Sacred Texts  Classics  Aristotle  Index  Previous  Next 


Every body must necessarily be either finite or infinite, and if infinite, either of similar or of dissimilar parts. If its parts are dissimilar, they must represent either a finite or an infinite number of kinds. That the kinds cannot be infinite is evident, if our original presuppositions remain unchallenged. For the primary movements being finite in number, the kinds of simple body are necessarily also finite, since the movement of a simple body is simple, and the simple movements are finite, and every natural body must always have its proper motion. Now if the infinite body is to be composed of a finite number of kinds, then each of its parts must necessarily be infinite in quantity, that is to say, the water, fire, &c., which compose it. But this is impossible, because, as we have already shown, infinite weight and lightness do not exist. Moreover it would be necessary also that their places should be infinite in extent, so that the movements too of all these bodies would be infinite. But this is not possible, if we are to hold to the truth of our original presuppositions and to the view that neither that which moves downward, nor, by the same reasoning, that which moves upward, can prolong its movement to infinity. For it is true in regard to quality, quantity, and place alike that any process of change is impossible which can have no end. I mean that if it is impossible for a thing to have come to be white, or a cubit long, or in Egypt, it is also impossible for it to be in process of coming to be any of these. It is thus impossible for a thing to be moving to a place at which in its motion it can never by any possibility arrive. Again, suppose the body to exist in dispersion, it may be maintained none the less that the total of all these scattered particles, say, of fire, is infinite. But body we saw to be that which has extension every way. How can there be several dissimilar elements, each infinite? Each would have to be infinitely extended every way.

It is no more conceivable, again, that the infinite should exist as a whole of similar parts. For, in the first place, there is no other (straight) movement beyond those mentioned: we must therefore give it one of them. And if so, we shall have to admit either infinite weight or infinite lightness. Nor, secondly, could the body whose movement is circular be infinite, since it is impossible for the infinite to move in a circle. This, indeed, would be as good as saying that the heavens are infinite, which we have shown to be impossible.

Moreover, in general, it is impossible that the infinite should move at all. If it did, it would move either naturally or by constraint: and if by constraint, it possesses also a natural motion, that is to say, there is another place, infinite like itself, to which it will move. But that is impossible.

That in general it is impossible for the infinite to be acted upon by the finite or to act upon it may be shown as follows.

(1. The infinite cannot be acted upon by the finite.) Let A be an infinite, B a finite, C the time of a given movement produced by one in the other. Suppose, then, that A was heated, or impelled, or modified in any way, or caused to undergo any sort of movement whatever, by in the time C. Let D be less than B; and, assuming that a lesser agent moves a lesser patient in an equal time, call the quantity thus modified by D, E. Then, as D is to B, so is E to some finite quantum. We assume that the alteration of equal by equal takes equal time, and the alteration of less by less or of greater by greater takes the same time, if the quantity of the patient is such as to keep the proportion which obtains between the agents, greater and less. If so, no movement can be caused in the infinite by any finite agent in any time whatever. For a less agent will produce that movement in a less patient in an equal time, and the proportionate equivalent of that patient will be a finite quantity, since no proportion holds between finite and infinite.

(2. The infinite cannot act upon the finite.) Nor, again, can the infinite produce a movement in the finite in any time whatever. Let A be an infinite, B a finite, C the time of action. In the time C, D will produce that motion in a patient less than B, say F. Then take E, bearing the same proportion to D as the whole BF bears to F. E will produce the motion in BF in the time C. Thus the finite and infinite effect the same alteration in equal times. But this is impossible; for the assumption is that the greater effects it in a shorter time. It will be the same with any time that can be taken, so that there will no time in which the infinite can effect this movement. And, as to infinite time, in that nothing can move another or be moved by it. For such time has no limit, while the action and reaction have.

(3. There is no interaction between infinites.) Nor can infinite be acted upon in any way by infinite. Let A and B be infinites, CD being the time of the action A of upon B. Now the whole B was modified in a certain time, and the part of this infinite, E, cannot be so modified in the same time, since we assume that a less quantity makes the movement in a less time. Let E then, when acted upon by A, complete the movement in the time D. Then, as D is to CD, so is E to some finite part of B. This part will necessarily be moved by A in the time CD. For we suppose that the same agent produces a given effect on a greater and a smaller mass in longer and shorter times, the times and masses varying proportionately. There is thus no finite time in which infinites can move one another. Is their time then infinite? No, for infinite time has no end, but the movement communicated has.

If therefore every perceptible body possesses the power of acting or of being acted upon, or both of these, it is impossible that an infinite body should be perceptible. All bodies, however, that occupy place are perceptible. There is therefore no infinite body beyond the heaven. Nor again is there anything of limited extent beyond it. And so beyond the heaven there is no body at all. For if you suppose it an object of intelligence, it will be in a place-since place is what ‘within’ and ‘beyond’ denote-and therefore an object of perception. But nothing that is not in a place is perceptible.

The question may also be examined in the light of more general considerations as follows. The infinite, considered as a whole of similar parts, cannot, on the one hand, move in a circle. For there is no centre of the infinite, and that which moves in a circle moves about the centre. Nor again can the infinite move in a straight line. For there would have to be another place infinite like itself to be the goal of its natural movement and another, equally great, for the goal of its unnatural movement. Moreover, whether its rectilinear movement is natural or constrained, in either case the force which causes its motion will have to be infinite. For infinite force is force of an infinite body, and of an infinite body the force is infinite. So the motive body also will be infinite. (The proof of this is given in our discussion of movement, where it is shown that no finite thing possesses infinite power, and no infinite thing finite power.) If then that which moves naturally can also move unnaturally, there will be two infinites, one which causes, and another which exhibits the latter motion. Again, what is it that moves the infinite? If it moves itself, it must be animate. But how can it possibly be conceived as an infinite animal? And if there is something else that moves it, there will be two infinites, that which moves and that which is moved, differing in their form and power.

If the whole is not continuous, but exists, as Democritus and Leucippus think, in the form of parts separated by void, there must necessarily be one movement of all the multitude. They are distinguished, we are told, from one another by their figures; but their nature is one, like many pieces of gold separated from one another. But each piece must, as we assert, have the same motion. For a single clod moves to the same place as the whole mass of earth, and a spark to the same place as the whole mass of fire. So that if it be weight that all possess, no body is, strictly speaking, light: and if lightness be universal, none is heavy. Moreover, whatever possesses weight or lightness will have its place either at one of the extremes or in the middle region. But this is impossible while the world is conceived as infinite. And, generally, that which has no centre or extreme limit, no up or down, gives the bodies no place for their motion; and without that movement is impossible. A thing must move either naturally or unnaturally, and the two movements are determined by the proper and alien places. Again, a place in which a thing rests or to which it moves unnaturally, must be the natural place for some other body, as experience shows. Necessarily, therefore, not everything possesses weight or lightness, but some things do and some do not. From these arguments then it is clear that the body of the universe is not infinite.

Next: Chapter 8