Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Abstraction, knowledge and the Sciences


       Here is an image explaining my current understanding of the relationships between a number of important elements in the Aristotelian-thomistic understanding of the sciences and how human beings come to knowledge of different beings.

        Both types of abstraction (of the whole and of the part) are happening in the first act of the intellect (and both seem to be related to the first degree of Abstraction, but, the first is only in relation to the philosophy of nature: cf. Jacques Maritain's "Philosophy of Nature"; and the second is only in relation to the natural sciences). The second type of Abstraction is going on in all 3 degrees of Abstraction: from individual sensible matter, from common sensible matter and from intelligible matter. So, in the 3-fold division of the sciences, technically, only the second type of abstraction is happening (except in the case of the philosophy of nature which seems to be primarily the first type of Abstraction).

       There is no abstraction in either judgment or reasoning. Therefore both types of abstraction are happening in the act of simple apprehension. The type of abstraction that goes on in simple apprehension will depend on the degree of abstraction that is being considered in the domain of science that is in question (in other words, on being-as-X).

       George Van Riet also discusses (in his article "La théorie thomiste de l'abstraction," in Revue Philosophique de Louvaine, 3ieme série, tome 50, no. 27 (1952), 353-393.) what he calls the abstraction of Being, which would be, supposedly, a third type of abstraction. I'm still working on figuring out what he means by that, and what to do with this idea.

Monday, October 13, 2014

LES PRÉSUPPOSITIONS ET PRÉALABLES QUI SONT NÉCESSAIRES POUR LA POSSIBILITÉ DE LA THÉOLOGIE CHRÉTIENNE - partie 2

(Suivre le lien pour retrouver le premier partie ici.)

L’affirmation que c’est possible de raisonné à partir de la création (et, d’ailleurs, de pouvoir étudier et comprendre des Écritures saintes) pour obtenir une certaine connaissance au sujet de la cause de la création (Dieu),[1] dépends sur des réponses à un certain nombre de questions importantes: (1) peut-on obtenir de la connaissance sensible de ce qui est? (2) Est-ce que nos sens nous donnent une connaissance qui est fondamentalement vraie? (3) Est-ce que nous sommes capables de raisonner comme il faut concernant les vérités que nos sens nous donnent? Ces questions présupposent des réponses à des questions qui sont encore plus profondes (des questions qu’on rencontre en étudiant le débat Nominalisme & Réalisme), qui nous dirigent, finalement, à la question la plus profonde de tous: Qu’est-ce qui est?

Notre réponse à la question « Qu’est-ce qui est? » va nous fournir avec ce que les philosophes appellent une théorie ontologique (Métaphysique). Il y eut, à travers l’histoire de la philosophie et théologie, plusieurs réponses différentes données à cette question. Si on répond à cette question en disant, « Je suis, et il y a d’autres choses (c.-à-d. - mon écran d’ordinateur, mon bureau, ma maison, ma femme et mes enfants, etc.) qui se présentent comme étant. », alors il faudrait demander si chacune des choses qui se présentent à nous est quelque chose (c’est-à-dire, est-ce qu’il a une nature ou essence, ou non).[2] Suite à notre réponse à ces questions, nous allons être justifiés de poser les autres questions, dans l’ordre mentionné ci-haut. Les questions 1-3 vont nous fournir avec ce que les philosophes appellent une théorie épistémologique (divisé en rapport avec la connaissance, la vérité et le raisonnement – ou la logique).

Chaque philosophe ou théologien doit, pour qu’il puisse être en mesure de faire la philosophie ou la théologie, soit présupposer une théorie ontologique et épistémologique déjà existante, soit répondre à ces questions toutes seules. L’histoire de la pensée nous démontre que même ceux qui ont tenté la deuxième option ont fini par adhérer à une théorie qui était déjà en existence – même s’ils ne le savaient pas eux-mêmes.

À l’intérieur des murs de la Christianisme historique, il y eut des multitudes de théories (à la fois ontologique et épistémologique) qui étaient utilisées pour soutenir les systèmes théologiques des plus grands penseurs chrétiens. Les théories les plus communs peuvent être classifié (parfois avec modification) sous les bannières de soit la philosophie aristotéliciens, sois la Platonisme, qui sont, tous les deux, des formes de Réalisme. C’est intéressant à noter que la plupart des pères de l’Église, y compris Augustine et Anselme, étaient Néo-Platoniste (ce qui est un mélange de la philosophie d’Aristote et la philosophie de Platon), d’autres, comme Thomas D’Aquin, étaient aristotéliciennes (quoiqu’ils faisaient, souvent appelle à des vérités découvertes par Platon). D’autres théologiens chrétiens, plus modernes, qui ont tenu, ou qui tiens, une forme de réalisme inclus : Jean Calvin, Francis Turretin, Herman Bavinck, C. S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, B. B. Warfield, R. C. Sproul, J. P. Moreland, etc.

