Why Does the Knowledge of the Principles of Nature Come after the Science of Physics?

Commentators and exponents of Aristotle are of the view that the classification and order of different parts of Aristotle's philosophy is made according to a method which is logical and fully considered.

One who seeks to pursue scientific knowledge of the world, in the first place, he should be acquainted with the scientific methodology, that is, logic, for scientific knowledge of the nature has to be gained only through sense of perception and empirical data, and then arriving at correct conclusions only that can be hopeful of the fruitfulness of his efforts who is acquainted with the techniques and methodology of science and its proper application. That is why Aristotle's philosophical works begin with logic.

After being acquainted with scientific method, one can enter the domain of natural science, that is, scientific efforts for cognition of nature. Therefore, Aristotle's second philosophical works after logic is called physics, that is, natural science.

After being equipped with scientific knowledge of nature and insight into causes and efforts, in nature, the field of quest and enquiry is automatically extended to the study of the primary causes and the principles of nature. This party of enquiry comprises of theology (metaphysics). Hence, naturally it will come after natural sciences.

Why the Knowledge of the Principles of Nature is Called Metaphysics?

Every part of Aristotle's philosophical works has a specific name for it according to its subject matter and scope.

The first part is called "Logic" that is, principles of knowledge. The second part is "Physics" that is natural sciences comprising physics etc. But the third part which deals with the principles of nature is named according to its order in Aristotle's works and not on the basis of its subject-matter. Therefore, Aristotelians called this part of his works "Metaphysics" which was translated into Arabic as "Ma bad al-Tabi'ah"1

"Ma b'ad at-tabiah" or "Ma b'ad al-tabi 'iyyat":

With respect to the criterion which we have cited above in naming the third part of Aristotle's philosophy, that is, 'Metaphysics", the correct Arabic translation of this term is 'Ma bad al-tabi'iyyat" and not "Ma bad al-tabi 'ah", because in Arabic language the term natural science is "tabi'iyyah" not 'tabl'ah".

Yahya iban 'Adi (280-364), the well-known translator of Aristotle's works from Greek into Arabic has in his mind this point, and, therefore, in the beginning of his commentary says:

..."The intension of the philosopher (Aristotle) in this book, is the book metaphysics, which in Arabic may be called "Fi-Ma b'ad al-tabt'iyyah"2.

Unfortunately, after him this point was neglected and the term Metaphysics was translated into Arabic to 'Ma b'ad al-tabi'ah" for instance lbn-Rushd (520-595 H) in his commentary on this part of Aristotle's Philosophy says:

"This is the interpretation of the first book (Ma b'ad al-tabi'ah), it is the same essay which is denoted by ''Alpha minor".3

May be the origin of such error lies in the fact that the term "Physics" in Greek is used for both nature and natural science.

Ma wara al-tabiah (Supra-Physics)

It has been seen that in many of recent philosophical writings instead of ''Ma b'ad al-tabiah" or "Ma ba'd al-tabiyyah" the writers use term "Mawara al-tabi'h". Dictionary of Mo'in (Farhang-e Mo'in) in this regard says: "According to the ancient philosophers Ma ba'd al-tabia'h" the i.e., ''Third Wisdom" or "Ma wariu al-tabiah" was one of the branches of on speculative wisdom (H.M) that is divided into two parts as follows:

1) Ilm al ilahi (theology) (H.M.)

2) Falsafeh-ye Ula (first Philosophy) (H.M.)

The branches or off-shoots of this science are:

"Nabuwwah" (Prophethood), "lmamah" (Imamate), "Ma’ad" (Resurrection).

Expostion: Aristotle called this part of philosophy which comes after physics as "Metaphysics". Henceforth, this term became current for it. Therefore, "ma b'ad al-tabia'h" is more correct than "Ma wara al-tabia'h".4

It is interpreted in that way because the term "Ma wara al-tabia'h" indicates that the connotation of this point that the problems of this science deals with the problems that are beyond the nature or hidden behind it. Accordingly, these people in their writings repeatedly all non-material and incorporeal beings a supraphysical or metaphysical being.

