Aristotle's Two Systems

Aristotle's Two Systems

Aristotle's Two Systems

Aristotle's Two Systems


Each of the two major approaches to Aristotle--the unitarian, which understands his work as forming a single, unified system, and the developmentalist, which seeks a sequence of developing ideas--has inherent limitations. This book proposes a synthetic view of Aristotle that sees development as a change between systematic theories. Setting theories of the so-called logical works beside theories of the physical and metaphysical treatises, Graham shows that Aristotle's doctrines fall into two distinct systems of philosophies that are genetically related. This study--the first major alternative to the unitarian approach since Jaeger pioneered the developmentalist method in 1923--provides a sweeping reappraisal of Aristotle's science and metaphysics and a new approach to the problem of substance presented in the Metaphysics.


Consider two recent interpretations of Aristotle's Categories:

. . . the Categories is a carefully limited work--possibly an introductory one--which seems determined to contain the discussion at a metaphysical level that is, though in some ways sophisticated, still simple, and especially to block any descent from its own curtailed universe into the much deeper as well as wider universe of the Metaphysics. There is also evidence of a notable concern not to get involved in 'causes'--to set out some ontological phenomena . . . without delving--here--into the underlying structure of the nature of things from which these phenomena eventuate. And a critical factor in maintaining that simplicity is the designation of the substantial individuals as ultimate objects, at the 'floor of the world' . . . (Furth 1978: 629)

While Aristotle has spoken in the Categories as if the claim that substances underlie properties is totally unproblematic, in the Metaphysics he begins to draw consequences from this claim as to what really is the object or substance. As one can see in Met Z he considers whether to say that substance, that which underlies everything else, is matter or form; by contrast in the Categories he had still spoken as if substances were the concrete things of our experience--tables, horses, trees, men--just as we are acquainted with them. How does it come about, we must ask, that Aristotle is no longer satisified with the answer of the Categories? (Frede, 1978: 31 f.)

Although we would like to say that we have come a long way in interpreting Aristotle in the last half-century, it is an embarrassing fact that one cannot get past the first Bekker page of his text without coming face-to-face with a fundamental bifurcation in the path we must follow. In the first interpretation, by Montgomery Furth , the Categories is a propaedeutic which carefully avoids certain problems by limiting its principles and objectives; thus it prepares us for the Metaphysics account of substance by giving a simpler version of it. According to Michael Fede in the second . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.