by Aristotle

Book 4

Additional Information
  • Year Published: -350
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: United States of America
  • Source: Aristotle (-350). Physics..
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 12.0
  • Word Count: 15,609



THE physicist must have a knowledge of Place, too, as well as of the infinite-namely, whether there is such a thing or not, and the manner of its existence and what it is-both because all suppose that things which exist are somewhere (the non-existent is nowhere—where is the goat-stag or the sphinx?), and because ‘motion’ in its most general and primary sense is change of place, which we call ‘locomotion’.

The question, what is place? presents many difficulties. An examination of all the relevant facts seems to lead to divergent conclusions. Moreover, we have inherited nothing from previous thinkers, whether in the way of a statement of difficulties or of a solution.

The existence of place is held to be obvious from the fact of mutual replacement. Where water now is, there in turn, when the water has gone out as from a vessel, air is present. When therefore another body occupies this same place, the place is thought to be different from all the bodies which come to be in it and replace one another. What now contains air formerly contained water, so that clearly the place or space into which and out of which they passed was something different from both.

Further, the typical locomotions of the elementary natural bodies-namely, fire, earth, and the like-show not only that place is something, but also that it exerts a certain influence. Each is carried to its own place, if it is not hindered, the one up, the other down. Now these are regions or kinds of place-up and down and the rest of the six directions. Nor do such distinctions (up and down and right and left, &c.) hold only in relation to us. To us they are not always the same but change with the direction in which we are turned: that is why the same thing may be both right and left, up and down, before and behind. But in nature each is distinct, taken apart by itself. It is not every chance direction which is ‘up’, but where fire and what is light are carried; similarly, too, ‘down’ is not any chance direction but where what has weight and what is made of earth are carried-the implication being that these places do not differ merely in relative position, but also as possessing distinct potencies. This is made plain also by the objects studied by mathematics. Though they have no real place, they nevertheless, in respect of their position relatively to us, have a right and left as attributes ascribed to them only in consequence of their relative position, not having by nature these various characteristics. Again, the theory that the void exists involves the existence of place: for one would define void as place bereft of body.

These considerations then would lead us to suppose that place is something distinct from bodies, and that every sensible body is in place. Hesiod too might be held to have given a correct account of it when he made chaos first. At least he says:

‘First of all things came chaos to being, then broad-breasted earth,’ implying that things need to have space first, because he thought, with most people, that everything is somewhere and in place. If this is its nature, the potency of place must be a marvellous thing, and take precedence of all other things. For that without which nothing else can exist, while it can exist without the others, must needs be first; for place does not pass out of existence when the things in it are annihilated.

True, but even if we suppose its existence settled, the question of its nature presents difficulty-whether it is some sort of ‘bulk’ of body or some entity other than that, for we must first determine its genus.

(1) Now it has three dimensions, length, breadth, depth, the dimensions by which all body also is bounded. But the place cannot be body; for if it were there would be two bodies in the same place.

(2) Further, if body has a place and space, clearly so too have surface and the other limits of body; for the same statement will apply to them: where the bounding planes of the water were, there in turn will be those of the air. But when we come to a point we cannot make a distinction between it and its place. Hence if the place of a point is not different from the point, no more will that of any of the others be different, and place will not be something different from each of them.

(3) What in the world then are we to suppose place to be? If it has the sort of nature described, it cannot be an element or composed of elements, whether these be corporeal or incorporeal: for while it has size, it has not body. But the elements of sensible bodies are bodies, while nothing that has size results from a combination of intelligible elements.

(4) Also we may ask: of what in things is space the cause? None of the four modes of causation can be ascribed to it. It is neither in the sense of the matter of existents (for nothing is composed of it), nor as the form and definition of things, nor as end, nor does it move existents.

(5) Further, too, if it is itself an existent, where will it be? Zeno’s difficulty demands an explanation: for if everything that exists has a place, place too will have a place, and so on ad infinitum.

(6) Again, just as every body is in place, so, too, every place has a body in it. What then shall we say about growing things? It follows from these premisses that their place must grow with them, if their place is neither less nor greater than they are.

By asking these questions, then, we must raise the whole problem about place-not only as to what it is, but even whether there is such a thing.


We may distinguish generally between predicating B of A because it (A) is itself, and because it is something else; and particularly between place which is common and in which all bodies are, and the special place occupied primarily by each. I mean, for instance, that you are now in the heavens because you are in the air and it is in the heavens; and you are in the air because you are on the earth; and similarly on the earth because you are in this place which contains no more than you.

Now if place is what primarily contains each body, it would be a limit, so that the place would be the form or shape of each body by which the magnitude or the matter of the magnitude is defined: for this is the limit of each body.

If, then, we look at the question in this way the place of a thing is its form. But, if we regard the place as the extension of the magnitude, it is the matter. For this is different from the magnitude: it is what is contained and defined by the form, as by a bounding plane. Matter or the indeterminate is of this nature; when the boundary and attributes of a sphere are taken away, nothing but the matter is left.

This is why Plato in the Timaeus says that matter and space are the same; for the ‘participant’ and space are identical. (It is true, indeed, that the account he gives there of the ‘participant’ is different from what he says in his so-called ‘unwritten teaching’. Nevertheless, he did identify place and space.) I mention Plato because, while all hold place to be something, he alone tried to say what it is.

In view of these facts we should naturally expect to find difficulty in determining what place is, if indeed it is one of these two things, matter or form. They demand a very close scrutiny, especially as it is not easy to recognize them apart.

But it is at any rate not difficult to see that place cannot be either of them. The form and the matter are not separate from the thing, whereas the place can be separated. As we pointed out, where air was, water in turn comes to be, the one replacing the other; and similarly with other bodies. Hence the place of a thing is neither a part nor a state of it, but is separable from it. For place is supposed to be something like a vessel-the vessel being a transportable place. But the vessel is no part of the thing.

In so far then as it is separable from the thing, it is not the form: qua containing, it is different from the matter.

Also it is held that what is anywhere is both itself something and that there is a different thing outside it. (Plato of course, if we may digress, ought to tell us why the form and the numbers are not in place, if ‘what participates’ is place-whether what participates is the Great and the Small or the matter, as he called it in writing in the Timaeus.)

Further, how could a body be carried to its own place, if place was the matter or the form? It is impossible that what has no reference to motion or the distinction of up and down can be place. So place must be looked for among things which have these characteristics.

If the place is in the thing (it must be if it is either shape or matter) place will have a place: for both the form and the indeterminate undergo change and motion along with the thing, and are not always in the same place, but are where the thing is. Hence the place will have a place.

Further, when water is produced from air, the place has been destroyed, for the resulting body is not in the same place. What sort of destruction then is that?

This concludes my statement of the reasons why space must be something, and again of the difficulties that may be raised about its essential nature.


The next step we must take is to see in how many senses one thing is said to be ‘in’ another.

(1) As the finger is ‘in’ the hand and generally the part ‘in’ the whole.

(2) As the whole is ‘in’ the parts: for there is no whole over and above the parts.

(3) As man is ‘in’ animal and generally species ‘in’ genus.

(4) As the genus is ‘in’ the species and generally the part of the specific form ‘in’ the definition of the specific form.

(5) As health is ‘in’ the hot and the cold and generally the form ‘in’ the matter.

(6) As the affairs of Greece centre ‘in’ the king, and generally events centre ‘in’ their primary motive agent.