D’autres théories philosophiques qui, quoi que moins populaire, ont servis comme fondement pour des systèmes de théologie chrétiens sont des formes d’ontologie nominaliste (accepté, par exemple, par Martin Luther et, plus récemment, par William Lane Craig), l’humanisme stoïque (accepté, par exemple, par les grands réformateurs calvinistes comme Jean Calvin, Théodore Beza, et Pierre Viret),  l’existentialisme (tenu, dans une forme ou dans un autre, par Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, et Karl Rahner), l’Idéalisme platonique ou hégélien (tenu, par exemple, par Jonathan Edwards,[3] et, il semblerait, par Augustus H. Strong et Charles Hodge). Parfois nous voyons des mélanges de systèmes philosophiques, comme dans le cas de Cornelius Van Til, et l’école Présuppositionaliste, qui se base sur un mélange de la critique de raison de Kant, l’herméneutique d’être de Heidegger, et le système hégélienne ; ou dans le cas de l’école des reformeurs de Hollande, comme Herman Dooyeweerd, Abraham Kuyper, D. H. T. Vollenhoven, etc., qui était influencé par un mélange de l’existentialisme d’Heidegger, la phénoménologie d’Husserl, et la critique de raison de Kant.[4]

Ce qui est embêtant est qu’une seul de ces théories onto-épistémé-logique peut être vrai. Si le système « philosophique » sur lequel une théologie systématique se base n’est pas vrai, alors cette erreur va y avoir un impact important sur le système théologique en question. Comme Thomas d’Aquin dit, dans la première phrase de son De Ente et Essentia, « Selon Aristote une légère erreur dans les principes engendre une conclusion gravement erronée. »[5] Certains théologiens, pensant éviter cette difficulté, ont essayé de dire qu’ils avaient basé leur système théologique entièrement sur la Bible, sans aucune influence philosophique. Malheureusement, comme nous avons déjà vu, quoique bien intentionnés, une telle proposition n’est pas possible.[6] Un théologien qui essaie de bâtir une théologie chrétienne sans aucune référence à la « philosophie » va soit (a) tomber, sans le savoir, dans les mêmes erreurs des philosophes – qu’il aurait pu éviter en prenant le temps d’étudier les philosophes, ce qui lui aurait épargné des erreurs graves, soit (b) tomber, sans le savoir, sur les mêmes vérités que des philosophes avant lui aurait découverts - qu’il aurait pu apprendre en prenant le temps d’étudier les philosophes, ce qui lui aurait sauvé du temps. La réalité est que c’est impossible pour un théologien, qu’il aurait étudié la philosophie ou non, de faire la théologie sans aucune influence philosophique ; et ceci parce qu’il était éduqué (pour apprendre un, ou plusieurs, langage (s), le grammaire, comme lire un livre, la syntaxe, le mathématique de base, la géographie de base, les notions philosophiques de base – telle ce que c'est un être humain, ce que c’est une nature ou essence, etc., l’histoire, etc.) par des professeurs (et livres) qui étaient éduqués par d’autres professeurs (et livres) qui étaient éduqués par d’autres professeurs. Tous ces professeurs étaient influencés, qu’il le sache ou non, par la philosophie et théologie de ceux qui les ont enseignés (soit comme professeur, soit à travers les livres qu’ils lisaient), et ils passent cette philosophie et théologie à ceux qu’ils enseignent (soit comme professeur, soit par des livres). Pour que le théologien n’ait aucune influence « philosophique » dans sa théologie il faudrait qu’il grandisse sans aucun contact avec d’autres êtres humains, il faudrait qu’il ne pense pas du tout jusqu’au temps qu’il vient en contact avec la Bible. Le problème qui arriverait dans une telle circonstance est qu’il ne serait pas capable de comprendre la Bible (comment comprendre un langage qu’on n’aurait pas appris ?).

