Metaphysics (Aristotle)

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The metaphysics in the manuscript Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana , Vaticanus graecus 256, fol. 124r
The beginning of metaphysics in Latin translation in an incunabula from 1483 adorned with hand-painted miniatures. The book illumination shows philosophers in conversation on a balcony above; next to it on the right as an opposite pole a monkey. New York, Morgan Library & Museum , 21194-21195, Volume 2, fol. 1r.
The first page of Metaphysics in the edition of Immanuel Bekker , 1837

The metaphysics (Greek τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά ta metá ta physiká "that behind, next to the physics") is a collection of Aristotle texts on ontology .

Origin and meaning of the title

The name itself does not come from Aristotle, but possibly goes back to Andronikos of Rhodes , who lived in the 1st century BC. BC found the works of Aristotle in a cellar of Strabo , where they were stored for about 200 years, and tried to organize the scriptures; the result was a compilation which is basically a kind of embarrassing solution for a group of treatises that were left over from the reorganization of the scriptures and that were difficult to classify; Andronikos added them after those about physics, so that the name initially had a spatial, library meaning. The work is made up of several parts and has given its name to a branch of philosophy , metaphysics . Aristotle determined the subject as follows:

“There is a science that examines beings as beings and that which is inherent in them. This science is not identical with any of the individual sciences; for none of the other sciences deals generally with beings as beings, but they delimit a part of beings and examine the determinations resulting for them, such as B. the mathematical sciences. While we are now looking for the principles and the highest causes, it is evident that these must necessarily be causes of a certain nature in themselves. ”(Met. IV 1, 1003 a 21 - 28)

While the individual sciences deal with their own subjects, it is the task of basic science to ask about the first principles and causes and to provide explanations.

“Because how the number as a number has special properties, e.g. B. Oddness and straightness, proportion and equality, excess and deficiency, all of which come to numbers both in themselves and in relation to one another; and also the solid, the immobile and the moving, the weightless and the heavy have other properties: just as being as such also has certain peculiar characteristics, and it is with regard to which the philosopher has to investigate the truth. "(IV 2 , 1004 b 12 - 16)

Aristotle's pupils, presumably the Peripatetic Andronikos of Rhodes in the 1st century BC, used the collective term metaphysics . Chr., Different, partly independent writings summarized in 14 books. The title, a widespread but outdated theory, therefore simply describes the position in this edition: The books that are subordinate to physics . Aristotle himself called the subject of his science " First Philosophy " ( πρώτη φιλοσοφία - protē philosophia) or "Theological Science" ( ἐπιστήμη epistēmē theologikē). Recent research is of the opinion that the name was used before Andronikos, possibly already in the early Peripatos , because the object relates to what is behind things, to the first source. This view can already be found in Alexander von Aphrodisias , an early Aristotle commentator.

Overview of the content

Some of the texts summarized in metaphysics have a very different character and are only linked to a small extent. Nevertheless, it makes sense to combine them into a complete work, because they all have the common theme, the investigation of beings as beings, in a First Philosophy. The various teaching texts of Aristotle, which themselves have no titles, were created over a long period of time and deal with the uniform topic from different perspectives.

The first six books have an introductory character and serve as an introduction to the topic in which

  • the question is viewed from a philosophy-historical point of view (books I and II),
  • questions to be dealt with are raised in principle (Book III),
  • epistemological considerations are dealt with (Book IV),
  • the basic terms are defined in terms of content (Book V),
  • a distinction is made to other sciences (Book VI).

Books VII to IX form the first main part. They are commonly referred to as substance books. In these, Aristotle examines substance as the ground of being and the explanation of all beings. After the structuring of metaphysics, which was first introduced by Christian Wolff in the modern era, the ontology of Aristotle is treated as general metaphysics in these texts . The distinction between matter and form of a substance plays an essential role. Furthermore, the relationship between reality and possibility ( act and potency ) of a substance is examined separately.

The Xth book on the “one” can be seen as a deepening and supplement of the ontology. In contrast, the XI. Book in the outline a foreign body, which in a short form already contains and partly also the following. It has therefore been understood as a kind of short script of the entire topic, possibly written down as a transcript by a student.

The second major part is the XII. Book. Here Aristotle examined beings primarily with regard to their origin and less to their modes of being. The result is a cosmology and natural theology , according to Christian Wolff's classification, a special metaphysics in which God as the immobile mover is the basis of all that is. The third theme of Wolff's special metaphysics, the soul, is not found in Aristotle's writings on metaphysics, but in the separate work De anima .

The last two books, XIII and XIV, can again be viewed as a deepening of the overall topic, in which abstract entities , i.e. ideas and above all mathematics, are viewed ontologically, with Aristotle also repeating his criticism of Plato and the Pythagoreans.