This misconception regarding the term Metaphysics is most probably stemmed from the same error or to be more Precise from carelessness which was already shown in the translation of this term into Arabic " ma b'ad al-tabia'h" instead of being translated more appropriately as " Ma b’ad al-tabiyya'h". Unfortunately, this misconception found its way into the writings of such a scholar as Ibn-Sina, for, he in his book, Shifa says that by metaphysics is meant all that is abstract and separated from nature. Ibn Sina says:

"According to this principle mathematics should be called the science of metaphysics5 unless the purpose of metaphysics is something else, that is, knowledge of that which is completely abstract."6

Anyhow, we are compelled to use the term "Ma ba'd al-tabiah" as the substitute from metaphysics, because "Maba'd al-tabi'iyyah" would sound unfamiliar sense to many people. Hence instead of replacing current term by an unfamiliar term we fall back upon the term in currency keeping in our mind that by the term "Ma ba'd al-tabiah" we mean a science which is learnt after the natural science, and not that which is beyond the nature.

Muslims Acquaintance with the Metaphysics of Aristotle

In the glorious age of the blossoming of the Islamic culture and civilization most of the scientific works were translated from Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Pahlawi and Indian languages into Arabic. For instance, Aristotle's Metaphysics and some other commentaries of this book were also translated into Arabic.

Ibn al-Nadim in this regard says:

"Discourses in the Book "al-Huruf'7 popularly known as Illahiyyat (theology), are arranged alphabetically based on Greek letters, the first one is Alif sughra (a minor) and Ishaq8 has translated this book into Arabic. It contains up to the letter "M". Abu-Zakariyya ibn 'Adi has translated the items under this letter. The letter "N" is also found in the Greek language according to Alexander9. Eustathius has translated this items under this letter for kendy10 and there is a popular story in this regard.

Ahu-Beshr Mati11 has translated the book Ishaq Ibn Hunayn which is the eleventh book along with the commentary of Alexander into Arabic, and Hunayn ibn lshaq12 translated the same book into the Syriac. Themustius13 interpreted the book A and Abu-Beshr Mati translated that book with Themistius commentary. Shemli also translated that book Ishaq Ibne Hunayn also translated some parts of these books. Suryanus translated the book "B" into Arabic with his own commentary..."14

Kitab ai-Hurof

Kitab al-Hurnf is another name for Aristotle's Metaphysics in Arabic. The reason for choice of such a name for this book is that the articles of this are arranged alphabetically, that is, Greek alphabets as follows:

1. Book A Alpha (major) A/if al-Kubra

2. Book a Alpha (minor) Alif al-Sughra

3. Book B Beta al-Ba

4. " J Gamma al-Jim

5. “ Delta al-Dal

6. " E Espilan al-Ha

7. " Z Zelta al-Za

8. " H Eta al-Ha

9. " Theta al-Ta

10. Article I Iota al-Ya

11. " K Kappa al-Kaf

12. " Lamda al-Lam

13. " M My al-Mim

14. " N Ny a/-Nun

Which is the first book "A" or "a"?

All the letters which have been used for these articles are Greek capital letters. Such as A, B, and ...But books No.1. and 2 are marked separately by major and minor versions of the same letter that is, Alpha one is marked with "A" and the other one marked with "a".

The method followed in marking the articles of this book indicates that the book "a" (with a minor) should be complementary to the book "A" (with major "A"). That is why the first book of Aristotle should be book marked with "A"15

The same arrangement is found in the English translation of the fourteen books of Metaphysics by W. W. Ross. But in the existent Arabic translation of the book the first book given is the letter "a" small, that is the capital letter "A" comes subsequent to it. Ibn al-Nadim also says in al-Fihrist:

"...The first is small "a".16"

Thirteen or fourteen?

On the basis of the writings of the "Ulama of Islam of that period it may be inferred that Aristotle's Metaphysics is comprised of thirteen books. In Tarikh al-Hukama, says:

"The Book Metaphysics comprises of thirteen books." (Oifti, translation of Tarikh al-Hukama, p- 70)

Taking into account the order of the Greek alphabets the book under the letter "K" is omitted in Arabic translation lbn-Rushd noticed this omission (at-Kat) and in his commentary of Metaphysics said"

"This is what we may. Conjecture in accordance with the order of the articles prior to that indicated by 'Lam' that only these articles reached to us, and that we could not find the article indicated by 'K' (al-kaf)17. .

Eleventh or Twelfth

In the same context another problem also will be solved. The letter Lambda that is, the letter "L" is the eleventh letter in Greek Alphabet. But keeping in view that there are two books dealing with "A", i.e. "A" and "a" in Metaphysics, so the book "L" lambda should be counted the twelfth. But in general, the writers of Muslim period consider this as eleventh and this shows that they were totally ignorant of the book "K".

Why the Book "k" (al-Kaf) Could not find Place in the Arabic Translation?

