The Metaphysic of Aristotle: Part I, Idea of Metaphysic


Watson, John. “The Metaphysic of Aristotle. I.” The Philosophical Review 7, no. 1 (1898): 23. https://doi.org/10.2307/2175546


A NEW statement and estimate of the Metaphysic of Aristotle may be thought to be either superfluous or useless. Why do over again what has been so well done already by Zeller another historians of philosophy; and why waste time in examining anew a system which, whatever its value as a stage in the development of thought, will not help us to solve the metaphysical problems of our day, if indeed such problems are soluble at all? To these objections it may be answered, that it can never be altogether useless to make a direct acquaintance with what a great author has to say for himself, and that the indifferent success of recent metaphysical speculation seems to show that a sympathetic study of il maestro di color Che sane^ may at least prevent us from spending our energies upon the discussion of problems which have already been solved. A thinker whose clear intelligence and breadth of view still command admiration may have something to say even to our exacting generation, and a firm grasp of the first great phase of metaphysical speculation may turn out to be the first step in the reconstruction of Metaphysic. When we have really seen into Aristotle perhaps, we may be able to see beyond him.


It is hardly necessary to say that the old contrast of Plato as idealist and Aristotle as empiricist is untenable. The disciple is not greater than his master, but he has more faith in the rationality of the universe, and faith in the rationality of the universe is the keynote of Idealism. It is because he is convinced that the actual everywhere displays the shaping activity of reason that Aristotle is not afraid to abandon himself without reserve to the facts of experience. The burden of his continuous polemic against his fellow-members of the Platonic school is that their Idealism is too faint-hearted and abstract. They seek for the ideal afar off, when in reality it is, in the words of the master, ' tumbling out at their feet. They imagine a world of reality distinct and separate from the world we know, not seeing that the world we know has at least this genuine mark of reality, that it forms an ordered and intelligible system. Thus, while they seem to escape from the self-contradictory world of sense, they in fact take refuge in a world of abstractions, which dissolves at the first breath of criticism. They rightly claim that the real must be permanent, but they fail to see that the permanent is not incompatible with change. What can it avail to say that there is a real world beyond the actual, if the one has no point of contact with the other? By such a mode of conception the actual becomes, as it was for Plato’s early teacher, Crotyls, a mere flux which cannot be reduced to law, and the supposed reality a lifeless realm of shadows. Aristotle therefore turns with confidence to the realm of everyday experience and finds it to be an embodiment of reason. So strong, indeed, is his faith in the rationality of the world, that tour minds, which are haunted by the dark shadow of the limitation of human knowledge, he seems to be almost naively optimistic. Aristotle is not a dogmatist, if a dogmatist is one who constructs a system on the basis of uncritical assumptions; but just as little is, he a sceptic. He believes in the possibility of well-grounded knowledge or science. The facile skepticism of sophists, whose perplexities arose mainly from taking the confused intimations of sense as ultimate, seem to him to have been disposed of by Plato, and he has perfect faith in the power of reason to criticize, interpret and transcend this first view of things. He is not unaware of the limits of human knowledge, but these limits he does not regard as absolute or as due to the 'imbecility of the human intellect.' There are many cases in which we must be contented with probable conclusions, but this need not prevent us from grasping in thought those fundamental principles which reveal the world to us as a rational system. This confidence in ‘the power of reason animates the whole of Aristotle's philosophy. At the same time, he well knows that a science of the actual can be reached only by a careful study and interpretation of facts, and hence he omits none which promise to throw light upon the true nature of the actual. It is this absolute trust in the intelligibility of the world which has given color to the superficial view that he is an empiricist, a view which could be held by no one who had sympathetically appreciated his persistent effort to view all things sub specie aeternitatis.