Comme nous avons déjà mentionné, pour pouvoir comprendre la Bible on doit, entre autres : (1) être capable de lire la Bible, ce qui présuppose, entre autres, une connaissance de base (a) d’au moins un langage dans lequel la Bible aurait était traduit (b) de la grammaire du langage en question (c) de la syntaxe du langage en question (d) des formes linguistique (comme l’analogie, la métaphore, etc.) (e) une connaissance des principes d’interprétation ;  (2) avoir une expérience de vie qui lui permettre à comprendre les mots qui sont utilisé, ce qui implique, entre autres une connaissance de base de (a) la géographie (est-ce que l’Israël est loin d’ici ? Qu’est-ce qu’un désert ?), (b) la zoologie (qu’est-ce que la différence entre un âne, un cheval, un lion, et un agneau ?), (c) les cultures (d) la nourriture (pourquoi est-ce qu’on ne mettre pas du nouveau vin dans un vieux sac de vin ?), (e) la nature (pourquoi est-ce qu’on compare la vie d’un homme à l’herbe ? est-ce que l’herbe vit longtemps, ou pour un peu de temps ?), (f) l’histoire mondiale (est-ce que Jésus vient tout juste de mourir ou est-ce que ça fait longtemps ? C’est qui les Romains, Grecs, Égyptiens, Babyloniens ?) ; (3) avoir une certaine connaissance des sujets théoriques qui nous permet de comprendre des notions théoriques qui sont utilisées par la Bible, comme, (a) une nature (qu’est-ce que la Bible veut dire lorsqu’elle parle de la nature du péché, la nature de l’homme, ou la nature divine ?), (b) un esprit (qu’est-ce que la Bible veut dire lorsqu’elle parle de l’Esprit-Saint, l’esprit de l’homme, ou quand elle dit que Dieu est esprit ? (c) le temps (comment comprendre les questions reliées à l’éternité si on ne comprend pas ce qu’est le temps ?), (d) les politiques (qu’est-ce qu’un roi ? Est-ce que l’église devrait avoir une forme de gouvernance ? Si oui, lequel ? Sinon, de quoi est-ce que ça aurait l’aire un groupe de personnes sans aucune dirigeante ? L’anarchie ?), (e) la moralité.

On pourrait en rajouter d’autres prérequis qui sont nécessaires pour lire la Bible, mais le point devrait être assez clair. Les questions que nous avons insérées en parenthèse ont comme but de nous faire réaliser à quel point on prend beaucoup d’information comme acquis lorsqu’on lit la Bible. Dès notre conception dans le ventre de notre mère, nous commençons à apprendre. À travers notre jeunesse on apprend, si on est à l’école, les notions requises pour l’interprétation de la Bible, mais, on apprend, aussi, la « philosophie » (la manière dont le monde est compris, concernant qu’est-ce qui est, qu’est-ce qu’un être humain, qu’est-ce qu’on peut connaître – et comment, qu’est-ce qui est bien ou mal, etc.) de nos professeurs ou enseignants, de nos parents, de nos amis, etc. On lit, ensuite, la Bible à travers la philosophie qu’on aurait apprise d’eux. De là les différences si énormes entre les théologiens, même à l’intérieur d’une même école de théologie (comme le thomisme, calvinisme ou arminianisme). Ce n’est pas, donc, possible de baser un système théologique entièrement sur la Bible, sans aucune influence philosophique. Celui qui pense que sa théologie n’est aucunement influencée par la philosophie n’est qu’ignorant de la position philosophique qui soutient sa théologie.[7]




[1]Proposition qui, nous avons vu ci-haut, était toujours affirmer comme vrai, et défendue comme biblique, par l’église dès le début jusqu’à aujourd’hui (à l’exception de quelques théologiens chrétiens tels que Karl Barth).

[2]C’est important à noter que le sens de « suis », dans la phrase « Je suis » (ou de « est » dans la phrase « cette chose est »), et de « est » dans la phrase « ce que chaque chose est » ont des sens totalement différents. Dans les deux premières phrases on demande si un être (connu minimalement, au moins) a une existence extramentale (c'est-à-dire, est-ce que cette chose n’est que dans mon intellect, ou est-ce que cette chose est, elle-même, un être dont son existence ne dépend pas du fait que je le connais ? Dans la dernière phrase, on demande au sujet de la nature ou essence d’un être. Nous ne sommes pas, nécessairement, obligés de suivre un ordre dans la manière dont on répond à ces deux questions. Par exemple, nous pourrions, premièrement, arriver à savoir qu’une chose est sans qu’on sache ce que c’est si on arrive à connaître son existence à travers un effet. Dans cet évènement on le connait comme la cause d’un effet qui se présente à nous, mais on ne sait pas ce que c’est. Donc, on connaît, dans un sens, qu’il existe avant de connaître sa nature. Comme nous allons voir, ce type de raisonnement s’appelle Démonstratio quia.  On pourrait, par la suite, demander ce que c’est. Nous pourrions, deuxièmement, savoir ce que c’est, mais ne pas savoir s’il a une existence qui n’est pas dépendante sur le fait qu’on le connaît. Dans ce cas nous aurions une description de sa nature ou essence, et on cherche à savoir (a) si une chose qui correspond à cette nature existe (b) ce qu’une chose qui correspond à cette nature fait, produit, ainsi que sa raison d’être, etc. Ce type de raisonnement s’appelle, comme nous allons voir, demonstratio propter quid. La manière qu’on apprend, en générale, est par la demonstratio quia. On commence, comme enfant (et à travers toutes nos vies), à voir des choses qui se produit, et, on demande ce qui les a produit. Comme Aristote le mentionne, l’émerveillement est le lieu de départ pour la science théorique. Nous voyons des effets partout autour de nous et on cherche à savoir ce qui les aurait causés.