(7) As the existence of a thing centres ‘in its good and generally ‘in’ its end, i.e. in ‘that for the sake of which’ it exists.

(8) In the strictest sense of all, as a thing is ‘in’ a vessel, and generally ‘in’ place.

One might raise the question whether a thing can be in itself, or whether nothing can be in itself-everything being either nowhere or in something else.

The question is ambiguous; we may mean the thing qua itself or qua something else.

When there are parts of a whole-the one that in which a thing is, the other the thing which is in it-the whole will be described as being in itself. For a thing is described in terms of its parts, as well as in terms of the thing as a whole, e.g. a man is said to be white because the visible surface of him is white, or to be scientific because his thinking faculty has been trained. The jar then will not be in itself and the wine will not be in itself. But the jar of wine will: for the contents and the container are both parts of the same whole.

In this sense then, but not primarily, a thing can be in itself, namely, as ‘white’ is in body (for the visible surface is in body), and science is in the mind.

It is from these, which are ‘parts’ (in the sense at least of being ‘in’ the man), that the man is called white, &c. But the jar and the wine in separation are not parts of a whole, though together they are. So when there are parts, a thing will be in itself, as ‘white’ is in man because it is in body, and in body because it resides in the visible surface. We cannot go further and say that it is in surface in virtue of something other than itself. (Yet it is not in itself: though these are in a way the same thing,) they differ in essence, each having a special nature and capacity, ‘surface’ and ‘white’.

Thus if we look at the matter inductively we do not find anything to be ‘in’ itself in any of the senses that have been distinguished; and it can be seen by argument that it is impossible. For each of two things will have to be both, e.g. the jar will have to be both vessel and wine, and the wine both wine and jar, if it is possible for a thing to be in itself; so that, however true it might be that they were in each other, the jar will receive the wine in virtue not of its being wine but of the wine’s being wine, and the wine will be in the jar in virtue not of its being a jar but of the jar’s being a jar. Now that they are different in respect of their essence is evident; for ‘that in which something is’ and ‘that which is in it’ would be differently defined.

Nor is it possible for a thing to be in itself even incidentally: for two things would at the same time in the same thing. The jar would be in itself-if a thing whose nature it is to receive can be in itself; and that which it receives, namely (if wine) wine, will be in it.

Obviously then a thing cannot be in itself primarily.

Zeno’s problem-that if Place is something it must be in something-is not difficult to solve. There is nothing to prevent the first place from being ‘in’ something else-not indeed in that as ‘in’ place, but as health is ‘in’ the hot as a positive determination of it or as the hot is ‘in’ body as an affection. So we escape the infinite regress.

Another thing is plain: since the vessel is no part of what is in it (what contains in the strict sense is different from what is contained), place could not be either the matter or the form of the thing contained, but must different-for the latter, both the matter and the shape, are parts of what is contained.

This then may serve as a critical statement of the difficulties involved.


What then after all is place? The answer to this question may be elucidated as follows.

Let us take for granted about it the various characteristics which are supposed correctly to belong to it essentially. We assume then—

(1) Place is what contains that of which it is the place.

(2) Place is no part of the thing.

(3) The immediate place of a thing is neither less nor greater than the thing.

(4) Place can be left behind by the thing and is separable. In addition:

(5) All place admits of the distinction of up and down, and each of the bodies is naturally carried to its appropriate place and rests there, and this makes the place either up or down.

Having laid these foundations, we must complete the theory. We ought to try to make our investigation such as will render an account of place, and will not only solve the difficulties connected with it, but will also show that the attributes supposed to belong to it do really belong to it, and further will make clear the cause of the trouble and of the difficulties about it. Such is the most satisfactory kind of exposition.

First then we must understand that place would not have been thought of, if there had not been a special kind of motion, namely that with respect to place. It is chiefly for this reason that we suppose the heaven also to be in place, because it is in constant movement. Of this kind of change there are two species-locomotion on the one hand and, on the other, increase and diminution. For these too involve variation of place: what was then in this place has now in turn changed to what is larger or smaller.

Again, when we say a thing is ‘moved’, the predicate either (1) belongs to it actually, in virtue of its own nature, or (2) in virtue of something conjoined with it. In the latter case it may be either (a) something which by its own nature is capable of being moved, e.g. the parts of the body or the nail in the ship, or (b) something which is not in itself capable of being moved, but is always moved through its conjunction with something else, as ‘whiteness’ or ‘science’. These have changed their place only because the subjects to which they belong do so.

We say that a thing is in the world, in the sense of in place, because it is in the air, and the air is in the world; and when we say it is in the air, we do not mean it is in every part of the air, but that it is in the air because of the outer surface of the air which surrounds it; for if all the air were its place, the place of a thing would not be equal to the thing-which it is supposed to be, and which the primary place in which a thing is actually is.

When what surrounds, then, is not separate from the thing, but is in continuity with it, the thing is said to be in what surrounds it, not in the sense of in place, but as a part in a whole. But when the thing is separate and in contact, it is immediately ‘in’ the inner surface of the surrounding body, and this surface is neither a part of what is in it nor yet greater than its extension, but equal to it; for the extremities of things which touch are coincident.

Further, if one body is in continuity with another, it is not moved in that but with that. On the other hand it is moved in that if it is separate. It makes no difference whether what contains is moved or not.

Again, when it is not separate it is described as a part in a whole, as the pupil in the eye or the hand in the body: when it is separate, as the water in the cask or the wine in the jar. For the hand is moved with the body and the water in the cask.

It will now be plain from these considerations what place is. There are just four things of which place must be one-the shape, or the matter, or some sort of extension between the bounding surfaces of the containing body, or this boundary itself if it contains no extension over and above the bulk of the body which comes to be in it.

Three of these it obviously cannot be:

(1) The shape is supposed to be place because it surrounds, for the extremities of what contains and of what is contained are coincident. Both the shape and the place, it is true, are boundaries. But not of the same thing: the form is the boundary of the thing, the place is the boundary of the body which contains it.

(2) The extension between the extremities is thought to be something, because what is contained and separate may often be changed while the container remains the same (as water may be poured from a vessel)-the assumption being that the extension is something over and above the body displaced. But there is no such extension. One of the bodies which change places and are naturally capable of being in contact with the container falls in whichever it may chance to be.

If there were an extension which were such as to exist independently and be permanent, there would be an infinity of places in the same thing. For when the water and the air change places, all the portions of the two together will play the same part in the whole which was previously played by all the water in the vessel; at the same time the place too will be undergoing change; so that there will be another place which is the place of the place, and many places will be coincident. There is not a different place of the part, in which it is moved, when the whole vessel changes its place: it is always the same: for it is in the (proximate) place where they are that the air and the water (or the parts of the water) succeed each other, not in that place in which they come to be, which is part of the place which is the place of the whole world.

(3) The matter, too, might seem to be place, at least if we consider it in what is at rest and is thus separate but in continuity. For just as in change of quality there is something which was formerly black and is now white, or formerly soft and now hard-this is just why we say that the matter exists-so place, because it presents a similar phenomenon, is thought to exist-only in the one case we say so because what was air is now water, in the other because where air formerly was there a is now water. But the matter, as we said before, is neither separable from the thing nor contains it, whereas place has both characteristics.

Well, then, if place is none of the three-neither the form nor the matter nor an extension which is always there, different from, and over and above, the extension of the thing which is displaced-place necessarily is the one of the four which is left, namely, the boundary of the containing body at which it is in contact with the contained body. (By the contained body is meant what can be moved by way of locomotion.)

