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METAPHYSICS BOOK Z, CH. 1 (1028a17-20, 1028a23-25, 1028a26-31) - Comparing Translations - Part 4

           In part 4 we continue our translation of Metaphysics Z, chapter 1. This post includes three sections. I skip the sections where he give examples of the doctrines that he is discussing. Check out the footnotes as I discuss questions related to the translation of key terms such as Be-ing, To be, and the copula, as well as what Aristotle sees to be saying in these sections. For the previous parts of this series see Part 1, Part 2 - on the greek word ousias, Part 3.


(1028a17-20) τὰ δ᾽ ἄλλα λέγεται ὄντα τῷ τοῦ οὕτως ὄντος τὰ μὲν ποσότητες εἶναι, τὰ δὲ ποιότητες, τὰ δὲ πάθη, τὰ δὲ ἄλλο τι τοιοῦτον.[1]

My Translation – On the other hand, Be-ing is said of the others, in this way, of being either to be how much, or the quality, or the passions, or the others other manners of the what.

Ross – “And all other things are said to be because they are, some of them, quantities of that which is in this primary sense, others qualities of it, others affections of it, and others some other determination of it.”

Tredennick – “And all other things are said to ‘be’ because they are either quantities or qualities or affections or some other such thing.”

Apostle – “The others are called ‘beings’ in view of the fact that they are quantities of being which is spoken of in this primary sense, qualities of it, or affections of it, or something else of this kind.”

Tricot – “Les autres choses ne sont appelées des êtres, que parce qu’elles sont ou des quantités de l’Être proprement dit, ou des qualités, ou des affections de cet être, ou quelque autre détermination de ce genre.



(1028a23-25) οὐδὲν γὰρ αὐτῶν ἐστὶν οὔτε καθ᾽ αὑτὸ πεφυκὸς οὔτε χωρίζεσθαι δυνατὸν τῆς οὐσίας, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον, εἴπερ, τὸ βαδίζον τῶν ὄντων τι καὶ τὸ καθήμενον καὶ τὸ ὑγιαῖνον.

My Translation – For, nothing of themselves is either, self-producing, nor able to be severed from οὐσίας, but, rather, the walking, and the dwelling and the healthy, of the Be-ings.[2]

Ross – “For none of them is either self-subsistent or capable of being separated from substance, but rather, if anything it is that which walks or sits or is healthy that is an existant thing.”

Tredennick – “For not one of them by nature has an independent existence or can be separated from its substance. Rather, if anything it is the thing which walks or sits or is well that is existent.”

Apostle – “for by nature each of these does not exist by itself and cannot be separated from a substance, but rather, if anything, it is that which walks or that which sits or that which is healthy that is a being.”

Tricot – « car aucun de ces états n’a par lui-même naturellement une existence propre, ni ne peut être séparé de la Substance, mais, s’il y a là quelque être, c’est bien plutôt ce qui se promène qui est un être, ce qui est assis, ce qui se porte bien. »



(1028a26-31) ταῦτα δὲ μᾶλλον φαίνεται ὄντα, διότι ἔστι τι τὸ ὑποκείμενον αὐτοῖς ὡρισμένον. τοῦτο δ᾽ ἐστὶν οὐσία καὶ τὸ καθ᾽ ἕκαστον, ὅπερ ἐμφαίνεται ἐν τῇ κατηγορίᾳ τῇ τοιαύτῃ. τὸ ἀγαθὸν γὰρ τὸ καθήμενον οὐκ ἄνευ τούτου λέγεται. δῆλον οὖν ὅτι διὰ ταύτην κἀκείνων ἕκαστον ἔστιν, ὥστε τὸ πρώτως ὂν καὶ οὐ τὶ ὂν ἀλλ᾽ ὂν ἁπλῶς οὐσία ἂν εἴη.[3]

My translation – On the other hand (But), these bring be-ing to light to a greater extent, because the foundational principle is that which determines them. But this is the οὐσία and this, according to each one, the very thing which brings them to light in the attribution of something. For the good or the dwelling is not said without this. It is evident, therefore, that through this also each one is, so that the first Be-ing and not Being-What (or What-Being), but Be-ing, if it will be, is the οὐσία.

Ross – “Now these are seen to be more real because there is something definite which underlies them (i.e. the substance or individual), which is implied in such a predicate; for we never use the word ‘good’ or ‘sitting’ without implying this. Clearly then it is in virtue of this category that each of the others also is. Therefore that which is primarily, i.e. not in a qualified sense but without qualification, must be substance.”

Tredennick – “The reason why these things are more truly existent is because their subject is something definite; i.e. the substance and the individual, which is clearly implied in a designation of this kind, since apart from it we cannot speak of ‘the good’ or ‘the sitting.’ Clearly then it is by reason of the substance that each of the things referred to exists. Hence that which is primarily, not in a qualified sense but absolutely, will be substance.”

Apostle – “These latter appear to be beings to a higher degree, because there is something definite in each of them, namely, the underlying subject; and this is the substance and the individual, which is indicated in the corresponding predication, for we do not use the terms ‘the good, and ‘that which sits’ without including the substance. It is clear, then that each of the others exists because substances exist. Thus, being in the primary sense, not in a qualified sense but without qualification, would be a substance.”