[3]Cf. Étienne Gilson, Thomas Langan, Armand A. Maurer, Recent Philosophy: Hegel to Present (1966; repr., Eugene, OR : Wipf & Stock, 2005), 2:559-564.

[4]Cf. Albert M. Wolters, « The Intellectual Milieu of Herman Dooyeweerd », in The Legacy of Herman Dooyeweerd, ed. C. T. McIntired (Toronto: UPA, 1987).

[5]Thomas d’Aquin, L’Être et l’Essence, 3ieme ed., trad. Catherine Capelle (Paris : VRIN, 1965), 14.

[6]On est en train de faire la philosophie aussitôt qu’on commence à répondre à des questions comme : est-ce que Dieu existe ? Est-ce qu’on peut savoir que Dieu existe ? Comment est-ce qu’on arrive à une connaissance de Dieu ? En fait, comme Aristote le démontre, selon les fragments qui parlent de son œuvre qu’on appelle le Protrepticus, ce n’est pas possible de dire qu’on ne devrait pas faire (ou qu’on ne devrait pas l’utiliser dans la théologie, etc.) la philosophie sans faire la philosophie. « If someone were to say that one should not philosophize, then, since to philosophize is both to inquire into the very question whether one should philosophize or not, as he [sc. Aristotle] himself said in the Protrepticus, and also to pursue philosophical contemplation, by showing that each of them is proper for a man we shall wholly refute the view stated. (Aristotle, “F 51 R3 (Alexander, Commentarius in Topica 149.11-15)” in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes (1984; repr., Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 2:2405.) » Le but de cette argumentation est de démontrer que c’est impossible de nier qu’on devrait, ou de nier qu’on est capable de (ou qu’on devrait l’utilisé la philosophie dans la théologie), philosophé, sans philosophé. Autrement dit, pour pouvoir nié qu’on devrait, ou qu’on est capable de (ou qu’on devrait l’utilisé la philosophie dans la théologie), philosophé, il faut philosopher. Donc, forcément, ce n’est pas possible de faire la théologie sans faire la philosophie (dans le sens propre du mot philosophie).

[7]Ce qui est important, pour le théologien, est qu’il connaît la philosophie assez qu’il soit en mesure de savoir par qui il est influencé, et, s’il faut, de changer certaines positions parce qu’ils introduisent des erreurs dans la théologie (qui rends la théologie incohérente, ou en contradiction flagrante avec la Bible – comme l’affirmation présuppositionaliste qu’il n’y a aucun lieu commun sur lequel un chrétien et un non-croyant pourraient se basé pour dialoguer.).

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Concluding Remarks on Werner Jaeger and Aristotle's Metaphysics

(This is the fourth and final post in a series of studies on Werner Jaeger's work on Aristotle's philosophical development. Post 1Post 2. Post 3. It would be best to read parts 1, 2 and 3 prior to reading this post.)

            Werner Jaeger finishes his work by summarizing Aristotle’s philosophical anthropology, ethics, and his understanding of philosophy. Jaeger’s work has been revolutionary in the world of Aristotelian studies. As Jonathan Barnes notes, “The pioneer of ‘developmental studies’ was the German scholar Werner Jaeger. His book Aristotle—Fundamentals of his Development, which was first published in German in 1923, determined the course of Aristotelian scholarship for half a century.”[1] In this article Barnes draws out the very same observations as I have noted above, both concerning the basic principles from which Jaeger starts, as well as the major difficulties with Jaeger’s extreme theory.[2] Though one should not attempt to say anything on Aristotle without interacting with Jaeger, it is the opinion of this thinker that Jaeger’s work is far too extreme to be of much use in the development of Aristotle’s theory. His unsupported presuppositions push Jaeger into a circular argument which eats away at the trustworthiness of his theory. Probably the most important lessons that we can learn from Jaeger are: (1) that it is very difficult to present any dogmatic theory of the development of Aristotle. There are far too many suppositions that must be held and too many questionable deductions that must be drawn in order to arrive at any likely theory.

(2) Aristotle’s philosophy most likely developed over time, however it is impossible to prove, with any degree of likely hood, whether Aristotle moved away from Platonism or remained within Platonism. It is obvious that Aristotle disagreed with a number of Platonic claims, however, it is also obvious that he did not reject, in its entirety, Platonic philosophy. Rather, it seems that his is somewhat of a modified Platonism.

