The Metaphysics presents Aristotle’s mature rejection of both the Platonic theory that what we perceive is just a pale reflection of reality and the hardheaded view that all processes are ultimately material. He argued instead that the reality or substance of things lies in their concrete forms, and in so doing he probed some of the deepest questions of philosophy: What is existence? How is change possible? And are there certain things that must exist for anything else to exist at all? The seminal notions discussed in “The Metaphysics” – of ‘substance’ and associated concepts of matter and form, essence and accident, potentiality and actuality – have had a profound and enduring influence, and laid the foundations for one of the central branches of Western philosophy.
The first thing that immediately comes to mind with this book is: “This book is the most difficult book I’ve ever read.” Come again? What was that I just said? I said, The Metaphysics is the most difficult book I’ve ever read. Even more difficult than Karl Marx’s Capital? Well, Marx’s Capital comes a very, and I mean a very, close second in level of difficulty.
Where to begin? With The Metaphysics, I believe I wasn’t fully prepared by reading other philosophical works beforehand. I felt like I was at a real disadvantage for not having become more familiar with Plato, Pythagoras, and others, as Aristotle was arguing against some of their finer points, and making the case for his own philosophical viewpoint. Without that background knowledge, I found myself scratching my head, on more than one occasion, and I’m sure, had quite the stupefied look on my face. It reminded me of when I read Dante’s The Divine Comedy, that I wasn’t familiar enough with the players of that particular time in history, and as such, didn’t get all the references. The Metaphysics talks about substance and what really is philosophy. I definitely got the impression that philosophy, at least for Aristotle, holds the true explanations of why the world is the way the world is. I feel like that concept is the most important one I picked up while reading the book.
The Metaphysics certainly inspired me to do some critical thinking while I was reading it, I just wish I had more of a grasp of the concepts. If I had even read Plato’s Theory of Forms, at a minimum, I would’ve been a bit more prepared, and had something of a background/foundation, to fully tackle this complex work and appreciate it as much as it deserves.
If I had to do it all over again, I don’t think I would tackle this particular work by Aristotle first, but would’ve read a few more books to better prepare myself. While I enjoy a challenging read as much as the next person, I think I may have bitten off a bit more than I could realistically chew at this particular junction. I’m glad I tackled this work, and perhaps, later on down the road, when I have more of a philosophical foundation, I can tackle it again and see if I understand it more the second time around.
If you’ve read Aristotle’s The Metaphysics, or other related works of philosophy, I’d love to see what you think!