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Thomas Aquinas' Aristotle Commentaries in Translation

Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima by Thomas Aquinas, translated by Kenelm Foster, Silvester Humphries (Dumb Ox Books) This precise new translation of Thomas Aquinas’s most important study of Aristotle-the first English translation from the definitive Gauthier edition (1984)-throws bright light on the thinking of both philosophers. Aquinas’s influential reading of Aristotle reflects the views of the two philosophers on such central topics as the nature of the soul, the mind-body problem, and the character of emotions

THE COMMENTARY THOMAS AQUINAS COMPLETED ON Aristotle's De anima is thought to be the first of some dozen such commentaries that he wrote toward the end of his short career. He may have produced this work in 1268 while teaching in the Dominican house of Santa Sabrina in Rome. Shortly thereafter he returned to Paris where he was swept into the Latin Averroist controversy, at the center of which was the proper interpretation of the De anima.

Avicenna and Averroes, the great Arabic commentators, read the De anima in such a way that intellect was taken to be a separate substance and not a faculty of the human soul. Some of Thomas's contemporaries, Masters of the Faculty of Arts, accepted the Avicennian and Averroist interpretations as good money and thus came to hold positions incompatible with their Christian faith.

What is the correct reading of the De anima? This commentary, composed before Thomas was caught up in the contemporary controversy, sets out to understand what it is that the text teaches. Many students of Aristotle have come to see this commentary as indispensable to reading the text aright.


The translation that the English Dominicans Kenelm Foster and Silvester Humphries made of St. Thomas's commentary on Aristotle's De Anima in 19511 was based on the Latin text established by the Italian Dominican Angelus Pirotta and published by Marietti of Turin in 1925. The translators made slight emendations here and there, Pirotta's not being a critical edition, and they translated the Latin version of Aristotle which stands at the head of the lectiones in the Pirotta edition.

Since 1925‑and, indeed, since 1951, when the English translation appeared a great deal has happened in our understanding of the circumstances of the composition of the commentary. Most notably, there appeared ten years ago the Leonine edition of the text. 2 An obvious desideratum would be to rework the English translation in the light of the Leonine. Since this would not be the work of a summer's day, and Dumb Ox Books is interested in getting quickly into the hands of students translations that have long been unavailable or, at best, the Grail at the end of a lengthy and expensive rare book search, the policy has been adopted of reissuing, more or less unchanged, the English translations already available.

The present volume contains the English translation of Foster and Humphries legerement retouchee and returned to the format it has in the Pirotta edition, with the text of Aristotle correlated with the commentary in the same manner as in Dumb Ox Books' edition of Thomas's Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics (1993). Because they thought it would commend the work to modern readers, the translators abbreviated or omitted some of the divisiones textus of St. Thomas. Since displaying the order of the text is a principal function of the commentator, these have been restored in this edition. In an appendix will be found a concordance of the Pirotta and Leonine editions. But basically, this is a reissue of the Foster‑Humphries translation in the format established by Dumb Ox Books.

It may fairly be asked of a publication like this, appearing ten years after the Leonine and after all the profound research it presupposed, and inspired, if there is not something irresponsible in the decision to give the Pirotta text new life. The imagined advantage of getting quickly into the hands of Anglophones a translation that has become all but impossible to find may seem to be clearly canceled if the Pirotta text distorts and/or fails to convey the thought of Aquinas.

A first and obvious retort to this is that a vast amount of scholarship went on for some sixty years, making use of the Pirotta edition. An annoyance of the Leonine edition is that it pays no attention to this, as if everything previously written about the De anima commentary had been rendered obsolete in 1984. The concordance to be found as an appendix to our edition is meant to facilitate the correlation of pre‑ and post‑1984 research. It can also aid the scholar interested in checking the relatively minor textual differences in the later edition. 3 Still, one might think that this only facilitates the comparison of the flawed and inadequate with the finally well-grounded discussion of the text. It is to allay this concern, and others, that the following questions are discussed. The questions are, effec­tively, when, where, why, how and what.


Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (Thomas Aquinas's Aristotelian Commentaries Series)
by Thomas Aquinas, translated by C. I. Litzinger (Dumb Ox Books) Thomas Aquinas was introduced to the "new" Aristotle at the University of Naples and, after becoming a Dominican, studied under Albert the Great at Cologne and edited Albert's commentary on the Ethics of Aristotle. Throughout his career, Thomas exhibits a more-than-ordinary interest in the philosophy of Aristotle and an ever-deeper appreciation of it. Nonetheless, it was relatively late in his short life that he composed a dozen commentaries on Aristotelian works, spurred on, doubtless, by the controversial uses to which Aristotle was put by those in the Faculty of Arts at Paris who are variously called Latin Averroists of Heterodox Aristotelians. These commentaries are among the most careful, helpful, and insightful ever written on the text of Aristotle. It is sometimes mistakenly thought that in them Thomas was somehow "baptizing" Aristotle, wrenching his thought into conformity with Christian doctrine. No one who reads the commentaries could long entertain this libelous view of them. The English translation of the text of Aristotle was made from the Cathala-Spiazzi Latin edition. Some inaccuracies exist; for instance, "ithos" is more correctly translated, as "character" and "ethos" should be rendered as simply "habit." Students of Greek should probably have another translation close at hand. At any rate, Aquinas did not impose his own worldview on the Ethics; he used Aristotle to interpret Aristotle (he makes references only to other parts of the Ethics and to other Aristotelian works). His achievement stood as the standard commentary for centuries, and scholars such as Paul Shorey say that it is the least likely "to mislead and confuse the student."