Tricot – « Et ces dernières choses apparaissent davantage des êtres, parce qu’il y a, sous chacune d’elles, un sujet réel et déterminé : ce sujet, c’est la Substance et l’individu, qui est bien ce qui se manifeste dans une telle catégorie, car le bon ou l’assis ne sont jamais dits sans lui. Il est donc évident que c’est par le moyen de cette catégorie que chacune des autres catégories existe. Par conséquent, l’Être au sens fondamental, non pas tel mode de l’Être, mais l’Être absolument parlant, ne saurait être que la Substance. »



[1]This short sentence uses three forms of the greek word that that is frequently translated being. As such it is a good place to note the proper translations for these different terms. The Greek word εἶναι is the present infinitive of the 1 person singular present indicative εἰμί (translated “I am”). εἶναι, then, should be translated “to be”, in latin “esse” (Owens, The Doctrine of Being, 140, 149.).

In this short sentence we also find the greek word ὄντα which can be translated either as a singular accusative present participle “being” (The accusative is the complement of the direct object of the verb. So, sleeping is the accusative in the following sentence: “I saw David sleeping.” A participle always ends with “-ing”.), as a plural accusative present participle “be-ings”, or as a nominative plural present participle “the beings” (A nominative is always the subject of the sentence and is preceded by either a definite or indefinite article.). In the above phrase it is possible to interpret ὄντα as either the plural accusative present participle, or the singular accusative present participle. I prefer to use the singular as it helps us to remember that Aristotle is talking about things that Be, and describing how we say Be-ing of different things. When in the plural the reader tends to think more about objects or things (as Tricot and Ross translate ὄντα) than the present action of Be-ing (like the action of running, walking or drinking,) which is the point of both the singular and the plural forms of the accusative present participle (a hyphen can sometimes be inserted in order to emphasise that we are not talking about “a being” or “beings” but of “Be-ing” the present action.

The other form that we find in this sentence is ὄντος, which is always the genitive singular present participle and, therefore, should be translated as “of Be-ing” or “from Be-ing”. The genitive is the compliment of the noun or pronoun, is used to describe the noun, and is used to represent possession.

Other forms that will be found in Aristotle are ὄντων (the genitive plural present participle), which should be translated “of Be-ings”; ἐστὶ(ν) (the third person singular present indicative), which is translated as “is”, and is technically the copula; ὂν, always preceded by an article, frequently by the article τὸ, (the nominative singular present participle) is properly translated, “the Being”. It is important to keep this in mind when interpreting key phrases such as τὸ ὂν ᾗ ὄν, which are properly translated, “the being as being”. The question that one needs to ask, even with this accurate translation, is: Should any special emphasis be put on the article? What does Aristotle mean by “the being”? The definite article seems to remove the possibility that he is referring to any particular being. In light of this being a present participle, we seem warranted to conclude that Aristotle is talking about the action of Be-ing that is common to all that in some way is (See the article by John G. Stevenson, “Being ‘qua’Being,” Apeiron: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science, vol. 9, no. 2 (Nov., 1975), 47, where he claims that such is not the case.).

We also find the form εἴη (third person singular present optative mood), which should be translated “it/she/he would be” (the optative mood expresses wishes, desires or potential); and the form ἦν (first or third person singular imperfect indicative), which should be translated “I/he/she/it have/has been” (an imperfect verb form indicates an event that began in the past and is still happening).

[2]Note what Aristotle says about things that are said of Being that they are neither, of themselves (which can be translated, according to their nature) self-producing, nor can they be separated from οὐσίας. Already we see οὐσίας being equated with Be-ing, but we also see that Aristotle sees Being - οὐσίας – as the thing which we describe by saying that it acts in this way or that. So, states of affairs (i.e. - X is running, X is dwelling, X is healthy) are of Beings, they do not BE of themselves, and are inseparable from the Be-ings - οὐσίας – that are their foundational principles. It is important to note that we are talking about how we talk about actual Be-ing.

[3]If it wasn’t already clear, Aristotle now makes it explicit, Be-ing, undetermined by anything, pure and unadulterated Be-ing simply is οὐσία.

It should also be noted that in this text Aristotle says, first of all, that that which brings Be-ing to light are the accidental ways or modes of Be-ing (i.e. – walking, talking, dwelling, being healthy, etc.); secondly, that these dependent modes or ways of Be-ing are dependent on and determined by Be-ing; thirdly, it is the οὐσία that reveals these dependent ways of Be-ing, which thus allows us to be able to talk about them, and attribute them to Be-ing; Finally, this shows that οὐσία is that in virtue of which anything whatsoever IS. Aristotle proposes, therefore, that Be-ing simply IS οὐσία. It is interesting to note that Aristotle seems to be saying that Be-ing, of itself, without any whatness added to it, is οὐσία – or, in other words, Be-ing qua Be-ing, without the determining principle by which we say WHAT Be-ing it is, is οὐσία.

The perturbing part of this development is that we still do not know what Be-ing IS, nor what οὐσία IS.

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