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Aristotle and Metaphysics

Categories: Metaphysics

Aristotle (384 BC ? March 7, 322 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher and a student of Plato, considered first scientist in Western world. He was a philosopher of common sense. He tried to define essences and his aim is to explicate the world as well as cosmos surrounding us. According to Introduction of Metaphysics, Aristotle’s world-view is teleological that there is kind of purpose in cosmos: ” What is important is that the world seems to have a purpose, a meaning and even a design.

It is an ordered structure, a cosmos, and it may even manifest the invention of a Creator.” (p. xvii) The Metaphysics is Aristotle’s significant philosophical work, that contains the theory of being. The word “metaphysics” is defined due to the fact that this work was positioned right after “physics”. On the other hand, it is accepted because the purpose of metaphysics, which is to reach beyond nature (physis), and to discover the ultimate essence and the reason for being.

Moreover, one of the central themes of Aristotle’s philosophy and metaphysics is theory of Potentiality and Actuality, which is considered in regard to being and change in Book Theta.

First of all, Aristotle defines substance (ousia) as ultimate and an underlying reality, or as the fundemental element of all existing things. Substance is the reality of individual things, and what is not substance is properties, also accident (not neccessary). The substance of each individual thing, the particular nature of that thing, is that which does not belong to other individual things, whereas the universal principle or element of an individual thing is that which belongs to many individual things.

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Furthermore, according to Aristotle substance (ousia) exists in a form of category or hierarchy.

In the Categories, he claims that there are ten kinds of things, and most important of which are primary substance and secondary substance. 1. Primary substances are concrete, existing (absolutely) individual things that are prior to all the categories because an ousia can exist by itself. 2. Secondary substances are the essential properties and universals which cannot exist in its own right. In addition, Aristotle’s metaphysics is known as hylemorphism that everything is a combination of matter (the particular subject which underlies) and form (the matter acquires when a primary substance comes into bring).

For Aristotle, substances are particular things, while universal principles are common to many things. The universal principles and causes of substances explains what responsible for being. There are four kinds of causes of things: Material cause, final cause, formal cause and efficient cause. 1. Material cause is the matter and subject of a thing. 2. Efficient cause is the source of motion or change in a thing, which starts the process. 3. Formal cause is the substance or essence (form) of a thing. 4. Final cause (telos) is the purpose for which a thing has being. For example, a bronze statue.

Its material cause is the bronze itself. Its efficient cause is the sculptor, forces the bronze into shape. The formal cause is the shape, form and idea of the completed statue. The final cause is beauty, the idea of the statue as it prompts the sculptor to act on the bronze. Causes may be potential or actual, necessary or accidental. Things may be classified as prior to other things, in terms of their potentiality and actuality. The theory of potentiality and actuality is one of the most crucial aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy, in general, describes the change in the process and the existence (being) of a substance.

According to Aristotle, a change must occur in something for its potentiality to become an actuality. Moreover, to understand the importance of potentiality and actuality to the concept of change, Aristotle’s terminology should be considered. Firstly, dunamis is the Greek word for the capacity to do something, from which we get our word “dynamic. ” The word is usually translated as potentiality. Secondly, ergon, the Greek word for the proper function or work an individual thing is supposed to perform, is translated as actuality (activity).

In other words, potentia is a capacity in Greek, means an aptitude to change, to act or to be acted upon, to give or to receive some new determination. Actus means the fulfilment of such a capacity. Potentiality refers to the capacity or power of a virtual reality to come to be in actuality and the capacity of determination or change. Aristotle distinguishes between two kinds of potentialities or powers. One of these is active potenciality that is the power of acting upon something else, for example, the potenciality of an artist to make a statue. The other is passive potencility that is the power of being acted upon, for example, the potenciality of a marble to turn into a statue.

The potential exists in both inanimate and animate objects. The difference between the two is that the potential in man has reason and the power to produce things or any kind of contrary effects, while the ohers which have no reason can only produce a specific effect. In brief, Aristotle calls man’s capacities rational, and those of inanimate beings, nonrational. The difference between rational (conscious) and irrational (unconscious) behavior can be understood by the Aristotle’s example, ” Heating can produce only heat and not cold, whereas the rational potentiality of medicine can produce either health or disease.

” (Theta 2, p. 256) Furthermore, potentiality may be innate (natural, inborn) such as the power of sensing or knowing or acquired such as flute playing. On the other hand, actuality is the opposite pole of potentiality, is also related to the potential and motion. For example, the statue exists potentially in the block of marble, because marble has an capacity to be the shape of a statue. With regard to the same statue, the sculptor has the power, by his action, to carve the marble into the form of a statue. He is an active power, a real skill or ability which is lacking in many other persons.

