Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 14

The Nature of Zeno's Argument against Plurality in DK 29 B 1

Author(s): William E. Abraham

Source: Phronesis, Vol. 17, No. 1 (1972), pp. 40-52
Published by: BRILL
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4181872 .
Accessed: 21/08/2013 20:40
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

BRILL is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Phronesis.


This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

TheNatureof Zeno'sArgument
AgainstPluralityinDK 29 B I


Simplicius has preserved (Phys. 140, 34) a Zenonian argument purporting to show that if an object of positive magnitude has parts from
which it derives its size, then any such object must be at once of
infinite magnitude and zero magnitude. This surprising consequence
is based upon a construction which Zeno makes, but his argument is
widely thought to be grossly fallacious. Most often he is supposed to
have misunderstoodthe arithmetic of his own construction. Evidently,
any such charge must be premised on some view of the particular
nature of the sequence to which Zeno's construction gives rise. I seek
to develop a view that Zeno's argument is in fact free from fallacy,
and offer reason to fear that his real argumenthas usually been missed.
For ease of reference, I reproduce a translation of Simplicius in
DK 29 B 1.
(He showed the infinity of) size earlier by means of the same reasoning, for
having first established that if a being did not have a size, it would not even
be, he proceeds: if then it is, each must have some definite size and bulk,
and have one (part) of it extend from another. Concerning a' projecting
part, the same principle holds, for that too will have size, and part of it2
will project. Indeed, to say this once is equal in force to saying it forever;
for no such part of it will be the last, and there will not be a part not
extending from another. Thus, if it consists of many parts, it must be both
small and huge - so small as not to have size, so huge as to be infinite.

In order to impute the usual fallacy to Zeno, it is held that his construction is of a series of continuously decreasing quantities. The
charge then is that Zeno mistakenly thought that the sum of such a
series approaches infinity.
It is irrelevant to this charge whether the terms decrease geometrically or not. Vlastos3 has however offered persuasive considerations,

For a discussion of the grammar, see p. 43.

2 W. A. Heidel (followed by Hermann Frankel) took aoiu

Tt to be a partitive
genitive, rightly. See Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
48 (1913), p. 724.
3 G. Vlastos in "Note on B 1" (p. 3), one of several papers offered to the Institute
in Greek Philosophy and Science meeting at Colorado Springs, Summer 1970.


This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

which indicate that if Zeno's sequence is of continuously decreasing

terms, he probably intended them to decrease geometrically. Vlastos
cites our knowledge "of the severe norms of symmetry in archaic
thought", the fact that the operative ratio in the paradox of the
stadium is 1: 2, and the fact that the Porphyry text (apud Simpl.
Phys. 139, 27-32) relates the use of the method of dichotomy. Indeed,
the use of t-epov in the present text would, as DK surmised,4 suggest
a division into two parts, and not three as Frinkel prefers.5 At any
rate, given that the sequence is of continuously decreasing quantities,
then whether the terms decrease geometrically or not, it would be a
blatant fallacy to suppose that their sum, if there is one, could be
infinitely large.
That Zeno should have committed the above fallacy is regarded as
inexcusable, since, even if he did not know that the sum of the
arithmetical progression E (n) does not exceed 1, only wilful fatuity

1, 2,3,...

could blind him to the fact that all the quantities in his own sequence
are supposed to be parts of the one given finitely large object, and so
could not in sum exceed their matrix. And yet it hardly seems that
Zeno had any such amnesia concerning the source of the parts; on the
contrary, he makes it a corner-stone of his argument that the sum of
all the derived parts would not differ from the original finite existent.
This indeed is why he makes the original existent assume an infinite
size if the sum of its parts is an infinite magnitude, and zero size if
the sum of the parts is of zero magnitude. What is lacking is the proof
that the parts would add up to an infinite magnitude and to zero
magnitude. As to the equivalence of the parts with the whole, Zeno's
B 3 paradox may even seem to formulate precisely this.6
The standard exposition varies as to the ratio in which the given
finite existent is continuously divided. While most accounts suggest a
bipartite division, some (e.g. Frankel's) have proposed a tripartite
division. All of them, however, make certain suppositions which give
rise to the imputed fallacy. For the purpose of the following discussion,
it is simpler to refer to the bipartite division.
4 Diels/Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsohratiker (Dublin/Zurich 1966) I 255,
footnote to line 16.
b Hermann Frankel, "Zeno of Elea's Attacks on Plurality" in American Journal
of Philology, 63 (1942), 1-25, 193-206.
6 DK I 257 f: "If it consists of many parts, they (the parts) must be just as
many as they are, neither more nor fewer, and if they are just as many as
they are, they must be limited".


