Lesson 1)

Refer to the Posterior Analytics for a definition of science: It is knowledge of a universal fact through proper causes. Science (in Arabic al-`ilm, in Greek episteme) is a technical term for knowledge of a determined subject, an attribute which is the property of that subject (having the same extension) and the cause of that attribute, which is to be found in the nature (the form or matter) of the subject and also in external final and efficient causes. Such knowledge is demonstrative, because it is knowledge of the fact and the proper reason for the fact. Demonstration, in Aristotelian tradition, is not a means of discovery, but an analysis of knowledge already gained from experience and research.

1.2 The division of speculative sciences

Sciences are distinguished in two ways:

Consequently, according to the different relations to matter, expressed in different definitions, there will be different sciences:

1) There are certain things whose being depends upon matter, and which cannot be defined without matter, i.e. physical things.

2) There are certain other things which, although they cannot exist except in matter, nevertheless sensible matter does not enter into their definition, i.e. mathematical things.

The two differ as do "circle" and "plate". For a plate is in sensible matter, and sensible matter necessarily enters into its definition {for a "plate" is "circular"} and such are all natural things, as for example, man and stone. But a circle, although it cannot exist except in sensible matter, nevertheless sensible matter does not enter into its definition --and such are all mathematical things, as for example, numbers, magnitudes and figures.

3) But there are certain things which do not depend upon matter either in their existence or in their definition. This is because either they are never in matter {as is the case with God and the other separated substances} or because they are not universally in matter {as is the case with substance, potency and act, and being itself}.

Concerning the latter, therefore is Metaphysics (3). But concerning those things which depend upon sensible matter according to existence but not according to definition is Mathematics (2). Concerning those things which depend upon matter not only according to existence, but also according to reason, is Natural Science, called Physics (1).

1.3 The subject of natural science

Since we are studying natural science, it is necessary to begin by assigning its matter or subject. Since whatever has matter is mobile or changeable, it follows that "mobile being" is the subject of natural science.

Natural science [or philosophy] is about natural things. What are natural things? Natural things are things whose principle, or source of activity, is their own intrinsic nature, as opposed to artificial things, which have the actions we give them. Nature, as we shall see, is defined as "the principle of motion and rest in that in which it is". Therefore, natural science is of those things which have within themselves the principle of motion.

1.4 The division of natural science

Whatever is common to a whole group of things should be treated first and distinctly, and then one can go on to add what is peculiar to different species within the group. Therefore, just as for all the sciences of different types of being there is a first science which treats of being in common, namely first philosophy [or metaphysics], so too for all the sciences which treat of the different types of mobile being, it is fitting that there be a first science which treats of mobile being in common, and this is the Physics. Aristotle's works thus treat of:

1.5 Methodology

Aristotle lays down two things in relation to the order of procedure in natural science:

1.5.1 Beginning from principles

All science is from a knowledge of causes, since it is by virtue of knowing the cause that one is able to see and explain why a certain conclusion is true.

Likewise the definition of the subject, which is the middle term in proving the conclusion, is a statement of the causes of the thing.

Hence we have Aristotle's statement in the Posterior Analytics, Book 1, that "a complete definition is a demonstration differing only as to format". In other words:

Going from the more generic to the specific, there is the following sequence: principle, cause, element. Thus:

These terms are sometimes applied to different causes from which demonstrations are made in the various sciences:

Not all the sciences demonstrate through all the causes:

1.5.2 Beginning from more general principles An argument why we must begin so

The major proposition is based on the fact that since the things best known by nature [i.e. the most immaterial things] are less known to us, and since we proceed from things we know to things we do not, therefore we must go from things which are better known to us to the things which are better known by nature.

The implication is that things which are better known by nature are absolutely better known. Why should this be held? It is held because the degree of knowability depends upon the degree of being of that which is known, and this in turn depends on the degree of actuality of the thing. Whence those things which are most in act are most knowable.

Since whatever is material is to that extent potential [to any form], it follows that to the extent that something is separated from matter, or immaterial, to that extent it will be more actual, and thereby more knowable in itself.