Was this book not available to Muslim writers or were there some other reasons behind omitting it?

In this regard we do not know anything clearly. But a thorough study of the contents under the book "k" in English translation may be helpful to clarity this point. The continuous study of this book will show that its contents are mere repetition of the contents of the book indicated under "B", "G" and "H" of Aristotle's physics are mixed with them.

Therefore, it is probable that the teachers, students and readers of the Aristotle's Metaphysics have considered this book as a redundant and unnecessarily repeated the issues already discussed. So, they deleted from their manuscripts or they might have access to the copies of Metaphysics from which this article was excluded.

"Dayr" (Nature) as a Substitute for God

The following verse deals with the beliefs of naturalist or atheists:

وَقَالُوا مَا هِيَ إِلَّا حَيَاتُنَا الدُّنْيَا نَمُوتُ وَنَحْيَا وَمَا يُهْلِكُنَا إِلَّا الدَّهْرُ ۚ وَمَا لَهُمْ بِذَٰلِكَ مِنْ عِلْمٍ ۖ إِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَظُنُّونَ

“And they say: there is nothing but our life in this world; we live and die and nothing destroys us but time, and they have no knowledge or that, they only conjecture.” (45: 24)

This verse speaks about those people who in the term of Islamic philosophy and Kalam are called "Dahriyyah" or naturalists.

Who are "Dahriyyah"?

Qifti in his Tarikh al-Hukama says:

"But "Dahriyyah" (naturalists) were those people in the distant past who did not believe that this world had a maker and creator. They were of the view that the present conditions of the world have been ever the same and will be the same in future also. There was no beginning in time of the circular motions which we perceive. Man was created from the sperm and sperm came into being through eternal and everlasting man, as seed comes from plant and plant grows from seed. The most renowned exponent of this group of thinkers is Thales of Miletus.'18 19

What Qifti said about the philosophical views of "Dahriyyah" regarding the Cosmos forms the basis of many materialistic philosophical world in the recent years. In such world-outlooks the world has been described as follows:

"It is sum total of motions, changes, decompositions and compositions, which are associated with one another and influence each other. In other words, the reality is continuous becoming along with the emergence of various and indefinite objects, which have neither beginning and nor end; and if we look at it from the temporal angle we cannot find any end to it. This infinite dimension is called "Dahr", "Time", duration etc.20 Accordingly, appearance and disappearance is the essential mode of the becoming, without being in need of a creator and a destroyer. Nothing destroys us but time.

"Dahr'' (Nature in our Philosophical Terminology)

Ibn Sina in the chapters regarding the physics in his Shifa has put forwarded a detailed account of the concept of Dahr and its particular meaning, the summary of which is as follows:

When we say that a being is in time, its existence should have to emerge gradually. It is a being always in the state of becoming such as motion which occurs gradually and one part of it in relation to its other parts should be either posterior or prior to them. Such being enjoys a new dimension which we may call temporal dimension21.

Occasionally it happens that an objective event in itself is not in the state of becoming, but it is mixed with another event which is in the state of becoming (in the philosophical term there is some unity between them). For an example, take a piece of a rock, in its internal composition, colour and form there is no visible change. It is lifted by a crane to the top of a building, from that very moment when the rock is moved by crane by virtue of crane's movement it is transferred to another place and by being moved acquires dimension. In other words, the moving rock will be temporalized.

Therefore, if a being is neither in itself gradual and nor having any graduality, it may by no means can acquire the dimension of time. Such being does not possess dimension of space. Nevertheless, we in our philosophical account of these may come across some conceptions which indicate that these beings are also not alien to time. For instance, regarding the spirit abstracted from matter we say: spirit was, is and will be forever. The words "was", "is" and "will be" all are related to the dimension of time.

If the abstract spirit is totally alien to temporality, then why these words which are related to time are used for it? The correct justification of this view is that the abstract spirit is not a temporal existence. That is, neither in itself possesses dimension of time nor are its attributes and accidents temporal. But we who are in time, we can look at it from within the span of time. In the process of seeing these we may arrive at the conclusion that whenever we look at spirit from within the span of time, we find it exist It is on the basis of frequent observations and successive realizations that we say:

"Spirit was, is and will be forever".

In other words when we compare this immutable thing with other mutable and transitory things, i.e. the things that are in flux, we find that existence of this (immutable thing) as compared with mutable and contingent beings is permanent. Therefore, it is everlasting. This mental conception which is formed as a result of comparing and contrasting a non-temporal reality with temporal realities is relative and susceptible to being interpreted in terms of was, is and will be. In fact, it is related to the continuity of time and not to the notions of revival and renewal.