This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

It is assumed in the first place that Zeno gives a particular direction

to the repeated division, that it proceeds from left to right, and therefore that the division is reiterated at each step, only upon the right
hand term resulting from the preceedingdivision. Thus, let the original
object be A, let A be divided into two parts, a, and a2; let a2be divided
into b, and b2; and similarly ad infinitum. Zeno's sequence would
thereforesupposedly be representedby the expression (a, + b, + cl +
... ad inf.). This reading of Zeno's construction yields an infinite
number of parts not further divided themselves. Obviously, such an

operation will produce continuously decreasing terms. One thing to

note here is: even if there is a direction or sense to Zeno's sequence,
that the direction would be fromleft to rightwould only be an assumption made natural by our own direction of reading. A Japanese translation may suggest a downwarddirection, and a Hebrew translation,
a right to left direction. Indeed, Simplicius himself may even seem to
have assumed that Zeno's sequence moved not from left to right, but
from right to left (npo' ro5Xaotuovo~tievou



-'V E'


for the part beforewould seem to be a left-hand part.

A second thing to note is that it is, in fact, only an assumption that
there is a particular direction or sense at all. What Simplicius does
report (DK 29 B 1) is that given an existent has a positive size and
another part (meaning,
bulk, a part of it must stretch from (CX&exsLv)
doubtless, that it is divided into two). Zeno adds that this same
principle is true of a projecting part (7tepl 'oi 7pouxov'oq). What the
standard exposition has done is both to translate this last phrase to
mean "concerningthe projecting part", and to identify this projecting
part with the right hand segment. And yet, at the first division, neither
part can be described as the projecting part to the exclusion of the
other, for either part stretches away from the other. The relation
is symmetrical, renderingeach part a projecting
expressed by &.7XeLV
if there is one, would thus be,
part. The contrast with "ro npo?'Cov",
not the left-hand part, but rather the whole object, especially as Zeno's
stated reason for reiterating the partition is that resulting parts too
will have a size (xax yap 'xsZvo tere 0'y?oq XMl npo6ei autoiux) whether
this clause is taken to be epexegetic or argumentative. Since either
part in the bipartite division would have a size, it would follow that
the principle is to apply to both parts, and, indeed, any part with
positive magnitude resulting from the reiterated subdivision. The force
of rxe-voabove is thereforeto introduce a generalrather than a singular

7 DK I 257 2,3.


This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

proposition. That the division is indeed envisaged for every resulting

part would appear to be confirmed by Zeno's remark that there will

not be a part which does not abut another (ou'e &TEpOV 7pOq gTepov
oux eacrL)8for this does not seem to make any exception of left-hand
or right-hand parts. If this is so, the form of Zeno's sequence cannot be
represented by the expression E

(a, + b, + cl + . . .) where the

terms are successive undivided left-hand (or right-hand) parts. Accordingly, in the remark


Xa4 vo[ivou

a LEttvacL

8atr FfvV

(DK I 257 2-3), Simplicius is not choosing between

left-hand and right-hand, but is saying that "by reason of the infinite
division, there is always something (jutting) from any part you take".
The construction I am suggesting will be seen to depend on a reading
of 7eP?.TOU7rP0UX0vT0q
in B 1 which denies the article its individuating
role; but this is not contrary to Greek grammar. In Greek,the article
with the participle can have a generic or a particular force. When it
assumes a generic force, the substantive which governs the participle
&7?cLpov -opiv"

with the article may be suppressed; and just as 'o r3oux6,svoq would
mean "anyone who wishes," so sLo7rpoC'Xov
could mean "any projecting

part." This interpretation is requiredby the logic of the argument, and

is now seen to be consonant with the grammar of Greek (e.g., Smyth,
GreekGrammar 1124, 2050, 2052).

One thing about the rendering suggested here is that it makes it

easier to reconcile both the Philoponus passage and the 'Porphyry
text' with that of Simplicius. In the Philoponus passage (Phys. 43,
11-13), the following sentence occurs:
s6 yap atvx EX t eLV

7V?Ntay' 't'o

aLMLpeRV EC; t6ptO eateeV


&'Ct 8Laxpv.ov


Ciai 'To


It would be hard to assume Philoponus to be restricting the further

sub-division to some but not others of the products of the division.
The Porphyry text (apud Simpl. 139, 27) turns out to be even more
felicitous in this respect, for Porphyry's understanding of the argument he is reporting is that the process of division is through and
through, and is reiterated for every product of each application:
7tcavtfl OLLo6)&a'
M<r4raxL;ttpeov &X' ov rn Fev, 'r] 8a oV (15-16). Second, he
indicates the same paradox as in DK 29 B 1, for the thorough division
yields either an infinite number of mutually equal parts which are
minima of positive magnitude, or are of zero magnitude. The original

object would therefore now either be of infinite magnitude or be of

zero magnitude. As to Porphyry's attribution of his version to Parmes

DK I 255 20,21.