Place is thought to be something important and hard to grasp, both because the matter and the shape present themselves along with it, and because the displacement of the body that is moved takes place in a stationary container, for it seems possible that there should be an interval which is other than the bodies which are moved. The air, too, which is thought to be incorporeal, contributes something to the belief: it is not only the boundaries of the vessel which seem to be place, but also what is between them, regarded as empty. Just, in fact, as the vessel is transportable place, so place is a non-portable vessel. So when what is within a thing which is moved, is moved and changes its place, as a boat on a river, what contains plays the part of a vessel rather than that of place. Place on the other hand is rather what is motionless: so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless.

Hence we conclude that the innermost motionless boundary of what contains is place.

This explains why the middle of the heaven and the surface which faces us of the rotating system are held to be ‘up’ and ‘down’ in the strict and fullest sense for all men: for the one is always at rest, while the inner side of the rotating body remains always coincident with itself. Hence since the light is what is naturally carried up, and the heavy what is carried down, the boundary which contains in the direction of the middle of the universe, and the middle itself, are down, and that which contains in the direction of the outermost part of the universe, and the outermost part itself, are up.

For this reason, too, place is thought to be a kind of surface, and as it were a vessel, i.e. a container of the thing.

Further, place is coincident with the thing, for boundaries are coincident with the bounded.


If then a body has another body outside it and containing it, it is in place, and if not, not. That is why, even if there were to be water which had not a container, the parts of it, on the one hand, will be moved (for one part is contained in another), while, on the other hand, the whole will be moved in one sense, but not in another. For as a whole it does not simultaneously change its place, though it will be moved in a circle: for this place is the place of its parts. (Some things are moved, not up and down, but in a circle; others up and down, such things namely as admit of condensation and rarefaction.)

As was explained, some things are potentially in place, others actually. So, when you have a homogeneous substance which is continuous, the parts are potentially in place: when the parts are separated, but in contact, like a heap, they are actually in place.

Again, (1) some things are per se in place, namely every body which is movable either by way of locomotion or by way of increase is per se somewhere, but the heaven, as has been said, is not anywhere as a whole, nor in any place, if at least, as we must suppose, no body contains it. On the line on which it is moved, its parts have place: for each is contiguous the next.

But (2) other things are in place indirectly, through something conjoined with them, as the soul and the heaven. The latter is, in a way, in place, for all its parts are: for on the orb one part contains another. That is why the upper part is moved in a circle, while the All is not anywhere. For what is somewhere is itself something, and there must be alongside it some other thing wherein it is and which contains it. But alongside the All or the Whole there is nothing outside the All, and for this reason all things are in the heaven; for the heaven, we may say, is the All. Yet their place is not the same as the heaven. It is part of it, the innermost part of it, which is in contact with the movable body; and for this reason the earth is in water, and this in the air, and the air in the aether, and the aether in heaven, but we cannot go on and say that the heaven is in anything else.

It is clear, too, from these considerations that all the problems which were raised about place will be solved when it is explained in this way:

(1) There is no necessity that the place should grow with the body in it,

(2) Nor that a point should have a place,

(3) Nor that two bodies should be in the same place,

(4) Nor that place should be a corporeal interval: for what is between the boundaries of the place is any body which may chance to be there, not an interval in body.

Further, (5) place is also somewhere, not in the sense of being in a place, but as the limit is in the limited; for not everything that is is in place, but only movable body.

Also (6) it is reasonable that each kind of body should be carried to its own place. For a body which is next in the series and in contact (not by compulsion) is akin, and bodies which are united do not affect each other, while those which are in contact interact on each other.

Nor (7) is it without reason that each should remain naturally in its proper place. For this part has the same relation to its place, as a separable part to its whole, as when one moves a part of water or air: so, too, air is related to water, for the one is like matter, the other form-water is the matter of air, air as it were the actuality of water, for water is potentially air, while air is potentially water, though in another way.

These distinctions will be drawn more carefully later. On the present occasion it was necessary to refer to them: what has now been stated obscurely will then be made more clear. If the matter and the fulfilment are the same thing (for water is both, the one potentially, the other completely), water will be related to air in a way as part to whole. That is why these have contact: it is organic union when both become actually one.

This concludes my account of place-both of its existence and of its nature.


The investigation of similar questions about the void, also, must be held to belong to the physicist-namely whether it exists or not, and how it exists or what it is-just as about place. The views taken of it involve arguments both for and against, in much the same sort of way. For those who hold that the void exists regard it as a sort of place or vessel which is supposed to be ‘full’ when it holds the bulk which it is capable of containing, ‘void’ when it is deprived of that-as if ‘void’ and ‘full’ and ‘place’ denoted the same thing, though the essence of the three is different.

We must begin the inquiry by putting down the account given by those who say that it exists, then the account of those who say that it does not exist, and third the current view on these questions.

Those who try to show that the void does not exist do not disprove what people really mean by it, but only their erroneous way of speaking; this is true of Anaxagoras and of those who refute the existence of the void in this way. They merely give an ingenious demonstration that air is something—by straining wine-skins and showing the resistance of the air, and by cutting it off in clepsydras. But people really mean that there is an empty interval in which there is no sensible body. They hold that everything which is in body is body and say that what has nothing in it at all is void (so what is full of air is void). It is not then the existence of air that needs to be proved, but the non-existence of an interval, different from the bodies, either separable or actual-an interval which divides the whole body so as to break its continuity, as Democritus and Leucippus hold, and many other physicists-or even perhaps as something which is outside the whole body, which remains continuous.

These people, then, have not reached even the threshold of the problem, but rather those who say that the void exists.

(1) They argue, for one thing, that change in place (i.e. locomotion and increase) would not be. For it is maintained that motion would seem not to exist, if there were no void, since what is full cannot contain anything more. If it could, and there were two bodies in the same place, it would also be true that any number of bodies could be together; for it is impossible to draw a line of division beyond which the statement would become untrue. If this were possible, it would follow also that the smallest body would contain the greatest; for ‘many a little makes a mickle’: thus if many equal bodies can be together, so also can many unequal bodies.

Melissus, indeed, infers from these considerations that the All is immovable; for if it were moved there must, he says, be void, but void is not among the things that exist.

This argument, then, is one way in which they show that there is a void.

(2) They reason from the fact that some things are observed to contract and be compressed, as people say that a cask will hold the wine which formerly filled it, along with the skins into which the wine has been decanted, which implies that the compressed body contracts into the voids present in it.

Again (3) increase, too, is thought to take always by means of void, for nutriment is body, and it is impossible for two bodies to be together. A proof of this they find also in what happens to ashes, which absorb as much water as the empty vessel.

The Pythagoreans, too, (4) held that void exists and that it enters the heaven itself, which as it were inhales it, from the infinite air. Further it is the void which distinguishes the natures of things, as if it were like what separates and distinguishes the terms of a series. This holds primarily in the numbers, for the void distinguishes their nature.

These, then, and so many, are the main grounds on which people have argued for and against the existence of the void.


As a step towards settling which view is true, we must determine the meaning of the name.

The void is thought to be place with nothing in it. The reason for this is that people take what exists to be body, and hold that while every body is in place, void is place in which there is no body, so that where there is no body, there must be void.

Every body, again, they suppose to be tangible; and of this nature is whatever has weight or lightness.

