Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” begins by saying that “All men by nature desire to know.” He, of course, regarded as “men” a select few — the Greek citizens — not the majority of the Greek people made up of slaves — beings who had allowed themselves to be conquered, inferior beings — much less the non-Greek barbarians. Perhaps the problem is precisely this: most of us must be descended from slaves, and as Will Durant put it, it must have been slavery that prepared us for the habit of toil. If this were not the case, we wouldn’t work so hard and think so little. Because when I look around me, I do not see many people interested in knowing. In fact, I see almost no one.
My (great) college professor of metaphysics obviously began the discipline speaking of Aristotle and his seminal work. He then went on to list the most important books within his Metaphysics.
Book Alpha can be considered the first history of philosophy, where Aristotle criticizes those who came before him and establishes the prevailing habit today of doing a bibliographic review at the beginning of any work.
Book Delta presents what can be considered the first dictionary of philosophy, with its thirty entries.
Books Zeta, Eta, and Theta are at the heart of the Metaphysics, with Zeta being considered the “core of the heart,” because it deals with one of the most central concepts of Aristotle: substance. Book Eta makes a kind of summary of what was hitherto exposed and begins the treatment of potency and act, also concepts central to Aristotelian philosophy. Book Theta, in turn, presents the heart of this discussion.
Book Lambda was the last one my teacher indicated as essential. It is this book where Aristotle describes his “god,” the “immovable mover,” thus being of great importance to monotheistic religions and their future attempts to incorporate Aristotelian philosophy.
But this was an introductory lesson. The next day he presented the course contents and began expounding the first item and highlighting its importance, “The First Principles of Entity”. To this end, he proceeded to tell us, in turn, about Book Gamma and its important response to Protagoras.
“There are some who, as we said, both themselves assert that it is possible for the same thing to be and not to be, and say that people can judge this to be the case. And among others many writers about nature use this language. But we have now posited that it is impossible for anything at the same time to be and not to be, and by this means have shown that this is the most indisputable of all principles.”
Thus Aristotle begins his demonstrations of the Principle of Noncontradiction, the main axiom of all philosophy. But why, then, did not my teacher mention Book Gamma in his previous class, when he listed all the essential books of Aristotle’s Metaphysics?
When I asked him about it, he apologized for his “forgetfulness”. It turns out, he explained, that this book is much criticized today. In short, people today agree much more with the Sophists than with Aristotle. The Law of Identity, “A is A”, and the Principle of Noncontradiction, “A can not be A and non-A at the same time and in the same respect”, which once were to me mere tautologies so evident they seemed, are not accepted by the majority anymore.
“Protagoras has won”, my teacher explained to me not without regret in his countenance, “and Book Gama has lost its value”.
The world may be upside down, but I will not forget this book — ever.