The Metaphysics / Edition 1

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This volume contains a close translation, suitable for students without a knowledge of Greek, of the seventh and eighth books of Aristotle's Metaphysics, together with a thorough and careful philosophical commentary. In these difficult books, which are central to his metaphysical system, Aristotle discusses the nature of perceptible reality. In particular, he discusses which of matter and form might be the basic reality of things, and he frequently contrasts his own view of form with the Platonic view. Several other topics are treated which are of central importance to his metaphysics, such as the notions of essence and definition, the status of universals, and the concept of a unity.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"There is a great deal to applaud in this volume. The translation is splendidly faithful to the Greek. It reads smoothly without lapsing into paraphrase....Now Bostock has provided us with something much more straightforward, clearly written, packed with learning, and as detailed as we could wish. It is a splendid new resource for Aristotelian scholarship."—International Philosophical Quarterly

"David Bostock has produced a translation that admirably fulfills the Clarendon Aristotle Series' goal of making Aristotle's texts accessible to the Greekless philosophical reader...probably the best available in English."—The Philosophical Review

"...Bostock reads passages closely, dissects arguments skillfully, and makes astute and informed judgements. As one philosopher reading another, he demands a lot of the text and often finds the argument wanting-and with good reason. But whether one is a defender of a critic of Aristotle, one will find Bostock's commentary enlightening and stimulating."—Ancient Philosophy

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198239475
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/28/1994
  • Series: Clarendon Aristotle Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 318
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Aristotle was born in 384 B.C. in the town of Stagira in Macedonia (now called Stavros).
At the age of 17 he entered Plato's Academy in Athens, where he remained until Plato's death nineteen years later.
During this time he first thoroughly absorbed the ideas of Plato and then began to move apart on his own philosophical path.
On the death of Plato Aristotle spent some time away from Athens including a period when he acted as tutor to prince Alexander, later to be Alexander the Great, returning to Athens at about 50 years in age to begin his most fruitful period as a philosopher.

Close to Athens, Aristotle founded his own school, the Lyceum, and began the first of the great libraries.
Here Aristotle remained until the death of Alexander in 323 B.C. after which a rise in anti-Macedonian feeling obliged him to leave.
He died in 322 B.C.

The surviving works of Aristotle date from this last period at the Lyceum, and were the academic textbooks of the time.
Substantial, original, and broadly scoped, they were to dominate the intellectual history of Western Europe for over a thousand years, and remain of the greatest importance to this day.

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The Metaphysics

By Aristotle, John H. McMahon

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-11988-5


All men by nature are actuated with the desire of knowledge, and an indication of this is the love of the senses; for even, irrespective of their utility, are they loved for their own sakes; and preeminently above the rest, the sense of sight. For not only for practical purposes, but also when not intent on doing anything, we choose the power of vision in preference, so to say, to all the rest of the senses. And a cause of this is the following,—that this one of the senses particularly enables us to apprehend whatever knowledge it is the inlet of, and that it makes many distinctive qualities manifest.

By nature then, indeed, are animals formed endowed with sense; but in some of them memory is not innate from sense, and in others it is. And for this reason are these possessed of more foresight, as well as a greater aptitude for discipline, than those which are wanting in this faculty of memory. Those furnished with foresight, indeed, are yet without the capability of receiving instruction, whatever amongst them are unable to understand the sounds they hear; as, for instance, bees, and other similar tribes of animals; but those are capable of receiving instruction as many as, in addition to memory, are provided with this sense also.

The rest, indeed, subsist then through impressions and the operations of memory, but share experience in a slight degree; whereas the human race exists by means of art also and the powers of reasoning.

Now, experience accrues to men from memory; for repeated acts of memory about the same thing done constitute the force of a single experience: and experience seems to be a thing almost similar to science and art.

But science and art result unto men by means of experience; for experience, indeed, as Polus saith, and correctly so, has produced art, but inexperience, chance. But an art comes into being when, out of many conceptions of experience, one universal opinion is evolved with respect to similar cases. For, indeed, to entertain the opinion that this particular remedy has been of service to Callias, while labouring under this particular disease, as well as to Socrates, and so individually to many, this is an inference of experience; but that it has been conducive to the health of all,—such as have been defined according to one species,—while labouring under this disease, as, for instance, to the phlegmatic, or the choleric, or those sick of a burning fever, this belongs to the province of art.

As regards, indeed, practical purposes, therefore, experience seems in no wise to differ from art; nay, even we see the experienced compassing their objects more effectually than those who possess a theory without the experience. But a cause of this is the following—that experience, indeed, is a knowledge of singulars, whereas art, of universals; but all things in the doing, and all generations, are concerned about the singular: for he whose profession it is to practise medicine, does not restore man to health save by accident, but Callias, or Socrates, or any of the rest so designated, to whom it happens to be a man. If, therefore, any one without the experience is furnished with the principle, and is acquainted with the universal, but is ignorant of the singular that is involved therein, he will frequently fall into error in the case of his medical treatment; for that which is capable of cure is rather the singular.