No. book columns Subject / (sections) topics
I. A. 980 a 21 - 993 a 27 History of Philosophy
(1-3) Introduction, including amazement
(4-10) On the history of philosophy, doctrine of the four causes
(9) Critique of Plato's theory of ideas
II α 993 a 30 - 995 a 20 Introduction to the study of philosophy
(fragment of a separate text)
III B. 995 a 24 - 1003 a 16 The Aporienbuch
Aporien as the starting point of philosophy
IV Γ 1003 a 21 - 1012 b 30 About beings
(1) Philosophy as science of beings
(2) The multiple meanings of beings
(3-8) The principle of contradiction
V Δ 1012 b 34 - 1025 a 34 Lexicon of philosophical terms
(independent of the rest of the text)
VI E. 1025 b 3 - 1028 a 5 Sciences
(1) Classification of the sciences
(2-4) The accidents
VII Z 1028 a 10 - 1041 b 33 About substance (ousia) (first substance book)
VIII H 1042 a 3 - 1045 b 24 The sensually perceptible substance (second substance book)
IX Θ 1045 b 27 - 1052 a 12 Modalities of substance (third substance book)
(1-5) Possibility (dynamis)
(6-9) Reality (energeia)
(10) Truth
X I. 1052 a 15 - 1059 a 15 About the one (to hen)
XI K 1059 a 18 - 1069 a 10 Problems of Philosophy
(1-7) First Philosophy
(8-12) Natural Philosophy
XII Λ 1069 a 18 - 1076 a 4 Philosophical theology
(1-5) Sensually perceptible / perishable substance
(6-10) Immortal substance (immobile mover)
XIII M. 1076 a 8 - 1087 a 25 Mathematics (1)
About ideas and numbers
XIV N 1087 a 29 - 1093 b 29 Mathematics (2)
About the Pythagoreans and Plato

The program of metaphysics

Historical access

The foundation of the program of the first philosophy can be found in the first two sections of the first book of metaphysics, which is written like an introduction to a larger work. First, Aristotle stated:

"All people naturally strive for knowledge." (I 1, 980 a 21)

Humans draw their first insights from perception, with sight playing a prominent role. In addition, from Aristotle's point of view, humans, unlike other living beings, have the ability to learn from experience and even develop it into an art. Craftsmen work from experience and habit. Art arises through deliberation, when one can state the causes by which something is produced. Science is the application of art to questions that are not directed towards necessary needs. Thus Aristotle thought that the great advances made by the Egyptians in mathematics were due to leisure. Wisdom is "knowledge of certain principles and causes." (I 1, 982 a 2 - 3)

Science is basically concerned with the general, without special knowledge of the individual. Particularly accurate are those sciences that relate to principles such as geometry and even more so arithmetic. The highest science, however, “is that which knows the purpose why each is to be done; but this is the good for each individual and, as a whole, the best in all of nature. "(I 2, 982 b 6 - 10)

According to Aristotle, the history of philosophy shows that this highest science is a theoretical science.

“Because amazement was now as before the beginning of philosophizing for people, in that they were initially amazed at the most obvious unexplained, then gradually progressed and also raised questions about bigger things, e.g. B. about the appearances on the moon and the sun and the stars and about the origin of the universe. "(I 2, 982 b 17 - 22)

The subject of this science is that which is knowable in the highest degree and this is the divine,

"For God applies to all for one cause and principle, and this science would like to possess God alone or at least most of all." (I 2, 983, 12 - 17)

Even if this is the first science, the path of knowledge is however reversed. It ranges from practical to art and mathematics to the first principles. The general is the ground of the individual. However, it is recognized through a gradually increasing abstraction from experience. The highest general is thus the most distant from what is perceived.

For Aristotle, four aspects came into consideration as the initial causes of every being

  • the essence and the being
  • the substance and the substrate
  • the cause of the beginning of the movement
  • the why and the good as the goal of all creation and movement.

According to Aristotle, studying the history of philosophy can be helpful in examining these topics. Therefore, in the following, he gave an outline of the teachings of the pre-Socratics and a sketch of Plato's philosophy . This is followed by an in-depth criticism. He reproached the pre-Socratics for getting into contradictions when choosing concrete empirical objects as the basis on the basis of observations. Above all, they had asked just as little about the nature and nature of it as about the cause of all movement. He criticized Plato's doctrine of ideas that the assumption of an independent existence of ideas leads to at least a duplication of things, "because for each individual there is something of the same name." (I 9, 990 b 10-11) Aristotle mentioned a number of other arguments against the idea that ideas could be the cause of beings, among other things:

“Furthermore, the sharper proofs partly result in ideas of the relative, of which, according to our teaching, there is no genus per se, partly they speak of“ the third man ”” (I 9, 990 b 26-29) (see problem of universals ).
"Most of all, however, one would have to be embarrassed if one were to state what the ideas contribute to the eternal under the sensually perceptible or for the arising and passing;" (I 9, 991 a 15 - 18)
"In general, it is impossible to find the elements of beings if one does not differentiate between the different meanings that beings have, especially when the investigation goes to the question of what elements beings consist of." (I 9, 992 b 28 - 32)

With the analysis and criticism of his predecessors, Aristotle had drawn the framework and the claim that he wanted to fill in the first philosophy.

