FIRST PHILOSOPHY

The Science of Being as Being

The Metaphysics, as it exists now, is divided into fourteen books named according to the letters of the Greek alphabet.

Book I: Alpha (Α)
Book II: little Alpha (α)
Book III: Beta (Β)
Book IV: Gamma (Γ)
Book V: Delta (Δ)
Book VI: Epsilon (Ε)
Book VII: Zeta (Ζ)
Book VIII: Eta (Η)
Book IX: Theta (Θ)
Book X: Iota (Ι)
Book XI: Kappa (Κ)
Book XII: Lambda (Λ)
Book XIII: Mu (Μ)
Book XIV: Nu (Ν).

The title (τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά) was imposed by later editors and refers to the position of the work within the Aristotelian corpus. The Metaphysics is after the physical works.

Books II, V, and XI seem to be later additions, and the underlying work does not reads less like a finished product and more like a series of notes written at different times.
Aristotle describes his inquiry in the Metaphysics as "theology" and "first philosophy."

This raises the question of what unifies theology and first philosophy so that the inquiry is into one subject. First philosophy is the study of "being as being." Theology is a study of divine objects. Theology and first philosophy thus appear to to be two different subjects. Theology is a study of some of the beings there are, the divine objects. First philosophy studies being in general.

Theology is First Philosophy


"Long ago, now, and always, what is sought after and always puzzled over, what is being (ὄν), is the question what is substance (οὐσία). Some say that it is one; others, more than one; some, finite others, infinite. And so for us too our chief and primary and practically our only concern is to investigate what this way of being is" (Metaphysics VII.1.1028b).

οὐσία is a noun that derives from a participle of εἰμί (“I am, I exist”). The infinitive is εἶναι ("to be"). The present participles are ὤν (masculine), οὖσα (feminine), ὄν (neuter).

The translation of οὐσία as substantia and as substance is a reflection of the fact that other objects depend on the substances for their existence. substantia is a literal translation of ὑπόστασις ( = ἵστημι ("stand") + ὑπό ("under")).
The answer is in Aristotle's idea that there are "ways of being."

Aristotle thinks that objects are beings. Humans, for example, are beings. They are human beings. The question in ontology is what their being is. This question, as Aristotle understands it, is a question about "substance" (οὐσία). The substance is the reality of the thing.

Aristotle's discussion in Metaphysics VII.1 is a little clearer when it is understood in this light. In the search for substance, Aristotle is interested in the being of what a human being is. This is the reality. The other things a human being is (its qualities, quantities, and so on) are not its substance.

"Being is said in many ways.... It signifies, on the one hand, the what it is and some this (τί ἐστι καὶ τόδε τι), and on the other hand, the quality or quantity or any other such category. Being is said in these ways, but it is evident that primary among them is the what it is, for this signifies the substance (for when we say how the qualified it is, we say that it is good or bad, not three-cubits or man, but when we say what it is, we say man or god, not pale or hot or three-cubits), and the other things are all said to be because some are quantities of what is, others are qualities, others again affections, still others something else" (Metaphysics VII.1.1028a).

Aristotle thinks that the reality of a human being is a form in matter. Being a form in matter, however, is not the primary way of being. Aristotle thinks that the divine objects have the primary way of being and that the being of other objects is a qualification of the primary way of being.

Theology, then, as a study of divine objects, is a study of objects whose being is the primary way of being. Further, since the ways of being of other objects are qualification of the primary way of being, theology is first philosophy. Other sciences, such as physics, are studies of objects whose way of being is a qualification of the "being as being" that belongs to divine objects.

"The theoretical sciences are to be preferred to the other sciences, and theology to the other theoretical sciences, but one might wonder whether first philosophy is universal or deals with some genus and one kind. .... If there is not some other substance (οὐσία) besides those which are naturally composed, physics will be the primary science; but if there is a substance which is immutable, the science which studies this will be prior to physics, and will be first philosophy, and universal in this way, that it is primary. It will be for this science to study being as being; what it is, and what the attributes are which belong to it as being" (Metaphysics VI.1.1026a).


