§3. The Triad in Metaphysics


373. I will run over all the conceptions that played an important part in the pre-Socratic philosophy and see how far they can be expressed in terms of one, two, three.

1. The first of all the conceptions of philosophy is that of a primal matter out of which the world is made. Thales and the early Ionian philosophers busied themselves mainly with this. They called it the {arché}, the beginning; so that the conception of first was the quintessence of it. Nature was a wonder to them, and they asked its explanation; from what did it come? That was a good question, but it was rather stupid to suppose that they were going to learn much even if they could find out from what sort of matter it was made. But to ask how it had been formed, as they doubtless did, was not an exhaustive question; it would only carry them back a little way. They wished to go to the very beginning at once, and in the beginning there must have been a homogeneous something, for where there was variety they supposed there must be always an explanation to be sought. The first must be indeterminate, and the indeterminate first of anything is the material of which it is formed. Besides, their idea was that they could not tell how the world was formed unless they knew from what to begin their account. The inductive [method] of explaining phenomena by tracing them back step by step to their causes was foreign not only to them but to all ancient and medieval philosophy; that is the Baconian idea. Indeterminacy is really a character of the first. But not the indeterminacy of homogeneity. The first is full of life and variety. Yet that variety is only potential; it is not definitely there. Still, the notion of explaining the variety of the world, which was what they mainly wondered at, by non-variety was quite absurd. How is variety to come out of the womb of homogeneity; only by a principle of spontaneity, which is just that virtual variety that is the first.1)


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