In order to have the actual statue, it is necessary for the sculptor to exercise his real skill on a substance which is not yet a statue, but which has a real aptitude to become one. Furthermore, according to Aristotle, there are complete actions, called motions, which have their end in themselves; also there are incomplete actions which has no other end than the activity itself. Besides, the motion implies a mover and a moved. The moved is that which moves from one condition to its opposite. But in the case of knowing, there is no movement from one state to another. There is only the power to know functioning.

Knowing has no other product than the activity of knowing. Therefore, Aristotle concludes that complete actions like knowing are more perfect than incomplete ones and this reasoning should have been the highest form of existence which he describes the character of pure activity to the source of all motion, the Unmoved Mover. Aristotle considers the change as the transformation of potentiality to actuality. His conception of change is also connected to the theory of a hierarchical scale of existence, on which everything is related to the being above it as matter is to form.

“Aristotle’s defends one of the most striking and characteristic theses, that of the priority of the actual over the potential. Aristotle most definitely holds that the chicken comes before the egg. ” (Theta 8, p. 272) On the contrary of the common sense, which support potentiality is prior to the actuality, for Aristotle, actuality precedes potentiality, in that potentiality can only occur if there is some actually existing thing which is capable of becoming another thing. There must be an actual potentiality for an event to occur if its potentiality is to become an actuality.

According to Aristotle the actual is prior in three respects: in thought, in time and in substance. 1. Priority in thought (logos) is that without having the conception of the actuality, no one can have a conception of the potentiality. For example, in building, the potential builder has the consideration of the actual thing before he builds it. 2. Priority in time is related to the species rather than the individual. It is significant that, unlike the trivial fact, the actual species must precede the potencial species.

For example, the actual human being comes before the embryo which becomes the man and the species chicken temporally precede the egg. 3. Priority in terms of substance is considered with form and with the cause (principle) of a thing’s being. a)Formal and substantial priority occurs in production, also connected to the essences and definitions. Due to the fact that a man or a human being already has its own form while a sperm or a boy does not, the man has a formal priority over a boy and a human being has that priority over a sperm.

b)Teleological priority is about principles and causes that every output of production possess it for the end. ” A principle is something for whose sake something else is, and an end is something for whose sake a production occurs. But the end is the actuality, and it is for the sake of this actuality. ” (Book Theta, p. 274) The actuality which is the end provides the telos and the aim of the process. For example, a sperm is the cause or principle of the existence of a boy, and the boy is for the man. In this case the man, the telos, is the ultimate aim of all the process.

Therefore, the end (actual) is determining the beginning. The final proof of the priority is based on the fact that eternal beings are by their nature prior to those which perish. Aristotle also says that eternal or imperishable things are prior in substance, because eternal things have no beginning or end, whereas non-eternal or perishable things have a beginning and an end. For the same reason eternal movement is also always actual, and the potentiality only with the relation to movement from place to place.

Moreover, it should have been considered how Aristotle could respond to the claim: “Aristotle is mistaken in thinking that what is actual is prior to the potential. For example, a sperm is potentially a human being, and quite naturally it is prior to a mature human. ” According to him if being human did not actually exist, then the sperm could not be potentially human. Also, the essence of anything is its primary being, and it belongs to the actual which in this case is human being.

As a result, mature human being is the essence or the cause of the process and produce the sperm that is possibility and potentiality for a subsequent human being. Taking everything into consideration, I mostly agree with Aristotle’s view that the actuality is prior to the potentiality. However, Aristotle has some deficiencies about the existence of actualities and how they have been created. He explains the pure actuality (God) that is beyond everything, yet he cannot answer how this actuality first exists.

Besides, the existence of actualities and essences is not certain, which is Aristotle’s weakness about the subject. Nevertheless, I firmly believe his teleological cosmos and the concept of God which he calls Unmoved mover. Although Aristotole has not describe the relation between the cosmos, god and existence, in my opinion, there is a purposeful system in the cosmos, which could also be named as God. This infinite, one and purposeful system possess the power and knowledge of all existence. Also, every single being, essence (forms) and substance contains some kind of part of this system.

So, every being in this world has its own actuality which is an infinite knowledge, an ultimate aim and a perfect program that was determined. In other words, life is planned by a perfect as well as synchronized system before the existence and the actual end is certain, which shows that the actuality determines the potentiality. Moreover, according to my view, at the beginning the actual human being has been created, with certain aims and end, for its continious, then the potential sperm is produced. As a result, it can obviously be said that the actual comes before the potential in the life process.

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Aristotle and Metaphysics. (2016, Oct 28). Retrieved from

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