This is the long‑awaited reprinting of the Litzinger translation of Thomas Aquinas's Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, published in 1964 and out of print for many years. Typographical alterations have been made which make it easier to relate the comments to the text commented upon. The commentary is divided according to the ten books of the Aristotelian text, and each book is divided into lectiones. Each lectio is preceded by a portion of the text, the paragraphs of which have been numbered to facilitate matching with the commentary. Each numbered paragraph of the Aristotelian text is followed by the Bekker lines that correlate the translation with the Greek text as well as by the relevant paragraph numbers of the commentary. Father Litzinger's elaborate outline of the text and commentary has been dropped. Making the commentary available in one volume rather than two should also facilitate using the work.

In an ideal world, the Litzinger translation, which was based on the Marietti edition, would be bettered by making use of the critical Leonine text which appeared five years after this English translation If the critical edition contained massive emendations of the text, that course might even seem required. In the flawed real world of poor forked animals, with its exigencies of time and resources, and given the prolonged and widespread desire for this translation, it seemed best to bring this reprinting out now, and leave to the future the admittedly desirable task of correcting the translation with the help of the Leonine text. For over thirty years, the Litzinger translation has served scholars well, and it has many miles to go before it disappears into the black hole reserved for superseded translations.

For many years, Aristotelian scholars curiously overlooked the Thomistic commentaries; recently there have been notable exceptions to this neglect, indeed enthusiastic recommendations of Thomas's expositions. To some extent, this neglect was encouraged by confusion among Thomists as to the nature of the commentaries. The suggestion that Thomas was simply using Aristotle for his own theological purposes='baptizing Aristotle," in the misleading phrase would scarcely induce a scholar puzzling over the Aristotelian text to consult Thomas. But it is a libel to characterize the commentaries in this way. No one can read the De unitate intellectus, written in the same brief period when some dozen commentaries on Aristotle were written by a Thomas Aquinas extremely busy with many other things, without seeing that Thomas took his first and primary task to be getting the Aristotelian text right. Far from baptizing Aristotle, Thomas as a commentator is intent on rescuing Thomas from the misreadings of Averroes and others.

Thomas exhibits familiarity with Aristotle from the very beginning of his literary career, doubtless because of the nature of the instruction he received at Naples as well as his good fortune in studying under Albert the Great. Thus, although the commentaries belong to the end of Thomas's career‑to a period beginning perhaps in 1268 and ending, with several of them incomplete, in 1273 when, a year before his death, Thomas put down his pen‑they are the culmination rather than the commencement of his study of Aristotle. The enthusiasm of some Thomists for his originality has obscured the fact that Thomas Aquinas was the greatest Aristotelian in the history of Western philosophy. He would readily have subscribed to Dante's description of Aristotle as the master of those who know. Students of Aristotle should read this commentary as a commentary; its value must be assessed in terms of the way it does or does not cast light on the text.

More and more scholars are finding that the Thomistic commentaries, in which, as Chenu observed, the commentator, engaging in the same task as the author of the text, seeks to discover its intentio and implications, put us in touch with the mind and thinking behind the text. Perhaps it is modern Aristotelians who have been reading the text through the lens of their presuppositions Hegelian, Heidegerrian, Analytic‑seeking to make Aristotle a party to later debates rather than to enter into the sinuous rhythms of his thought, and by a sympathetic reenactment of the intellectual drama of the text find in it correctives as well as correlatives of contemporary thinking.

Those of us who glory in the title of Thomist have a particular motivation to assimilate the letter and the spirit of these commentaries. All too often Thomists have sought to separate their master from his master‑with disastrous results. The reprinting of this translation is dedicated to a new generation of students of St. Thomas who will see that they must become, as he was, a close student of Aristotle.



Commentary on Aristotle's Physics by Thomas Aquinas, translated by Richard J. Blackwell, Richard J. Spath, W. Edmund Thirlkel (Dumb Ox Books' Aristotelian Commentary Series: Dumb Ox Books)

The Physics is the initial work in Aristotle's natural philosophy and, to paraphrase the Philosopher, a little clarity in the beginning magnifies as study continues. From the outset of his career, Thomas recognized the importance of the Physics. In the youthful Principles of Nature, he shows a mastery of Aristotle's teaching on the constitution of physical objects.

