What is the meaning of the following quote from Aristotle's De Anima: "By transparent I mean that which is visible, only not absolutely and in itself, but owing to the colour of something else. This character is shared by air, water, and many solid objects; it is not qua water or air that water or air is transparent, but because the same nature belongs to these two as to the everlasting upper firmament."?

Aristotle is saying that things like water and air are transparent not because they are made of water or air, but because they share "transparency" as a common trait.

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This quote can be tough to parse because Aristotle links two different ideas to each other very quickly and without any explanation as to why he jumped from one to the other.

The first idea is Aristotle's definition of "transparency": a state in which a substance, which ordinarily isn't visible...

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This quote can be tough to parse because Aristotle links two different ideas to each other very quickly and without any explanation as to why he jumped from one to the other.

The first idea is Aristotle's definition of "transparency": a state in which a substance, which ordinarily isn't visible on its own, becomes visible when something else reflects off it, passes through it, or otherwise interacts with it.

Pure water, for instance, is perfectly clear. When we "see" water, what we're actually seeing is either light reflected off the surface of the water or substances suspended in the water, like air bubbles or dirt.

So is glass. We make glass visible by embedding things in it (colors, wires, air bubbles) or by identifying the reflection of light on the glass. Anyone who has ever accidentally walked into a sliding door, thinking it was open, has experienced this form of transparency.

So "transparency" is the state in which a thing is invisible by itself but can be identified by seeing how other things interact with that thing.

So far so good. But then Aristotle seems to go off the rails: "it is not qua water or air that water or air is transparent, but because the same nature belongs to these two as to the everlasting upper firmament." What does this have to do with his definition of "transparency"?

What Aristotle did here, without explaining what he did, is to jump from "here's my definition of transparency" to "please don't confuse the definition with the examples I used to explain it."

Having defined "transparency" by giving water and air as examples, Aristotle rushes to explain to his audience that they shouldn't think the definition of "transparency" is "it's water" or "it's air." Rather, "water" and "air" are alike because they share the characteristic "transparency," which is a third thing. The heavens, or "the everlasting upper firmament," also share the characteristic of "transparency," says Aristotle.

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