The Islamic philosopher Avicenna reported that he had read Aristotle’s Metaphysics forty times and still had not understood it. Such a comment is illuminating both for metaphysics as a subject matter and for Aristotle’s treatise. Both are difficult to understand, but Aristotle’s work, baffling as it is, remains one of the best sources on metaphysics. Its structure is somewhat puzzling, probably because Artistotle’s students, not the philosopher himself, assembled the work from their notes. Therefore, Aristotle did not name the treatise. It was placed in the collection of his writings after the treatise Physica (second Athenian period, 335-323 b.c.e.; Physics, 1812) and so earned the name of meta-(after the) physics.
Accidental as this title seems, it still describes the content of the treatise fairly accurately. In modern times, much of the Physics (the discussion of the infinite) might be classed as metaphysics, and some of the topics of the Physics (change and movement) are repeated in the Metaphysics; however, the Metaphysics does go beyond the Physics. First principles, not the principles of natural movement alone, are the subject. The Metaphysics takes up questions beyond those of physical nature as such and moves on not only to first principles but also to an Unmoved Mover. It is true that Metaphysics stands somewhat alone in Aristotle’s writings. Much of the general interpretation of Aristotle’s other works will vary according to the way in which the Metaphysics is either bypassed or interpreted. That is, this treatise rightly occupies a metaphysical (basic) position within Aristotle’s vast writings.