Hence, by a syllogism, what has nothing heavy or light in it, is void.

This result, then, as I have said, is reached by syllogism. It would be absurd to suppose that the point is void; for the void must be place which has in it an interval in tangible body.

But at all events we observe then that in one way the void is described as what is not full of body perceptible to touch; and what has heaviness and lightness is perceptible to touch. So we would raise the question: what would they say of an interval that has colour or sound-is it void or not? Clearly they would reply that if it could receive what is tangible it was void, and if not, not.

In another way void is that in which there is no ‘this’ or corporeal substance. So some say that the void is the matter of the body (they identify the place, too, with this), and in this they speak incorrectly; for the matter is not separable from the things, but they are inquiring about the void as about something separable.

Since we have determined the nature of place, and void must, if it exists, be place deprived of body, and we have stated both in what sense place exists and in what sense it does not, it is plain that on this showing void does not exist, either unseparated or separated; the void is meant to be, not body but rather an interval in body. This is why the void is thought to be something, viz. because place is, and for the same reasons. For the fact of motion in respect of place comes to the aid both of those who maintain that place is something over and above the bodies that come to occupy it, and of those who maintain that the void is something. They state that the void is the condition of movement in the sense of that in which movement takes place; and this would be the kind of thing that some say place is.

But there is no necessity for there being a void if there is movement. It is not in the least needed as a condition of movement in general, for a reason which, incidentally, escaped Melissus; viz. that the full can suffer qualitative change.

But not even movement in respect of place involves a void; for bodies may simultaneously make room for one another, though there is no interval separate and apart from the bodies that are in movement. And this is plain even in the rotation of continuous things, as in that of liquids.

And things can also be compressed not into a void but because they squeeze out what is contained in them (as, for instance, when water is compressed the air within it is squeezed out); and things can increase in size not only by the entrance of something but also by qualitative change; e.g. if water were to be transformed into air.

In general, both the argument about increase of size and that about water poured on to the ashes get in their own way. For either not any and every part of the body is increased, or bodies may be increased otherwise than by the addition of body, or there may be two bodies in the same place (in which case they are claiming to solve a quite general difficulty, but are not proving the existence of void), or the whole body must be void, if it is increased in every part and is increased by means of void. The same argument applies to the ashes.

It is evident, then, that it is easy to refute the arguments by which they prove the existence of the void.


Let us explain again that there is no void existing separately, as some maintain. If each of the simple bodies has a natural locomotion, e.g. fire upward and earth downward and towards the middle of the universe, it is clear that it cannot be the void that is the condition of locomotion. What, then, will the void be the condition of? It is thought to be the condition of movement in respect of place, and it is not the condition of this.

Again, if void is a sort of place deprived of body, when there is a void where will a body placed in it move to? It certainly cannot move into the whole of the void. The same argument applies as against those who think that place is something separate, into which things are carried; viz. how will what is placed in it move, or rest? Much the same argument will apply to the void as to the ‘up’ and ‘down’ in place, as is natural enough since those who maintain the existence of the void make it a place.

And in what way will things be present either in place-or in the void? For the expected result does not take place when a body is placed as a whole in a place conceived of as separate and permanent; for a part of it, unless it be placed apart, will not be in a place but in the whole. Further, if separate place does not exist, neither will void.

If people say that the void must exist, as being necessary if there is to be movement, what rather turns out to be the case, if one the matter, is the opposite, that not a single thing can be moved if there is a void; for as with those who for a like reason say the earth is at rest, so, too, in the void things must be at rest; for there is no place to which things can move more or less than to another; since the void in so far as it is void admits no difference.

The second reason is this: all movement is either compulsory or according to nature, and if there is compulsory movement there must also be natural (for compulsory movement is contrary to nature, and movement contrary to nature is posterior to that according to nature, so that if each of the natural bodies has not a natural movement, none of the other movements can exist); but how can there be natural movement if there is no difference throughout the void or the infinite? For in so far as it is infinite, there will be no up or down or middle, and in so far as it is a void, up differs no whit from down; for as there is no difference in what is nothing, there is none in the void (for the void seems to be a non-existent and a privation of being), but natural locomotion seems to be differentiated, so that the things that exist by nature must be differentiated. Either, then, nothing has a natural locomotion, or else there is no void.

Further, in point of fact things that are thrown move though that which gave them their impulse is not touching them, either by reason of mutual replacement, as some maintain, or because the air that has been pushed pushes them with a movement quicker than the natural locomotion of the projectile wherewith it moves to its proper place. But in a void none of these things can take place, nor can anything be moved save as that which is carried is moved.

Further, no one could say why a thing once set in motion should stop anywhere; for why should it stop here rather than here? So that a thing will either be at rest or must be moved ad infinitum, unless something more powerful get in its way.

Further, things are now thought to move into the void because it yields; but in a void this quality is present equally everywhere, so that things should move in all directions.

Further, the truth of what we assert is plain from the following considerations. We see the same weight or body moving faster than another for two reasons, either because there is a difference in what it moves through, as between water, air, and earth, or because, other things being equal, the moving body differs from the other owing to excess of weight or of lightness.

Now the medium causes a difference because it impedes the moving thing, most of all if it is moving in the opposite direction, but in a secondary degree even if it is at rest; and especially a medium that is not easily divided, i.e. a medium that is somewhat dense. A, then, will move through B in time G, and through D, which is thinner, in time E (if the length of B is egual to D), in proportion to the density of the hindering body. For let B be water and D air; then by so much as air is thinner and more incorporeal than water, A will move through D faster than through B. Let the speed have the same ratio to the speed, then, that air has to water. Then if air is twice as thin, the body will traverse B in twice the time that it does D, and the time G will be twice the time E. And always, by so much as the medium is more incorporeal and less resistant and more easily divided, the faster will be the movement.

Now there is no ratio in which the void is exceeded by body, as there is no ratio of 0 to a number. For if 4 exceeds 3 by 1, and 2 by more than 1, and 1 by still more than it exceeds 2, still there is no ratio by which it exceeds 0; for that which exceeds must be divisible into the excess + that which is exceeded, so that will be what it exceeds 0 by + 0. For this reason, too, a line does not exceed a point unless it is composed of points! Similarly the void can bear no ratio to the full, and therefore neither can movement through the one to movement through the other, but if a thing moves through the thickest medium such and such a distance in such and such a time, it moves through the void with a speed beyond any ratio. For let Z be void, equal in magnitude to B and to D. Then if A is to traverse and move through it in a certain time, H, a time less than E, however, the void will bear this ratio to the full. But in a time equal to H, A will traverse the part O of A. And it will surely also traverse in that time any substance Z which exceeds air in thickness in the ratio which the time E bears to the time H. For if the body Z be as much thinner than D as E exceeds H, A, if it moves through Z, will traverse it in a time inverse to the speed of the movement, i.e. in a time equal to H. If, then, there is no body in Z, A will traverse Z still more quickly. But we supposed that its traverse of Z when Z was void occupied the time H. So that it will traverse Z in an equal time whether Z be full or void. But this is impossible. It is plain, then, that if there is a time in which it will move through any part of the void, this impossible result will follow: it will be found to traverse a certain distance, whether this be full or void, in an equal time; for there will be some body which is in the same ratio to the other body as the time is to the time.

To sum the matter up, the cause of this result is obvious, viz. that between any two movements there is a ratio (for they occupy time, and there is a ratio between any two times, so long as both are finite), but there is no ratio of void to full.