The second book of metaphysics is a brief motivation for studying philosophy. According to Aristotle, this includes

  1. the suggestions drawn from studying previous philosophers and that philosophy is a theory of truth,
  2. that there is a supreme principle, the good, and therefore a progression of the causes of beings into infinity is impossible,
  3. that science means methodical approach and requires an appropriate adaptation of the methods to the object of investigation.

Basic questions of the first philosophy

After the historical approach to the First Philosophy, Aristotle formulated fifteen fundamental questions in the so-called Aporic Book, which systematically delimit the content of the First Philosophy. In addition, Aristotle also discussed the philosophical difficulties associated with the questions. The answers remain open for the time being. Nevertheless, these questions are not aporias in the strict sense, because in the following texts Aristotle gives partly and without direct reference unambiguous answers to the problems raised. The pure questions are (not literally):

  • Does the consideration of the genera belong to the cause of one science or of several?
  • Should the Proof Principles be treated as an object in First Philosophy?
  • Is the substance the subject of a particular science or of several?
  • Are the commercials a special item?
  • Are the ideas independent, are they contained in things, or is there only something perceptible?
  • Are genres elements and principles of being or are they intrinsic components of a thing?
  • Can one use the one and the being to determine species differences?
  • Can one derive the concept of the infinite from an individual?
  • Are Principles One of Kind? But how can they be part of a single being at the same time?
  • Do the principles apply equally to the perishable and the imperishable?
  • Do the one and the being belong to the essence of the individual thing or do they have an independent essence?
  • Are numbers, bodies, areas or points substances?
  • Why is it necessary to talk about ideas at all?
  • Do the elements of possibility have their own existence?
  • Are the principles general or in the manner of individual things?

Subject and principles of the first philosophy (Book IV)

Substance as an object of investigation

The fourth book of metaphysics also has an introductory character. After the general definition of the first philosophy as the science of beings as beings and that which belongs to them, Aristotle stated:

"The being is stated in multiple meanings, but always in relation to one thing and to a single nature and not according to mere name equality (homonymous)." (1003 a, 33 - 35)
“Because some are called being because they are beings (substances), others because they are properties of a being, others because it is the way to a being or destruction or deprivation or quality or the creating and generating for a being or for something being to him, or negation of something under this or of a being (that is why we also say that what does not exist is non-being). "(1003 b, 8 - 12)

Here Aristotle again examined the question of which contents belong to the first philosophy and how this is to be distinguished from other sciences. Different ways of speaking about beings also lead to one thing, to substance itself. Aristotle had already described the ontological basis for this approach in the category writing, where he differentiated between substance and accidents. Substance means that which remains the same about an object (person or thing), even if it changes. Those properties that make up its essence also belong to substance. For example, the substance of Socrates includes being a living being. Aristotle called such characteristics in the category writing second substance as opposed to the accidents which the individual individual, the first substance, more or less accidentally ( contingent ). That Socrates had a hump nose or was white are invariable characteristics of an individual. But these only belong to the essence of a person as a possibility. In addition, there are properties that are only available to the individual as being able to sit, be in Athens, be smaller than, or beat or be beat. In his metaphysics, Aristotle was less interested in accidents and their relationship to substance, but in what constitutes the substance, what determines its identity. Correspondingly, the subject of the first science is characterized again in the second chapter of the fourth book:

"Now the one and the being are identical and one nature, in that they follow one another like principle and cause, not insofar as they are determined by a concept." (1003 b, 22 - 24)
"Since the multiplicity is opposed to the one, there is also the knowledge of what is opposed to the objects mentioned, (namely) the other, the different, the unequal and what else is called after these or the multitude and the one, Task of said science. This also includes the (contrary) opposition; because the opposite is a difference, the difference is a difference. "(1004 a, 16 - 21)

Principles of thought

Most of the fourth book deals with preliminary epistemological considerations. Phenomena are the subject of individual sciences. Insofar as there are principles behind it, through which a unity emerges from the plurality, their investigation is the task of the first philosophy. Even with Aristotle, the question of naturalism can be heard, as it was discussed in the 20th century by Quine or Rorty , according to which the fundamental questions are a matter of the specialist sciences themselves. Aristotle formulated a clearly negative answer to this:

“That is why none of those who devote themselves to a particular science undertakes to speak about it, whether it is true or not, neither the geometer nor the arithmetic, with the exception of a few physicists. There is a good reason why they did it; for they alone believed that they were making inquiries into the whole of nature and beings. But since there is a scientist who is still above the physicists (because nature is only a species of beings), the investigation of the axioms will fall to the one who has considered (beings) in general and the first being. "(1005 a, 40 - 50)