This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

nides, it is indeed possible that Parmenides should have used such an

argument. Vlastos9 has even drawn attention to the stylistic parallel
o'u7n ptv, T- 8? ov" and Parmenides' own
between Porphyry's "(X?X'
"rnn" (DK I 239, 45). It is not necessary to deny the possibility of
the attribution; what must be emphasized, however, is that such an
attribution does not preclude Zeno from having pressed the argument
home. Indeed, the close relationship between the two men claimed by
Plato (Parm. 127 e) and repeated by Eudemus (Simpl. 99.7 8-11),
would make this natural.
One objection may seem to stand against the suggested interpretation of Zeno's premises. In the concordance on Zeno, the verb
occurs only three times, twice in Simplicius (DK 29 B 1, 17, 18)

and once in Aristotle (Phys. Z 9, 239 b 14). In the Aristotelianpassage,

the verb, it would appear, cannot carry the same construction as that
here suggested for it in Simplicius, whereas according to the interpretation questioned in the foregoing, the verb has the same meaning
in all three occurrences.To this, it can be said that the construe of the
verb cannot just depend on homonymy but must be guided by the
context. Now, the basis of the suggested interpretation is that TO
which is symmetrical. Hence,
tpo0uo,vresults from the relation &7tsrxzev
each product resulting from &7tXScLVwould answerto 7repOr7rGupoXovTo0.
On the other hand, in the Achilles, the pursuit is not symmetrical. The
quicker runner is pursuing the slower runner, the latter does not in
turn pursue the former; hence Aristotle can only say:
Me[ TL 7rP0eZXEV


ro ppot&YSpov.

If we thus construe Zeno's premises, we can see that in this argument

against plurality, he did not seek just any infinite division but only
one which is through and through. It is obvious that given such
a division of a being with a size, Zeno can proceed to develop his
paradox. The products of the thorough division, it is assumed, would
be parts of the given being. None of these parts can however be larger
than any other, or else the division would not be thorough. Hence
the parts must be equal to one another. On the one hand each of these
parts has positive size, otherwise they could not constitute an object
with positive size, and so would not be the parts of such an object.
Zeno's argument for this thesis is essentially stated in Simplicius (DK
29 B 2 10-15). If then each of the equal parts has positive size, since
there is an infinite number of them, their sum would be infinitely
* G. Vlastos, "Note on the 'Porphyry Text'," (p. 2), paper offered to the Institute in Greek Philosophy and Science, meeting at Colorado Springs, 1970.


This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

large. As they must at the same time be equal in sum to the given being,
that being would now be infinite in size. On the other hand, these
parts cannot possibly have positive size, or else the division is not
through and through. Hence since the given being is thoroughly
divided, these parts, while remaining mutually equal, must now have
zero size each. In sum, they will still have zero size. Since in sum they
must be equal to the given being whose parts they are, it follows now
that that being would have zero size.
Even though Zeno's argument does not commit the fallacy of
making a decreasing geometrical progression infinite in sum, there
still are features of it which may not have commanded acquiescence
in his day, and certainly merit discussion in ours. The following
propositions are important to his argument:
i) a being with positive magnitude is divided through and through;
ii) a through and through division as in (1) is an infinite division;
iii) the products of any division of a being with positive magnitude are parts of
that being;
iv) the products of a through and through division of a being with positive
magnitude cannot have positive magnitude;
v) the parts of a being are together equivalent to that being (formulated by
Zeno himself in B 3).