The conception of reality as an organic system underlies and dictates the opening words of the Metaphysic. “All men," we are told, "have by nature a desire for knowledge.” In other words, to strive after a comprehension of reality is characteristic of man, or constitutes the highest form of his activity, for to Aristotle the very existence of man, as we may say, consists in the realization of his functions. These are an end in themselves, and, when we find out what the highest of his functions is, we have discovered 'what' man is. That the essential nature of man can be completely realized only in the knowledge of reality is manifest from the universal effort after such knowledge; an effort which begins to reveal its deeper meaning even in the first and simplest phase of his conscious life, and in each successive phase discloses more clearly the end which impels it onward from the first. That end is the comprehension of the actual as it is, oar scientific grasp of the first principles of existence. Thus interpreting the conscious life of man, Aristotle proceeds to pass in review the various phases of knowledge, endeavoring to show that these, as they arise out of each other, are "the gradual unfolding of that desire for a knowledge of reality which is an expression of man’s highest function.


The first form in which this disinterested love of knowledge is manifested is in sensible perception. That even here there is obscurely working that desire for knowledge as an end in itself which is the consummation of human faculty, is indicated by the pleasure which all men take in the perceptions of sense, and especially in the perceptions of sight; for the existence of this pleasure in the mere exercise of a function implies that in the apprehension of the distinctive features of sensible objects, apart from the value of the knowledge thus gained in the satisfaction of wants, we feel that we are realizing our own nature. Sensible perception is for Aristotle a discriminative faculty; it is not the mere occurrence of a state of feeling but contains within it a certain implicit exercise of judgment. Such a faculty is possessed even by the lower animals, and, indeed, is the characteristic mark of the animal as distinguished from the plant; for, while both react upon the external object, the animal does not! Take the object up into itself but reproduces in itself its sensible properties. The superiority of the sense of sight consists in thoughtfulness with which it discriminates the 'form' of things, and in this respect it is more theoretical than hearing, though no doubt hearing, as the medium of articulate sounds, incidentally affords higher degree of knowledge. The especial pleasure, then, which accompanies the exercise of that sense which yields the most complete knowledge of sensible reality, shows how strong is our love of knowledge. Thus man, though he shares with the lower animals the faculty of sensible perception, reveals even at this stage the germ of his higher nature, for, unlike them, he enjoys the mere apprehension of things irrespective of its connection with the satisfaction of his immediate wants.


A higher stage of knowledge than sensible perception is reached by man in experience, the transition being affected by the intermediation of memory which consists in the survival in the soul of an image when the sensible object is no longer present. Some of the higher animals have memory, but only man converts various remembrances into a single experience, or at least, as Aristotle cautiously says, “the animals have little experience." The superiority of man arises from his relating or ratiocinative faculty, which enables him to grasp what is universal or common in a number of instances. Thus, when we remember that a certain remedy cured Socrates, Callas, and others of a particular disease, we are said to have an 'experience.' It is obvious that we have at this stage advanced a step nearer to the explicit comprehension of the principles or laws of real things.


The desire for knowledge has not yet reached its goal; and therefore experience gives rise to art and science, in which there is an explicit consciousness of the universal or law, as freed from its involution in the particular instance and separated from what is accidental and irrelevant. We now grasp the essential nature of a whole class of things. The scientific physician knows the cure for a particular disease because he has grasped in thought the principle which rules in all particular ‘instances. Thus in art and science our desire for knowledge hassled us, not only beyond the ever-changing objects of sensible perception, but even beyond the experience of what is presented in a number of instances, to the universal law which applies to objects of a certain class; and it is only with the discovery of lie universal law that the desire for knowledge attains its end, sofa as a particular species of reality is concerned. There is a still higher stage of knowledge, as will immediately appear, but we can at least say that in art and science the disinterested love of knowledge attains to a relative satisfaction.