These are the consequences that result from a difference in the media; the following depend upon an excess of one moving body over another. We see that bodies which have a greater impulse either of weight or of lightness, if they are alike in other respects, move faster over an equal space, and in the ratio which their magnitudes bear to each other. Therefore they will also move through the void with this ratio of speed. But that is impossible; for why should one move faster? (In moving through plena it must be so; for the greater divides them faster by its force. For a moving thing cleaves the medium either by its shape, or by the impulse which the body that is carried along or is projected possesses.) Therefore all will possess equal velocity. But this is impossible.

It is evident from what has been said, then, that, if there is a void, a result follows which is the very opposite of the reason for which those who believe in a void set it up. They think that if movement in respect of place is to exist, the void cannot exist, separated all by itself; but this is the same as to say that place is a separate cavity; and this has already been stated to be impossible.

But even if we consider it on its own merits the so-called vacuum will be found to be really vacuous. For as, if one puts a cube in water, an amount of water equal to the cube will be displaced; so too in air; but the effect is imperceptible to sense. And indeed always in the case of any body that can be displaced, must, if it is not compressed, be displaced in the direction in which it is its nature to be displaced-always either down, if its locomotion is downwards as in the case of earth, or up, if it is fire, or in both directions-whatever be the nature of the inserted body. Now in the void this is impossible; for it is not body; the void must have penetrated the cube to a distance equal to that which this portion of void formerly occupied in the void, just as if the water or air had not been displaced by the wooden cube, but had penetrated right through it.

But the cube also has a magnitude equal to that occupied by the void; a magnitude which, if it is also hot or cold, or heavy or light, is none the less different in essence from all its attributes, even if it is not separable from them; I mean the volume of the wooden cube. So that even if it were separated from everything else and were neither heavy nor light, it will occupy an equal amount of void, and fill the same place, as the part of place or of the void equal to itself. How then will the body of the cube differ from the void or place that is equal to it? And if there can be two such things, why cannot there be any number coinciding?

This, then, is one absurd and impossible implication of the theory. It is also evident that the cube will have this same volume even if it is displaced, which is an attribute possessed by all other bodies also. Therefore if this differs in no respect from its place, why need we assume a place for bodies over and above the volume of each, if their volume be conceived of as free from attributes? It contributes nothing to the situation if there is an equal interval attached to it as well. [Further it ought to be clear by the study of moving things what sort of thing void is. But in fact it is found nowhere in the world. For air is something, though it does not seem to be so-nor, for that matter, would water, if fishes were made of iron; for the discrimination of the tangible is by touch.]

It is clear, then, from these considerations that there is no separate void.


There are some who think that the existence of rarity and density shows that there is a void. If rarity and density do not exist, they say, neither can things contract and be compressed. But if this were not to take place, either there would be no movement at all, or the universe would bulge, as Xuthus said, or air and water must always change into equal amounts (e.g. if air has been made out of a cupful of water, at the same time out of an equal amount of air a cupful of water must have been made), or void must necessarily exist; for compression and expansion cannot take place otherwise.

Now, if they mean by the rare that which has many voids existing separately, it is plain that if void cannot exist separate any more than a place can exist with an extension all to itself, neither can the rare exist in this sense. But if they mean that there is void, not separately existent, but still present in the rare, this is less impossible, yet, first, the void turns out not to be a condition of all movement, but only of movement upwards (for the rare is light, which is the reason why they say fire is rare); second, the void turns out to be a condition of movement not as that in which it takes place, but in that the void carries things up as skins by being carried up themselves carry up what is continuous with them. Yet how can void have a local movement or a place? For thus that into which void moves is till then void of a void.

Again, how will they explain, in the case of what is heavy, its movement downwards? And it is plain that if the rarer and more void a thing is the quicker it will move upwards, if it were completely void it would move with a maximum speed! But perhaps even this is impossible, that it should move at all; the same reason which showed that in the void all things are incapable of moving shows that the void cannot move, viz. the fact that the speeds are incomparable.

Since we deny that a void exists, but for the rest the problem has been truly stated, that either there will be no movement, if there is not to be condensation and rarefaction, or the universe will bulge, or a transformation of water into air will always be balanced by an equal transformation of air into water (for it is clear that the air produced from water is bulkier than the water): it is necessary therefore, if compression does not exist, either that the next portion will be pushed outwards and make the outermost part bulge, or that somewhere else there must be an equal amount of water produced out of air, so that the entire bulk of the whole may be equal, or that nothing moves. For when anything is displaced this will always happen, unless it comes round in a circle; but locomotion is not always circular, but sometimes in a straight line.

These then are the reasons for which they might say that there is a void; our statement is based on the assumption that there is a single matter for contraries, hot and cold and the other natural contrarieties, and that what exists actually is produced from a potential existent, and that matter is not separable from the contraries but its being is different, and that a single matter may serve for colour and heat and cold.

The same matter also serves for both a large and a small body. This is evident; for when air is produced from water, the same matter has become something different, not by acquiring an addition to it, but has become actually what it was potentially, and, again, water is produced from air in the same way, the change being sometimes from smallness to greatness, and sometimes from greatness to smallness. Similarly, therefore, if air which is large in extent comes to have a smaller volume, or becomes greater from being smaller, it is the matter which is potentially both that comes to be each of the two.

For as the same matter becomes hot from being cold, and cold from being hot, because it was potentially both, so too from hot it can become more hot, though nothing in the matter has become hot that was not hot when the thing was less hot; just as, if the arc or curve of a greater circle becomes that of a smaller, whether it remains the same or becomes a different curve, convexity has not come to exist in anything that was not convex but straight (for differences of degree do not depend on an intermission of the quality); nor can we get any portion of a flame, in which both heat and whiteness are not present. So too, then, is the earlier heat related to the later. So that the greatness and smallness, also, of the sensible volume are extended, not by the matter’s acquiring anything new, but because the matter is potentially matter for both states; so that the same thing is dense and rare, and the two qualities have one matter.

The dense is heavy, and the rare is light. [Again, as the arc of a circle when contracted into a smaller space does not acquire a new part which is convex, but what was there has been contracted; and as any part of fire that one takes will be hot; so, too, it is all a question of contraction and expansion of the same matter.] There are two types in each case, both in the dense and in the rare; for both the heavy and the hard are thought to be dense, and contrariwise both the light and the soft are rare; and weight and hardness fail to coincide in the case of lead and iron.

From what has been said it is evident, then, that void does not exist either separate (either absolutely separate or as a separate element in the rare) or potentially, unless one is willing to call the condition of movement void, whatever it may be. At that rate the matter of the heavy and the light, qua matter of them, would be the void; for the dense and the rare are productive of locomotion in virtue of this contrariety, and in virtue of their hardness and softness productive of passivity and impassivity, i.e. not of locomotion but rather of qualitative change.

So much, then, for the discussion of the void, and of the sense in which it exists and the sense in which it does not exist.


Next for discussion after the subjects mentioned is Time. The best plan will be to begin by working out the difficulties connected with it, making use of the current arguments. First, does it belong to the class of things that exist or to that of things that do not exist? Then secondly, what is its nature? To start, then: the following considerations would make one suspect that it either does not exist at all or barely, and in an obscure way. One part of it has been and is not, while the other is going to be and is not yet. Yet time-both infinite time and any time you like to take-is made up of these. One would naturally suppose that what is made up of things which do not exist could have no share in reality.