In the third chapter, Aristotle claimed, within the framework of the investigation of beings as beings, that the axioms of the individual sciences, including the axioms of mathematics, be investigated as a task of the first philosophy. According to Aristotle, the starting point should be a principle that everyone necessarily recognizes who deals with knowledge. This is how he formulated the principle of contradiction : “It is impossible for someone to assume that it is and is not the same” (1005 b, 31). For him, this principle is so fundamental that it precedes all other axioms. Aristotle resisted the demand to prove such a principle. Such an attempt must lead to infinite recourse. The only proof that can be taken is that everyone who makes a statement is already using this principle. (Cf. 1006 a)

A second fundamental principle, derived from the first, reads: “For one cannot think anything if one does not think one thing” (1006b, 15). Each word originally denotes one. When using general terms to denote species such as “human”, it is always possible to come to the level of the individual by giving the individual element a name. Assuming that a species contains an infinite number of elements, there would be no meaningful speech at all. Aristotle explained this statement with the question of which property belongs to a thing. One must be able to answer such a question clearly.

“Because it is certainly quite possible that the same thing is human and white at the same time, but still, when asked whether one can truthfully call this human or not, one only has to answer what one signifies and not add that it also white and big. For it is impossible to list all the accidents, since there are infinitely many; "(1007 a 13 - 19)

Without assuming that there is a substance about which something can be said, there would be no relation and thus no being that one can talk about. "To designate something as the essence of a thing means to state that it has its peculiar being in nothing else." (1007 a 35 - 37)

In the following chapters Aristotle turned against the traditional schools of thought, which lead to a relativization of the basic principles. For example against Protagoras and Anaxagoras , who are said to have taught that one thing has its opposite at the same time. For Aristotle, truth cannot be tied to subjective standards. For him the principle of the two-valued statements applies .

“For if everything that someone means or what seems to him is true, everything must be true and false at the same time; for many have opposing opinions and believe that those who do not mean the same thing are in error. "(1009a, 8-11)

The principle of contradiction is only valid if it is stated about the same thing at the same time. “For in terms of ability the same thing can be opposite at the same time, but in terms of reality (perfection) it cannot." (1009a, 44–46) A street cannot be wet and dry at the same time. But there is always the possibility that it is one or the other. In this context, Aristotle also turned against the naive realism that he saw in Democritus , Empedocles , Parmenides and also Anaxagoras. Their error lies in the fact that they equate sense perception with true.

“For them, the cause of this view lay in the fact that, in their research into the truth of beings, they only held the sensual for beings; but in this the nature of the indeterminate and of that which is in the manner indicated are predominant. Therefore they speak so understandably, but they do not speak truth "(1010 a 1 - 6)

Also against the school of Heraclitus and against Kratylos , which, in contrast to the aforementioned, saw everything as an incomprehensible change, Aristotle directed himself with the argument that in every becoming something has a certain stability because the changes do not affect all properties. Something that arises arises from something and becomes something. As an additional reason, Aristotle referred to the immutability of the universe . Against the simple view that sensory perception provides a true picture of the world, Aristotle referred to the difference between appearance and imagination. (Cf. 1010 b) He also rejected anti-realistic notions such as that something ceases to be when it is no longer perceived.

“After all, sense perception is not perception of itself; but something different from it must exist besides the sensory perception (sc. the things), which must necessarily precede it. "(1010 b, 50 - 53)

According to Aristotle, the criticized views result from the false idea that one can prove the principles of human thought. “Difficulties of this kind are tantamount to the question of whether we are now sleeping or waking” (1011 a, 8 - 9). For those who ask such a question, the answer is already evident. Whoever demands proof of the existence of the opposite is already assuming that the opposite exists.

At the end of Book IV (Chapters 7 - 8), Aristotle dealt with the sentence about the excluded third party :

"Neither can there be anything between the two members of the contradiction, but one must necessarily either affirm or deny one of each." (1011 b, 40 - 42)

The mistake that often arises is that gray is viewed as something intermediate between black and white. But the opposite of white is not black, but non-white. There is no mean between even and odd in numbers. The reason for this principle is that the truth of a statement is tied to the term and its meaning.

The Doctrine of Substance (Books VII to IX)

In Books VII, VIII, IX (Ζ, Η, Θ) Aristotle develops his theory of substance , which occupies a central position in his work. This substance theory is more elaborate than his earlier doctrine of the first and second substances in the category script.

Substance theory is based on the doctrine of hylemorphism , which says that things are composed of two components:

  • Substance or matter ( hylê ) and
  • Form ( morphê or eidos ).

To illustrate this, Aristotle gives the example of a statue: It is composed of the figure (e.g. a depicted god figure) and the material worked by the sculptor (e.g. ore). The form gives matter a purpose, and both together result in the statue as an object ( synholon ).