It may indeed be objected, that experience is often more valuable than art. And no doubt this is largely true in practical life, where we have to deal with the particular case, and therefore must discern the universal or law as modified by the circumstances under which it operates. The physician must be able to determine accurately the disease from which a particular man is suffering, and unless he has the skill born of experience he will be unable to effect a cure, however well he may know the theory to medicine. The merely theoretical physician is apt to blundering his diagnosis, and to display his inferiority to the practical physician, who has had much experience even if he knows little about theory. But, though all this is true, we are justified in regarding art as a higher form of knowledge than experience, because it involves a comprehension of the principle which makes the object what it is, and it is only in such comprehension that knowledge attains to its proper form. Estimated by this standard, we regard those who are familiar with the principles of an arts possessed of more wisdom than those who are limited to experience. We have more respect for the builder who can give a reason for the manner in which every stone is disposed, than for the ordinary workman who is a creature of habit, and knows no more why he does a certain thing than if he were a lifeless being. The superiority of art over experience is also shown in the fact that, as based upon the knowledge of principles, it can be taught to others, whereas experience is a sort of tact of which its possessor can give no intelligible account.


That the superiority of art and science over experience consists in the knowledge of principles is evident from their contrast to sensible perception. The senses certainly give us our knowledge of particulars, and yet we do not speak of the perceptions of sense as 'wisdom' the reason obviously being that they neither imply an apprehension of what is universal, nor an insight into principles. It is therefore probable that he who first advanced beyond the ordinary perceptions of sense to the stage of art was admired, not merely because his discovery was of practical utility, but because he differed from others in the possession of 'wisdom.' This is confirmed by the order in which the various arts arose. Those arts were first discovered which were directly connected with the necessary wants; next came those which ministered to refinement; and last of all were developed such arts as mathematics, which are entirely independent of practical utility. We can thus understand how it happened that mathematics was first cultivated in Egypt, where there was a priestly caste with the abundant leisure essential to the disinterested contemplation of truth.


The whole of the first chapter of the Metaphysic, a summary of which has just been given, is a development of the proposition with which Aristotle starts, "that all men have by nature a desire for knowledge." This desire he conceives to be operative in the very beginning of conscious life, and gradually to free itself from 'the impure form in which it first appears as it finds proper object,

(a) Even in the first phase of knowledge that of sensible perception the desire of knowledge for its own sake is not inoperative; it shows itself in the pleasure which accompanies the mere exercise of the senses, and especially the sense of sight, the most purely theoretical of all, irrespective of any relation tour practical needs. (b) At the stage of experience, we have risen above sensible particulars so far as to have grasped what is common to a number of instances. (c) In art the principle or law is freed from the accidents of the individual things in which it operates, and made an explicit object of thought,

(d) Lastly, in the theoretical arts or sciences the sole object is truth, which is valued purely for itself, and no longer partly as a means to the production of some external object.


The conclusion therefore is that man by his very nature has a disinterested love of truth, and that the love of truth can be satisfied only by the knowledge of the principles. Aristotle, however, has still in view a higher stage of knowledge that knowledge which rises above the principles covered by the special sciences and his next step is to show how the love of knowledge carries man forward to the comprehension of the first principles of all things, or, in other words, to the purely speculative point of view of Metaphysic. In seeking to define the nature of science in general, Aristotle has traced for himself the various phases through which knowledge passes, as it emerges from its simplest form, attains to relative universality, and finally discerns the principle or law involved in whole class of things. Now that his aim is to determine the sphere of Metaphysic, or first philosophy, he starts from the conception of the ' wise ' man, or philosopher, as it lies imbedded in the popular consciousness and is revealed in current judgments. He has still in his mind the idea of the pure or disinterested!


Knowledge of reality as the culmination of man's desire for knowledge, and he now seeks to show that even the popular mind tacitly recognizes that science only reaches its goal in Metaphysic. It must be observed, however, that Aristotle does not simply gather together a number of current sayings, but, after his usual manner, tries to find out what underlies and gives them their force ; in other words, he sees in them inarticulate expressions of his own idea of philosophy.