But the importance of the Physics is by no means exhausted by its role within natural philosophy. Without physics there can be no metaphysics. The fundamental affinity between Thomas and Aristotle is nowhere clearer than in the shared conviction that it is only on the basis of knowledge of the things around us, the things that come to be and pass away, physical things, that we can hope to have knowledge of things whose existence is not material.

This commentary exhibits the familiar technique of the commentaries on Aristotle, a technique to be found in Thomas's biblical commentaries as well. The order of the division of the text is the principle of manifestation. The primary purpose is to get clear as to what Aristotle taught and why. As commentator, Thomas is both objective and empathetic. The commentary continues the discourse found in the text.


This is the fourth of our reprints of English translations of Thomas Aquinas's commentaries on Aristotle that had gone out of print, thus creating a hardship for students of Aquinas whose Latin is not as reliable as they would like. Finding copies of those translations has been facilitated by the Internet, but for all that they become ever rarer and the prices go up rather than down, according to the law of supply and demand. We should all salute across the years and express our gratitude to those who made the translation we are reprinting here. This is not a commercial enterprise on the part of Dumb Ox Books, since such profits as we make are put into the fund that enables the effort to continue. At omega point, when the project is complete, the logical possibility of profit tout court may arise. But by then I will have gone to that bourne from which no traveler returns. This is, to the extent possible for sinful man, a benevolent effort.

Much has been written about the Physics of Aristotle since this translation appeared, less about the commentary. A quarter of a century ago and more there were lively discussions as to whether the natural philosophy of Aristotle and Thomas had any other than historical relevance now. The received opinion in the wider scholarly world was that a turn had been taken with Copernicus that set in motion inquiries which can only equivocally be compared with those that went on before. The term "physics" applied to the eight books of Aristotle and to what is done under that name now is taken to have meanings that are toto coelo different; indeed the difference is that between the false and the true. For all that, there were students of Thomas who argued that there was a continuing truth-value in the natural philosophy of old, and the problem was to find a way to relate it to the science of our time. Indeed, several rival accounts were given, one associated with Louvain, another with Maritain, another with my mentor Charles DeKoninck, and yet another with the Dominicans of River Forest. With the Council and other factors, all that dropped off the radar screen.

Well, not quite. William Wallace, O.P., has been pursuing that spoor through the intervening years and argues unabashedly for a modus vivendi between the old physics and the new. Moreover, there is growing interest in the question among younger scholars. They will be particularly happy to have this commentary available once more. Of course its interest is not confined to them. The natural philosophy that enjoyed unrivaled hegemony over so many centuries has an undeniable historical interest and the rising appreciation of Thomas's commentaries should make this edition welcome to medievalists and historians of science. It is reprinted here as is ‑ or as was.


Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics by Thomas Aquinas, Preface by Ralph M. McInerny, Introduction and translation by John P. Rowan (Dumb Ox Books)

This is a great translation of Aquinas' comments on Aristotle's work titled, "Metaphysics." Ralph McInerny (Notre Dame University) wrote the preface and the work was translated by John P. Rowan. Both men are strong in their field of expertise and both are Thomists. The book is a phrase by phrase/paragraph by paragraph commentary written by Aquinas on Aristotle's actual work. In other words, Aquinas took what Aristotle espoused in his "Metaphysics" and discussed it in great detail. Aquinas was not shy about admitting what he disagreed and agreed with in Aristotle's philosophy. So not only is the reader of this addition getting the actual translated text of Aristotle's work, but also Aquinas' remarks. This is an incredible reference/resource work for those who are either studying Aristotle's "Metaphysics," the thoughts of Thomas Aquinas, or perhaps both. The book is 839 pages of solid text and very well organized so the reader knows the parts that are Aristotle's (which are all italicized) and Aquinas' (which are in plain type). This book, if for no other reason, at least helps the student of both philosophers gain a better understanding of each; since Aquinas is at his best when commenting about Aristotle's work and the actual text of Aristotle is present for the reader to digest. This paragraph from the back cover of the book well describes what the buyer and reader can expect from such a great work as this - "Thomas Aquinas finds the twelve books he comments on wonderful for their order, both overall and in the minutest detail. His reading is governed by what he takes to be the clear sense of the text, his interpretations keep close to what Aristotle actually said, his account is breathtaking in its acuity." Thus, this is a work that you will not want to miss, since, unfortunately, books of this nature have a short a shelf life.


