Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Metaphysics as a branch of philosophy—concerning the most fundamental level of reality—originated with Aristotle, who produced a work that is known as the Metaphysics. However, Aristotle coined neither the title nor the term. Apparently, Aristotle bequeathed his writings and lectures upon his death to a person or persons who willed them forward twice more, and the philosopher’s work was eventually discovered and purchased by Apellicon of Teos, a scholar of the first century. Apellicon collected these manuscripts and organized them into the treatises that survive today and that are credited to Aristotle.
The work known as the Metaphyics is a compendium of fourteen books in the tradition of an Aristotelian metaphysics defined by wisdom, science, and theology—a form of philosophy that was barely two hundred years old at the time of its compilation. The work is arranged to present the principles and causes of the nature of being in general. In particular, the subject matter concerns cause, being, substance, and the nature of God as they are beyond or after physics.
Scholars tend to approach the work from two different interpretive positions. One position holds that the Metaphysics moves forward primarily by way of the science of “being qua being.” This interpretation focuses on the portion of book 1 in which Aristotle introduces a science of the first principle or causes of things, as well as...
(The entire section is 1271 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Twentieth century philosophers have distinguished between descriptive metaphysics and revisionist metaphysics. Aristotle’s metaphysics is clearly an attempt to describe, analyze, and justify the common beliefs about humanity and the world, not an attempt to persuade people to revise their prephilosophical views of the world in some radical fashion. Unless the revisionist metaphysics of Aristotle’s contemporaries is understood, however, it is impossible to understand Aristotle’s own accomplishment.
Previous philosophers, such as Heraclitus, argued that the only source of knowledge is that which is observed through one of the five senses, and since the testimony of the five senses reveals a continually changing world, it follows that absolutely nothing remains the same. A rock or a mountain may at first seem fairly stable, but close examination reveals that they, too, are continually being diminished by the winds and the rains. As Heraclitus said, it is impossible to step into the same river twice. Rocks and mountains may not change as quickly, but they change no less surely.
To be told that rivers, rocks, and mountains are continually changing appears to be relatively innocuous. Yet the logic of Heraclitus’s argument makes it impossible to stop there. If the only source of knowledge is through the senses, then absolutely everything must be in a continual state of flux. A person who robs a bank, for example, can never be caught because...
(The entire section is 2154 words.)