Further, if a divisible thing is to exist, it is necessary that, when it exists, all or some of its parts must exist. But of time some parts have been, while others have to be, and no part of it is though it is divisible. For what is ‘now’ is not a part: a part is a measure of the whole, which must be made up of parts. Time, on the other hand, is not held to be made up of ‘nows’.

Again, the ‘now’ which seems to bound the past and the future-does it always remain one and the same or is it always other and other? It is hard to say.

(1) If it is always different and different, and if none of the parts in time which are other and other are simultaneous (unless the one contains and the other is contained, as the shorter time is by the longer), and if the ‘now’ which is not, but formerly was, must have ceased-to-be at some time, the ‘nows’ too cannot be simultaneous with one another, but the prior ‘now’ must always have ceased-to-be. But the prior ‘now’ cannot have ceased-to-be in itself (since it then existed); yet it cannot have ceased-to-be in another ‘now’. For we may lay it down that one ‘now’ cannot be next to another, any more than point to point. If then it did not cease-to-be in the next ‘now’ but in another, it would exist simultaneously with the innumerable ‘nows’ between the two-which is impossible.

Yes, but (2) neither is it possible for the ‘now’ to remain always the same. No determinate divisible thing has a single termination, whether it is continuously extended in one or in more than one dimension: but the ‘now’ is a termination, and it is possible to cut off a determinate time. Further, if coincidence in time (i.e. being neither prior nor posterior) means to be ‘in one and the same “now”’, then, if both what is before and what is after are in this same ‘now’, things which happened ten thousand years ago would be simultaneous with what has happened to-day, and nothing would be before or after anything else.

This may serve as a statement of the difficulties about the attributes of time.

As to what time is or what is its nature, the traditional accounts give us as little light as the preliminary problems which we have worked through.

Some assert that it is (1) the movement of the whole, others that it is (2) the sphere itself.

(1) Yet part, too, of the revolution is a time, but it certainly is not a revolution: for what is taken is part of a revolution, not a revolution. Besides, if there were more heavens than one, the movement of any of them equally would be time, so that there would be many times at the same time.

(2) Those who said that time is the sphere of the whole thought so, no doubt, on the ground that all things are in time and all things are in the sphere of the whole. The view is too naive for it to be worth while to consider the impossibilities implied in it.

But as time is most usually supposed to be (3) motion and a kind of change, we must consider this view.

Now (a) the change or movement of each thing is only in the thing which changes or where the thing itself which moves or changes may chance to be. But time is present equally everywhere and with all things.

Again, (b) change is always faster or slower, whereas time is not: for ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ are defined by time-’fast’ is what moves much in a short time, ‘slow’ what moves little in a long time; but time is not defined by time, by being either a certain amount or a certain kind of it.

Clearly then it is not movement. (We need not distinguish at present between ‘movement’ and ‘change’.)


But neither does time exist without change; for when the state of our own minds does not change at all, or we have not noticed its changing, we do not realize that time has elapsed, any more than those who are fabled to sleep among the heroes in Sardinia do when they are awakened; for they connect the earlier ‘now’ with the later and make them one, cutting out the interval because of their failure to notice it. So, just as, if the ‘now’ were not different but one and the same, there would not have been time, so too when its difference escapes our notice the interval does not seem to be time. If, then, the non-realization of the existence of time happens to us when we do not distinguish any change, but the soul seems to stay in one indivisible state, and when we perceive and distinguish we say time has elapsed, evidently time is not independent of movement and change. It is evident, then, that time is neither movement nor independent of movement.

We must take this as our starting-point and try to discover-since we wish to know what time is-what exactly it has to do with movement.

Now we perceive movement and time together: for even when it is dark and we are not being affected through the body, if any movement takes place in the mind we at once suppose that some time also has elapsed; and not only that but also, when some time is thought to have passed, some movement also along with it seems to have taken place. Hence time is either movement or something that belongs to movement. Since then it is not movement, it must be the other.

But what is moved is moved from something to something, and all magnitude is continuous. Therefore the movement goes with the magnitude. Because the magnitude is continuous, the movement too must be continuous, and if the movement, then the time; for the time that has passed is always thought to be in proportion to the movement.

The distinction of ‘before’ and ‘after’ holds primarily, then, in place; and there in virtue of relative position. Since then ‘before’ and ‘after’ hold in magnitude, they must hold also in movement, these corresponding to those. But also in time the distinction of ‘before’ and ‘after’ must hold, for time and movement always correspond with each other. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ in motion is identical in substratum with motion yet differs from it in definition, and is not identical with motion.

But we apprehend time only when we have marked motion, marking it by ‘before’ and ‘after’; and it is only when we have perceived ‘before’ and ‘after’ in motion that we say that time has elapsed. Now we mark them by judging that A and B are different, and that some third thing is intermediate to them. When we think of the extremes as different from the middle and the mind pronounces that the ‘nows’ are two, one before and one after, it is then that we say that there is time, and this that we say is time. For what is bounded by the ‘now’ is thought to be time-we may assume this.

When, therefore, we perceive the ‘now’ one, and neither as before and after in a motion nor as an identity but in relation to a ‘before’ and an ‘after’, no time is thought to have elapsed, because there has been no motion either. On the other hand, when we do perceive a ‘before’ and an ‘after’, then we say that there is time. For time is just this-number of motion in respect of ‘before’ and ‘after’.

Hence time is not movement, but only movement in so far as it admits of enumeration. A proof of this: we discriminate the more or the less by number, but more or less movement by time. Time then is a kind of number. (Number, we must note, is used in two senses-both of what is counted or the countable and also of that with which we count. Time obviously is what is counted, not that with which we count: there are different kinds of thing.) Just as motion is a perpetual succession, so also is time. But every simultaneous time is self-identical; for the ‘now’ as a subject is an identity, but it accepts different attributes. The ‘now’ measures time, in so far as time involves the ‘before and after’.

The ‘now’ in one sense is the same, in another it is not the same. In so far as it is in succession, it is different (which is just what its being was supposed to mean), but its substratum is an identity: for motion, as was said, goes with magnitude, and time, as we maintain, with motion. Similarly, then, there corresponds to the point the body which is carried along, and by which we are aware of the motion and of the ‘before and after’ involved in it. This is an identical substratum (whether a point or a stone or something else of the kind), but it has different attributes as the sophists assume that Coriscus’ being in the Lyceum is a different thing from Coriscus’ being in the market-place. And the body which is carried along is different, in so far as it is at one time here and at another there. But the ‘now’ corresponds to the body that is carried along, as time corresponds to the motion. For it is by means of the body that is carried along that we become aware of the ‘before and after’ the motion, and if we regard these as countable we get the ‘now’. Hence in these also the ‘now’ as substratum remains the same (for it is what is before and after in movement), but what is predicated of it is different; for it is in so far as the ‘before and after’ is numerable that we get the ‘now’. This is what is most knowable: for, similarly, motion is known because of that which is moved, locomotion because of that which is carried. what is carried is a real thing, the movement is not. Thus what is called ‘now’ in one sense is always the same; in another it is not the same: for this is true also of what is carried.

Clearly, too, if there were no time, there would be no ‘now’, and vice versa. just as the moving body and its locomotion involve each other mutually, so too do the number of the moving body and the number of its locomotion. For the number of the locomotion is time, while the ‘now’ corresponds to the moving body, and is like the unit of number.