But, nevertheless, we are of opinion that, at least, knowledge and understanding appertain to art rather than experience; and we reckon artists more wise than the experienced, inasmuch as wisdom is the concomitant of all philosophers rather in proportion to their knowledge.

But this is so because some, indeed, are aware of the cause, and some are not. For the experienced, indeed, know that a thing is so, but they do not know wherefore it is so; but others—I mean the scientific—are acquainted with the wherefore and the cause. Therefore, also, we reckon the chief artificers in each case to be entitled to more dignity, and to the reputation of superior knowledge, and to be more wise than the handicraftsmen, because the former are acquainted with the causes of the things that are being constructed; whereas the latter produce things, as certain inanimate things do, indeed; yet these perform their functions unconsciously, —as the fire when it burns. Things indeed, therefore, that are inanimate, by a certain constitution of nature, perform each of these their functions, but the handicraftsmen through habit; inasmuch as it is not according as men are practical that they are more wise, but according as they possess the reason of a thing, and understand causes.

And, upon the whole, a proof of a person's having knowledge is even the ability to teach; and for this reason we consider art, rather than experience, to be a science; for artists can, whereas the handicraftsmen cannot, convey instruction.

And further, we regard none of the senses to be wisdom, although, at least, these are the most decisive sources of knowledge about singulars; but they make no affirmation of the wherefore in regard of anything,—as, for example, why fire is hot, but only the fact that it is hot.

Therefore, indeed, is it natural for the person who first discovers any art whatsoever, beyond the ordinary power of the senses, to be the object of human admiration, not only on account of something of the things that have been discovered being useful, but as one that is wise and superior to the rest of men. But when more arts are being discovered—both some, indeed, in relation to things that are necessary, and others for pastime—we invariably regard such more wise than those, on account of their sciences not being for bare utility. Whence all things of such a sort having been already procured, those sciences have been invented which were pursued neither for purposes of pleasure nor necessity, and first in those places where the inhabitants enjoyed leisure: wherefore, in the neighbourhood of Egypt the mathematical arts were first established; for there leisure was spared unto the sacerdotal caste. It has then, indeed, been declared in the Ethics what is the difference between an art and a science, and the rest of the things of the same description.

But, at present, the reason of our producing this treatise is the fact, that all consider what is termed wisdom to be conversant about first causes and principles; so that—as has been said on a former occasion—the experienced seem to be more wise than those possessing any sense whatsoever, and the artificer than the experienced, and the master-artist than the handicraftsman, and the speculative rather than those that are productive. That, indeed, wisdom, therefore, is a science conversant about certain causes and first principles is obvious.


Now, since we are engaged in investigating this science, the following must form a subject for our consideration; namely, about what kind of causes, and what kind of first principles, is this science—I mean wisdom—conversant. If, doubtless, one would receive the opinions which we entertain concerning the wise man, perhaps from this our proposed inquiry would be evident the more.

Now, in the first place, indeed, we go on the supposition that the wise man, especially, is acquainted with all things scientifically, as far as this is possible, not, however, having a scientific knowledge of them singly. In the next place, a person who is capable of knowing things that are difficult, and not easy for a man to understand, such a one we deem wise (for perception by the senses is common to all, wherefore it is a thing that is easy, and by no means wise). Further, one who is more accurate, and more competent to give instruction in the causes of things, we regard more wise about every science. And of the sciences, also, that which is desirable for its own account, and for the sake of knowledge, we consider to be wisdom in preference to that which is eligible on account of its probable results, and that which is more qualified for preeminence we regard as wisdom, rather than that which is subordinate,—for that the wise man ought not to be dictated to, but should dictate unto others; and that this person ought not to be swayed in his opinions by another, but one less wise by this man. Respecting this wisdom and wise men do we entertain such and so many suppositions.

But of these characteristics the scientific knowledge of all things must needs be found in him most especially who possesses the universal science; for this person, in a manner, knows all things that are subjects of it. But, also, the most difficult nearly for men to know are the things that are especially universal, for they are most remote from the senses. But the most accurate of the sciences are those respecting things that are primary, in the most eminent sense of the word; for those from fewer principles are more accurate than those said to be from addition, as arithmetic than geometry. But, also, that science, without doubt, is more adapted towards giving instruction, at least, which speculates about causes; for those do afford instruction who assign the causes in regard of each individual thing. Now, understanding and scientific knowledge, for their own sakes, most especially reside in the science of that which is most particularly fitted for being scientifically known. For he who selects scientific knowledge, for its own sake, will especially choose that which is preeminently science; but such is that which is the science of that which is particularly fitting as an object of scientific knowledge, and particularly fitting as objects of scientific knowledge are first principles and causes; for on account of these, and by means of these, are the other objects of knowledge capable of being made known: but not these by means of those things that are subordinate to them. Most fit for preeminence likewise amongst the sciences, and fit for preeminence in preference to that which is subservient, is the science which communicates the knowledge of that on account of which each thing is to be done; but this constitutes the good in each particular, but, in general, that which is the best in every nature.