The ordinary view of 'wisdom' recognizes that philosophy consists in a knowledge of the universal ; but if this is true, First Philosophy must deal with that which in the strictest sense of the term is universal ; in other words, with the presuppositions of reality. The popular mind also sees that philosophy is at the other extreme from sensible perception ; and, if we follow out this idea, we shall conclude that First Philosophy deals with the last stage of knowledge, that stage in which the desire for knowledge has reached its final form. It is also held that philosophy consists in that knowledge which is indubitable, and such knowledge must be based upon insight into the 'reason’ why reality cannot be otherwise than it is. And, finally, philosophy is held to be that science which is absolutely disinterested, and which contains the ultimate principles of things; or, what is the same thing, which grasps the meaning of each form of reality as viewed in organic connection with the whole. Thus, by following out the implications of current ideas as to the nature of philosophy. Aristotle reaches the conception of Metaphysic as the science which contains the universal, rational, indubitable, and ultimate principles of reality.


Turning now to philosophy itself, Aristotle finds in its origin further confirmation of his fundamental idea that it is the ultimate form of that pure love of knowledge which is characteristic of man. For, how did philosophy arise? It was born of wonder, that curiously mixed feeling which arises from inability to comprehend what yet is felt to be somehow comprehensible. At first men were unable to explain the apparent contradiction in objects lying around them, and later they tried to account for the strange


movements of more remote objects the sun, moon, and stars and for the origin of all things. Wonder is accompanied by the consciousness of ignorance, and thus it leads to the desire for knowledge. To this desire a provisional satisfaction is given in the myth; for, as the myth at once gives expression to the feeling of wonder and contains an imaginative theory of the world, we may say that the lover of myth is, in a sense, allover of wisdom or philosopher. If, therefore, philosophy took its rise in the effort to escape from ignorance, it is evident that the impulse to philosophy is a desire for knowledge in itself, not for knowledge as a means of satisfying our practical needs. This conclusion is confirmed by the historical fact already referred to, that the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake arose only after provision had been made for the necessary wants and even the comforts and refinements of life. Just as the free man is self-sufficient and independent of others, so philosophy is the only free science, for it alone is an end in itself. It mainstem that such a liberation from the pressure of practical life is beyond the reach of man and is reserved for God alone. But this idea rests upon the old falsehood of the envy of the gods; and we must rather hold that philosophy is divine, both because in it man lives a god-like life of pure contemplation and because ultimate object is God the source and explanation of all reality. Thus, First Philosophy, or Metaphysic, lifts us above the unhappy state of wonder, and convinces us that from an ultimate divine point of view the world could not be otherwise than it is.

By three converging lines of thought a psychological analysis of the successive phases of knowledge, an interpretation of popular conceptions, and a glance at the origin of philosophical speculation. Aristotle has reached a provisional definition of Metaphysics the science of the first principles of reality. What, then, are those principles? In the Physics we have found that for the explanation of the world four principles are required: (1) the substance or essence (2) The matter or substrate (3) The cause of movement or change (4) The need or good. That these and no other permilles are essential to the explanation of reality Aristotle seeks to show by a critical estimate of the doctrines of his predecessors, in which he applies his usual method of following out obscure and sometimes self-contradictory statements to the fundamental ideas underlying them. A consideration of this part of the Metaphysic must be postponed. Its result, as he contends, is a confirmation of what may be proved by a direct analysis, viz., that these are the first principles of all reality; but as the possibility of a science of such principles is beset with many difficulties, he prefaces his systematic investigation by an exposition which has been, or may be, raised in regard to the province and problems of Metaphysic. We shall deal here only which bears upon the general conception of Metaphysic, and it will be convenient to consider each in connection with Aristotle's solution of it. His name for the presentation of such unsolved problems is Dialectic, which in his view is a tentative discipline, preliminary to the scientific treatment. It is the natural outcome of his conviction that even in our ordinary uncritical judgments the impulse to obtain a true and complete grasp of reality is the moving principle, and hence that we must always seek to discover the element of truth in conflicting views. The ordinary dialectician, however, never gets beyond the stage of an unmethodical presentation of the apparently contradictory ideas which may be held on a given topic, and therefore he leaves the mind in a state of perplexity and confusion. To Aristotle, with his absolute faith in the power of reason to comprehend reality, such an attitude could not be satisfactory, and therefore in his hands Dialectic consists in reducing apparently conflicting views to their simplest terms, by removing the confusion of thought and ambiguity of language in which they are enveloped, and thus preparing the way for a comprehensive view in which the elements of truth are combined and reconciled.