In the specific philosophical term, it is called "Dahr". It is the same which in Persian we call "Zamaneh"22 or "Ruzegar''. To sum up, time is the fourth dimension of contingent realities, which are in the state of becoming and reveal their contingent nature. But "Dahr" is the manifestation of the eternally continuing and permanent being which is beyond the becoming, and is in contrast to the contingency and destructibility of other existents that are always in the state of becoming and are contingent and changeable. In this comparison, automatically, we looked at the dimension of time as a coherent continuous process.23

Ibn Sina after this exposition goes on to say some people hold that "Dahr" is "Time of static and motionlessness (reality). “Subsequently he criticizes them pointing out that static state is in compatible with duration or a specific period of time, i.e. temporarily, and the term "static time" is a self-contradictory.

We believe that those people who wanted to define Dahr as "static time" have most probably sought to say the same thing as Ibn Sina said in another way, i.e. Permanence in contrast to the mutability.

Anyhow, "Dahr'' in any of the aforementioned senses cannot be regarded as the cause of emergence of existents and as a creator and controller of world. This is the obvious truth that anyone can easily arrive at unless one is misguided by his conjectures and false opinions and led in a direction that obliterates such an evident and clear reality.

  • 1. There are some other titles in philosophical texts for this field of enquiry some of which are based on the issues and subject discussed in it. For instance, Falsafah-ye-Ula, Aristotle, Mab'ad Al-Tabi'ah (Metaphysics), p-160, Ibn Sina Illahiyyat, Al-Shifa, etc. Hikmat-e 'Aliyyah: Aristotle, Maba'd Al-Tabi'ah (Metaphysics), p.165, Hikmate Muta'aliyyah: Sadr ul-Muta'allihin, Mabda' wa Ma'ild, p.14, Ilm-e Kulli: Sadr al-Muta'allihln, Ibid, p.2, Al-Falsafat Al-Illahiyyah: Aristotle, Ma ba'd al-tabi'ah, (metaphysics), p.707, Ilm-e Illahi: Ibn-Sina, Shifa, Illahiyyat: Yahya ibn 'Adi. Tasfir Maqalehye Alif Sughra, p.10.
  • 2. Interpretation of Yahya iban 'Adi on the article Alpha (x) minor, 4.
  • 3. Commentary of Ibn-Rushd on Metaphysics, 3
  • 4. Dictionary of Mo'in, V. 4, foreign terms 207
  • 5. Ibn Sina holds that if the branch of philosophy, i.e. "Metaphysics" is named according to its position in classification of different parts of philosophy, mathematics should have been misappropriated named "Metaphysics". for on account of logical sequence, mathematic comes after natural science and theology comes after mathematics. It seems that this great philosopher ignored the fact that there was no section of mathematics in Aristotle's works.
  • 6. Shifa, Ilahiyyat, p-15.
  • 7. For details regarding the sequence of different chapter, please see note no.5.
  • 8. Ishaq lbn-e Hunayn (215-298 H).
  • 9. Alexander Afrudisi is one of the scholars of the Alexandrian school in the third century.
  • 10. The well-known Arab philosopher (d.260.H).
  • 11. (d-329 H)
  • 12. (149-264 H).
  • 13. (cir.329 H).
  • 14. al-Fihrist, 366
  • 15. Please refer to the English translation of the Aristotle's Metaphysics by W.D.Ross. This translation was first published in 1908 and reprinted in 1928 and subsequently six times with revision was reprinted up to 1966.
  • 16. al-Fihrist, p. 366
  • 17. Ibn Rushd, commentary on the Metaphysics, O-1404
  • 18. Ali Ibn Yosuf lbn Ibrahim Qifti, (588/646 H).
  • 19. Translation of Tarikh al-Hukama, p-75.
  • 20. There is a minute difference between Zaman and Zamaneh in Persian. It may be noted that Zamaneh is a mere general term having various connotations while Zaman always refers to a metaphysical entity encompassing the entire scheme of existence.
  • 21. Thales of Miletus (Eire. 600 B.C.), is considered in the histories of ancient Greece. It is said that he considered water as the origin of all bodies. But his philosophical outlook can be hardly reconciled with that of naturalists or materialists.
  • 22. It is the same dimension that in contemporary philosophical term is called fourth dimension.
  • 23. Summary of the exposition of Dahr in al-Shifa, pp. 80-81