Aristotle’s Metaphysics

Wisdom, therefore, considered as a causal knowledge of particulars, resembles the knowledge of Divinity, and is consequently most honorable and most excellent. And hence the wise man, from resembling, must be the friend of Divinity. Beautifully, therefore, is it observed by Aristotle, “That the man who can live in the pure enjoyment of his intellect, and who properly cultivates that divine principle, is happiest in himself, and most beloved by the gods: for, if the gods have any regard to what passes among men (as it appears they have), it is probable that they will rejoice in that which is most excellent, and by nature the most nearly allied to themselves; and, as this is intellect, that they will requite the man who most loves and honors this, both from his regard to that which is dear to themselves, and from his acting a part which is laudable and right.”

The contemplative or intellectual energy indeed, when it is possessed in the highest perfection of which our nature is capable, raises its possessor above the condition of humanity. “For a life according to intellect,” says the Stagirite [Aristotle], “is more excellent than that which falls to the lot of man: for he does not thus live, so far as he is man, but so far as he contains something divine. And as much as this divine part of him differs from the composite, so much also does this energy differ from that of the virtues. If, therefore, intellect compared with man is divine, the life also which is according to intellect will be divine with respect to human life…”

After this, he shows that intellect is the true man, from its being that which is most powerful, principal, and excellent in our nature; “so that,” says he, “it would be absurd not to choose that which is our proper life, but [instead] that which belongs to something different from ourselves.”…

Virtuous, therefore, is the man who relieves the corporeal wants of others, who wipes away the tear of sorrow, and gives agony repose; but more virtuous he, who, by disseminating wisdom, expels ignorance from the soul, and thus benefits the immortal part of man; for it may indeed be truly said, that he who has not even a knowledge of common things is a brute among men; that he who has an accurate knowledge of human concerns alone, is a man among brutes; but, that he who knows all that can be known by intellectual energy, is a god among men.

Wisely, therefore does Plato assert that the philosopher ought not to descend below species, and that he should be solely employed in the contemplation of wholes and universals. For he who descends below these, descends into Cimmerian realms, and Hades itself, wanders among spectres devoid of mind, and exposes himself to the danger of beholding the real Gorgon, or the dire face of Matter, and of thus becoming petrified by a satiety of stupid passions… [Introduction, Pp. xiii-xv]

The qualifications which are peculiarly requisite in an auditor of the following work are a naturally good disposition, a penetrating sagacity, and an ardent love of truth. For, as he is here led to the contemplation of eternal and immoveable natures, and the first cause of all things, a naturally good disposition is necessary, that he may possess the moral as preparatory to the reception of the theoretic virtues. Penetrating sagacity is likewise necessary, from the unavoidable obscurity of the subject, and from its being last in the progressions of human understanding, though first in the nature of things. To which we may add, that to see distinctly that there are other objects more real than those of sense, to elevate the mental eye to the principles of things, and gaze on their dazzling splendor, requires no common acuteness, no small degree of penetration. And both a good disposition and sagacity will be unequal to the task, unless attended with an ardent love of truth: for this is the wing by which the mind rises above sense, and soars to the summit of philosophy.

The design of Aristotle in this work is to lead us from forms merged in, or inseparable from, matter, to those forms which are entirely immaterial, and which, in his own words, are the most luminous of all things. But he considers these forms so far only as they are beings; or, in other words, so far as they are the progeny of one first being, and are characterized by essence. Nothing, therefore, is discussed in this work pertaining to will or appetite, or any thing of this kind, because these are vital powers; nor to sensation or the dianoetic energy [immediate intuition] and intelligence, because these are the properties of gnostic [esoteric] natures. Hence, we shall find that the Metaphysics of Aristotle unfold all that is comprehended in the great orb of being, so far as every thing which this orb contains is stamped as it were with the idiom of its source. The same thing is likewise effected by Plato in his Parmenides; but, as we have before observed, more theologically, conformably to the genius of his philosophy, which always considers nature so far as she is suspended from divinity. The Metaphysics of Aristotle are, therefore, the same with the most scientific dialectic of Plato, of which the Parmenides of that philosopher is a most beautiful specimen, with this difference only, that in the former the physical, and in the latter the theological, character predominates.

