Skip to main content

METAPHYSICS BOOK Z, CH. 1 (1028a37-1028b1): Comparing translations - Part 7

         Continuing my project of translating and interpreting Aristotle's Metaphysics Z, chapter 1, we move on to an interesting subject which seems to speak to current debates in metaphysics and epistemology concerning both the knowledge of something (knowing what it is), and the actual composition of something (what-it-is). Aristotle, continuing his discussion of why οὐσία is primary, argues that it is also primary in knowledge. See the footnote for discussion of this important section. For the previous parts of this project see: Part 1, Part 2 - a discussion on the meaning and translation of οὐσία, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.

(1028a37-1028b1) καὶ εἰδέναι δὲ τότ᾽ οἰόμεθα ἕκαστον μάλιστα, ὅταν τί ἐστιν ἄνθρωπος γνῶμεν τὸ πῦρ, μᾶλλον τὸ ποιὸν τὸ ποσὸν τὸ πού, ἐπεὶ καὶ αὐτῶν τούτων τότε ἕκαστον ἴσμεν, ὅταν τί ἐστι τὸ ποσὸν τὸ ποιὸν γνῶμεν.[1]

My Translation – And, therefore, we suppose (think) each one to be known especially whenever the mind judges what [it] is, the human or the fire, rather than the type (quality) or the quantity or the place ; since, thereupon, the mind also judges the quantity or the type (quality) when we see (know, grasp) what-is each one.

Ross – “And (2) we think we know each thing most fully, when we know what it is, e.g. what man is or what fire is, rather than when we know its quality, its quantity, or its place; since we know each of these predicates also, only when we know what the quantity or the quality is.”

Tredennick – “and we assume that we know each particular thing most truly when we know what ‘man’ or ‘fire’ is – rather than its quality or quantity or position; because we know each of these points too when we know what the quantity or quality is.”

Apostle – “And we think we understand each thing to the highest degree when we know, for example, what a man is or what fire is, rather than their quality or their quantity or their whereness, and even of these latter, we understand each when we know what a quantity is or what a quality is.”

Tricot – “Enfin, nous croyons connaître le plus parfaitement chaque chose quand nous connaissons ce qu’elle est, par exemple ce qu’est l’homme ou le feu, bien plutôt que lorsque nous connaissons sa qualité, sa quantité ou son lieu, puisque chacun de ces prédicats eux-mêmes, nous les connaissons seulement quand nous connaissons ce qu’ils sont, ce qu’est la quantité ou la qualité.

[1]In this section Aristotle points out that, on the level of knowledge, we claim to have knowledge of something only when we know what [it] is. This phrase, τί ἐστι, which could also be translate “that-which-is”, seems to point primarily to the whatness of a “what-is”. However, it is important to remember that Aristotle consistently keeps whatness anchored in Be-ing. To make his claim more explicit he uses examples, human or fire. We say that we have knowledge of what a human-being is, not when we know it’s qualities, or how many there are (or how big or small they are), or even where they are, but, rather, when we grasp the whatness of a human-being, that which it is. Many philosophers have argued that be-ings do not have whatness, they are only piles of qualities, quantities, etc.; such that a human would be anything that has a certain pile of characteristics. This theory has been the source of innumerable debates as it has become evident that it is impossible to give an exhaustive list of all of the properties of something that is accepted, even in its most fundamental properties, by all those who are actively engaged in the discussion. Furthermore, it seems that unless one knows the whatness of a thing, one is incapable of knowing, with any type of certainty, that the combination of certain properties will necessarily result in a certain be-ing. In fact, it is almost impossible to talk about anything whatsoever without presupposing, as was noted in  1028a35-37, the be-ing-ness or οὐσία of the thing in question. 

  Aristotle seems to take the opposite position that: knowing the characteristics of a be-ing does not tell us what it is. In fact, he claims, in the second part of this section, that even when it comes to quality and quantity, we only recognize these in be-ings when we know what quality is, and what quantity is. That is, we could not even know that we have picked out a quality or a quantity unless we already know what it means to be a quality, or to be a quantity – that is, what the formula (definition, whatness, essence, substance or οὐσία) of quality is, and what the formula (definition, whatness, essence, substance or οὐσία) of quantity is. As such, even the theory mentioned above, that things just are the totality of their predicaments (properties), must either presuppose knowledge of the οὐσία of each type of property, and of each property, or provide piles of properties for each of the types of properties and of each property, and then provide piles of properties for each of the types of the types of properties and for each of the properties of the properties, and so on; which is to say that such a theory entails an infinite regress of piles of properties. Aristotle seems to be saying that even in describing the properties of a be-ing we presuppose a foundational principle, and that principle is what he calls the οὐσία. The only way to avoid an infinite regress is to posit some foundational principle, which is, implicitly, to agree with Aristotle.

Popular posts from this blog

How Kant’s Synthesis of Empiricism and Rationalism resulted in Agnosticism

Immanuel Kant, presented with the extreme empiricism of Hume and the extreme rationalism of Liebniz, which he discovered through the writings Wolff, sought to take a middle road between these two extreme philosophical positions. I would submit that Kant’s synthesis of these two views leads to an agnosticism about what Kant called “the thing-in-itself”, and ultimately to the philosophical positions known as Atheism, determinism, and nihilism.

Kant’s Sources
First of all, Kant was influenced by Hume’s empiricism and Newton’s physics. He saw that the physical sciences, in contrast to rationalistic metaphysics, were actually making advances. They were making discoveries, and building a system of knowledge that accurately described the world of our sense perceptions. Rationalistic metaphysics, on the other hand, was floundering amidst the combating systems that the philosophers were erecting. It did not provide new knowledge, and only led to unacceptable conclusions, such as the Absolute Mon…


Leisure: The Basis of Culture & the Philosophical Act. Josef Pieper. Translated by Alexander Dru. 1963. Reprint, Ignatius Press, 2009. 143 pp. $12.99. ISBN 978-1-58617-256-5.
            This book is composed of two articles written by the German philosopher Josef Pieper. Though the two articles are intimately connected, they form two distinct works; as such, this book review will begin by giving a brief introduction to the works in question, followed by and exposition of each of the works individually. The two articles that are included in this book, Leisure: the Basis of Culture and The Philosophical Act, were both published in 1947, and, as such, were written during the cultural crisis in Germany that followed the Second World War. Not only did Pieper have the cultural crisis in mind when he wrote these articles, but he was also writing in light of the works of the most well-known German philosopher of the time – Martin Heidegger. As such, any reader who is familiar with Heidegg…

A Short outline of Charles Taylor's: The Malaise of Modernity

            This is simply an outline of Taylor’s basic argument in this short work written by Charles Taylor. The idea of this outline is to help the reader understand the book by providing a simple outline of the basic argument that Taylor is presenting here. The book, which is essentially the manuscript is the fruit of a series of presentations that Taylor made at the Massey Conferences which are hosted by Massey College and Radio-Canada, is divided into 10 chapters. In the first chapter Taylor essentially proposes three causes (recognizing that there may be more) of the Malaise of Modernity: (1) Individualism or the Loss of Sense, (2) The Primacy of Instrumental Reason or the Loss of Ends, and (3) The effect on society and politics in general of the loss of sense to an inauthentic individualism and the domination of instrumental reason, or, the loss of true freedom. Taylor considers the first Malaise in chapters 2 to 8, the second in c…