The Search for Substance


Aristotle's understanding of being in terms of substance seems to change in the time between the Categories to the Metaphysics. His discussion on these works is difficult, but he seems to begin his thinking about substance in the Categories primarily as critic of Plato's ontology. It is only later, in the central books of the Metaphysics, that he sees something important in in this ontology.

In the Metaphysics, in his inquiry into substance, Aristotle assumes that the natural bodies have substance. These objects are real. The question for him is about what this way of being is. Further, Aristotle is interested in whether there are substantial ways of being apart from the way the natural bodies possess. In the Phaedo, Socrates says that the forms have such a way of being.

"We must consider what things are substances; and whether there are any besides the sensibles, or not; and how these substances exist; and whether there is any separable substance (χωριστὴ οὐσία), and if so, why and how, or none besides the sensibles" (Metaphysics VII.2.1028b).

In the search for substance, it is necessary to know the features that distinguish something as a substance. Aristotle says they are being a "subject" and "separability and individuality." A substance is a subject for the predication of properties, it has a oneness and unity, and it is independent of its properties in such a way that its properties depend on it for their existence.

Given this, Aristotle dismisses matter and form in matter and turns his attention to form.

"We have now stated in outline the nature of substance—that it is not that which is predicated of a subject (ὑποκειμένου), but that of which the other things are predicated. But we must not merely define it so, for it is not enough. ... [This] makes matter substance.... But this is impossible; for it is accepted that separability and individuality belong especially to substance (τὸ χωριστὸν καὶ τὸ τόδε τι ὑπάρχειν δοκεῖ μάλιστα τῇ οὐσίᾳ). Hence it would seem that the form and the combination of form and matter (τὸ εἶδος καὶ τὸ ἐξ ἀμφοῖν) are more truly substance than matter is. The substance, then, which consists of both—I mean of matter and form—may be dismissed, since it is posterior and obvious. Matter too is in a sense evident. We must consider the third type, for this is the most perplexing (ἀπορωτάτη)" (Metaphysics VII.3.1029a).




Perseus Digital Library:

Aristotle, Metaphysics
Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon:
οὐσία, ousia, noun, "substance,"
ὑπόστασις, hypostasis, noun, "standing under, supporting"

Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary:
substantia, noun, "that of which a thing consists"


"Traditionally οὐσία has been rendered by 'substance.' The reason for this is that, on the view Aristotle puts forward in the Categories, properties depend for their being on objects in that objects are their ultimate subjects, they are what ultimately underlies everything else. Indeed, objects in the Categories are characterized by the very fact that they are the ultimate subjects which underlie everything, whereas there is nothing that underlies them as their subject. It is because of this characterization that the rendering 'substance' seems appropriate" (Michael Frede, "Substance in Aristotle's Metaphysics," 73. Essays in Ancient Philosophy, Michael Frede (University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 72-80).

"Horses are a kind of beings, and camels are a different kind of beings, but neither horses nor camels have a distinctive way of being, peculiar to them; they both have the way of being of natural substances..., as opposed to, e.g., numbers which have the way of magnitudes..." (Michael Frede, "The Unity of General and Special Metaphysics: Aristotle's Conception of Metaphysics," 85-86. Essays in Ancient Philosophy, Michael Frede (University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 81-95).

"[W]e shall want the substance of an object to be such that with reference to it we can explain how, despite all the changes, it is the history of one object. We also think an object might have had a history quite different from the one it actually had yet have been the same object; this, too, is to be explained in terms of substance. Furthermore, the substance must be an individual, since we are looking for the real individuals in the category of substance which are to explain the individuality of ordinary individual objects. Finally, there must be some sort of asymmetry between substances and properties, on the basis of which we can say of properties and everything else that exists that they depend on substances for their existence, but that substances do not, in any way, depend on properties for their existence. These are the requirements Aristotle lays down in the Metaphysics, when he says a substance must be a subject (hypokeimenon), "a this" (tode ti), and an independently existing entity (choriston)" (Michael Frede, "Individuals in Aristotle, 64-65. Essays in Ancient Philosophy, Michael Frede (University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 49-71).




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