First arises from the difficulty of determining whether all the four principles are the object of a single science, or whether, on the contrary, each has a special science corresponding to it. This problem is, for Aristotle, of fundamental importance; for obviously the acceptance of the latter alternative will overthrow the conclusion, which has so far seemed beyond doubt, that Metaphysic is the science in which reality as a whole is referred to the four first principles, and with the denial of this conclusion the unification of knowledge becomes impossible. Now, (a) reasons may be given for maintaining that there cannot be such a science as Metaphysic claims to be. If there are four distinct principles, surely there must be a special science of each. Were these principles related to one another as opposites, no doubt it might fairly be claimed that one science deals with them all; but the principles are not opposites, but are mutually exclusive, and, therefore, there must be as many sciences as there are principles. This conclusion is confirmed by the consideration that every science deal with a distinct class of things, each having its own laws. Medicine, e.g., is entirely distinct from architecture, and the laws of the one from the laws of the other. Now, the laws of a given science apply to every object contained within the class of things with which it deals. Therefore, the principles of the supposed science of reality must be applicable to all objects without exception since all objects fall within the sphere of reality. But it is easy to show that this is false. The principle of change or of final cause can have no application to mathematical objects, for these are absolutely unchangeable, and as such they cannot be in process towards an end. It would thus seem that Metaphysic cannot deal with all the four principles, but only with one of them, (b) This conclusion, however, can hardly be consistently maintained. If it is held that there is a science which corresponds to each of the principles and has a special class of things as its object, we are at once confronted by the difficulty of things to which all the four principles apply. Thus, architecture involves the conceptions of the end tube realized, the matter to be formed, the principle which is productive of change, and the form which is given to the matter. And if we consider the characteristics ordinarily assigned to philosophy, it seems impossible to hold that Metaphysic deals withgone of the four principles to the exclusion of the others. Thus, if we attempt to determine the principle with which Metaphysic deals on the ground that it is the supreme science, we must suppose that its object is the principle of the 'end' or the 'good. ‘On the other hand, as it is held to be the science of first principles, there is equal reason for maintaining that it has to do with the 'form' or 'essence,' upon which the other determinations of things depend. But, again, as the science which explains the process of the world, we must suppose it to have the principle of change as its object. It thus seems impossible to limit Metaphysic to one of the principles, and we must rather suppose that its inquiries into all four.


The problem which Aristotle here raises is not, it must be observed, whether there is a science of reality, but whether it a special or a universal science. As has already been point out, he never doubts that reality can be known, and that sue knowledge must consist in the comprehension of first principles ;his only question is whether there is a single science dealing with the whole of these principles or a number of sciences, of which Metaphysic is one, sharing the knowledge of these principles between them. Under consideration is so stated that the way is prepared for its solution. The solution must evidently turn upon the admission or rejection of two assumptions, (I) that the four principles are not correlative, but-mutually exclusive. (2) that every science must deal with a special class of things. If icon be shown that both assumptions are false, the problem wildmeat of easy solution ; for it may then be admitted that Metaphysic, like other sciences, deals with opposites, and yet that it differs from all other sciences in being occupied with reality as a whole not with a special class of things. It is for such a solution that the second part prepares the way, by pointing out the impossibility of severing the four principles from one another, without destroying the very idea of Metaphysic. The solution itself is given in the systematic determination of the problem of Metaphysic, to which we must now direct our attention.