That the reader, however, may be convinced of this, it will be requisite to be more explicit, and to show in what the employment of scientific dialectic consists. The business, then of this first of sciences is to employ definitions, divisions, analyzations, and demonstrations, as primary sciences in the investigation of causes; imitating the progressions of beings from the first principle of things, and their continual conversion to it as the ultimate object of desire. [Introduction, Pp. v-vi.]

“But there are three energies,” says Proclus [Parmenid, lib. i], “of this most scientific method: the first of which is adapted to youth, and is useful for the purpose of rousing their intellect, which is, as it were, in a dormant state; for it is a true exercise of the eye of the soul in the speculation of things, leading forth, through opposite positions, the essential impression of ideas which it contains, and considering, not only the divine path as it were, which conducts to truth, but exploring whether the deviations from it contain anything worthy of belief; and lastly, stimulating the all-various conceptions of the soul. But the second energy takes place when intellect rests from its former investigations, as becoming most familiar with the speculation of beings, and beholds truth itself firmly established upon a pure and holy foundation. And this energy, according to Socrates, by a progression through ideas, evolves the whole of an intelligible nature, till it arrives at that which is first; and this by analyzing, defining, demonstrating, and dividing, proceeding upwards and downwards, till, having entirely investigated the nature of intelligibles, it raises itself to a nature superior to beings. But the soul, being perfectly established in this nature, as in her paternal port, no longer tends to a more excellent object of desire, as she has now arrived at the end of her search: and you may say that what is delivered in the Phaedrus and Sophista is the employment of this energy, giving a twofold division to some, and a fourfold to other operations of the dialectic art; and, on this account, it is assigned to such as philosophize purely, and no longer require preparatory exercise, but nourish the intellect of their soul in pure intellection. But the third energy, which is exhibitive according to truth, purifies from twofold ignorance [That is, when a man is ignorant that he is ignorant; and this is the disease of the multitude], when its reasons are employed upon men full of opinion; and this is spoken of in the Sophista.”

Proclus in the same work further observes concerning this master science as follows: “The dialectic method is irreprehensible and most expeditious; for it is connate with things themselves, and employs a multitude of powers in order to the attainment of truth. It likewise imitates intellect, from which it receives its principles, and ascends through well-ordered gradations to being itself. It also terminates the wandering of the soul about sensibles; and explores every thing by methods which cannot be confuted, till it arrives at the ineffable principle of things.

“The multitude, however, are unacquainted with the power of dialectic, and are ignorant that the end of this scientific wandering is truth and intellect: for it is not possible for us to recur from things last to such as are first, except by a progression through the middle forms of life. For, as our descent into the realms of mortality was effected through many mediums, the soul always proceeding into that which is more composite, in like manner our ascent must be accomplished through various mediums, the soul resolving her composite order of life. In the first place, therefore, it is requisite to despite the senses, as able to know nothing accurate, nothing sane, but possessing much of the confused, the material, and the passive, in consequence of employing certain instruments of this kind. After this, it follows that we should dismiss imaginations, those winged Stymphalidae of the soul, as alone possessing a figured intellection of things, but by no means able to apprehend unfigured and impartible form, and as impeding the pure and immaterial intellection of the soul, by intervening, and disturbing it in its investigations. In the third place, we must entirely extirpate multiform opinions, and the wandering of the soul about these; for they are not conversant with the causes of things, nor do they procure for us science, nor the participation of a separate intellect. In the fourth place, therefore, we must hastily return to the great sea of the sciences, and there, by the assistance of dialectic, survey the divisions and compositions of these, and, in short, the variety of forms in the soul, and, through this survey unweaving our vital order, behold our dianoetic part. After this, in the fifth place, it is requisite to separate ourselves from composition, and contemplate by intellectual energy true beings: for intellect is more excellent than science; and a life according to intellect is preferable to that which is according to science. Many, therefore, are wanderings of the soul: for one of these is in imaginations, another in opinions, and a third in the dianoetic power. But a life according to intellect is alone inerratic. And this is the mystic port of the soul, into which Homer conducts Ulysses, after an abundant wandering of life.” [Introduction, Pp. vi-vii]

