Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com
Ancient Philosophy


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Aristotle's Metaphysics & Theology

Aristotle's Metaphysics Lambda: Symposium Aristotelicum edited by Michael Freda and David Charles (Symposia Aristotelica: Oxford University Press) contains a systematic study of the twelfth book of Aristotle's Metaphysics by a distinguished group of scholars of ancient philosophy. Book Lambda, which can be regarded as a self‑standing treatise on substance, has attracted particular attention in recent years, and was chosen as the focus of the fourteenth Symposium Aristotelicum.

The eleven papers published here were initially presented at the Symposium and revised in the light of ensuing discussion. Together they form a discursive commentary on points of philosophical interest in each chapter of Lambda. Michael Frede has added an extensive Introduction, which places the discussion of each chapter in the context of the book as a whole. This volume will be a resource of great value and interest for those working on ancient metaphysics and theology.

Michael Frede is Professor of the History of Philosophy at Oxford University, and David Charles is Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Oriel College, Oxford.


The Metaphysics as it has come down to us clearly is not a treatise written in one piece. It is a compilation of rather heterogeneous materials. How and when it came to have the form in which we now read it has been the object of much study. This study has shed a great deal of light on the question of the composition of the Metaphysics as a text without, though, entirely`resolving it.

Though this question is not fully resolved, there by now seems to be general agreement on one fact that is of great importance for the stu­dent of Metaphysics Lamba. A originally seems to have constituted a treatise of its own which only later was inserted into the Metaphysics. Suppose that, due to some accident, the whole of the Metaphysics except for book A had been lost at a very early stage of its transmission, and that only A had survived, but under the title On Substance. We would have no reason to think that A was just a fragment, or only a chapter of a book, of an originally much larger work, which, but for this part, unfortunately had been lost. For A, for instance, does not refer to earlier or to later sections of a larger work which it presents itself as only a part o£ It, both in form and in content, is a self-contained work. Suppose, instead, that Lamba, due to some accident at a very early stage, had been separated from the Metaphysics, and that it and the rest of the Metaphysics had been trans­mitted separately, the former again under the title On Substance. In this event we would have two treatises traditionally attributed to Aristotle, Metaphysics and an On Substance. Even with this Metaphysics available to us, we would have little reason to suppose that the treatise we had come to call On Substance originally was a book of the Metaphysics. One would not be able to identify a clear gap or lacuna in this Metaphysics, either in form or in content, such that A precisely fitted into this gap. There would, of course, be something missing in the execution of the pro­gram the central books of the Metaphysics seem to envisage for their inquiry into substance. The central books begin their inquiry into substance with a consideration of sensible, material substances, but give us to understand that, on the basis of this, we are going to proceed to a discussion of non‑sensible, immaterial substances, to fully understand what is to count as a substance and what it is to be a substance. And this discussion of nonsensible, immaterial substances we would never get in the Metaphysics, unless there was book Lamba. But it cannot be said that Lamba precisely fills the gap that we would have, if A had been removed, or separated, from the Metaphysics. For Lamba in many ways does not provide the kind of discussion of separate substances the central books seem to promise. To begin with, it is not just a discussion of separate substances. It, again, is an inquiry into substances quite generally. It, again, like the central books, begins with a discussion of sensible substances. The difference just is that it, unlike the central books, actually does proceed to discuss non‑sensible substances. Secondly, the way it does discuss non‑sensible substances does not seem to be the way central books would make us expect it to discuss them, if it were precisely the discussion promised by the central books. A does not pick up the threads of argument offered in the central books and asking to be developed further in the light of a discussion of separate substances. The preceding book is concerned not just with what kinds of substances there are, but also with the question what it is to be a substance or even what it is to be a being. It analyses composite substances on whose being and substancehood everybody agrees into matter and form and explains these as being themselves substances, though in a stricter or looser sense, respectively. It suggests a line of thought according to which matter and form are explicated in terms of potentiality and actuality. Matter is the potentiality for something or at least provides it, form is the actuality of something, or provides it. We then can see that forms of composite substances like souls are themselves clusters of potentialities of a certain kind, actualized or not depending on the circumstances. And this makes us think of the possibility of forms, and hence substances, which are actual and active independently of the circumstances, whose actuality and activity is not based on some capacity or capability that may, or may not be, exercised depending on the circumstances. And we might then explain substancehood and being as in the first place a matter of being a pure actuality, an actuality not based on potentiality and matter, then go on to explain the substancehood of items whose actuality does presuppose potentiality and matter, and finally turn to the substancehood of items`composed of matter and form. But A does not do any of these things. It is concerned with what kinds of substances we should postulate, but not with the question of what it is to be a substance or a being, nor does it explain that being a substance is a matter of being a certain kind of actuality, and that there are radically different kinds of substances because there are radically different forms of actuality. Hence A does not precisely fill the gap in the overall argument of the Metaphysics which would be left if Lamba were missing from the work.`It rather seems to be an alternative account of substance which sets in more or less at the point in the argument where Metaphysics Book Eleven sets in, and runs parallel to the account envisaged by the central books of the Metaphysics, except that it actually manages to arrive at a discussion of non‑sensible substances, whereas the corresponding sequel to the central books concerning immaterial substances either was lost or never got written. There are, in fact, a good number of fairly close parallels between the beginning of 11 and the beginning of Lamba. In any case, if we had a Metaphysics in thirteen books and A as a separate treatise On Substance, there would be no good, let alone a compelling, reason to suppose that this treatise On Substance was just a book of the Metaphysics and certainly not that it was the twelfth book. One may doubt that any editor would dare to publish a new edition of the Metaphysics with A as the twelfth book. But as things are in fact, Lamba has been transmitted as the twelfth book of the Metaphysics. This, though, means very little, given that we have not clearly resolved the question how the Metaphysics was compiled from the rather disparate materials which constitute it, but especially given that there is some evidence that the Metaphysics did not always have the fourteen books it has now. It still remains the case the 12 looks like an independent treatise which has just been inserted into the Metaphysics, a treatise which could as well have been inserted at the end of the Metaphysics rather than as the twelfth book, a treatise which has not been integrated even superficially into the surrounding text, which in its first part runs parallel to the discussion provided by the central books, and in that sense reduplicates it, but then crucially supplements it by providing a discussion of non‑sensible substances which otherwise would be missing. It seems fairly obvious that this precisely is the reason why Lamba was given a place in the collection of writings that we have come to call the Metaphysics.

