date. The Politics (Β 10) mentions as having happened lately (νεωστί) the expedition of Phalaecus to Crete, which occurred towards the end of the Sacred War in 346. The Meteorologica (Γ 7) mentions the comet of 341. It is true that the Politics also mentions much later events, e.g. the assassination of Philip which took place in 336 (Ε 10, 1311 b 1-3). Indeed, the whole truth about this great work is that it remained unfinished at Aristotle’s death. But what of that? The logical conclusion is that Aristotle began writing it as early as 357, and continued writing it in 346, in 336, and so on till he died. Similarly, he began the Meteorologica as early as 356 and was still writing it in 341. Both books were commenced some years before Plato’s death: both were works of many years: both were destined to form parts of the Aristotelian system of philosophy. It follows that Aristotle, from early manhood, not only wrote dialogues and didactic works, surviving only in fragments, but also began some of the philosophical works which are still parts of his extant writings. He continued these and no doubt began others during the prime of his life. Having thus slowly matured his separate writings, he was the better able to combine them more and more into a system, in his last years. No doubt, however, he went on writing and rewriting well into the last period of his life; for example, the recently discovered Ἀθηναίων πολιτεία mentions on the one hand (c. 54) the archonship of Cephisophon (329–328), on the other hand (c. 46) triremes and quadriremes but without quinqueremes, which first appeared at Athens in 325–324; and as it mentions nothing later it probably received its final touches between 329 and 324. But it may have been begun long before, and received additions and changes. However early Aristotle began a book, so long as he kept the manuscript, he could always change it. Finally he died without completing some of his works, such as the Politics, and notably that work of his whole philosophic career and foundation of his whole philosophy—the Metaphysics—which, projected in his early criticism of Plato’s philosophy of universal forms, gradually developed into his positive philosophy of individual substances, but remained unfinished after all.
On the whole, then, Aristotle was writing his extant works very gradually for some thirty-five years (357–322), like Herodotus (iv. 30) contemplated additions, continued writing them more or less together, not so much successively as simultaneously, and had not finished writing at his death.
There is a curious characteristic connected with this gradual composition. An Aristotelian treatise frequently has the appearance of being a collection of smaller discourses (λόγοι), as, e.g., K. L. Michelet has remarked.
This is obvious enough in the Metaphysics: it has two openings (Books Α and α); then comes a nearly consecutive theory of being (Β, Γ, Ε, Ζ, Η, Θ), but interrupted by a philosophical lexicon Δ; afterwards follows a theory of unity (Ι); then a summary of previous books and of doctrines from the Physics (Κ); next a new beginning about being, and, what is wanted to complete the system, a theory of God in relation to the world (Λ); finally a criticism of mathematical metaphysics (Μ, Ν), in which the argument against Plato (Α 9) is repeated almost word for word (Μ 4-5). The Metaphysics is clearly a compilation formed from essays or discourses; and it illustrates another characteristic of Aristotle’s gradual method of composition. It refers back to passages “in the first discourses” (ἐν τοῖς πρώτοις λόγοις) —an expression not uncommon in Aristotelian writings. Sometimes the reference is to the beginning of the whole treatise; e.g. Met. Β 2, 997 b 3-5, referring back to Α 6 and 9 about Platonic forms. Sometimes, on the other hand, the reference only goes back to a previous part of a given topic, e.g. Met. Θ 1, 1045 b 27-32, referring back to Ζ 1, or at the earliest to Γ 2. On either alternative, however, “the first discourses” mentioned may have originally been a separate discourse; for Book Γ begins quite fresh with the definition of the science of being, long afterwards called “Metaphysics,” and Book Ζ begins Aristotle’s fundamental doctrine of substance.
Another indication of a treatise having arisen out of separate discourses is its consisting of different parts imperfectly connected. Thus the Nicomachean Ethics begins by identifying the good with happiness (εὐδαιμονία), and happiness with virtuous action. But when it comes to the moral virtues (Book iii. 6), a new motive of the “honourable” (τοῦ καλοῦ ἔνεκα) is suddenly introduced without preparation, where one would expect the original motive of happiness. Then at the end of the moral virtues justice is treated at inordinate length, and in a different manner from the others, which are regarded as means between two vices, whereas justice appears as a mean only because it is of the middle between too much and too little. Later, the discussion on friendship (Books viii.-ix.) is again inordinate in length, and it stands alone. Lastly, pleasure, after having been first defined (Book vii.) as an activity, is treated over again (Book x.) as an end beyond activity, with a warning against confusing activity and pleasure. The probability is that the Nicomachean Ethics is a collection of separate discourses worked up into a tolerably systematic treatise; and the interesting point is that these discourses correspond to separate titles in the list of Diogenes Laertius (περὶ καλοῦ, περὶ δικαίων, περὶ φιλίας, περὶ ἡδονῆς, and περὶ ἡδονῶν). The same list also refers to tentative notes (ὐπομνήματα ἐπιχειρηματικά), and the commentators speak of ethical notes (ἠθικὰ ὑπομνήματα). Indeed, they sometimes divide Aristotle’s works into notes (ὑπομνηματικά) and compilations (συνταγματικά). How can it be doubted that in the gradual composition of his works Aristotle began with notes (ὑπομνήματα) and discourses (λόγοι), and proceeded to treatises (πραγματείαι)? He would even be drawn into this process by his writing materials, which were papyrus rolls of some magnitude; he would tend to write discourses on separate rolls, and then fasten them together in a bundle into a treatise.
If then Aristotle was for some thirty-five years gradually and simultaneously composing manuscript discourses into treatises and treatises into a system, he was pursuing a process which solves beforehand the very difficulties which have since been found in his writings. He could very easily write in different styles at different times, now avoiding hiatus and now not, sometimes writing diffusely and sometimes briefly, partly polishing and partly leaving in the rough, according to the subject, his own state of health or humour, his age, and the degree to which he had developed a given topic; and all this even in the same manuscript as well as in different manuscripts, so that a difference of style between different parts of a work or between different works, explicable by one being earlier than another, does not prove either to be not genuine. As he might write, so might he think differently in his long career. To put one extreme case, about the soul he could think at first in the Eudemus like Plato that it is imprisoned in the body, and long afterwards in the De Anima like himself that it is the immateriate essence of the material bodily organism. Again, he might be inconsistent; now, for example, calling a universal a substance in deference to Plato, and now denying that a universal can be a substance in consequence of his own doctrine that every substance is an individual; and so as to contradict himself in the same treatise, though not in the same breath or at the same moment of thinking. Again, in developing his discourses into larger treatises he might fall into dislocations; although it must be remembered that these are often inventions of critics who do not understand the argument, as when they make out that the treatment of reciprocal justice in the Ethics (v. 5-6) needs rearrangement through their not noticing that, according to Aristotle, reciprocal justice, being the fairness of a commercial bargain, is not part of absolute or political justice, but is part of analogical or economical justice. Or he might make repetitions, as in the same book, where he twice applies the principle, that so far as the agent does the patient suffers, first to the corrective justice of the law court (Eth. v. 4) in order to prove that in a wrong the injurer gains as much as the injured loses, and immediately afterwards to the reciprocal justice of commerce (ib. 5) in order to prove that in a bargain a house must be exchanged for as many shoes as equal it in value. Or he might himself, without double versions, repeat the same argument with a different shade of meaning; as when in the Nic. Ethics (vii. 4) he first argues that incontinence