Evidently, this set of propositions can yield Zeno's contradictory

conclusions. Those of them referring to a through and through
division have found much disfavour since ancient times, for it is said
to be impossible either on the supposition that it evaporates a being
into non-existence (e.g., Aristotle, De Gen. et Corr. 316 a; and Epicurus,
Letter to Herodotus 56, 5-8) or on the supposition that an infinite
division simply cannot be supposed to be complete (i.e., to have been
For Zeno's argument, however, it is still essential to insist that he
envisaged a through and through division. Indeed, unless this is done,
it would become a wonder that a crude arithmetical fallacy concerning
the sum of a geometrically decreasing progression could be committed
by Zeno and sustained by thinkers of similar acumen, like Eudemus,
Sextus, Simplicius, and Epicurus. In the case of Eudemus, it would be
particularly flabbergasting since this man appears to have compiled a
History of Geometry and composed an essay on The Angle. It is probable
that in complaining that we would be forced in our conception of totals
to make things go to waste in the non-existent if infinite division
were permitted, Epicurus had in mind the Zenonian argument in

This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

which a being may well do precisely that if it were divided through

and through in the stipulated sense. Clearly unless Epicurus had a
through and through division in mind, his fear would be blatantly
groundless, for otherwise an indefinite number of sizable chunks of the
being would survive the division. Epicurus' further thought (57, 1-5)
seems to be that if nevertheless someone obstinately proposes the
thorough division into parts (which, as was seen with Zeno, have to
be equal, whether they be of zero or of positive size), then however
small he may make these parts, the divided being will now be infinitely
large, taken (as before) in total. Epicurus' own way out appears to
have been to exclude infinite divisibility, that is, to postulate that a
being could be thoroughly divided without being infinitely divided,
thereby yielding atomic parts.10
If this reading of Epicurus is correct, then it would be futile to have
drawn his attention to properties of convergent series, for these are
not in question. It is therefore unnecessary to regret that Aristotle
failed to convince Epicurus, as there is a temptation to do. Indeed, it is
probably too generous to say that the Aristotelian passage in question
(Phys. 206 b 7-9) really formulates a theorem concerning decreasing
geometrical progressions. What he seems to do is instead to call in
question the notion of a complete infinite division ("we shall not
traverse the given magnitude").
As for Eudemus, he is reported by Simplicius (Phys. 459, 25-26) to
have argued: "to assert of something that it is an infinitely numerous
0OpaL8ekcomes to the same as asserting that it is infinite as to size".

Evidently 000?takL only needs to be taken to mean congruence with

respect to positive size for Eudemus' mathematics to be vindicated.
The connection with Zeno is obvious. It would now appear that the
suggested basic reading of the Zenonian fragment similarly restores
the logic of Zeno, Eudemus, Epicurus, and others. It would seem
besides that any attempt to find a background for the atomists in
Eleatic thinking must regard infinite divisibility in Zeno as infinite
through and through divisibility.'1
The atomist answer to Zeno, as illustrated in Epicurus, is to deny
10 Letter to Herodotus ? 56.
11 Compare Heidel (loc. cit. in n. 2, p. 723) who affirms his belief that the
Epicurean doctrine of partes minimae owes its origin to Zeno's argument, and
that (724) Zeno's criticism "made it necessary that there should be a limit to the
number and the divisibility of the parts of which a revised atomism might
concede that it was composed".


This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

that a through and through division of a finite being is an infinite

division, and also to deny that the products of a through and through
division would yield indivisible parts. This atomist view would seem
to be behind Owen's complaint that Zeno assumed without argument
that the conjunction of size with theoretical indivisibility would be a

It may possibly help to remark that Zeno's arguments involving

the notion of infinity may be grouped according as they involve a
static infinity or a dynamic infinity. The Achilles would be said to
involve a dynamic infinity, for there is a chase which never ends.
Similarly, the Stadium involves a dynamic infinity, for there is a race
which cannot be completed (apparently can't even be started); and
it would seem that in each case the hub of the argument is that each
programcalls for the undertaking of an infinite number of tasks which
must be complete in an ordinal fashion - something that Zeno argues
cannot be achieved. It would be piquant if by a volteface Zeno should
assume in other arguments that an infinite number of tasks could be
after all completed ordinally. The argument against plurality in
Simplicius does not in fact make any such assumption. The objection
to the effect that Zeno assumes an infinite division could be completed
appears to be unjustified. Neither the race across the stadium nor
Achilles' pursuit is given as a completed whole, while the divided
being is. When Zeno uses the argument of the dichotomy as he in
principle does in the present argument against plurality, he does not
propose the use of a hatchet, but rather draws attention to a relation
that is hereditary in the sense that its terms themselves contain the
same relation. To assume the division to be complete is here not to
assume it to have been completed. Thus having said that a given being
(since it must have size and bulk) has two complementary parts, he
asserts that this would be true of the complementary parts themselves
and so on without end, for no complementary part could be final or
could terminate the relation. Indeed the intransitive verbs o&7r&eLV,
7rpoeXyevthemselves suggest that no task or activity is proposed.

