Chapter 2: Metaphysical Issues

1. Aristotle's Metaphysics

In a section of his Metaphysics, Aristotle begins with an examination of the views of his predecessors regarding the principles of natural phenomenon and their first causes. In his book (Alpha minor), Aristotle points out that gaining knowledge of reality is not an easy task.

To examine reality is something which is, on one hand, easy and, on the other, difficult. Proof of this statement is the fact that neither has anyone been completely successful in comprehending reality nor has reality been completely hidden from everyone, when we consider every one of the people who have spoken about nature, we see that some of them have totally failed to attain any knowledge of the truth while others have succeeded in knowing a little part of it. If, however, we were to add up all these bits and pieces of understanding, it would add up to a considerable sum. Thus, gaining knowledge of the truth is in this sense, easy (and accessible to all). It is with reference to this fact that we usually say: "Everybody know the door of this house".

The cause of its difficulty, however, is that it has not been possible so far for the whole truth to be recognized or a large part of it to be fully understood. There are, may be, two causes1 behind it. Nevertheless, the difficulty has its origins in our own selves2. So, it is not related to the realities of the external world, for in comparison with that segment of nature which is perfectly clear and unclouded, our reason3 is like the eyes of a bat before the sun4.

Aristotle goes on to say that in any case we are in debt to our predecessors for our intellectual development. This is so because they were either pioneers of learning and science or they acted to preserve the fruits of the research and scientific efforts of themselves and others and passed them on to us. We must therefore always be grateful to them and honor them and their works. In his book, Alpha Minor, Aristotle says: The chain of cause and effect must have a starting point. At this starting point we must have something which is a cause without being an effect of another cause.

In the third book, Beta, Aristotle deals with the views which are opposed to his own idea.

In the fourth book, Gamma, he provides us with logical arguments needed for this discussion, specially discussing the contradiction in detail.

In the fifth book, Delta, he explains the meaning of the terms to be used in the discussion which is to follow so that there shall be no misunderstanding regarding the meaning of each special term, and nothing other than what he intends should be understood by them.

In the sixth book of his Metaphysics, Epsilan, Aristotle discusses actual being, mental being, and accidental being.

In the seventh and the eighth book, he discusses matters such as substance, accident, principles and sense datum substances.

In the ninth book, Theta, he considers such matters as unity and multiplicity and the problems related to them. And in the tenth book, he treats the question of movement and discusses the concepts of finite and infinite.

In the eleventh book, Kappa, he restates some particular portions of the third, the fourth and the sixth book in relation to certain topics in the natural sciences so as to prepare the mind of the reader for the main discussion which is to follow in the next discourse, that is, the twelfth book.

In the twelfth book, the subject of discussion is the first principle or the cause of the causes.

In the thirteenth and the fourteenth book he critically examines his predecessor's views regarding the principles of nature.

With this brief reference to the content of the fourteen book it becomes clear that amongst all the subjects treated by Aristotle in his books, the most fundamental one is the question of the first cause of all being which is God. God is the point where the long chain of cause and effect originates from and is caused by5.

This first cause is an imperceptible substance and the origin of the existence of all other substances either perceptible or imperceptible. Aristotle repeatedly speaks of the value and high station of that section of philosophy which aims to deal with the first principle and the first cause. In one place he calls it "the holiest6 and the worthiest of the sciences7.''

2. Originology, the Fundamental Problem of Metaphysics

2. Originology (the Enquiry into the Ultimate Origin of Things) the Fundamental Problem of Metaphysics

Following the previous discussion, we can conclude that the fundamental problem of metaphysics according to Aristotle and Ibn Sina (Avicenna), is to find out the origin of the world. All other problems are subsidiary.

3. Is Eschatology a Metaphysical Issue?

No discussion of eschatology is to be found in Aristotle's Metaphysics. Furthermore, in other philosophical texts inspired or based upon the philosophy of Aristotle, fundamental problems relating to the hereafter, are treated in domain of psychology which is part of natural science. These fundamental issues include the problem of the immaterialness and the everlastingness of the soul. Such problems are not touched in sections dealing with metaphysics. For example, in his book Shifa, Ibn Sina has discussed these problems in the sixth art and related it to natural science. Sadr ul-Muta'allihin (Mullah Sadra) (died. 1630 AD) in his introduction to his book Al Mabda' va Al Maad (origin and end) clearly states that eschatology is related to 'physics' (that is, natural sciences):

"I deemed better that this book should cover two worthy arts which are fundamental, and the result of two great sciences. i.e., 1- Theology (Rububiyyat) and the separate substances (Mufiiraqat), which affiliated to general ontology and philosophy, which together are called ethologia8. 2- psychology, which is related to physics (natural science). These two are the bases of learning and wisdom, and being ignorant of them is harmful to man in the day of resurrection9".

Thus, in Mullah Sadra's view also, eschatology is not affiliated to metaphysics. We shall take up the question of how acceptable is this view. We shall devote a separate section to this issue. Now, let us continue with our discussion of, and investigation into, the question of the ultimate origin and the cause of being.

  • 1. It is either related to the shortcoming of perceiver or is concerned perception.
  • 2. That is, short coming of our perceptive faculty in comprehending the truth.
  • 3. According to the text by man's intellect is the same intellectual ability of man.
  • 4. Aristotle, Metaphysics, p. 3-4
  • 5. Aristotle has referred many times to this point. For example, in the first section and the first and second book as well as the twelfth book.
  • 6. Ross(tran), Metaphysics, p. 983
  • 7. Regarding this matter Ibn Sina makes the following statement in his book Shifa as follows:

    '...and that is the first philosophy that deals with the most universal realities viz. being and unity. And that is a wisdom which in reality, is the highest learning about the worthiest subject. This is because such knowledge is the most valuable form of knowledge. It is certain knowledge the worthiest of things i.e. God and the causes secondary to the divine essence. In reality, therefore, this is the knowledge of the most fundamental cause of the existence of the world and knowledge of God. And the way that the divine science is defined, that is: 'knowledge of those realities whose existences are independent of matter, 'is well suited to it. (Shifa, Divinities, 10 and 11).

    Somewhere else he says:

    "...this science is also called 'the Divine Science' since the ultimate result of this science is knowledge of the Almighty... therefore it appears that this science is the highest and the most perfect stage of learning and its fundamental aim is to gain knowledge of a being which is entirely divorced from nature. (Shifa, Divinities, 15 and 16)

  • 8. the Arabic version of theology means, "knowing God" or knowledge related to God (Lãhut).
  • 9. Mullah Sadra, Al-Mabdã wal-Ma’ãd, p. 4