(3) We must be careful, when attempting to construct, from the Metaphysics, a general overview of Aristotle’s metaphysical thoughts, not to read the thoughts of later philosophers into Aristotle; and, it is possible to construct a general idea of Aristotle’s views concerning being, and this in spite of the fact that it is difficult to know when Aristotle wrote the Metaphysics. On this a comment of Jonathan Barnes is most helpful, “But there is a false antithesis in the air; for it is evident that development and system-building cannot be antithetical attributes, inasmuch as even the most rigid of systematic philosophers will have developed – he will not have been born with a silver system in his mouth. Thus the dynamic Aristotle and the systematic Aristotle should not be thought of as irreconcilable enemies.”[3] It seems, therefore, that we are more than warranted to attempt to understand Aristotle’s metaphysical thought, and to attempt to discover its general order – in other words, to attempt to give an outline of Aristotle’s systematic metaphysics.




[1]Jonathan Barnes, “Life and Work,” in The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes (1995; repr., New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 16.

[2]Cf. Ibid., 16-18.

[3]Barnes, LW, 22.

Werner Jaeger on Aristotle’s Metaphysical Thought

(This is the third post in a series of studies on Werner Jaeger's work on Aristotle's philosophical development. Follow these links to find the other parts: Post 1Post 2and Post 4 It would be best to read parts 1 and 2 prior to reading this post.)

            Werner Jaeger does not begin attempting to explain what he sees as Aristotle’s metaphysical thought until the last chapter of this important book. For Jaeger, “The Metaphysics is his [Aristotle’s] grand attempt to make this Something that transcends the limits of human experience accessible to the critical understanding.”[1] A couple of remarks concerning Jaeger’s portrayal of Aristotle’s metaphysical thought are in order.

First of all, for Jaeger, the legend by which the Metaphysics got its name due to it coming after the Physics in Andronicus’s library is almost certainly false. Rather, the Metaphysics got its name, for Jaeger, due to the very fact that the philosophical considerations found in the treatises that make up the Metaphysics are based upon the prior considerations of the Physics, but go beyond them.[2] Indeed, “Metaphysics is based on physics according to Aristotle in the first place because it is nothing but the conceptually necessary completion of the experimentally revealed system of moving nature.”[3]

Secondly, for Jaeger, the primary concern of the Metaphysics is to discover whether or not a supra-physical science is possible, “We usually overlook the fact that his commonest description of the new discipline is ‘the science that we are seeking’. In contrast to all other sciences it starts not from a given subject-matter but from the question whether its subject matter exists. Thus it has to begin by demonstrating its own possibility as a science, and this ‘introductory’ question really exhausts its whole nature.”[4]

Thirdly, for Jaeger, Aristotle’s philosophy is thoroughly Realistic. “In spite of his critical attitude, therefore, he escapes no more than Plato did from the notion that all real knowing presupposes an object lying outside consciousness…which it somehow touches, represents, or mirrors.”[5] For Jaeger, however, Aristotle is a “critical” realist, whose primary purpose is to discover whether or not the science of being is possible – “is such knowledge possible?”[6] As such, Jaeger sees Aristotle as the precursor of Immanuel Kant, if not in Kant’s Idealism, at least in his critical approach to philosophical knowledge of being.[7]

Fourth, Aristotle’s theory of being begins with the sensible world. Jaeger puts it in the following, somewhat nebulous manner, “The starting-point of his theory of being is the world of perceptible appearances, the individual thing of the naively realistic consciousness.”[8] This is a nebulous description because of the term used by Jaeger, ‘perceptible appearances’, which, for post-Kantian philosophers, is anything but a philosophically neutral term describing what Aristotle meant by sensible being. Indeed, Jaeger’s entire analysis of Aristotle seems to be inspired by, at the very least, Kantian terminology, if not by the philosophy which undergirds these terms. Jaeger goes on to explain that for Aristotle, “the complete determination of reality by the forms of the understanding and by the categorial multiplicity of their conceptual stratification is rooted not in transcendental laws of the knowing consciousness but in the structure of reality itself.”[9] In spite of the Kantian terminology, Jaeger seems to be properly explaining Aristotle’s understanding of the way things are. That is, Jaeger is saying that the forms and categories by which we understand reality, being as it presents itself to us, do not find their source and foundation in the human intellect, but in the very ‘structure of reality itself’. Reality, being, just is such that we glean these forms and categories from it.

Fifth, for Jaeger, Aristotle’s understanding of Being “drives us on towards an ultimate Form [this word is one of the typical English translations of the greek τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι.] that determines everything else and is not itself determined by anything.”[10] In other words, in light of the fact that “in every kind of motion Aristotle’s gaze is fastened on the end”,[11] Aristotle follows the existence of form in matter to a “form” that is not composed with matter, and which is that towards which all reality tends. “In Aristotle’s teleology substance and end are one, and the highest end is the most determinate reality there is. This substantial thought possesses at one and the same time the highest ideality as conceived by Plato and the rich determinateness of the individual, and hence life and everlasting blessedness. God is one with the world not by penetrating it, nor by maintaining the totality of its forms as an intelligible world within himself, but because the world ‘hangs’ (ἤρτηται) on him; he is its unity, although not in it.”[12] For Aristotle, then, the question of Being must necessarily drive the philosopher to God.