One would overstate the case, though, if one claimed that Lamba has nothing to do with the rest of the Metaphysics. When one considers the beginning of Lamba, or‑for that matter‑ Lamba as a whole, it is obvious that 12 can only be understood in a certain context. This context is not the Metaphysics as we have it. We ourselves have to supply a context. But Aristotle clearly presupposes that it is understood that in Lamba we are doing metaphysics and that the crucial part of the metaphysical theory will be a theory of substances. So it is clear enough that A is the sort of treatise the writing was meant to be, as far as the subject-matter is concerned. But knowing this does not help much. At least to begin with we do not know, and we may never know, whether Lamba is earlier or later than what follows in book eleven., whether it is a summary or synopsis or sketch of the enterprise envisaged by book eleven, or whether it is engaged in a different

Whatever we think of the philosophical merits of Lamba, it should be clear that it helps us to fill an enormous gap in our knowledge of Aristotle's thought in metaphysics. This, clearly, is why it found its place in the Metaphysics. It also is our major source for Aristotle's theology, for the way Aristotle conceived of divine beings and of God and how he under­stood popular religion, namely as a version of some fun­damental truths which were only accessible to the ordinary person in a mythologized form. The revival of Aristotelianism in late Hellenistic and early Imperial times coincides with a period of religious ferment in which we find a widespread and growing concern for matters divine and the fate and salvation of the soul, a concern shared and often catered for by philosophers. During this period Aristotle becomes an authority. And so it is only natural to find his followers turning to Lamba in matters of philo­sophical theology. They will continue to do this even after the advent of Christianity and then Islam with the constraints these faiths put on a theological position. We just have to look at Thomas Aquinas to see how influential Lamba continued to be. But the revival of Aristotelianism more or less coincided with the revival of Platonism. And among those involved in the revival of Platonism there was almost from the beginning one fac­tion which played down the differences between Plato and Aristotle and which was willing to grant Aristotle the status of limited authority. So also for many Platonists, who by this time began to take theology to form the core of their philosophy, Lamba became a crucial text. In Platonist theol­ogy in Imperial times a divine intellect plays a crucial role. That it does play this role, and the way it is conceived of, hardly is intelligible without the influence of Lamba, especially if we keep in mind that in late ancient views a Stoically inspired divine logos competes as an alternative with this divine intellect inspired by Aristotle. And we also see Platonists draw on specifically Aristotelian doctrines concerning the intellect quite generally to elucidate their doctrine of a divine nous, for instance the view that an intellect in thinking is identical with its object, or that thinking as such does not involve change. What is more, even Platonists who are hostile to Aristotle, like Plotinus, in fact rely on. Aristotle in their doctrine of the divine intellect. Indeed, at least from Plotinus onwards what would have seemed to us a fundamental difference between Plato and Aristotle, a difference which greatly matters to Aristotle even in Lamba, is completely flattened out. Aristotle in Lamba, as in book eleven, shares with Plato the belief in imma­terial separate substances, but argues against Plato that these substances are not ideas, but intellects. But for Plotinus and later Platonists, the ideas are living intellects. And for Plotinus these intellects are the divine intellect. Arguably Plotinus' view that the ideas are not external to the intellect in part is based on reflection on A. Now Platonist views about God and the divine intellect, and thus indirectly Aristotle's views in Lamba, do have a formative influence on the Christian theology which evolves in late antiquity, for instance on Trinitarian doctrine. This greatly facilitates the use Christian philosophers and theologians later can make of Lamba. Ross goes so far as to claim that `the Catholic Church' was led `to base its theology largely on his', that is Aristotle's. This surely is more than an exaggeration, but reflects the sound sense that Aristotle's position in Lamba had a deep influence on Christian theology also in the West.

