Aristotle’s Metaphysics

Aristotle rejected Plato’s theory of Forms. Instead, Aristotle’s response to understanding the nature of being was metaphysics (though he never used this word, instead calling it “first philosophy”).

While Plato saw a difference between the intelligible world (made up of thoughts and ideas) and the sensible world (made up of what could visibly be seen) and believed the intelligible world was the only true form of reality, Aristotle believed separating the two would remove all meaning. Instead, Aristotle believed the world was made up of substances that could either be form, matter, or both, and that intelligibility was present in all things and beings.

Aristotle’s Metaphysics is composed of fourteen books that were later grouped together by editors. It is considered to be one of the greatest works ever produced on the subject of philosophy. Aristotle believed that knowledge was made up of specific truths that people gain from experience, as well as the truths that arise from science and art. Wisdom, as opposed to knowledge, is when one understands the fundamental principles that govern all things (these are the most general truths) and then translates this information into scientific expertise.

Aristotle breaks down how things come to be through four causes:

  1. The material cause: This explains what something is made of.
  2. The formal cause: This explains what form something takes.
  3. The efficient cause: This explains the process of how something comes into being.
  4. The final cause: This explains the purpose something serves.

While other sciences might study reasons for a particular manifestation of being (for example, a biologist would study humans with regard to them being organisms, while a psychologist would study humans as beings with consciousness), metaphysics examines the reason why there is being in the first place. For this reason, metaphysics is often described as “the study of being qua being” (qua is Latin for “in so far as”).