What is meant by substance ? Substance is something that, as a constituent part of things, determines its being, i.e. a principle or a cause for the being of things. There are various possibilities for what this being-determining principle can be in terms of content. In Book VII, Chapter 3, Aristotle names four possible candidates:

  • the underlying ( substratum, hypokeimenon ),
  • the "what-it-was-to-be" ( to ti ên einai ),
  • the general ( kathou ),
  • the genus ( genos ).

In chapter 3 he discusses the underlying principles, in chapters 4 to 6 the “what-it-was-to-be” and in chapters 13 to 16 the general information including the genus with regard to its suitability as a substance in the above-mentioned sense.

The underlying

Against the background of the composition of things from matter and form, matter comes into consideration as the underlying, since the form can be predicted from matter or the form belongs to matter. If, however, one abstracts all properties from material things, only something completely indefinite remains. Such indefinite matter no longer fulfills the criterion of independent existence, independence from others ( choriston ), which, however, must be assumed for the underlying. Hence, matter alone cannot be the substance of something.

The "what-it-was-to-be"

The “what-it-was-to-be”, an artificial word formed by Aristotle, means in terms of content that which defines the essence of things. So it is what a thing in itself or actually is or its what-determinateness. Only the eidos can be used for this. eidos has two meanings: type and form.

As a kind ( species ) determines the eidos of what a thing is in nature. It thus determines the real what of a thing. For example, “Socrates is a person.” The type “person” is predicated of the individual being Socrates. Being human indicates the what-being of Socrates.

As a form , the eidos determines the what-being of matter. In other words, the eidos first gives matter its purpose. For example, "Socrates' body has the shape of a human." The undetermined body matter (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, etc.) only receives its what-determination when the form, namely human shape, is specified.

Thus the eidos as “what-it-was-to-be” fulfills the requirement to be the substance of something, and as shown on two levels: as a kind on the level of the compound individual things, as a form on the level of the components of Single things.

The general and the genus

Aristotle in front of the bust of Homer

According to Plato and the academics, the general has the power to be the cause of something. Since being a cause is an important criterion for substance (Book V, Chapter 8), it must be examined more closely. The general, according to Plato, is common to many. Aristotle agrees. In addition, the general ( called " ideas " by Plato ) is different from the individual. But this is where Aristotle's criticism of the Platonic doctrine begins: The eternal and unchangeable ideas are not only different from the individual things, but also separate; they are located in separate spheres of being or worlds ( Chorismos reproach ).

In order to avoid the separation of the individual and the general, the identity of both must be assumed. This is to be understood in such a way that the general is present in the individual things and is thus inextricably linked with them. By means of abstraction , i.e. an intellectual achievement that filters out the unessential properties of the individual things, one arrives at the knowledge of the general as the essential properties of things. The general, however, is inherent in things and cannot exist independently of them. It therefore does not meet the requirement of being able to exist independently, i.e. it cannot be the underlying and therefore cannot be considered a substance.

The outlined argument establishes the Aristotelian view of the problem of universals , which is called moderate realism, in contrast to the view of Platonism, which postulates an independent existence of the general, above all the individual.

Ephemeral, Cosmology and Natural Theology (Book XII)

The XII. The book represents a break in the entire context of metaphysics. It is a completely independent treatise on metaphysics. Nevertheless, its classification at this point in metaphysics makes sense. It no longer deals with the investigation of beings as beings, but changes the direction of view. Now the ultimate principles (arche) and causes (aition) of substances are the subject of Aristotle's investigation. The substance itself ( ousia ) is the basis of all investigations, because

  • Whether for a whole or a sequence: the substance always has priority over quality and quantity.
  • The rest of the being (properties) depends on the substance.
  • Only the substance can be separated independently.
  • All philosophers who were looking for first principles have made substance their object.

At the beginning of Book XII, Aristotle distinguished three types of substance (cf. 1069 a 30 - 35)

  • sensually perceptible and ephemeral = concrete individual things
  • sensually perceptible and eternal = heavenly body
  • not perceptible to the senses and eternal = immobile mover

To understand the principles of substance, a first step is to study the principles of perceptible substance. Therefore, in chapters (2) to (5), Aristotle first examined the sensually perceptible substances in a kind of phenomenological consideration. Insofar as there are duplications to the substance books, the independent character of the XII is evident. Book. Chapters (6) to (10) then deal with the motionless mover itself, a consideration that is missing in the substance books. The connection to the perceptible substances is retained in these chapters.

A fundamental principle of perceptible substances is that they are subject to change. According to Aristotle, change can mean that the matter (hyle) itself changes (wood instead of stone) or that the existing matter changes in terms of quality, quantity or location. Change includes a contrast, for example from white to non-white. But this contrast is not arbitrary. A tone is also non-white, but cannot contrast with white. Change is therefore linked to the matter underlying the substance. When matter itself changes, this is a process of becoming and disappearing of a substance, an individual object as such. Change means a transition from possibility to reality. However, the possibility of non-existence is only accidental. Because a substance does not arise from nothing, but only from underlying substances. The difference between the eternal heavenly bodies and changeable substances is that they are only subject to spatial changes.

