“Metaphysics: I. First Principles” by Aristotle

Artists can Teach

We view them as being wiser not in virtue of being able to act, but of having the theory for themselves and knowing the causes. And in general it is a sign of the man who knows and of the man who does not know, that the former can teach, and therefore we think art more truly knowledge than experience is.

Having abstract knowledge of the cause is not the same as having power of being the cause; whereas those have experience only act and produce the effect only by accident.

The First Principle and Four Causes

The first principles and the causes are most knowable; for by reason of these, and from these, all other things come to be known, and not these by means of the things subordinate to them.

It is owing to their wonder that man philosophize; And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders); they pursue science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end; As the man is free who exists for his own sake and not for another’s, so we pursue this as the only free science, for it alone exists for its own sake.

That for whose sake actions and changes and movements take place, they assert to be a cause in a way, but not in this way, i.e. not in the way in which it is its nature to be a cause, not as if anything that exists either existed or came into being for the sake of these, but as if movements started from these. In the same way those who say the One or the existent is the good, say that it is the cause of substance, but not that substance either is or comes to be for the sake of this. Therefore it turns out that in a sense they both say and do not say the good is a cause; for they do not call it a cause qua good but only incidentally.

Causes are spoken of in four senses. In one of these we mean the substance, i.e. the essence (for the ‘why’ is reducible finally to the definition, and the ultimate ‘why’ is a cause and principle); in another the matter or substratum, in a third the source of the change, and in a fourth the cause opposed to this, the purpose and the good (for this is the end of all generation and change).

God, as a First Principle, is most knowable, in the absolute sense of the word, and all other things come to be known from the knowledge of God. Apart from these, all so-called knowledge are vanities and grasping for the wind. It is only through knowing God that we truly know ourselves (St. Augustine, exact citation needed). God is the cause from which all things derive their substance, the cause by which and through which all things exist or come into being, and He is the end/cause for Whose sake all things exist or come into being, the Beginning, the Way and the End.

Metaphysics as Theology

For physics deals with things which exist separately but are not immovable, and some parts of mathematics deal with things which are immovable but presumably do not exist separately from matter; while the first science deals with things which both exist separately and are eternal. There must be three theoretical philosophies, mathematics, physics, and what we may call theology, since it is obvious that if the divine is present anywhere, it is present in things of this sort. And the highest science must deal with the highest genus. It will belong to this to consider being qua being-both what it is and the attributes which belong to it qua being.

Criticism of Plato’s Theory of Forms
Why is a number, when taken all together, one? How can one Form come from many Forms, or vice versa (point, line, plane, solid)?

1. Relation vs Absolute, Third Man
Of the ways in which we prove that the Forms exist, none is convincing; for from some no inference necessarily follows, and from some arise Forms even of things of which we think there are no Forms. Some lead to Ideas of relations, of which we say there is no independent class, and others introduce the ‘third man’.
2. Multiple Worlds
All other things cannot come from the Forms in any of the usual senses of ‘from’. Anything can either be, or become, like another without being copied from it, so that several Socrates might come to be, even if Socrates were eternal. And there will be several instances of the same Form;
3. How Does Form cause Movement?
How could the Ideas, being the substances of things, exist apart? In the Phaedo’ the case is stated in this way-that the Forms are causes both of being and of becoming; yet when the Forms exist, still the things that share in them do not come into being, unless there is something to originate movement.
4. What is Matter?
If the matter is some definite thing, evidently the numbers themselves too will be ratios of something to something else. Man himself, whether it is a number in a sense or not, will still be a numerical ratio of certain things and not a number proper, nor will it be a of number merely because it is a numerical ratio.
5. Contraries in Being, Multiplicity in Unity?
1) if the ‘animal’ in ‘the horse’ and in ‘man’ is one and the same, (a) how will the one in things that exist apart be one, and how will this ‘animal’ escape being divided even from itself? (b) if it is to share in ‘two-footed’ and ‘many-footed’, an impossible conclusion follows; for contrary attributes will belong at the same time to it although it is one and a ‘this’.

2) suppose the Form to be different in each species. Then there will be practically an infinite number of things whose substance is ‘animal’. From what is this ‘animal’ in each species derived, and how will it be derived from animal-itself? Or how can this ‘animal’, whose essence is simply animality, exist apart from animal-itself?

Aristotle introduced the Unmoved Mover, the Deus ex machina, to circumvent the problem of movement. “I think that modern physics has definitely decided in favor of Plato. In fact the smallest units of matter are not physical objects in the ordinary sense; they are forms, ideas which can be expressed unambiguously only in mathematical language.”–Werner Heisenberg

Aristotle and the Pre-Socratic Philosophers

It is Aristotle’s custom, when writing about a subject, to first present the theories of the other philosophers and evaluate the merits and faults of each. This is a very commendable practice. However, he doesn’t argue fairly.

Firstly, if he is trying to understand the other philosophers, he should trace the chain of their reasoning first, re-present their arguments in a somewhat logical order, and then prove their logical errors and inconsistencies, if any. That would be a fair way for a philosopher to argue, as he himself also teaches in his works on Logic. On the contrary, like Procrustes, Aristotle sets up his own system first, and then proceed to stretch others on his bed, and mutilate them when they don’t fit in. As a result, the pre-Socratic philosophers became so dismembered that it is hard to believe they had been rational beings before Aristotle laid hold of them.

Secondly, although it is true that we have much more limited access to the pre-Socratics than Aristotle, and therefore are not qualified to judge between them, that is not true in the case of Plato, whose works have come down to us in their entirety. Having read the complete works of Plato and two-thirds the works of Aristotle, I don’t think it’s out of place for me to voice my opinion that Aristotle is either incompetent at comprehending his teacher’s ideas or dishonest in misrepresenting them.


Among existing things there must be from the first a cause which will move things and bring them together. Hesiod put love or desire among existing things as a principle; for he, in constructing the genesis of the universe, says: “Love first of all the Gods she planned.” Empedocles introduced friendship and strife, each of the two the cause of one of these two sets of qualities, not only order and the beautiful, but also disorder and the ugly.


Xenophanes, Parmenides’ teacher, says the One is God. Parmenides, claiming that, besides the existent, nothing non-existent exists, thinks that of necessity one thing exists, but being forced to follow the observed facts, and supposing the existence of that which is one in definition, but more than one according to our sensations, he now posits two causes and two principles, calling them hot and cold; and of these he ranges the hot with the existent, and the other with the non-existent.


Leucippus and his associate Democritus say that the full and the empty are the elements, calling the one being and the other non-being. They make the underlying substance one and generate all other things by its modifications, which are three-shape and order and position. For they say the real is differentiated only by ‘rhythm and ‘inter-contact’ and ‘turning’; and of these rhythm is shape, inter-contact is order, and turning is position;


Things exist by ‘imitation’ of numbers. But what the participation or the imitation of the Forms could be they left an open question.

Finitude and infinity were not attributes of certain other things, but that infinity itself and unity itself were the substance of the things of which they are predicated. This is why number was the substance of all things. They thought that the first subject of which a given definition was predicable was the substance of the thing defined, as if one supposed that ‘double’ and ‘2’ were the same, because 2 is the first thing of which ‘double’ is predicable.


Plato says they exist by participation. Forms are the causes of the essence of all other things, and the One is the cause of the essence of the Forms. The great and the small were principles; for from the great and the small, by participation in the One, come the Numbers. Positing a dyad and constructing the infinite out of great and small, instead of treating the infinite as one, is peculiar to him.



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