This is not the point to argue for the pervasive influence Lamba had on later theology, whether Christian or not. But if one is convinced of this pervasive role Lamba has played in theology, one will find it less surprising that Lamba should be regarded as a theological treatise. This is how, for specifiable historical reasons, it came to be used in the tradition. But it also seems clear that the preoccupations which historically moved philosophers to use Lamba in this way were not Aristotle's preoccupations. Aristotle was interested in the world we live in, and he believed he could show that this world depends on a transcendent principle or principles, about which, moreover, certain things can and need to be said, if such principles are to play the role in Aristotle's account of the world he means them to play. But Aristotle was not preoccupied with the idea that radically more needs to be known about these principles for us to understand the world and to live a good life in the light of this understanding, let alone for us to save our souls.

Given the pervasive role Lamba did in fact play, we should start to worry, though, whether we are not here, as in other parts of Aristotle's philosophy, under the spell of a traditional interpretation of the text in the light of which we continue to read it, having been introduced to the text under such an interpretation. In the light of this one should welcome any attempt to break out of the traditional mould and seriously to rethink what Aristotle himself did think in the theological parts of Lamba, even if, in the end, one radically disagrees with her conclusions. As Aristotelian scholars we do not want to continue to keep the fictional Aristotle of philosophical tradition alive, by updating his picture according to the latest insights of our philosophical and our classical colleagues; we want to know what Aristotle actually thought and what we are to make of what he thought. 

Contents: Introduction: Michael Frede; Ch. 1 Michael Frede; Ch. 2 David Charles; Ch. 3 Lindsay Judson; Ch. 4 M. Crubellier; Ch. 5 Alan Code; Ch. 6 Enrico Berti; Ch. 7 Andre Laks; Ch. 8 G.E.R. Lloyd; Ch. 9 Jacques Brunschwig; Ch. 10 Aryeh Kosman Ch. 11 David Sedley; Bibliography; Index.

Time for Aristotle by Ursula Coope (Oxford Aristotle Studies: Oxford University Press) What is the relation between time and change? Does time depend on the mind? Is the present always the same or is it always different? Aristotle tackles these questions in the Physics. In the first book in English exclusively devoted to this discussion, Ursula Coope argues that Aristotle sees time as a universal order within which all changes are related to each other. This interpretation enables her to explain two striking Aristotelian claims: that the now is like a moving thing, and that time depends for its existence on the mind.

Aristotle claims that time is not a kind of change, but that it is something dependent upon change; he defines it as a kind of number of change.  The author argues that what this means is that time is a kind of order (not, as is commonly supposed, a kind of measure).  It is a universal order within which all changes are related to each other.  This interpretation and enables Coope to explain to puzzling claims that Aristotle makes: that for now is like a moving thing, and that time depends for its existence upon the mind.  Time for Aristotle is a lucid discussion of one of the more perennial fascinating sections of Aristotle's Physics.
For Aristotle all living things have their natures in Aristotle's discussion of the natural things, in his Physics III & IV, he discusses the nature of these natures for Aristotle there are four simple bodies: which correspond to our currently conceived for states of matter: earth, air, fire, and water, each of which has a natural tendency to occupy a particular place in the universe. For Aristotle the earth is at the center, then in concentric circles water, air, and fire. (Note for modern physics there are five states of matter that correspond to the solid, liquid, Gaseous, radiant, and the hyper hot magma.) In the section of the fixed physics that concerns Coope, Aristotle lays out his account of four things that are fundamental to the study of any nature: change, infinity, place, and time. Previously he also discusses the void he says that the void is generally thought to be a precondition of change if there is present also place, time.  Later he does discuss that all this is generally accepted except for the claim that there can only be changed if there is void.  In his discussion of void he argues not only that there can be change in the absence of void, but that it is, in fact, and possible for there to be void. (IV.6-9).