[1]Werner Jaeger, Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development, 2nd ed., trans. Richard Robinson (1948; repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962), 378.

[2]Ibid., 378-379.

[3]Ibid., 380. Cf. Ibid., 381.

[4]Ibid., 379.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Ibid., 379-380.

[7]Ibid.

[8]Ibid., 381.

[9]Ibid., 382.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Ibid., 384.

[12]Ibid., 385.

Werner Jaeger’s Explanation of Aristotle’s Philosophical Development



(This is the second post in a series of studies on Werner Jaeger's work on Aristotle's philosophical development. Follow these links to find the other parts: Post 1Post 3, and Post 4 It would be best to read part 1 prior to reading this post.)

            Having considered Jaeger’s method, noted some concerns with it, and having proposed our own method for determining the chronological order of the redaction of Aristotle’s works, let us turn, now, to how Jaeger develops his understanding of the development of Aristotle’s philosophical development.

In the first main section of Jaeger’s work he deals with Aristotle’s early years at the Academy, under Plato. Jaeger begins by claiming that Aristotle was, in his early years, mesmerised by Plato’s views,[1] and personality.[2] Indeed states Jaeger, and this appears to be, for Jaeger, the key to Aristotle’s philosophical development, “He [Aristotle] had accepted Plato’s doctrines with his whole soul, and the effort to discover his own relation to them occupied all his life, and is the clue to his development.”[3] Jaeger proposes that by the time Aristotle joined the academy it was in its “abstract and methodological period”,[4] which “gave Aristotle a definite direction, and opened up a field of work suitable to his particular disposition.”[5] In order to illumine the backdrop against which Aristotle’s time at the Academy played out Jaeger notes 4 primary elements in Plato’s thought that would have been influential on Aristotle: (1) “The phronesis or wisdom of Socrates”,[6] (2) Plato’s theory of Ideas, (3) the question of ousia, “to which Plato gave new material by the problem of the one and the many”,[7] and (4) Orphic dualism. Jaeger states that “it was precisely the non-scientific elements in Plato’s philosophy, that is, the metaphysical and religious parts of it, that left the most lasting imprint on his [Aristotle’s] mind.”[8] Most of Jaeger’s observations are gleaned from his interpretation of the fragments.[9]

Having given a general overview of Aristotle’s early years in the Academy, mesmerized by Plato, Jaeger gives a survey of some of Aristotle’s early, non-extant, works. Jaeger begins by claiming that in order to truly understand the Aristotle that is found in his major works, one must begin by studying the fragments, which refers to many of the lost works.[10] This is where we see the circularity of Jaeger’s theory. He uses the early works to show that the young Aristotle was favorable towards Platonism, but uses the supposed fact that the early works are favorable towards Platonism as proof that they are early. In the section on the early works Jaeger goes to great lengths to show that Aristotle was, and for a lengthy period of time, thoroughly Platonist. He then provides the reader with an indepth history and analysis of the Eudemus, one of Aristotle’s dialogues that is no longer extant, though parts of it can be gleaned from the fragments. He postulates that the Eudemus was complimentary to Plato’s Phaedo. In his analysis of the Eudemus Jaeger seeks to show that Aristotle adhered to a Platonic ontology, though he already possessed a rudimentary understanding of what would later become his logical and categorical developments. Turning to the Protrepticus, which Jaeger claims is “for us the most important work of all those written before Plato’s death”,[11] he once again seeks to show that Aristotle was a thorough-bred Platonist.

