Authors/Thomas Aquinas/metaphysics

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In new logic museum

Book I (A) HISTORY
Book II (A1) THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH AND CAUSES
Book III (B) METAPHYSICAL PROBLEMS
Book IV (G) THE SUBJECT OF METAPHYSICS
Book V (D) DEFINITIONS
Book VI (E) THE METHOD OF INVESTIGATING BEING
Book VII (Z) SUBSTANCE
Book VIII (H) PRINCIPLES OF SENSIBLE SUBSTANCES
Book IX (Θ) POTENTIALITY AND ACTUALITY
Book X (I) UNITY
Book XI (K) RECAPITULATION ON THE NATURE AND SUBJECT OF METAPHYSICS
Book XII (Λ) MOBILE AND IMMOBILE SUBSTANCE / THE PRIME MOVER

Introduction

In duodecim libros Metaphysicorum expositio - Thomas' great work on Aristotle's great work - was probably written 1270-1272, although other sources say 1268. It was one of a series of commentaries on Aristotle, written late in Thomas' career, after he had been sent to Paris in November 1268 for a second period as regent master in Theology, where he became involved in a sharp doctrinal polemic that had just been triggered off by the Latin Averroists. These works include In libros De anima expositio (1268-1271), In libros posteriorum Analyticorum expositio (1268), and In VIII libros Physicorum (1268-1271).

Thomas' commentary is one of the first in the Latin West, although there were at least two earlier commentaries by Albert the Great and Richard Rufus of Cornwall. Thomas was also probably the first to use the new translation by William of Moerbeke. According to a tradition originating in the later Middle Ages, William knew Thomas Aquinas and was commissioned by him to make some of the translations. But there is no contemporary record of the friendship or the commissions. If they did meet, it is likely this was during the three or four years Aquinas was working at Orvieto, i.e. not before the election of Pope Urban IV in August 1261, who invited Aquinas to serve at the Papal court, and 1265, when Aquinas left for Rome. William's translation of De motu animalium is cited by Thomas in Summa Contra Gentiles, probably completed in 1264.

The commentary is worth reading if only as a good introduction to and explanation of Aristotle's very difficult work. As well as that, the use of parallel text helps us understand the technical Latin terminology used by the scholastic writers in their frequent references to Aristotle.

The 'recovery' of Aristotle by the middle of the thirteenth century was a momentous event in the history of the Western intellectual tradition. Though William's contribution to this was not as significant as is sometimes claimed, his work undoubtedly helped in forming a clearer picture of Greek philosophy, and particularly of Aristotle's doctrine, than was depicted by the Arabic versions which they had hitherto relied on, and which had distorted or obscured the relation between Platonic and Aristotelian systems of philosophy. His translation of the Metaphysics was some time before 1272.

It is often said that William was the first to work on translations from the Greek, but this is not true. In the early part of the thirteenth century, partly as a result of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, Greek scholarship and Greek manuscripts became available in the Latin West, and many new translations were made before William was active in the 1260's. William's translation of Aristotle's Metaphysics (between 1260 and 1272) was certainly the first complete version, but was only the third Latin translation to be made from the original text. See Translations into medieval Latin

The text here includes links to Ross's translation into English from the Greek. This includes anchors to the 'Bekker number'.

See also

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