"There is a science," Aristotle confidently affirms, "the object of which is reality as such and the characteristics of which are inseparable from reality.” This science of Metaphysic or First Philosophy therefore occupies a unique position; for, whereas the other sciences concentrate their attention upon a part of reality and go on to determine the characteristics of this part, Metaphysic has to do with reality as a whole. Mathematics, e.g., deals with the properties of discrete and continuous magnitudes, but with nothing else. Now Metaphysic inquiries into the four first principles, and as its object is reality as such, it must show that these are the principles of all reality. Even the early thinkers, who sought to explain all things by means of one or more unchangeable elements, tacitly assumed that they were explaining reality in its completeness ; and hence, in showing that reality as a whole can be explained by means of our four principles, we are only completing the work which they left in an unfinished and unsatisfactory state


In maintaining that Metaphysic deals with reality as a whole, and not with some limited aspect of reality, Aristotle virtually \disposes of the main argument advanced in support of the contention that it cannot be the science of all the four principles. The argument was that Metaphysic, like other sciences, must be occupied with a definite class of things. This, however, overlooks the distinction between Metaphysic and the special sciences. The latter deal with a specific class of things, the former deals with reality as a whole. Hence, Metaphysic must set forth the essential characteristics of reality as such, and if these can all be referred to the four principles, it must obviously deal with all the four. For reality cannot be adequately characterized by any one of them, e.g., by assigning its material conditions, as the early thinkers virtually assume, but only by adding to these the permanent essence, the process, and the end.


The unique position of Metaphysic is manifest the moment we obtain a clear conception of what reality is. For, while it is true that the term 'reality' has various meanings, these are connected with one another in the closest way, while yet they exclude the supposition that reality is a special class of things. We speak, e.g., of substance, quality, quantities., as 'real.' Why do we apply the same term in all these cases? Obviously, it is not applied because substance, quality and quantity have some accidental feature in common, like a ' key' and the 'collar-bone,' which fulfil a similar function, and therefore receive the same name. The connection is of a more intimate and fundamental character. On the other hand, the term 'reality ‘is not applied to substance, quality, and quantity, because these constitute a certain class of things. A 'horse' and an 'ox' are both called 'animal' because they have a common 'nature' or belong to the same genus; but substance, quality and quantity are not called ' real ' because they are of the same nature ' or belong to the same genus; on the contrary, they are generically different or have a different 'nature.’ Why then is the common term 'real' applied to all three? It is so applied because substance, quality and quantity are all relative to a single nature, not because they themselves possess a common nature; they are predicated. Everything that is in any sense affirmed to be 'real,' or, even denied being 'real,' is 'relative’ to the one idea of 'reality.’ ‘The unity of Metaphysic as a science thus arises from its relation to 'reality.' Just as it is the idea of 'health' which gives unity to the science of medicine exercise, drugs, a good appetite, and even sickness, as the negation of health, all being relative to 'health’ so the unifying idea of Metaphysic is 'reality' and it is by reference to this idea that a consideration of substance, quality, quantity and all other predicates, including 'unreality’ fall within its sphere. A discussion of all these modes of predication or categories belongs to the science of Metaphysic, sofa as they are regarded as 'relative to reality. It must be observed, however, that 'substance' is the fundamental determination of reality, because apart from it there can be no quality or quantity or any other determination whatever. The first task of Metaphysic, and, indeed, its main task, must, therefore, be to determine the principles of 'substance,' and these will be found to be the four principles already specified.


