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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.

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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 passages in books 4, 6, and 11 that mention “being qua being.” In these passages, Aristotle is said to be offering a singular study of a singular subject. He investigates being (that is, existence) in the context of that singular existing thing alone. In this interpretation, qua is taken to mean “by way of,” or “whereby.” It is a term pointing to a study of an existing thing in terms only of itself, its own characteristics of beingness, and not any other characteristics or qualities.

The second interpretive position is arguably more generous in giving Aristotle credit for expansive thought. This position holds that three dynamics are at work in the Metaphysics: First, Aristotle is considered as investigating the subject of being, regarding being as being in and of itself, and regarding that act of regarding being. That is, this second approach sees Aristotle as delivering the very definition of metaphysics—in the sense that he is investigating not only a subject of study but also a way of investigating that subject. Aristotle is moving beyond physics to metaphysics by studying the study of being; he is moving beyond analysis to meta-analysis by thinking about the act of thinking about something—in this case, being.

This threefold purpose is demonstrated from the start of the Metaphysics, as Aristotle introduces the human desire for and degrees of knowledge. The degrees of knowledge are part of the initial inquiry into cause, and they are treated according to principles of reasoning, experience, memory, sensation, and perception. It is also in book 1 that one of Aristotle’s traditional strategies is begun: This strategy, which continues through the next seven books, involves Aristotle considering the thought of other philosophers who have come before him on the same subject and then refuting those previous philosophers’ ideas. The inclusion of the thought of prior philosophers leads to a historical survey of sorts, and Aristotle moves to emphasize the methodology of scientific inquiry in book 2 by discussing science as a means to consider specific truths—which means that it is difficult to use it to investigate the nature of truth as such. Aristotle dismisses early errors and recommends a less futile methodology, although he never specifically outlines this methodology.

In subsequent books of the Metaphysics , Aristotle presents his thought in a form that has frustrated many thinkers who came after him, a form that has come to be thought of...

(The entire section contains 1271 words.)

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