In the second main section of this work, Jaeger develops an intricate and detailed explanation of Aristotle’s philosophical endeavours from the death of Plato up to his return to Athens and the founding of his school in the Lyceum. He begins by tracing Aristotle’s travels from the time he left Plato’s Academy up to his tutorship of Alexander the Great and the death of Philip of Macedon. Having given somewhat of a historical overview of Aristotle’s travels, Jaeger turns to the work called On Philosophy. He seeks to show how Aristotle continued to develop, ever remaining faithful to his Platonic foundation. Jaeger examines, through an in-depth study of the fragments which seem to come from the work On Philosophy, how Aristotle develops his thoughts on cosmology, philosophy of religion, theology and the history of philosophy. Jaeger postulates that this treatise was written after the Physics, and notes that Aristotle clearly begins turning away from Platonic metaphysics. This look at the development of Aristotle’s metaphysics leads Jaeger into an examination of what he calls the original Metaphysics. Here he outlines his theory concerning the composition and date of redaction of the various parts of the Metaphysics. His primary claim is that the Metaphysics was not compiled and written, in the order that we have received it, by Aristotle himself. Rather, his disciples later collected a number of his writings on the same (or similar) subjects, and did their best to arrange them as coherently as possible. He states that, “internal analysis leads to the view that various periods are represented; and this is confirmed by the tradition that the collection known as the Metaphysics was not put together until after its author’s death.”[12] As such, Jaeger postulates, there is no intentional unity in the Metaphysics. Indeed, states Jaeger, “We must reject all attempts to make a literary whole out of the remaining materials by rearranging or removing some of the books, and we must condemn the assumption which overhastily postulates their philosophical unity at the expense of their individual peculiarities.”[13] Jaeger goes on to dissect our present version of the Metaphysics into different sections (the book is already divided up into books, but Jaeger even goes into the books themselves and divides them up), dating the different sections based upon their attitude towards Platonism. Jaeger’s theory, which is followed closely by W. D. Ross,[14] is, with a number of important nuances,[15] as follows:[16]

Books ΑΒΓ form a complete group (first group). Book A was apparently written quite early, while Aristotle was still a Platonist.[17] Book B was also, in its entirety, a part of the earlier version of the Metaphysics.[18]

Book Δ was an independent lexical work that was used in a number of Aristotle’s works.

Book E serves to transition from the first group to the second group.

Books ΖΗΘ form a complete group (second group) written at a latter period of Aristotle’s life than A and B, and are not part of the original plan of the Metaphysics (laid out in B).[19] Z is probably an independently written work on substance.[20] The final chapter of Θ is a late addition to Θ.[21]

Book Ι is a separate unity.

The purified early version of the Metaphysics included ΑΒΓEΖΗΘΙ and probably N.[22]

Book Κ is most likely a prior treatment of the same issues as are found in ΒΓΕ, and may be the lecture notes written down by a student in a lecture.[23] K is also prior to ZHΘ,[24] but was not included in the original Metaphysics.[25]

Book Λ is most certainly a separate treatises, written as the outline for a lecture,[26] standing in no relation to the others,[27] which was composed after N and influenced by N.[28] However, it is also evident, from the manner in which Aristotle seeks to show the existence of a God, that Λ is an early work, from Aristotle’s Platonic days, predating the anti-platonic section,[29] with the exception of chapter 8 which was most certainly, according to Jaeger, a later addition.[30] Indeed, says Jaeger, Aristotle’s “original metaphysics was theology, the doctrine of the most perfect being.”[31]

Books ΜΝ form a complete group, and “have no relation to the preceding”.[32] Furthermore, M was most certainly written at a later period, when Aristotle no longer considered himself to be a Platonist.[33] However, the preface of M 9-10 “is a part of the original Metaphysics (along with A and B).[34] Furthermore, book N is also from the original earlier Metaphysics, dating from a time when Aristotle still saw himself as a Platonist.[35] Book M was, in Aristotle’s mind, to replace N.[36]

Books αΚΛ and Δ are all intrusions in the Metaphysics.

So, in conclusion, ΑΒΓEΖΗΘΙ and probably N (though not necessarily in their entirety) formed the core of the original Metaphysics. M was a later addition, with the purpose of completing N. Books αΚΛ and Δ are all later intrusions.

Jaeger develops many of these observations in his chapter on the growth of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Though his arguments gain support from a superficial (or shall we say, in-depth but biased) reading of the Metaphysics, in the end his theory is based upon circular reasoning: We know that Aristotle began as a Platonist and developed away from Platonism because we see this movement in his written works, and we use the knowledge that Aristotle began as an ardent Platonist and developed away from Platonism as the key for the chronological organisation of his written works, and even as the key that helps us to discover which parts of his written works are early and which later. The circularity of Jaeger’s reasoning demonstrates the difficulties that any scholar will experience as they attempt to chronologically order Aristotle’s works, or trace Aristotle’s development.

