“(6) Apart from the great difficulty of stating the case truly with regard to these matters, it is very hard to say, with regard to the first principles, whether it is the genera that should be taken as elements and principles, or rather the primary constituents of a thing; e.g. it is the primary parts of which articulate sounds consist that are thought to be elements and principles of articulate sound, not the common genus-articulate sound; and we give the name of ‘elements’ to those geometrical propositions, the proofs of which are implied in the proofs of the others, either of all or of most. Further, both those who say there are several elements of corporeal things and those who say there is one, say the parts of which bodies are compounded and consist are principles; e.g. Empedocles says fire and water and the rest are the constituent elements of things, but does not describe these as genera of existing things. Besides this, if we want to examine the nature of anything else, we examine the parts of which, e.g. a bed consists and how they are put together, and then we know its nature.
“To judge from these arguments, then, the principles of things would not be the genera; but if we know each thing by its definition, and the genera are the principles or starting-points of definitions, the genera must also be the principles of definable things. And if to get the knowledge of the species according to which things are named is to get the knowledge of things, the genera are at least starting-points of the species. And some also of those who say unity or being, or the great and the small, are elements of things, seem to treat them as genera.
“But, again, it is not possible to describe the principles in both ways. For the formula of the essence is one; but definition by genera will be different from that which states the constituent parts of a thing.
“(7) Besides this, even if the genera are in the highest degree principles, should one regard the first of the genera as principles, or those which are predicated directly of the individuals? This also admits of dispute. For if the universals are always more of the nature of principles, evidently the uppermost of the genera are the principles; for these are predicated of all things. There will, then, be as many principles of things as there are primary genera, so that both being and unity will be principles and substances; for these are most of all predicated of all existing things. But it is not possible that either unity or being should be a single genus of things; for the differentiae of any genus must each of them both have being and be one, but it is not possible for the genus taken apart from its species (any more than for the species of the genus) to be predicated of its proper differentiae; so that if unity or being is a genus, no differentia will either have being or be one. But if unity and being are not genera, neither will they be principles, if the genera are the principles. Again, the intermediate kinds, in whose nature the differentiae are included, will on this theory be genera, down to the indivisible species; but as it is, some are thought to be genera and others are not thought to be so. Besides this, the differentiae are principles even more than the genera; and if these also are principles, there comes to be practically an infinite number of principles, especially if we suppose the highest genus to be a principle.-But again, if unity is more of the nature of a principle, and the indivisible is one, and everything indivisible is so either in quantity or in species, and that which is so in species is the prior, and genera are divisible into species for man is not the genus of individual men), that which is predicated directly of the individuals will have more unity.-Further, in the case of things in which the distinction of prior and posterior is present, that which is predicable of these things cannot be something apart from them (e.g. if two is the first of numbers, there will not be a Number apart from the kinds of numbers; and similarly there will not be a Figure apart from the kinds of figures; and if the genera of these things do not exist apart from the species, the genera of other things will scarcely do so; for genera of these things are thought to exist if any do). But among the individuals one is not prior and another posterior. Further, where one thing is better and another worse, the better is always prior; so that of these also no genus can exist. From these considerations, then, the species predicated of individuals seem to be principles rather than the genera. But again, it is not easy to say in what sense these are to be taken as principles. For the principle or cause must exist alongside of the things of which it is the principle, and must be capable of existing in separation from them; but for what reason should we suppose any such thing to exist alongside of the individual, except that it is predicated universally and of all? But if this is the reason, the things that are more universal must be supposed to be more of the nature of principles; so that the highest genera would be the principles.
Metaphysics by Aristotle – Book III