Time, then, also is both made continuous by the ‘now’ and divided at it. For here too there is a correspondence with the locomotion and the moving body. For the motion or locomotion is made one by the thing which is moved, because it is one-not because it is one in its own nature (for there might be pauses in the movement of such a thing)-but because it is one in definition: for this determines the movement as ‘before’ and ‘after’. Here, too there is a correspondence with the point; for the point also both connects and terminates the length-it is the beginning of one and the end of another. But when you take it in this way, using the one point as two, a pause is necessary, if the same point is to be the beginning and the end. The ‘now’ on the other hand, since the body carried is moving, is always different.

Hence time is not number in the sense in which there is ‘number’ of the same point because it is beginning and end, but rather as the extremities of a line form a number, and not as the parts of the line do so, both for the reason given (for we can use the middle point as two, so that on that analogy time might stand still), and further because obviously the ‘now’ is no part of time nor the section any part of the movement, any more than the points are parts of the line-for it is two lines that are parts of one line.

In so far then as the ‘now’ is a boundary, it is not time, but an attribute of it; in so far as it numbers, it is number; for boundaries belong only to that which they bound, but number (e.g. ten) is the number of these horses, and belongs also elsewhere.

It is clear, then, that time is ‘number of movement in respect of the before and after’, and is continuous since it is an attribute of what is continuous.


The smallest number, in the strict sense of the word ‘number’, is two. But of number as concrete, sometimes there is a minimum, sometimes not: e.g. of a ‘line’, the smallest in respect of multiplicity is two (or, if you like, one), but in respect of size there is no minimum; for every line is divided ad infinitum. Hence it is so with time. In respect of number the minimum is one (or two); in point of extent there is no minimum.

It is clear, too, that time is not described as fast or slow, but as many or few and as long or short. For as continuous it is long or short and as a number many or few, but it is not fast or slow-any more than any number with which we number is fast or slow.

Further, there is the same time everywhere at once, but not the same time before and after, for while the present change is one, the change which has happened and that which will happen are different. Time is not number with which we count, but the number of things which are counted, and this according as it occurs before or after is always different, for the ‘nows’ are different. And the number of a hundred horses and a hundred men is the same, but the things numbered are different-the horses from the men. Further, as a movement can be one and the same again and again, so too can time, e.g. a year or a spring or an autumn.

Not only do we measure the movement by the time, but also the time by the movement, because they define each other. The time marks the movement, since it is its number, and the movement the time. We describe the time as much or little, measuring it by the movement, just as we know the number by what is numbered, e.g. the number of the horses by one horse as the unit. For we know how many horses there are by the use of the number; and again by using the one horse as unit we know the number of the horses itself. So it is with the time and the movement; for we measure the movement by the time and vice versa. It is natural that this should happen; for the movement goes with the distance and the time with the movement, because they are quanta and continuous and divisible. The movement has these attributes because the distance is of this nature, and the time has them because of the movement. And we measure both the distance by the movement and the movement by the distance; for we say that the road is long, if the journey is long, and that this is long, if the road is long-the time, too, if the movement, and the movement, if the time.

Time is a measure of motion and of being moved, and it measures the motion by determining a motion which will measure exactly the whole motion, as the cubit does the length by determining an amount which will measure out the whole. Further ‘to be in time’ means for movement, that both it and its essence are measured by time (for simultaneously it measures both the movement and its essence, and this is what being in time means for it, that its essence should be measured).

Clearly then ‘to be in time’ has the same meaning for other things also, namely, that their being should be measured by time. ‘To be in time’ is one of two things: (1) to exist when time exists, (2) as we say of some things that they are ‘in number’. The latter means either what is a part or mode of number-in general, something which belongs to number-or that things have a number.

Now, since time is number, the ‘now’ and the ‘before’ and the like are in time, just as ‘unit’ and ‘odd’ and ‘even’ are in number, i.e. in the sense that the one set belongs to number, the other to time. But things are in time as they are in number. If this is so, they are contained by time as things in place are contained by place.

Plainly, too, to be in time does not mean to co-exist with time, any more than to be in motion or in place means to co-exist with motion or place. For if ‘to be in something’ is to mean this, then all things will be in anything, and the heaven will be in a grain; for when the grain is, then also is the heaven. But this is a merely incidental conjunction, whereas the other is necessarily involved: that which is in time necessarily involves that there is time when it is, and that which is in motion that there is motion when it is.

Since what is ‘in time’ is so in the same sense as what is in number is so, a time greater than everything in time can be found. So it is necessary that all the things in time should be contained by time, just like other things also which are ‘in anything’, e.g. the things ‘in place’ by place.

A thing, then, will be affected by time, just as we are accustomed to say that time wastes things away, and that all things grow old through time, and that there is oblivion owing to the lapse of time, but we do not say the same of getting to know or of becoming young or fair. For time is by its nature the cause rather of decay, since it is the number of change, and change removes what is.

Hence, plainly, things which are always are not, as such, in time, for they are not contained time, nor is their being measured by time. A proof of this is that none of them is affected by time, which indicates that they are not in time.

Since time is the measure of motion, it will be the measure of rest too-indirectly. For all rest is in time. For it does not follow that what is in time is moved, though what is in motion is necessarily moved. For time is not motion, but ‘number of motion’: and what is at rest, also, can be in the number of motion. Not everything that is not in motion can be said to be ‘at rest’-but only that which can be moved, though it actually is not moved, as was said above.

‘To be in number’ means that there is a number of the thing, and that its being is measured by the number in which it is. Hence if a thing is ‘in time’ it will be measured by time. But time will measure what is moved and what is at rest, the one qua moved, the other qua at rest; for it will measure their motion and rest respectively.

Hence what is moved will not be measurable by the time simply in so far as it has quantity, but in so far as its motion has quantity. Thus none of the things which are neither moved nor at rest are in time: for ‘to be in time’ is ‘to be measured by time’, while time is the measure of motion and rest.

Plainly, then, neither will everything that does not exist be in time, i.e. those non-existent things that cannot exist, as the diagonal cannot be commensurate with the side.

Generally, if time is directly the measure of motion and indirectly of other things, it is clear that a thing whose existence is measured by it will have its existence in rest or motion. Those things therefore which are subject to perishing and becoming-generally, those which at one time exist, at another do not-are necessarily in time: for there is a greater time which will extend both beyond their existence and beyond the time which measures their existence. Of things which do not exist but are contained by time some were, e.g. Homer once was, some will be, e.g. a future event; this depends on the direction in which time contains them; if on both, they have both modes of existence. As to such things as it does not contain in any way, they neither were nor are nor will be. These are those nonexistents whose opposites always are, as the incommensurability of the diagonal always is-and this will not be in time. Nor will the commensurability, therefore; hence this eternally is not, because it is contrary to what eternally is. A thing whose contrary is not eternal can be and not be, and it is of such things that there is coming to be and passing away.


The ‘now’ is the link of time, as has been said (for it connects past and future time), and it is a limit of time (for it is the beginning of the one and the end of the other). But this is not obvious as it is with the point, which is fixed. It divides potentially, and in so far as it is dividing the ‘now’ is always different, but in so far as it connects it is always the same, as it is with mathematical lines. For the intellect it is not always one and the same point, since it is other and other when one divides the line; but in so far as it is one, it is the same in every respect.