In the course of this work, Aristotle denominates this metaphysical science at one time wisdom, at another time the first philosophy, and at another theology; signifying, by each of these appellations, that it does not rank among those arts and sciences which are conversant with the knowledge of things necessary, or which inquire into things subservient to the advantages and conveniencies of the mortal life, but that it is a knowledge and science to be pursued for its own sake, and which speculates the first principles and causes of things; for these are beings in the most eminent degree. Hence, in the sixth book of his Nicomachean Ethics, he defines wisdom to be the most accurate of sciences, the science of things most honorable, that is principles, and the summit of all disciplines. With the multitude, indeed, merged in sense, whatever does not contribute to the good of the merely animal life, is considered as a thing of no value; and hence, by the better part of them it is regarded with indifference, and by the greater number with contempt. It is vain to talk to such as these of a good purely intellectual, which is independent of chance and fortune, which is desirable for its own sake, and which confers the most pure and permanent felicity on its possessor: for, what passion can it gratify? what sense can it charm? Ignorant of the mighty difference between things necessary and such as are eminently good, they mistake means for ends, pursue the flying mockeries of being, for such are all sensible natures, and idly attempt to grasp the phantoms of felicity.

The conceptions of the experimental philosopher who expects to find Truth in the labyrinths of matter, are, in this respect, not much more elevated than those of the vulgar: for he is ignorant that the Truth is the most splendid of all things, that she is the constant companion of Divinity, and proceeds together with him through the universe; that the shining traces of her feet are only conspicuous in form; and that in the dark windings of matter she left nothing but a most obscure and fleeting resemblance of herself. This delusive phantom, however, the man of modern science ardently explores, unconscious that he is running in profound darkness and infinite perplexity, and that he is hastening after an object which eludes all detection, and mocks all pursuit.

It is well said indeed by Aristotle, that wisdom is the science of principles and causes, since he who knows these, knows also the effects of which they are the source. Such a one knows particulars so far as they are comprehended in universals, and this knowledge is superior to that which is partial, and co-ordinated to a partial object: for, does not every thing energize in a becoming manner, when it energizes according to its own power and nature? As, for instance, does not nature, in conformity to the order of its essence, energize naturally, and intellect intellectually? for, this being admitted, it follows that knowledge subsists according to the nature of that which knows, and not according to the nature of that which is known. Particulars, therefore, when they are beheld enveloped in their causes, are then known in the most excellent manner; and this is the peculiarity of intellectual perception, and resembles, if it be lawful so to speak, the knowledge of Divinity himself. For, the most exalted conception we can form of his knowledge is this, that he knows all things in such a manner as is accommodated to his nature, viz. divisible things indivisibly, things multiplied uniformly, things generated according to an eternal intelligence, and totally whatever is partial. Hence, he knows sensibles without possessing sense, and, without being present to things in place, knows them prior to all local presence, and imparts to every thing that which every thing is capable of receiving. [Introduction, Pp. xi-xii]

It will be proper to observe that metaphysical doubting, according to Aristotle, begins from an ignorance of the causes of being, from whence admiration of the greatest effects arises, and then receives its consummation when the causes and principles of the universe are known. But the philosopher in the third book of his Metaphysics, which, as we have observed, is wholly employed in the enumeration of doubts, assigns four reasons why in the investigation of truth, we should begin from doubting. The first is, “because the power of acquiring posterior knowledge is derived from the solution of prior doubts.” Hence, in his Nicomachean Ethics, he says that the solution of doubts is invention [a more profound investigation, and a solicitude of penetrating through all doubts, and increasing the doubt itself by various reflections and arguments]. The second reason is, “because those that investigate without having previously doubted, resemble those who are ignorant whither they ought to go.” For he shows that doubting is a road through which we must necessarily pass in the investigation of truth. Not that we are to be continually employed in doubting, but only till we arrive at truth, the object of our search. The third reason which Aristotle assigns is, “because without doubting those that investigate cannot know whether they have found what they explore. For, the end to these is not manifest; but is manifest to those who previously doubt in a proper manner.” Hence, those only who have previously doubted, know truth when they have found it; but those who without doubting happen to meet with truth, are ignorant that they have found it. And the fourth reason which the philosopher assigns why we should begin from doubting is, “because he is necessarily better fitted to judge, who has heard all the opposite reasons, which may be compared to the adversaries in a law-suit.” Conformably to this, he elsewhere observes, “that the demonstrations of contraries are doubts concerning contraries; and, at the same time, assertions will be more credible, if, previous to their being delivered, all that can be urged in defense of the contending arguments is heard.”

In short, the whole of his Metaphysics consists either in the enumeration and solution of doubts, or in the discussion of such things as are subservient to their solution. [Introduction, Pp. xxix-xxx]

–Aristotle, Metaphysics, tr. from the Greek by Thomas Taylor, London, 1801.