Zeno never assumes that an infinite task can be ordinally completed,

and whenever the question arises, he is anxious to argue that it cannot,
as can be seen in the case of Achilles and the Stadium. If his argument
against plurality requiredthe ordinal completion of an infinite task, he
would have no argument, for there would now be exactly the same
reasons as at any other time against the requirement. The fact that
12 G. E. L. Owen in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1957/58 p. 210.


This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Zeno postulates products of the through and through division can

hardly show that he envisages the ordinal completion of an infinite
task. Consideras follows.
The objection that Zeno assumes the completion of an infinite task
assumes that, when he postulates that the being is divided through and
through and so infinitely, he is introducing end-products which logically cannot be further divided, or he is assuming a last division beyond
which there is no other, and so, a last part. Now even though there is
an actual infinite number of points in a line at any of which points the
line may be divided, the finite line does have terminal points, both a
first and a last point. (This, of course, is made possible by the fact that
there is no point next to either terminal point). But it would be a
howler, committed by Johann Bernoulli, and decried by Leibniz, that
a terminal point would be "the infinitieth point" on the line. Of
course, if there were an infinitieth point on the line, there would be
an infinite number of "infinitieth points" on the same line. Leibniz's
observation was that points are not elements of lines, and if this
means that points are not themselves members of line intervals, he is
right. Zeno, of course, regarded the products of through and through
divisions as membersof the aggregate which is the given being, indeed
the only parts which are membersof the aggregate without being
included in it, i.e., without themselves having members. This is the
logical import of the thoroughnessof the division. On the other hand,
parts which are not end-products, i.e., all other parts, are includedin
the aggregate. That there must be end-productsis truly a consequence
of the supposition of through and through division, and no less truly
through and through division is a consequence of the tenet that every
being with positive size is divisible, for, as even Aristotle appreciated,
every such being must be divisible at every point.'3 To say that it is
infinitely divided is no more than to say that it actually has an infinite
number of points at everyone of which it is divisible. The point to note
is that the infinite divisibility means not an infinite number of points
of alternativedivision (such that the alternatives are inexhaustible), but
rather an infinite number of points of simultaneous division. The
points of division, being points on the being, belong to it not alternatively, but simultaneously. It is this simultaneity (and not a process)
which is articulated by the postulate of the complete division. It is
clear that if Zeno's complete division is thus a cardinal completion
rather than an ordinal completion, the infinite division of the given

DeGen. etCorr. I 2, 316 a 15-317 a 17.


This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

being does not imply a last division or last part, any more than the
simultaneity of the points on a line imply an infinitieth point. That
there are end-products implies neither that there is a last division not
that there is a last product. That division which involves the endproduct is distinguished from all the other possible divisions in that it
is the only division of which it is true that every one of its products is
related to the given being (now regarded as an aggregate) not by
inclusion but by membership.
It should be evident now that any part with positive magnitude
would be includedin the aggregate. To say that such a part could be
theoretically indivisible would mean at most that it is non-fissile in
relation to physical theory, not that it has no segments. It is not
necessary to Zeno's argument against plurality that the parts of a
being should be fissile parts. The verb 47eXeLv does not require this; it
calls only for segments. Solomon Luria14 accurately perceived the

nature of the aggregationinvolved in Zeno's argumentagainst plurality

when he saw that Zeno rested on an addition principle for an infinite
number of equal magnitudes. Two cases are distinguished:
i) if the addends are of positive magnitude their sum is of infinite magnitude;
ii) if the addends are of zero magnitude their sum is of zero magnitude.

Griinbaum calls the enunciation for zero magnitude in question, and

yet the analogy whereby he hopes to confute Zeno is in fact only
helpful in drawing attention to a crucial difference between Zeno's
principles and those of dimension theory, but fails entirely to disclose
any fallacy in Zeno's reasoning; for the crucial difference is that
whereas in dimension theory the unextended entities belonging to
aggregates which make up a line are included in the aggregate but are
not members of it, those parts of zero magnitude (the end-products of
a through and through division) are members of, and are not included
in, the aggregate constituting the being. It is only upon a reversal of
this crucial relation (which Gruinbaumhimself notes)15that it seems
to Griinbaumthat Zeno has at last been refuted.
I wish to pass on now to Aristotle's strictures. In De Generationeet
14 S. Luria, "Die Infinitesimallehre der antiken Atomisten", in Quellen und
Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik, Astronomie und Physik, vol. 2 (1932-33)
pp. 106-185.
16 A. Griinbaum, Modern Science and Zeno's Paradoxes (Wesleyan University
Press, 1967), e.g. 119-23, 129f.