It is one of the charges brought by Kant against Aristotle he does not ' deduce ' his 'categories ‘substance, quality, quantity, and the rest from any principle, but picks them up empirically as they happen to present themselves. Now, it is no doubt true that Aristotle does not attempt to ' deduce 'his 'categories, ‘as Kant does, from the synthetic unity of self-consciousness, as presupposed in the unity of the various functions of judgment. This, however, is only to say that for Aristotle reality as known is not determined by the forms of human thought as constituting the world of our experience by reduction of the ' manifold of sense' to relative unity. For him there are no ' forms ' of thought as such, no functions of unity peculiar to our intelligence and therefore incompetent to bring us into contact with reality as it is in itself. Our intelligence, as he holds, must be "pure and unmixed, in order that it may master or know things. “The central idea of his system is, therefore, that reality is capable of being grasped by reason; in other words, that what can be known as a unity also exists as a. unity. But the unity of the real presupposes as its fundamental condition the permanence or substantiality of the real; and if this is denied all our judgments about reality become unmeaning, and indeed are impossible, since with the elimination of ' substance ' the actual world relapses into the flux of the sensible. It cannot therefore be said that the categories are not referred by Aristotle to a principle. They are referred to the principle of 'substance ' as the fundamental presupposition of all other determinations of reality. For Aristotle the problem of philosophy is not, as with Kant, to explain how the world of our experience presents the aspect of an ordered system, but what is implied in its being an ordered system ; and if he is successful in showing that the primary condition of such a system is its permanence or substantiality, he will have solved the problem which he set for himself. It cannot, therefore, be fairly said that Aristotle does not deduce the categories from a principle, though it may be argued that he has not assigned the ultimate principle required to explain the unity of existence. Whether this objection is valid or not, we cannot at present stay to discuss, but at least we may acquit Aristotle of any want of coherence in the main principles of his philosophy.


That the fundamental determination of reality is ‘substance' is evident when we consider that every real thing must be ‘unity.' For 'reality' and 'unity,' though they are not identical ideas, mutually imply each other; whatever is real is 'one’d whatever is 'one' is 'real.' The inseparability of the two ideas is recognized in ordinary language. The conceptions ‘man,' 'real man' and 'a man' are employed indifferently, and there is no difference in meaning between the judgments, "he is a man " and "he is man." So, if we are speaking of that which comes into being or ceases to be, we assume that what comes into being becomes ' one ' and what ceases to be ceases to be 'one.’ It thus appears that the 'reality' of every substance implies its 'unity.' Hence it is the task of Metaphysic to determine wherein the 'unity' of a substance consists.


It is perhaps not superfluous to draw attention to the conception of reality which Aristotle here connects with the idea of ‘unity.' To be ' real' is to be a 'unity,' but it is not meant that ‘reality' as a whole is a single 'unity' of which all things are modes. Aristotle is as far as possible from Spinoza's idea of substance. No doubt for him all reality is one, in the sense that it constitutes a single system; but, on the other hand, there would be no single system but for the individual or distributive unity which constitutes the substantiality of actual things. As his polemic against the abstract ‘unity' of the Eleatics shows, the denial of the individual reality of things is for Aristotle of a false Metaphysic. In other words, while he finds that all the determinations of things are ' relative to ' the idea of the ‘real,' Aristotle yet maintains that the only ' real ‘is that which is determinate and individual. No doubt the reality of each thing implies that it has the characteristics which are inseparable from whatever is real characteristics which are summarily designated by the term 'substance' but these are found embodied in the thing, and constitute its very nature. The total system of things therefore involves the individual unify in itself. Eliminate the universal and there can be no science, for science is an expression of the law or principle which the individual displays; destroy the individual unity of the thing, and we have on our hands a 'universal' which has no local habitation and is in fact what Mr. Bradley well calls a 'wandering adjective.' Metaphysic, therefore, if it is to be a real science, must hold together these two sides of every real thing, neither neglecting its determinate existence norites universal nature. This thought is still further developed in the problem with which Aristotle next deals.


We have come to the conclusion that the main problem of Metaphysic is to determine the nature of 'substance,' or, what is the same thing, to determine wherein the 'unity' of a real thing consists; for substantiality or unity is the fundamental determination of all that is real. The difficulty may, however, be raised whether it falls within the province of Metaphysic to deal with those characteristics of reality, which are not directly contained in the conception of 'substance…'


