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Book IV


WE have now to consider the terms ‘heavy’ and ‘light’. We must ask what the bodies so called are, how they are constituted, and what is the reason of their possessing these powers. The consideration of these questions is a proper part of the theory of movement, since we call things heavy and light because they have the power of being moved naturally in a certain way. The activities corresponding to these powers have not been given any name, unless it is thought that ‘impetus’ is such a name. But because the inquiry into nature is concerned with movement, and these things have in themselves some spark (as it were) of movement, all inquirers avail themselves of these powers, though in all but a few cases without exact discrimination. We must then first look at whatever others have said, and formulate the questions which require settlement in the interests of this inquiry, before we go on to state our own view of the matter.

Language recognizes (a) an absolute, (b) a relative heavy and light. Of two heavy things, such as wood and bronze, we say that the one is relatively light, the other relatively heavy. Our predecessors have not dealt at all with the absolute use, of the terms, but only with the relative. I mean, they do not explain what the heavy is or what the light is, but only the relative heaviness and lightness of things possessing weight. This can be made clearer as follows. There are things whose constant nature it is to move away from the centre, while others move constantly towards the centre; and of these movements that which is away from the centre I call upward movement and that which is towards it I call downward movement. (The view, urged by some, that there is no up and no down in the heaven, is absurd. There can be, they say, no up and no down, since the universe is similar every way, and from any point on the earth’s surface a man by advancing far enough will come to stand foot to foot with himself. But the extremity of the whole, which we call ‘above’, is in position above and in nature primary. And since the universe has an extremity and a centre, it must clearly have an up and down. Common usage is thus correct, though inadequate. And the reason of its inadequacy is that men think that the universe is not similar every way. They recognize only the hemisphere which is over us. But if they went on to think of the world as formed on this pattern all round, with a centre identically related to each point on the extremity, they would have to admit that the extremity was above and the centre below.) By absolutely light, then, we mean that which moves upward or to the extremity, and by absolutely heavy that which moves downward or to the centre. By lighter or relatively light we mean that one, of two bodies endowed with weight and equal in bulk, which is exceeded by the other in the speed of its natural downward movement.

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