Metaphysics (Greek: τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά, "those after the physics"; Latin: Metaphysica) is one of the principal works of Aristotle, in which he develops the doctrine that he calls First Philosophy.[a] The work is a compilation of various texts treating abstract subjects, notably substance theory, different kinds of causation, form and matter, the existence of mathematical objects and the cosmos, which together constitute much of the branch of philosophy later known as metaphysics.
Many of Aristotle's works are extremely compressed and thus baffling to beginners, and many scholars believe that in their current form, they are little more than lecture notes. Subsequent to the arrangement of Aristotle's works by Andronicus of Rhodes in the first century BC, a number of his treatises were referred to as the writings "after ("meta") the Physics."[b], the origin of the current title for the collection Metaphysics. Some[who?] have interpreted the expression "meta" to imply that the subject of the work goes "beyond" that of Aristotle's Physics or that it is metatheoretical in relation to the Physics. But others[who?] believe that "meta" referred simply to the work's place in the canonical arrangement of Aristotle's writings, which is at least as old as Andronicus of Rhodes or even Hermippus of Smyrna. In other surviving works of Aristotle, the metaphysical treatises are referred to as "the [writings] concerning first philosophy"[c]; which was the term Aristotle used for metaphysics.[d]
It is notoriously difficult to specify the date at which Aristotle wrote these treatises as a whole or even individually, especially because the Metaphysics is, in Jonathan Barnes' words, "a farrago, a hotch-potch", and more generally because of the difficulty of dating any of Aristotle's writings. The order in which the books were written is not known; their arrangement is due to later editors. In the manuscripts, books are referred to by Greek letters. For many scholars, it is customary to refer to the books by their letter names. Book 1 is called Alpha (Α); 2, little alpha (α);[e] 3, Beta (Β); 4, Gamma (Γ); 5, Delta (Δ); 6, Epsilon (Ε); 7, Zeta (Ζ); 8, Eta (Η); 9, Theta (Θ); 10, Iota (Ι); 11, Kappa (Κ); 12, Lambda (Λ); 13, Mu (Μ); 14, Nu (Ν).
Books Zeta, Eta, and Theta are generally considered the core of the Metaphysics. Book Zeta (VII) begins by stating that "being" has several senses, the purpose of philosophy is to understand the primary kind of being, called substance (ousia) and determine what substances there are, a concept that Aristotle develops in the Categories. Zeta goes on to consider four candidates for substance: (i) the ‘essence’ or ‘what it is to be’ of a thing (ii) the universal, (iii) the genus to which a substance belongs and (iv) the material substrate or which underlies all the properties of a thing.
Finally, he concludes book Zeta by arguing that substance is really a cause.[j]
Book Eta consists of a summary of what has been said so far (i.e., in Book Zeta) about substance, and adds a few further details regarding difference and unity.
Book Theta sets out to define potentiality and actuality. Chapters 1–5 discuss potentiality,[k] the potential of something to change: potentiality is "a principle of change in another thing or in the thing itself qua other."[l] In chapter 6 Aristotle turns to actuality. We can only know actuality through observation or "analogy;" thus "as that which builds is to that which is capable of building, so is that which is awake to that which is asleep...or that which is separated from matter to matter itself". Actuality is the completed state of something that had the potential to be completed. The relationship between actuality and potentiality can be thought of as the relationship between form and matter, but with the added aspect of time. Actuality and potentiality are distinctions that occur over time (diachronic), whereas form and matter are distinctions that can be made at fixed points in time (synchronic).
The Metaphysics is considered to be one of the greatest philosophical works. Its influence on the Greeks, the Muslim philosophers, Maimonides thence the scholastic philosophers and even writers such as Dante was immense.
In the 3rd century, Alexander of Aphrodisias wrote a commentary on the first five books of the Metaphysics, and a commentary transmitted under his name exists for the final nine, but modern scholars doubt that this part was written by him. Themistius wrote an epitome of the work, of which book 12 survivies in a Hebrew translation. The Neoplatonists Syrianus and Asclepius of Tralles also wrote commentaries on the work, where they attempted to synthesize Aristotle's doctrines with Neoplatonic cosmology.
Aristotle's works gained a reputation for complextiy that is most evident than in the Metaphysics — Avicenna said that he had read the Metaphysics of Aristotle forty times, but did not understand it until he also read al-Farabi's Purposes of the Metaphysics of Aristotle.
I read the Metaphysics [of Aristotle], but I could not comprehend its contents, and its author's object remained obscure to me, even when I had gone back and read it forty times and had got to the point where I had memorized it. In spite of this I could not understand it nor its object, and I despaired of myself and said, "This is a book which there is no way of understanding." But one day in the afternoon when I was at the booksellers' quarter a salesman approached with a book in his hand which he was calling out for sale. (...) So I bought it and, lo and behold, it was Abu Nasr al-Farabi's book[m] on the objects of the Metaphysics. I returned home and was quick to read it, and in no time the objects of that book became clear to me because I had got to the point of having memorized it by heart.
The flourishing of Arabic Aristotelian scholarship reached its peak with the work of Ibn Rushd (Latinized: Averroes), whose extensive writings on Aristotle's work led to his later designation as "The Commentator" by future generations of scholars. Maimonides wrote the Guide to the Perplexed in the 12th century, to demonstrate the compatibility of Aristotelian science with Biblical revelation.
The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) facilitated the discovery and delivery of many original Greek manuscripts to Western Europe. William of Moerbeke's translations of the work formed the basis of the commentaries on the Metaphysics by Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. They were also used by modern scholars for Greek editions, as William had access to Greek manuscripts that are now lost. Werner Jaeger lists William's translation in his edition of the Greek text in the Scriptorum Classicorum Bibliotheca Oxoniensis (Oxford 1962).
In the 19th century, with the rise of textual criticism, the Metaphysics was examined anew. Critics, noting the wide variety of topics and the seemingly illogical order of the books, concluded that it was actually a collection of shorter works thrown together haphazardly. In the 20th century two general editions have been produced by W. D. Ross (1924) and by W. Jaeger (1957). Based on a careful study of the content and of the cross-references within them, W. D. Ross concluded that books A, B, Γ, E, Z, H, Θ, M, N, and I "form a more or less continuous work", while the remaining books α, Δ, Κ and Λ were inserted into their present locations by later editors. However, Ross cautions that books A, B, Γ, E, Z, H, Θ, M, N, and I — with or without the insertion of the others — do not constitute "a complete work". Werner Jaeger further maintained that the different books were taken from different periods of Aristotle's life. Everyman's Library, for their 1000th volume, published the Metaphysics in a rearranged order that was intended to make the work easier for readers.[clarification needed]
Editing the Metaphysics has become an open issue in works and studies of the new millennium. New critical editions have been produced of books Gamma, Alpha, and Lambda. Differences from the more-familiar 20th Century critical editions of Ross and Jaeger mainly depend on the stemma codicum of Aristotle's Metaphysics, of which different versions have been proposed since 1970.
((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link) (rpt. Notre Dame, Ind.: Dumb Ox, 1995).