In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Aristotle’s Metaphysics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Text and Editions
  • Bibliographies
  • Unity (Book X)
  • Theology (Book XII)
  • Philosophy of Mathematics (Books XIII and XIV)

Classics Aristotle’s Metaphysics
Gabriele Galluzzo
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0278


Aristotle’s Metaphysics, one of the most influential works in Western thought, is a collection of fourteen treatises or books. The title is not by Aristotle and is due to a Hellenistic editor, traditionally identified with Andronicus of Rhodes (1st century BCE). Metaphysics (ta meta ta phusika) means “the things after the physical things” and may point to the position of the metaphysical books in the Hellenistic edition of Aristotle’s works (after the physical books) or possibly to the order in which metaphysical issues should be learned in an ideal curriculum (after the study of physics). Aristotle, however, is not responsible for assembling the books of the Metaphysics into a single work. The collection is most likely to have been put together by Andronicus or someone else on the basis of the thematic similarities among the individual treatises. Although the Metaphysics is not a unified work in our sense, it seems undeniable that the different treatises of the collection pursue a general philosophical project or discipline, which Aristotle variously refers to as “wisdom,” “first philosophy” or even “theology.” Such a discipline is described in the Metaphysics as a theoretical science, as opposed to practical and productive sciences, and is sharply distinguished from the other two theoretical sciences, physics and mathematics. In many ways it would not be incorrect to describe Aristotle’s project in the Metaphysics as metaphysics. Many of the issues Aristotle deals with—such as existence, essence, individuation, identity, Universals, the nature of material objects, just to mention a few—are certainly issues that we would comfortably describe as metaphysical. But in other respects, Aristotle’s conception of metaphysics is broader than ours, as it includes philosophical areas—such as rational theology, cosmology, philosophy of mathematics and logic—that do not obviously fall within metaphysics in our sense, though they may be closely related to it. Aristotle’s Metaphysics has been enormously influential in shaping Arabic and Latin medieval thought and has remained central to early modern philosophy as well. Over the last sixty years or so, the Metaphysics has been rediscovered by metaphysicians in the analytic philosophy tradition as a source of philosophical insights. This renewal of philosophical interest has been matched by a proliferation of sophisticated scholarly works on Aristotle’s writing. This article has the twofold aim of mapping out resources on the text of the Metaphysics and offering bibliographical guidance on the philosophical issues dealt with in Aristotle’s writing.

General Overviews

Jaeger 1948 (originally published in 1923) contains the most influential developmental account of Aristotle’s Metaphysics: not only is the Metaphysics a collection of different treatises more than a unified work, but it also displays different strata and phases of composition, measured in terms of increasing distance from Aristotle’s early Platonism. Although Jaeger’s approach is still important when it comes to evaluating the position of individual books of the Metaphysics (see for instance Frede 2000, cited under Theology (Book XII)), recent overviews of the Metaphysics or of Aristotle’s metaphysical thought instead emphasize, to different degrees, the coherence of Aristotle’s metaphysical project in spite of the lack of textual unity of the Metaphysics. Donini 2007 (originally published in 1995) is a balanced introduction to the structure and contents of the Metaphysics, which does justice to the developmental approach but also reconstructs fundamental strands in Aristotle’s metaphysical project. Politis 2004 is a comprehensive and readable guide to the Metaphysics, which takes the reader through the different sections of the work and argues for the unity of Aristotle’s metaphysical project around a set of fundamental questions. Halper 2012 is a more concise and student-oriented guide, which takes the reader through the text and introduces the philosophical issues it raises. Reeve 2000 is an ambitious book-length attempt to provide a strongly holistic and unitary account of Aristotle’s metaphysics (and of the Metaphysics), which basically disregards issues of chronology and only focuses on philosophical issues. Other introductory studies focus more on Aristotle’s metaphysical doctrines than the structure of the Metaphysics. Barnes 1995 is an overview of Aristotle’s metaphysics which covers many areas of interest: the subject matter of metaphysics, existence, substance, and theology. Cohen 2016 discusses some major metaphysical issues, with particular reference to substance theory, and offers an extensive and up-to-date bibliography.

  • Barnes, J. 1995. Metaphysics. In The Cambridge companion to Aristotle. Edited by J. Barnes, 66–108. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A clear overview of Aristotle’s metaphysical thought, which covers four main areas: the subject matter of metaphysics; The Multivocity of Being; the theory of substance; and theology. Provides valuable bibliographical information. Good for an introduction to the topic.

  • Cohen, M. 2016. Aristotle’s Metaphysics. In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University.

    An overview of some of the major ideas developed in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, with an emphasis on substance theory in the central books (VII–IX). Provides an extensive and up-to-date bibliography.

  • Donini, P. 2007. La Metafisica di Aristotele: Introduzione alla lettura. Rome: Carocci.

    Originally published in 1995, this is a clear and short introduction to the structure and contents of the Metaphysics. Also provides valuable information about the history of the text and its transmission. Especially good for beginners.

  • Halper, E. C. 2012. Aristotle’s Metaphysics: A reader’s guide. London and New York: Continuum.

    A concise and student-oriented guide to Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Offers an overview of themes as well as an introduction to the different sections of the text. Also provides a short discussion of the reception of the Metaphysics.

  • Jaeger, W. 1948. Aristotle: Fundamentals of the history of his development. Translated by R. Robinson. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The most important account of the development of Aristotle’s thought. Chapters 7, 8, and 14 present a developmental analysis of the Metaphysics. Argues that the Metaphysics contains two fundamental strata: one in which Aristotle is still influenced by the Platonic conception of metaphysics as a science of immaterial substances, and a later anti-Platonic stratum, in which Aristotle develops his idea of metaphysics as a general study of reality. Originally published in German in 1923 (Berlin: Weidmann).

  • Politis, V. 2004. The Routledge philosophy guidebook to Aristotle and the Metaphysics. London and New York: Routledge.

    A readable and comprehensive section-by-section guide to the Metaphysics, which attempts to reconstruct Aristotle’s overall metaphysical project and puts emphasis on its unity around a set of fundamental questions. Particularly interesting is the analysis of Aristotle’s anti-Platonic arguments in chapter 9.

  • Reeve, C. D. C. 2000. Substantial knowledge: Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.

    An ambitious book-length study of the whole of Aristotle’s metaphysical thought. Argues for the fundamental unity of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Sees Aristotle’s theology as the solution to the difficulties surrounding the notion of substance (and in particular the tension between the ontological priority of particulars and the epistemic priority of Universals) and so in some sense as the point of arrival of Aristotle’s metaphysical investigation.

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