From all, therefore, that has been stated, the sought-for appellation lights upon the same science; for it is necessary that this be a science speculative of first principles and of causes, for the good, also, viewed as a final cause, is one from amongst our classified list of causes.

But that the science under investigation is not a science employed in producing, is evident from the case of those who formed systems of philosophy in the earliest ages. For from wonder men, both now and at the first, began to philosophize, having felt astonishment originally at the things which were more obvious, indeed, amongst those that were doubtful; then, by degrees, in this way having advanced onwards, and, in process of time, having started difficulties about more important subjects,—as, for example, respecting the passive conditions of the moon, and those brought to pass about the sun and stars, and respecting the generation of the universe. But he that labours under perplexity and wonder thinks that he is involved in ignorance. Therefore, also, the philosopher—that is, the lover of wisdom—is somehow a lover of fables, for the fable is made up of the things that are marvellous. Wherefore, if, for the avoidance of ignorance, men from time to time have been induced to form systems of philosophy, it is manifest that they went in pursuit of scientific knowledge for the sake of understanding it, and not on account of any utility that it might possess. But the event itself also bears witness to the truth of this statement; for on the supposition of almost all those things being in existence that are requisite towards both ease and the management of life, prudence of such a sort as this began to be in requisition. Therefore is it evident that we seek scientific knowledge from no other actual ground of utility save what springs from itself.

But as we say a free man exists who is such for his own sake, and not for the sake of another, so, also, this alone of the sciences is free, for this alone subsists for its own sake.

Wherefore, also, the acquisition of this science may be justly regarded as not human, for, in many instances, human nature is servile.

So that, according to Simonides, the Deity only should enjoy this prerogative; yet that it is unworthy for a man not to investigate the knowledge that is in conformity with his own condition. But if, in reality, the poets make any such assertion, and if the Godhead is in its nature constituted so as to envy, in this respect it is especially natural that it should happen, and that all those that are over-subtle should be unfortunate: but neither does the Divine essence admit of being affected by envy, but—according to the proverb—the bards utter many falsehoods.

Nor ought we to consider any other science more entitled to honour than such as that under investigation at present. For that which is most divine is also most worthy of honour. But such will be so in only two ways; for that which the Deity would especially possess is a divine one amongst the sciences; and if there is any such science, this would be the case with the science of things divine. But this science, such as we have described it, alone is possessed of both of these characteristics; for to all speculators doth the Deity appear as a cause, and a certain first principle; and such a science as this, either God alone, or he principally, would possess. Therefore, indeed, may all sciences else be more requisite than this one; but none is more excellent.

It is, indeed, necessary, in a manner, to establish the order of this science, in its development, in a direction of contrary to the speculations that have been carried on from the beginning. For, indeed—as we have remarked—all men commence their inquiries from wonder whether a thing be so,—as in the case of the spontaneous movements of jugglers' figures to those who have not as yet speculated into their cause; or respecting the solstices, or the incommensurability of the diameter; for it seems to be a thing astonishing to all, if any quantity of those that are the smallest is not capable of being measured. But it is necessary to draw our inquiry to a close in a direction the contrary to this, and towards what is better, according to the proverb. As also happens in the case of these, when they succeed in learning those points; for nothing would a geometrician so wonder at, as if the diameter of a square should be commensurable with its side. What, therefore, is the nature of the science under investigation has been declared; as, also, what the aim should be which the present inquiry and the entire treatise should strive and attain.


But since it is manifest that one ought to be in possession of a science of primary causes (for then we say that we know each individual thing when we think that we are acquainted with the first cause); and since causes are denominated under four different heads, the first of which we assert to be the substance and the essence of a thing (for the inquiry of the wherefore, in the first instance of a thing, is referred to the last reason, but the first wherefore of a thing is a cause and first principle); and the second cause we affirm to be the matter and the subject; and the third is the source of the first principle of motion; and the fourth, the cause that is in opposition to this,—namely, both the final cause and the good; for such is an end of every generation;

Therefore, although there has been a sufficient amount of speculation concerning these in our treatise on Physics, let us, however, bring forward those who before our time have approached to an examination of entities, and have formed systems of philosophy respecting truth. For it is obvious that they also affirm that there are in existence certain first principles and causes; therefore will it, at any rate, be of service to our present treatise should we take a review of these philosophers; for either we shall thereby discover a certain different description of cause, or we shall, in preference, repose our confidence in those that have been already enumerated.

Now, the majority of those who first formed systems of philosophy consider those that subsist in a form of matter to be alone the principles of all things; for wherefrom all entities arise, and wherefrom they are generated, as from an original, and whereto they are corrupted,—ultimately the substance, indeed, remaining permanent, but in its passive states undergoing a change,—this they assert to be an element, and this a first principle of all things.


Excerpted from The Metaphysics by Aristotle, John H. McMahon. Copyright © 2007 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

The Metaphysics - Aristotle Translated with an Introduction by Hugh Lawson-Tancred

Book Alpha the Lesser
Book Beta
Book Gamma
Book Delta
Book Epsilon
Book Zeta
Book Eta
Book Theta
Book Iota
Book Kappa
Book Lambda
Book Mu
Book Nu

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