In the remainder of the section concerning Aristotle’s travels Jaeger uses the same methods that we saw used on the Metaphysics in order to find the original Ethics, the original Politics, and to propose a theory concerning Aristotle’s physical and cosmological research. In the final part of Jaeger’s book we are introduced to the final period of Aristotle’s philosophical research, the mature period. We are told that circa 335-4 Aristotle returned to Athens to found his school of philosophy at the Lyceum. “About this time [334-5 BC] Aristotle came to Athens as the flower of Greek intellect, the outstanding philosopher, writer, and teacher, the friend of the most powerful ruler of the time, whose rapidly rising fame raised him with it even in the eyes of persons who stood too far from him to understand his own importance.”[37] Jaeger proposes that when, in 323, Alexander died Aristotle was forced to once again leave Athens, this time due to the anti-Macedonian sentiments that where predominant in the city.[38] This section concerning Aristotle’s later years concludes with the recitation of Aristotle’s will.[39] Jaeger proposes that Aristotle’s final years where occupied primarily with the study of nature, and the development of his numerous treatises on animals.[40] Indeed, states Jaeger, Aristotle’s works on Animals, “were written at a time when the metaphysical and conceptual attitude of his early decades, though still forming the constructive framework of his general view, no longer held any place in his creative activity.”[41] This does not mean, however, that Aristotle never returned to his work in the Metaphysics. On the contrary Jaeger goes on to propose that Aristotle did return to the Metaphysics, if only to revise and update his understanding of theology.[42] Though Aristotle did not, according to Jaeger, insert this revision into the Metaphysics himself, there is a major section of book Λ that was later inserted by the editors of Aristotle’s works, and was probably written, according to Jaeger, late in Aristotle’s life.[43]

Jaeger’s work finishes with a chapter concerning Aristotle’s place in history, that is, Aristotle’s impact on later thinkers. The purpose of this chapter is as follows: “What follows attempts to understand the organic significance of Aristotle’s philosophy within Greek culture purely through itself and its historical circumstances, abstracting from the material content of the particular disciplines and concentrating attention solely on the historical nature of his problem and its intellectual forms.”[44] In other words, in this section Jaeger will give an overview of Aristotle’s philosophy as it has had a lasting impact on the history of thought. One of his most important observations in this section is that Aristotle was not a system builder (as far as we know), but that he was a systematic thinker.[45]

            Concerning the importance of Aristotle’s metaphysical works, Jaeger notes, “All the lines of Aristotle’s philosophy run together in his metaphysics, while it on the other hand stretches out into all other disciplines. It expresses his ultimate philosophical purposes, and every study of the details of his doctrine that does not start from this central organ must miss the main point.”[46] Jaeger is certainly right on this point. It is, indeed, of the utmost important to understand Aristotle’s metaphysical thoughts in order to understand the place and role of every other domain of research in his thought. What, then, does Jaeger make of Aristotle’s metaphysical thought?



[1]Werner Jaeger, Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development, 2nd ed., trans. Richard Robinson (1948; repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962), 12.

[2]Ibid., 21.

[3]Ibid., 13.

[4]Ibid., 15.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Ibid., 21.

[7]Ibid., 22.

[8]Ibid., 22-23.

[9]Ibid., 22.

[10]Ibid., 24.

[11]Ibid., 54.

[12]Ibid., 168.

[13]Ibid., 170.

[14]Aristotle, Metaphysics, Introduction and commentary by W. D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924), 1: xiii-xxxiii. Cf. David Ross, Aristotle, 6th ed. (1995; repr., New York: Routledge, 2006), 11-12. Ross’s theory is as follows: Books ΑΒΓΕ form a complete group. Books ΖΗΘ form a complete group. Books ΜΝ form a complete group. Book Ι is a unity. Books ΑΒΓΕΖΗΘΜΝΙ form one continuous work (p. xx, xxiii). Books αΚΛ and Δ are all intrusions in the Metaphysics (p. xxix-xxvii, xxviii-xxix). Book Λ is most certainly a separate treatise (p. xxviii-xxix). Book Δ was a separate lexical work that was used in a number of Aristotle’s works. Ross follows Jaeger in arguing that Κ is most likely a prior treatment of the same issues as are found in ΒΓΕ (p. xviiifn5).

[15]The nuances are in relation to sections of the different books which are said to be earlier drafts or later interpolations.

[16]Cf. Jaeger, AFHD, 169-170.

[17]Ibid., 171.

[18]Ibid., 175-176.

[19]Ibid., 196-197, 198, 202.

[20]Ibid., 200-201.

[21]Ibid., 204-205.

[22]Ibid., 194.

[23]Ibid., 208.

[24]Ibid., 209.

[25]Ibid., 214.

[26]Ibid., 344.

[27]Ibid., 219.

[28]Ibid., 224-225.

[29]Ibid., 221-222.

[30]Ibid., 343-355.

[31]Ibid., 216. Cf. Ibid., 219.

[32]Ibid., 170.

[33]Ibid., 171, 177-178.

[34]Ibid., 188-189.

[35]Ibid., 189-191.

[36]Ibid., 194.

[37]Ibid., 312.

[38]Ibid., 319.

[39]Ibid., 322-323.

[40]Ibid., 329.

[41]Ibid., 338. Cf. Ibid., 339.

[42]Ibid., 342.

[43]Ibid., 342-343. Cf. Ibid., 348.

[44]Ibid., 369.

[45]Ibid., 374.

[46]Ibid., 376.