Sense nature is a source of change, in order to understand all what it is to have a nature we need to account for change.  Changes, Aristotle thinks, are infinitely divisible, so in providing a foundation for physics, we must tackle the obscure notion of the infinite.  He provides an account of place, because if there is to be any kind of change there must be change of place.  The example given is that of the heavenly bodies must engage in eternal movement that is a change in place.  Moreover whenever one thing axon another to produce a change, there must be spatial movement, sense before one think and act on another, the thing that acts in the thing that is acted upon must approach one another.  Such was the reasoning to give rise to the ether.  To understand the change of place than an account of time is also needed sense all changes and all changing things are within the time.

This sets the context on how the accounts of time plays out in Aristotle's overall system.  If we are to understand his Physics as a whole we need to grapple with his difficult remarks about time.

Coope argues that Aristotle's account of time represents it as a kind of universal order and that this is why he defines it, oddly as a number.  It is, he says, a number of change, a single order within which all changes are related to one another.  Aristotle argues that the existence of this single order depends on the existence of beings, like us who can count.  It depends on the fact that week count in the present, it presents series of nows, in a certain way. To count a now is to mark a dividing-point in all the changes that are going on at it.  Our counting thus introduces a kind of uniformity into the world.  It allows us to the limit, within a change, arbitrary parts that are exactly simultaneous to corresponding parts in every other change that is going on.  One of Aristotle's central concerns as to explain how time can have this kind of uniformity.  He asks what account of time will make sense of the fact that the changes are various and separate from one another, time is everywhere seemingly the same.

In order to approach the idea of time and one must have an deep appreciation of Aristotle's explanations for change.  First Aristotle explains change in terms of the notions of potential and actuality.  His account makes no explicit reference to time that there should be such an account of change is presupposed by his whole project of explaining time in terms of its relation to change.  Second, a change is, in a certain sense, asymmetric.  It is defined in terms of a potential to be in some and state.  A change points forward to its completion in a way in which it does not point backward at its inception.  This may suggest that the account of change does, after all, make a central reference to time.  However in Aristotle's view this is the asymmetry within change itself is basic.  It is temporal asymmetry that depends on the asymmetries within change, rather than vice versa.  Finally this definition of change provides Aristotle with the sources to make sense of a certain kind of inference.

The acorn is changing into an oak tree.  But this change may or may not result in their actually being an oak tree.  If the young sapling is eaten by wild animals, the oak tree never materializes, but it is never less true that the acorn was becoming an oak and not becoming a sapling.  This is because the potential that govern the acorns change was the potential to be an oak tree and not the potential to be a sapling.  The change was actually of the potential oak tree, as potentially an oak tree.  This final feature a change its teleology is the key to an analogy Aristotle draws between change and spatial magnitude.

In his account time, Aristotle takes for granted certain views about the senses in which boundaries, or divisions, can exist within a continuum these views are partly motivated by his need to reconcile two claims about the infinite.  On the one hand he thinks that continuous things, like lines, changes, and time, are infinitely divisible.  On the other he argues that there is no actual infinite: it is not possible for infinitely many things to exist all at once; to complete any number of subchanges is to have ever completed infinitely many changes.  In order to make sense of this apparent incompatibility of these two lines of thinking, Aristotle makes good use of his idea of potential parts or points versus actual existents. For Aristotle indivisible things like points are instances that exist only in so far as they are boundaries, divisions, or potential divisions of a continuum.  They are thus essentially dependent entities.  A boundary must always be a boundary of the something or other, which is its actuality.  Next for a boundary to be enhanced of four parts of it to be bound by it it must be marked out in some way from its surroundings.  A continuous thing that contains no such boundaries will not contain any parts although it will of course be divisible.  Third when one narks a now, I create a potential division, both in time and in whatever changes are then going on.  It is thus by marking now that we create parts in time and in changes.

Coope discussion becomes from the most interesting when after accounting for time as something that is numeral and must be counted, as evidence of its asymmetrical relationship to change in general, Aristotle insists that there would be no time if there were not ensouled  beings to notice it. There is no accounting without a counter.  Essentially then the notion of time is a dependent upon the apprehending mind. If there are no Sorrell's, there would be no time.  If there were no souls, however there might be changes. Coope claims that Aristotle himself accepts the argument that time depends on the soul and that doing so, he is not making a simple logical mistake.  We need to explore why he thinks that the fact that time is accountable shows that it depends upon for its existence on beings who are able to count.  Aristotle also thinks that colors would not be perceptible in a world without perceivers. The analogy holds that that between perception and counting supports the view that time depends upon the soul.  Also for time to be countable, it must first be counted.  This raises questions about the nature of the soul effect upon the world.  It may be that the soul perceives the world as within itself.  This would account for the anima mundi.  However that is another study.

Coope altogether group manages a vibrant analysis of certain lingering puzzles in Aristotle's account of the nature of things.


Headline 3

insert content here