Change is a process, the elements of which are matter and form as well as the deprivation of form ( privation ). For example, losing its shape is getting a dry road wet. Matter and form that an object reaches at the end of a change are not something that comes about through the change. Change arises from an external impetus, a "first moving thing". Matter is what changes and form is what it changes in. Both are not themselves the cause. According to Aristotle, the cause of the creation of a substance can be

  • a third - then something created through art arises
  • the thing itself - then it is created by nature
  • Coincidence (related to something manufactured)
  • Spontaneity (a coincidence: related to nature)

Every substance arises from some synonyms. For Aristotle, synonym does not mean conceptually identical, but of the same kind; so roses are made from roses and people are made from people. In the case of artifacts, the cause is the plan, as is the architect's plan for a house or the artist's idea of ​​a sculpture. Substance is on the one hand the individual thing, on the other hand also matter and the form, if one understands the latter as a principle, i.e. according to its essence (its substance). Matter is the underlying (hypokeimenon). In the matter there is the possibility for a single thing. The form makes the matter a single thing, a “this there” (tode ti). Due to the shape, the species term “person” becomes the individual person, “this person there”. While the cause of movement must exist before the substance, the cause of form always exists at the same time and in the respective individual thing.

The next step in substance analysis (Chapter 4) led Aristotle to species and genera and the question of identity .

"The causes and principles are different in one sense, but in another sense, when one speaks of them in general and analogy , they are all the same." (1070 a 31 - 32)

There are different levels of identity for substances. Individuals are numerically identical . Species and genera are multilevel principles. Humans are identical to one another in terms of their nature, as they contain something identical on a higher level than a species of living beings. Finally, there are identities that span species and genera, for example colors. This also includes the fact that every perishable substance contains matter, deprivation of form and form. In the example of Aristotle, the thing is a color, the matter is a surface (as a carrier), the form is white and the deprived form is black.

The cause of the form is something contained in the individual thing. The cause of movement, on the other hand, is something external to an object that is not an element of what is moved. The matter of a body can take the form of being sick. The art of movement causes health to deprive disease of its form.

The principles that apply to substances apply equally to accidents and changes, since these are dependent and dependent on substances. This consideration can also be applied to the general, i.e. species and genera. However, one has to note that the individual is the principle of the individual.

"Man in general is indeed the principle of man, but there is no man in general, but Peleus is the principle of Achilles , your principle is your father, and this particular B is the principle of BA par excellence." (1071 a 20 - 23 )

One can say in general terms that a father has children, but the actual father-child relationship only exists between specific individuals. The same applies to relatives and qualitative properties.

“In a certain sense, according to the analogy, they are the same: matter, form, deprivation of form, moving, and in a certain sense the causes of beings [substances] are also causes of everything, because with their abolition the rest [the properties] with will be annulled. In a different sense, however, the first causes are different, namely the opposites, which are neither stated as general genera nor used in different meanings, and furthermore the substances. "(1071 a 33 - 36)

After discussing the principles of perceivable substances, Aristotle turned from the 6th chapter to the consideration of the eternal immobile substance (s). Right at the beginning he presented the problem to be solved: There must necessarily be an eternal, immobile first substance. If this did not exist, everything would be fleeting. But this would mean that there could be no substance at all.

“Impossible, however, the movement can arise or cease; because she always was. Neither is time ; because the earlier and the later are not even possible if there is no time. "(1071 b 6 - 8)

A movement without arising or passing away, without beginning and end, is the circular movement (cf. Physics, VIII, 8) It is eternal and continuous. As the source, it must always be real. Because if it only existed as far as possible, all becoming would be interrupted, and that is impossible.

With the 7th chapter, Aristotle switched from the purely conceptual analysis to the consideration of physical phenomena. The perceptible circular movement can be found in the sky, which should therefore be eternal for him. But since heaven itself is moved, it also needs a cause by which it is moved. This first cause must be unmoved, because otherwise you will end up in an infinite regress of the causes. According to the previous considerations, it must be eternal, a substance and real.

Aristotle saw in the circular motion of the fixed stars a striving for eternity and continuity . As the motionless mover triggers this striving, it causes the circular movement. According to this, the causation is not a material, but a spiritual process. The original substance triggers movements because it is the target cause ( causa finalis ). That such a thing is conceivable is shown for Aristotle by the relationship between reason and human action.

