The Physics is composed of eight books, which are further divided into chapters. This system is of ancient origin, now obscure. In modern languages, books are referenced with Roman numerals, standing for ancient Greek capital letters (the Greeks represented numbers with letters, e.g. A for 1). Chapters are identified by Arabic numerals, but the use of the English word "chapter" is strictly conventional. Ancient "chapters" (capita) are generally very short, often less than a page. Additionally, the Bekker numbers give the page and column (a or b) used in the Prussian Academy of Sciences' edition of Aristotle's works, instigated and managed by Bekker himself. These are evident in the 1831 2-volume edition. Bekker's line numbers may be given. These are often given, but unless the edition is the Academy's, they do match any line counts.
Book I (Α; 184a–192b)
Book I introduces Aristotle's approach to nature, which is to be based on principles, causes, and elements. Before offering his particular views, he engages previous theories, such as those offered by Melissus and Parmenides. Aristotle's own view comes out in Ch. 7 where he identifies three principles: substances, opposites, and privation.
Chapters 3 and 4 are among the most difficult in all of Aristotle's works and involve subtle refutations of the thought of Parmenides, Melissus and Anaxagoras.
In chapter 5, he continues his review of his predecessors, particularly how many first principles there are. Chapter 6 narrows down the number of principles to two or three. He presents his own account of the subject in chapter 7, where he first introduces the word matter (Greek: hyle) to designate fundamental essence (ousia). He defines matter in chapter 9: "For my definition of matter is just this—the primary substratum of each thing, from which it comes to be without qualification, and which persists in the result."
Matter in Aristotle's thought is, however, defined in terms of sensible reality; for example, a horse eats grass: the horse changes the grass into itself; the grass as such does not persist in the horse, but some aspect of it – its matter – does. Matter is not specifically described, but consists of whatever is apart from quality or quantity and that of which something may be predicated. Matter in this understanding does not exist independently (i.e. as a substance), but exists interdependently (i.e. as a "principle") with form and only insofar as it underlies change. Matter and form are analogical terms.
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