So the ‘now’ also is in one way a potential dividing of time, in another the termination of both parts, and their unity. And the dividing and the uniting are the same thing and in the same reference, but in essence they are not the same.

So one kind of ‘now’ is described in this way: another is when the time is near this kind of ‘now’. ‘He will come now’ because he will come to-day; ‘he has come now’ because he came to-day. But the things in the Iliad have not happened ‘now’, nor is the flood ‘now’-not that the time from now to them is not continuous, but because they are not near.

‘At some time’ means a time determined in relation to the first of the two types of ‘now’, e.g. ‘at some time’ Troy was taken, and ‘at some time’ there will be a flood; for it must be determined with reference to the ‘now’. There will thus be a determinate time from this ‘now’ to that, and there was such in reference to the past event. But if there be no time which is not ‘sometime’, every time will be determined.

Will time then fail? Surely not, if motion always exists. Is time then always different or does the same time recur? Clearly time is, in the same way as motion is. For if one and the same motion sometimes recurs, it will be one and the same time, and if not, not.

Since the ‘now’ is an end and a beginning of time, not of the same time however, but the end of that which is past and the beginning of that which is to come, it follows that, as the circle has its convexity and its concavity, in a sense, in the same thing, so time is always at a beginning and at an end. And for this reason it seems to be always different; for the ‘now’ is not the beginning and the end of the same thing; if it were, it would be at the same time and in the same respect two opposites. And time will not fail; for it is always at a beginning.

‘Presently’ or ‘just’ refers to the part of future time which is near the indivisible present ‘now’ (’When do you walk? ‘Presently’, because the time in which he is going to do so is near), and to the part of past time which is not far from the ‘now’ (’When do you walk?’ ‘I have just been walking’). But to say that Troy has just been taken-we do not say that, because it is too far from the ‘now’. ‘Lately’, too, refers to the part of past time which is near the present ‘now’. ‘When did you go?’ ‘Lately’, if the time is near the existing now. ‘Long ago’ refers to the distant past.

‘Suddenly’ refers to what has departed from its former condition in a time imperceptible because of its smallness; but it is the nature of all change to alter things from their former condition. In time all things come into being and pass away; for which reason some called it the wisest of all things, but the Pythagorean Paron called it the most stupid, because in it we also forget; and his was the truer view. It is clear then that it must be in itself, as we said before, the condition of destruction rather than of coming into being (for change, in itself, makes things depart from their former condition), and only incidentally of coming into being, and of being. A sufficient evidence of this is that nothing comes into being without itself moving somehow and acting, but a thing can be destroyed even if it does not move at all. And this is what, as a rule, we chiefly mean by a thing’s being destroyed by time. Still, time does not work even this change; even this sort of change takes place incidentally in time.

We have stated, then, that time exists and what it is, and in how many senses we speak of the ‘now’, and what ‘at some time’, ‘lately’, ‘presently’ or ‘just’, ‘long ago’, and ‘suddenly’ mean.


These distinctions having been drawn, it is evident that every change and everything that moves is in time; for the distinction of faster and slower exists in reference to all change, since it is found in every instance. In the phrase ‘moving faster’ I refer to that which changes before another into the condition in question, when it moves over the same interval and with a regular movement; e.g. in the case of locomotion, if both things move along the circumference of a circle, or both along a straight line; and similarly in all other cases. But what is before is in time; for we say ‘before’ and ‘after’ with reference to the distance from the ‘now’, and the ‘now’ is the boundary of the past and the future; so that since ‘nows’ are in time, the before and the after will be in time too; for in that in which the ‘now’ is, the distance from the ‘now’ will also be. But ‘before’ is used contrariwise with reference to past and to future time; for in the past we call ‘before’ what is farther from the ‘now’, and ‘after’ what is nearer, but in the future we call the nearer ‘before’ and the farther ‘after’. So that since the ‘before’ is in time, and every movement involves a ‘before’, evidently every change and every movement is in time.

It is also worth considering how time can be related to the soul; and why time is thought to be in everything, both in earth and in sea and in heaven. Is because it is an attribute, or state, or movement (since it is the number of movement) and all these things are movable (for they are all in place), and time and movement are together, both in respect of potentiality and in respect of actuality?

Whether if soul did not exist time would exist or not, is a question that may fairly be asked; for if there cannot be some one to count there cannot be anything that can be counted, so that evidently there cannot be number; for number is either what has been, or what can be, counted. But if nothing but soul, or in soul reason, is qualified to count, there would not be time unless there were soul, but only that of which time is an attribute, i.e. if movement can exist without soul, and the before and after are attributes of movement, and time is these qua numerable.

One might also raise the question what sort of movement time is the number of. Must we not say ‘of any kind’? For things both come into being in time and pass away, and grow, and are altered in time, and are moved locally; thus it is of each movement qua movement that time is the number. And so it is simply the number of continuous movement, not of any particular kind of it.

But other things as well may have been moved now, and there would be a number of each of the two movements. Is there another time, then, and will there be two equal times at once? Surely not. For a time that is both equal and simultaneous is one and the same time, and even those that are not simultaneous are one in kind; for if there were dogs, and horses, and seven of each, it would be the same number. So, too, movements that have simultaneous limits have the same time, yet the one may in fact be fast and the other not, and one may be locomotion and the other alteration; still the time of the two changes is the same if their number also is equal and simultaneous; and for this reason, while the movements are different and separate, the time is everywhere the same, because the number of equal and simultaneous movements is everywhere one and the same.

Now there is such a thing as locomotion, and in locomotion there is included circular movement, and everything is measured by some one thing homogeneous with it, units by a unit, horses by a horse, and similarly times by some definite time, and, as we said, time is measured by motion as well as motion by time (this being so because by a motion definite in time the quantity both of the motion and of the time is measured): if, then, what is first is the measure of everything homogeneous with it, regular circular motion is above all else the measure, because the number of this is the best known. Now neither alteration nor increase nor coming into being can be regular, but locomotion can be. This also is why time is thought to be the movement of the sphere, viz. because the other movements are measured by this, and time by this movement.

This also explains the common saying that human affairs form a circle, and that there is a circle in all other things that have a natural movement and coming into being and passing away. This is because all other things are discriminated by time, and end and begin as though conforming to a cycle; for even time itself is thought to be a circle. And this opinion again is held because time is the measure of this kind of locomotion and is itself measured by such. So that to say that the things that come into being form a circle is to say that there is a circle of time; and this is to say that it is measured by the circular movement; for apart from the measure nothing else to be measured is observed; the whole is just a plurality of measures.

It is said rightly, too, that the number of the sheep and of the dogs is the same number if the two numbers are equal, but not the same decad or the same ten; just as the equilateral and the scalene are not the same triangle, yet they are the same figure, because they are both triangles. For things are called the same so-and-so if they do not differ by a differentia of that thing, but not if they do; e.g. triangle differs from triangle by a differentia of triangle, therefore they are different triangles; but they do not differ by a differentia of figure, but are in one and the same division of it. For a figure of the one kind is a circle and a figure of another kind of triangle, and a triangle of one kind is equilateral and a triangle of another kind scalene. They are the same figure, then, that, triangle, but not the same triangle. Therefore the number of two groups also-is the same number (for their number does not differ by a differentia of number), but it is not the same decad; for the things of which it is asserted differ; one group are dogs, and the other horses.

We have now discussed time-both time itself and the matters appropriate to the consideration of it.