Our knowledge, however, begins from material, sensible things, which are more known to us, but less knowable in themselves. Such things are intellectually knowable only in potency, until by abstraction they are divested of their individual matter [quantitatively "marked"]. At this time they become intellectually knowable [through the action of the agent intellect] and then [by being imprinted upon the possible intellect] actually known. There are thus three stages in the intellectual knowledge of a material thing:

1) A material thing is actually knowable to the senses, which receive the imprint of the sensible form united to matter, but only potentially knowable to the intellect, since the thing is in a singular material state.

2) The form of the material thing received by the senses is, through the action of the agent intellect, divested of individual material characteristics and rendered intellectually knowable.

3) This intellectualized form is now imprinted upon the possible intellect, and becomes intellectually known.

It is clear, therefore, that our knowledge, even of material things by the intellect, is only progressively actualized from potency to act.

Those things are more known absolutely which are more known in themselves. But those things are more known in themselves which have more of being --since each thing is knowable in so far as it is being. But those things are more beings which are more in act --whence such things are most knowable by nature.

But the opposite occurs with us, by virtue of the fact that we proceed in intellectual knowledge from potency to act, and the beginning of our knowledge is from sensible things, which are material and intelligible in potency --whence these are known to us prior to separated substances, which are more known according to nature, as is evident in Metaphysics II.

Now Aristotle says both "better known and more certain", since in the sciences there is not sought any kind of knowledge, but certitude.

As to the minor proposition, by "confused" is meant things which contain within themselves some things in potency and indistinctly. And since to know something indistinctly is mediate between pure potency and perfect act, therefore when our intellect proceeds from potency to act, that occurs to it first which is confused before that which is distinct. But science is then complete in act when one arrives by means of resolution at the distinct knowledge of principles and elements. And this is the reason why "confused" things are prior known to us before "distinct".

Why are the universals which the intellect knows, initially called "confused"? They are called thus simply because they are generic and contain their species only in potency. One "clarifies" them by arriving at the clear knowledge of the species at first only potentially present:

Now that the universals are confused is plain, since universals contain within themselves their species in potency --and whoever knows something in a universal way, knows it indistinctly. But its knowledge then becomes distinct when each of those things which are contained in potency in the universal, are known in act --for he who knows "animal" knows "rational" only in potency. But one knows something in potency prior to knowing it in act. According, therefore, to that order of learning by which we proceed from potency to act, "animal" is known by us prior to knowing "man".

The statement that we known universals before singulars appears to contradict another statement of Aristotle in Posterior Analytics, Book 1, to the effect that singulars are better known to us, but universals by nature or absolutely so. This difficulty is explained simply by recognizing that in that particular passage Aristotle is talking about sensible singulars known by sense knowledge as prior to intelligible universals known by the intellect, and which, as abstract from matter, are more knowable in themselves. In the present case Aristotle is talking of the progress of knowledge in the intellect, from universal or generic knowledge to knowledge of the "singular", by which is here meant the species. Species, as having more of form, are by comparison with genera, more known:

It should be understood that Aristotle in the Posterior Analytics takes as singulars the very sensible individuals. These are more known to us, since for us sense knowledge, which is of singulars, precedes intellectual knowledge, which is of universals. But since intellectual knowledge is more perfect {universals being intelligible in act, but not material singulars} universals are more known absolutely and according to nature.

But here in the Physics, by "singulars" Aristotle does not mean the individuals, but the species --which are more known according to nature, as having more perfect existence and distinct knowledge. But genera are prior known to us, by a knowledge that is in potency and confused. Three signs also indicate that we must begin from more general principles.

1) Just as a sensible whole, such as a house, is seen by us prior to distinct knowledge of its parts, so in the intellect the generic universal is known before the perception of its species.

2) Just as an intelligible whole contains the parts of its definition in potency, and they are made actual by the definition, so too the universal is known before its species. Thus one knows man vaguely before recognizing "animal" and "rational" as its defining parts.

This seems to contradict the tenet that one knows the generic "animal" before the specific "man"; actually one does, but not as a part of the definition of man. Thus one has first the generic idea "animal", then a more specific idea "man", then a still more specific idea of "animal" and "rational" as the defining parts of man.

3) More universal sensible things are first known: Seeing someone come from a far off place, we first recognize "animal", then "man", then "Socrates". Likewise in the order of time, a child sees his father first as a "man", then as "Plato"; hence the observation that "a child begins by calling all men 'father'". From this it is clear that we first know something confusedly before we know it distinctly.