Now, (a) if we follow the analogy of geometry, it will seem that Metaphysic must confine itself to a consideration of the essential characteristics of reality, as expressed by the term 'substance.’ For, while it is true that there are no points, lines or figures apart from sensible bodies, yet geometry does not deal with the sensible properties of things, but solely with points, lines and figures themselves. Similarly, it may be maintained that Metaphysic abstracts from all other determinations of reality and deals only with those primary characteristics which determine the nature of substances. In confirmation of this view, it may be urged that the first principles of reality do not admit of proof, while it is impossible to determine the -characteristics not involved in the definition of ' substance ' without a process of proof; hence Metaphysic must lose its unity as a science if it deals both with substance and its accidents, (b) On the other hand, it may be replied, that such a simplification of the problem of Metaphysic only leads to another and a worse difficulty. For, if Metaphysic deals only with the primary characteristics of reality, i.e. with substance, I and another science with the secondary characteristics, a third science will be needed to deal with the relation of the former to the latter, and such a science will obviously occupy a higher position than the supreme science of Metaphysic; which is absurd. Hence Metaphysic must deal both with the primary and the secondary determinations of reality; in other words, with all the ways in which reality is determined.


Aristotle's solution of this problem consists in showing that it is not possible to determine what are the primary characteristics of reality without taking into consideration its secondary characteristics. How can we tell wherein the 'reality' of a thing consists without determining wherein its 'unreality' consists? The conception of 'reality' is relative to that of 'unreality’ and hence the one cannot be thought apart from the other. Now, we have already seen that the idea of ‘unity ‘is inseparable from the idea of 'reality,' and that every science deal with correlative opposites. As the opposite of ‘unity' is 'plurality ‘Metaphysic must deal with the fundamental opposition of ‘unity ‘and 'plurality,' 'reality' and 'unreality.' In determining wherein, the 'unity' of substances consists, it must point out what is incompatible with their 'unity,' and, therefore, what is meant by 'plurality.' Thus, it shows that 'plurality' arises either from negation or privation, i.e., from the complete absence of some real property, or its absence in a thing which in privation of it cannot realize its essential nature. The inorganic world, e.g., is characterized as that which is destitute of life, and the essential nature of man is presupposed when we use the term 'blind,' which indicates the privation of a quality that belongs to man as such. Since, therefore, the 'unity' or 'reality' of a thing is determined by reference to its opposite, it belongs to Metaphysic as the science of reality to set forth all the subordinate conceptions such as identity and difference, likeness and unlikeness, equality and inequality which come under the head of unity and plurality respectively. It is the same science of Metaphysic which determines wherein the essential nature orality consists and what is inconsistent with it. No other science can possibly discharge this function, for no other science determines the essential nature of reality and, therefore, the distinction between what is essential and what is unessential, as, e.g., how far the identity of a substance is compatible with change. The importance and necessity of dealing with this topic is shown by the intellectual anarchy which results from the sophistical confusion between the essential and accidental, and the intellectual paralysis produced by the mere dialectician, who remains balanced between conflicting views without ever grasping the principle by which they may be reconciled. But even the sophist and dialectician confirm our view, that Metaphysic deals with all the determinations of reality; for, though they attain to no assured results, they apply their method to reality in all its phases. Our conclusion also receives support from the half-conscious anticipation of earlier thinkers, who, with hardly an exception, seek to explain the world by setting up opposite and correlative principles the Pythagoreans, the 'even' and 'odd;' Parmenides, the 'hot' and 'cold;' the Platonists, the 'limited' and 'unlimited;’ Empedocles, 'love' and 'hate.' For all these opposites, as might easily be shown, point to the fundamental opposition of ‘unity' and plurality.' We therefore conclude that Metaphysic, and no other science, deals with the secondary as well as the primary characteristics of reality, including, besides those already mentioned, 'prior' and 'posterior,' 'genus' and 'species’ 'whole' and 'part,' and many others.

Aristotle has now shown

(I) that Metaphysic determines the principles of all reality, and especially the principles of substance.

(2) that this involves a discussion of the fundamental opposition of unity and plurality, and of the respective determinations which come under these, or must, in some way, be referred to them. Thus, the positive sphere of Metaphysic is so far mapped out and demarcated generally from the limited spheres of all other sciences. Two questions still remain:

(I) Does Metaphysic establish the first principles of knowledge as well as of reality?

(2) What is the precise distinction between Metaphysic and other manifestations of human activity? When these questions have been answered we shall have a complete definition of Metaphysic.


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