“Because the object of desire is that which appears to be beautiful, the object of will is in itself that which is beautiful. But we strive for something more because we think it is good than that we think it is good because we strive for it. The principle is reasonableness. Reason is moved by the intelligible, but intelligible in itself is a series of combinations (of opposites); in it the essence [substance] takes first place, and below this the simple, real activity [energeia] existing (but one thing and simplicity are not the same; for the one denotes a measure, the simple a certain behavior ), but also the beautiful and what can be striven for for its own sake are in the same row, and the first (as a principle) is either the best or analogous to it. ”(1072 a 27 - 36)

According to Aristotle, the first principle thus contains the highest simple concepts such as the good , the beautiful , the first thing that can be striven for. The good, the beautiful etc. do not first become good, beautiful etc. through striving. It is objective qualities that reason strives for. Reason as something non-material moves action and thus concrete objects. Correspondingly, the original substance moves not only the fixed stars, but also indirectly all other things (the whole of nature), in that these are directed towards the target cause. The first substance is pure thought; since it is eternal and continuous, it is an ever active rational activity. For the philosopher Aristotle, pure rational activity is the highest principle to strive for, that which conveys pleasure in the highest measure. As the supreme and best, the rational activity is at the same time reason itself, which has itself as its object. The constant duration of the highest principle is impossible for man, but in the first substance reason is everlasting. This eternal rational activity is the best life ever and this best life Aristotle called God. God is the form of life in which the striving for the highest, for pure rational activity, is eternally and continuously realized. For Aristotle God was something that results from the determination of the first substance, something that has its counterpart in the activity of reason. According to Aristotle, the first substance has the following characteristics:

“It is clear from what has been said that there is an eternal, unmoved being, separated from sensuality, and independently existing. But it has also been proven that this being [this substance] cannot have size, but is indivisible. […] But it has also been proven that it is not subject to any affection or any change in quality. ”(1073 a 2 - 12)

The status of the 8th chapter is controversial among Aristotle researchers. In this chapter Aristotle examines whether several and how many imperceptible first substances exist. He dealt with the structure of the celestial spheres and relied on the results of the astronomer Callippus , whom he could only have met during his second Athens period (after 330 BC). On the other hand, due to other indications, Book XII was classified as a relatively early writing compared to the other books of metaphysics. Therefore, some performers concluded that the 8th chapter was added afterwards. This is also supported by the fact that there are direct links between the seventh and ninth chapters. Other interpreters do not see a major break in content and also indicate that there are several first substances in the previous books.

The fact that the celestial bodies do not follow simple circular orbits explained ancient astronomy with different, mutually overlapping spheres that mutually influence each other. A corresponding model with 26 spheres was designed by Eudoxus in the Platonic Academy . Kallippos had expanded the model and Aristotle himself had introduced additional spheres in order to be able to describe the celestial movements more precisely, and so came to a total of 55 spheres.

The number of first substances results from the number of (assumed) spheres that are responsible for the movement of the heavenly bodies. Aristotle did not assume that the number of spheres found was the correct number. Only the basic connection is decisive. In spite of the different spheres, Aristotle only recognized one universe that has only a first immobile mover. The unmoved movers influencing the respective celestial spheres are dependent on this first one, which determines the sphere of the fixed stars. However, Aristotle does not make any statements about the type of connection.

In a final section of Chapter 8, Aristotle tried to reconcile the theory of the immobile mover with traditional religion.

“From the ancient and the fathers from ancient times it is handed down in mythical form to the later ones that the stars are gods and the divine embraces the whole of nature. The rest is then added in a fabulous way to persuade the multitude and to apply it to the laws and the common good. They ascribed to them resemblance to humans or other living beings and other things to be similar and related. If one takes apart from this only the first itself, namely that they considered the first beings [substances] to be gods, one will find a divine saying in it ... "(1074 a 38 - b 12)

Aristotle saw the divine in the principle of motionless movement. All positive religion is added by man and has the purpose of making a set of rules for the good of the community.

In Chapter 9, Aristotle turned back to reason as the principle of the first substance. This is indeed the most divine of the phenomena, but one has to explain why it is so. When Aristotle spoke of a phenomenon, it becomes clear that he made no distinction between divine and human reason. Already in the 7th chapter he pointed out that the difference to humans is that God has eternal, continuous and always real control of reason. So Aristotle spoke de facto about human reason and applied his considerations to divine reason by analogy.

The being of reason is an activity of thinking. Thinking is always focused on something. But so that the first substance can be equated with reason, thinking must not contain anything that is not the highest and best. So reason can only have itself as an object. Aristotle described this with the famous formula "the thinking of thinking is thinking" (noesis noeseos noesis - 1074 b 34). Since thinking actually means “to noein” and the meaning of “noesis” also includes rational activity, one can also say to increase comprehensibility: rational activity is thinking of thinking. And in the first substance, reason deals only with the highest and best.