This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Corruitione (315-317 fin), Aristotle states and examines an argument

of the genre of Zeno's. In it, he points out that its proponents have
misunderstood the concept of infinite divisibility. His opinion is that
an infinitely divisible magnitude is only potentially so divisible, and it
makes no sense to say: let it have been been (so) divided (wAT[JaT

aEXa,or even worse 8 'npa& 8n mitvqt).Aristotle rests his caveat on

his belief that even though a magnitude may be divisible anywhere
within it, its points of division are alternative and not simultaneous
points of division. The magnitude is infinitely divisible only because
these alternative points of division are everywherewithin it. It appeared
to Aristotle that if one were to treat these points as though they were
points of division simultaneously, then given any one such point there
would have to be another point of division next to it. Since this is an
impossibility the points could not simultaneously be points of division.
It should be observed however that if this reasoning has any force at
all, its force would be against the concept of a through and through
division, and not that of a simple infinite division, for with the latter
a next point of division need not be an immediate successorpoint in a
dense manifold.
It is not clear what should be made of Aristotle's comment to the
effect that should a through and through division be supposed to be
complete, any point of division would have another next to it. That
there is no such thing as a point "immediatelynext" to a given point was
well known to Aristotle (De Gen. et Corr.317 a 1-14); he fails to make
it clear however why the supposition of a through and through division
would dissect the given magnitude at every point conjointly,and so at
every point along with its neighborswith which it would now be given
simultaneously. Aristotle appears to have believed that the only way
to avoid the howler of juxtaposed points would be to insist that at any
one time there could be at most only one point (op. cit. 317 a 8)
anywhere within a given magnitude. In this there is a misapprehension
for the simultaneity of all points within a given magnitude would not
make them consecutively well-ordered, such that each point has an
immediate successor.
There is however another objection which Aristotle might well have
considered. Two assumptions are associated with his reasoning concerning infinite divisibility, namely:
i) that every positive magnitude is divisible;
ii) that every dividend part of a positive magnitude is itself a positive magnitude.


This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Aristotle links these two assumptions with two other beliefs:

iii) that dividend parts are discrete parts;
iv) that discrete dividend parts are well-ordered consecutively.

Under such assumptions, a complete through and through division

would certainly involve dividend parts articulated seriatim and whose
points of articulation are everywhere.At the same time, if each dividend
part should have positive magnitude, then given any one point of
articulation, the body could not be said to have been divided at any
point next to this, for there would be other points within the magnitude
of each dividend part. He might consequently also say that no conceivable division into parts could be a division at every possible point
conjointly. The truth seems to be that a complete through and through
division is non-intuitive, and there is hardly any reason to suppose that
whatever it yields could be regarded as parts in a homoeomerous
manner. Zeno, at least, was well aware that it would yield only
degenerate "parts".
There is one question concerning Aristotle's treatment which raises
the possibility that he was committed to an actual infinite. Aristotle,
as can be seen from the foregoing, was against dense manifolds, and
preferred to hold that the points at which a positive magnitude is
infinitely divisible are alternative points of division, rather than
simultaneous points of division. How, however, does Aristotle know
that a positive magnitude is infinitely divisible? The answer which is
available in his present discussion, seems to be that there is a point of
division anywherewithin the magnitude, and its points are everywhere
within it (op. cit. 317 a). Evidently he supposes for one thing that
there is an identical cardinality for the points of possible division as
for the points everywhere within the magnitude; for another he must
suppose that the latter points are infinitely many. Since, however, the
magnitude is itself given as a complete whole, it would seem that the
points everywhere within it are themselves given as a simultaneous
manifold, for if they only arise in consequence of being points of
alternative division, they could not as such make the points of alternative division infinitely many. In other words, Aristotle claims that
the alternative points of division, by reason of being everywhere
within the magnitude, make the points of alternative division potentially infinite. But they themselves cannot be potentially infnite merely
or this would mean that they arise in consequence of the alternative
divisions, and so could not guarantee the potential infinitude of the

This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

divisions which give rise to them. It would seem that they would have
to be actually infinitely many.16
MacalesterCollege,St. Paul, Minnesota

"6 The Greek texts have been verified by Jeremiah Reedy, of the Department

of Classies in Macalester College.


This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Aug 2013 20:40:31 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Centres d'intérêt liés