OF ALL THOMAS AQUINAS'S COMMENTARIES ON Aristotle, that on the Metaphysics is in marry ways the most intriguing. For most of the twentieth century, Aristotelian studies were governed by the claim of philologists. that, the Metaphysics is a compilation of disparate materials, probably made by someone after Aristotle, and that the order of the books cannot be taken to represent any literary unity. Indeed, the internal contents of the books were said to represent materials of different date and purpose. Furthermore, the presumed aim of these treatises, and indeed of philosophy generally, the acquisition of wisdom, receives in the Metaphysics two radically different accounts. Is God the object of wisdom or is wisdom the most comprehensive view of the natural world? Is the science Aristotle is seeking in the treatises and ontology or a theology?

In marked contrast to such imaginative accounts, the net effect of which is to discourage rather than to encourage reading of the work, Thomas Aquinas finds the twelve books he comments on wonderful for their order, both overall and in the minutest detail. His reading is governed by what he takes to be the clear sense of the text, his interpretations keep close to what Aristotle actually said, .his account is breathtaking in its acuity. Thomas's commentary belongs to the great tradition that was broken‑one hopes only temporarily‑by the rise of philology, which a cynic has described as the effort to read a text without understanding it. Any student of Aristotle can appraise Thomas's interpretation since its measure is the text of Aristotle.

This edition reproduces the translation of John Rowan as well as his introduction, but in a single volume, rather than in two. The Leonine critical edition of the text will soon appear; in the meantime, as it has for most of this century, the ­Marietti edition, on which this translation is based, can continue to be help to those who wish to learn from "the master of those who know."


The welcome accorded our project to put back in circulation English translations of St. Thomas's commentaries on works of Aristotle that have long been out of print, emboldens us to continue. In 1993, we published Thomas's Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, and the following year his Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima. Our edition of the Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics is modeled on our earlier edition of the Ethics commentary. The Henry Regnery edition of these commentaries made of each of them a beautiful two‑volume set. This had the disadvantage, however, of making the translation less usable than it might have been. Accordingly, we reset the Ethics commentary and published it as a single volume. The same has been done with the Commentary on the Metaphysics.

A commentary is to be consulted in close conjunction with the work on which it comments. The inclusion of the text of Aristotle in the commentary, with a passage from the Metaphysics followed by Thomas's explanation of it, makes it easy to use the commentary. And to have all twelve of the books of the Metaphysics commentary in a single volume facilitates consulting earlier and later books. This is important since, as a commentator, Thomas takes it to be his primary task to explain the order and interrelationships of the parts of the integral work. To have the whole of the Metaphysics and the whole of the commentary in one volume thus enables the student more easily to appraise the claims Thomas makes for the order of the text.

For much of this century, it has seemed quaint to read the Metaphysics as if it were a literary whole whose parts can be taken to comment on one another. The enormous influence exercised by the imaginative flights of Werner Jaeger in his two books on Aristotle (Entstehungsgeschichte der Metaphysik des Aristoteles (Berlin, 1912); Aristoteles: Grundlegung einer Geschichte seiner Entwicklung (Berlin, 1923)) led to a frenzy of imitative efforts to fragment the work. Under this onslaught, scarcely two lines of text retained a fixed relation to one another. There was a reverse Heraclitization of the Metaphysics, ut ita dicam. Scholars sought to construct a unity out of the snippets of Heraclitus that have come down to us; but in the case of the Metaphysics, they took a marvelously unified work and sought to break it into unrelated pieces. One who looks back on those efforts, now that the frenzy has subsided, can only wonder at the leaps and gambols in the argumentation of otherwise sober, even Teutonic, folk.

With the appearance of Giuseppe Reale's book on the Metaphysics, (Giuseppe Reale, The Concept of First Philosophy and the Unity of the Metaphysics of Aristotle, translated by J. Catan (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1980) twentieth-century Aristotelian studies rejoined the efforts that had been made over centuries to understand the Aristotelian treatises. Nowadays, an effort like that of Thomas Aquinas can count on getting a respectful reading from students of Aristotle. The Thomistic commentary gives us an interpretation of the Metaphysics that not only sees the overall sequence of books as manifesting an order and procedure but also finds a marvelous order among the chapters of each book, indeed in the details of each chapter. No reader can fail to be struck by the sequence in which Thomas sees Book Five not only as occurring just where it ought to, but also as having an internal order based upon the elements of Aristotelian scientific methodology‑-the subject of the science, its properties, its principles‑-which shows the book to be anything but random and/or self‑standing introduction Aristotelian terminology (one edition set it at the beginning of the work, the editor called it a Philosophical Lexicon). Not even Reale managed to see Book Five; an integral part of the whole.

The Leonine edition of the commentary, edited by James Reilly, has been eagerly awaited for many years. It is now complete, but publication may yet take a little while. One day, deo volente, all of the commentaries will be translated again from the text of the critical edition. In the meantime, in between time, our reprint can serve a transitional function.

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