In the 10th chapter, Aristotle emphasized once again that the first substance is the goal towards which everything is directed, similar to how humans, animals and even plants have an aspiration in them. Then he turned to other philosophical conceptions to check the extent to which their solutions are equivalent to his derivation of the motionless mover. He rejected development principles that are based on opposites, because they also make the bad a supreme principle. Like Empedocles and Anaximander, Plato named the good as the supreme principle. In Plato, however, there is no justification for the movement. This is with Empedocle's friendship. Aristotle criticized the fact that friendship is also bound to matter. He further refused Empedocles that this proceeded from the dispute as a counter-principle. Anaximander had even accepted the good as a cause of movement, but did not name a target cause. Aristotle still missed other solutions that offered no explanations for the distinction between the perishable and the imperishable. He finally emphasized that the unity of things would only be established with his solution and underlined this with a quote from the Iliad as the closing words of the XII. Book: “Multi-rulership is never good; only one may be ruler. "(Iliad 2.204)

Editions and translations



  • Emil Angehrn : Aristotle: Metaphysics . In: Gerhard Gamm, Eva Schürmann (ed.): From Plato to Derrida. 20 major works of philosophy , Primus, Darmstadt 2005, 28–43
  • Otfried Höffe : Aristotle. Beck, 3rd revised edition, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-54125-9
  • Wilfried Kühn: Introduction to Metaphysics: Platon and Aristoteles , Meiner, Hamburg 2017, pp. 97–212
  • Jürgen Mittelstraß : The Aristotelian Metaphysics . In: Reinhard Brandt , Thomas Sturm (ed.): Classical works of philosophy. From Aristoteles to Habermas , Reclam, Leipzig 2002, pp. 14–37
  • Christof Rapp : Aristotle for an introduction. Junius, Hamburg 2004, ISBN 3-88506-398-0 (very clear and compact introduction to Aristotle with very good thematically structured bibliography for beginners)

Investigations and Comments

  • Michael Bordt : Aristoteles' "Metaphysik XII" (work interpretations), WBG, Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 978-3-534-15578-1
  • Hector Carvallo, Ernesto Grassi : Aristoteles - Metaphysik , Rowohlt, Reinbek 1968
  • Wolfgang Class: Aristotle's Metaphysics, A Philological Commentary :
  • Burkhard Hafemann: Aristotle's Transcendental Realism. Content and scope of first principles in metaphysics , De Gruyter, Berlin-New York 1998
  • Fritz Peter Hager (Ed.): Metaphysics and Theology of Aristoteles , WBG, Darmstadt 1969
  • Werner Jaeger : Studies on the genesis of the metaphysics of Aristotle , Berlin 1912 ( online) .
  • Ludger Jansen: Doing and Ability. A systematic commentary on Aristotle's theory of dispositional properties in the ninth book of metaphysics , Hänsel-Hohenhausen, Frankfurt am Main 2002.
  • Christof Rapp (Ed.): Aristoteles. Metaphysics. The substance books (Ζ, Η, Θ) , Berlin 1996. (Introduction to and articles on the most important text sections on the Aristotelian substance theory)
  • Horst Seidl: Contributions to Aristotle's theory of knowledge and metaphysics , Rodopi, Amsterdam 1984
  • Karl-Heinz Volkmann-Schluck : The Metaphysics of Aristotle , Klostermann, Frankfurt 1979



  • Fabrizio Amerini, Gabriele Galluzzo (Eds.): A Companion to the Latin Medieval Commentaries on Aristotle's Metaphysics. Brill, Leiden 2014, ISBN 978-90-04-26128-0

Web links


  1. The quotations are based on the translation by Hermann Bonitz / Horst Seidl (Meiner Verlag); the page numbers follow the Bekker counting : the Roman number names the book (IV), the Arabic number the section (1), then the page number according to Bekker (1003 a) as well as the lines (21 - 28).
  2. Hans Reiner : The origin and original meaning of the name Metaphysik, in: Journal for philosophical research, 8 (1954), 210-237, printed in: FP Hager (Ed.): Metaphysik und Theologie des Aristoteles, WBG, Darmstadt 1969, 137-174, here 140; Hans Reiner: The emergence of the doctrine of the library origin of the name metaphysics. History of a science legend, in: Journal for philosophical research 9 (1955), 77-99; Stephen Menn: The Editors of the Metaphysics . In: Phronesis 40, 1995, pp. 202-208.
  3. Cf. Aristotle. Metaphysics. The substance books, commentary ed. by Christof Rapp, Academy, Berlin 1996, 4
  4. ^ Michael Bordt: Aristoteles'> Metaphysik XII <, Darmstadt 2006, 11
  5. cf. on this: Michael Bordt: Aristoteles'> Metaphysik XII <, Darmstadt 2006, 106–113
  6. Cf. Michael Bordt: Aristoteles'> Metaphysik XII <, Darmstadt 2006, 128 and the views of Jaeger and Ross presented there, as well as Fritz-Peter Hager (ed.): Metaphysik und Theologie des Aristoteles, Darmstadt 1979 with the essays contained therein by Hans von Arnim (The Development of the Aristotelian Doctrine of God, 1931, 1-74) and WKC Guthrie (The Development of the Theology of Aristotle I and II, 75-113)
  7. ^ Michael Brodt: Aristoteles'> Metaphysik XII <, Darmstadt 2006, 143