One of the greatest works in the history of metaphysics is the Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle of Thomas Aquinas. It is a work that I have longed for decades to read in the sustained and systematic way that a reading appropriate to such a work requires. Though, however, I have had a few false starts, I have never, for reasons compelling and others not so compelling, definitively set aside the time needed for that kind of reading. But I am now determined to set aside that time and undertake that reading. Not alone, however. I am establishing as one of the core threads of After Aristotle a series of posts setting forth some of the reflections that my readings of Aquinas’s commentary give rise to.
I say “my readings, in the plural,” of the commentary for two reasons. The first is that I of all people should understand that no one reading of a major work in philosophy, and perhaps more so this one than others, is enough for its full understanding. So the reading plan I have in mind includes, first, an initial reading and then one or more rereadings that will follow. Whatever will be the nature of any end result of any subsequent rereadings, the first reading will not be one in which I read and comment upon the text of Thomas in the way he does upon that of Aristotle, beginning at the beginning and proceeding line by line, passage by passage, and argument by argument, through the work until its end.
Rather, I foresee myself often understanding a line, a passage, or an argument but partially, if at all, and having to return to it later on. Thus, for example, the very first paragraph of Thomas’s “Prologue” contains several arguments; I count five. As of this writing, I on the one hand can understand and spell out and assess one of them quite to my satisfaction; this will serve as the focus of the next post. One of them, on the other hand, leaves me fairly baffled and incapable of any fully intelligible commentary on it; I think, and you might well say, “Of course you do,” that the problem lies in the argument and not in my understanding, but I do not claim to know that. And then there are the others, between the two hands. It is my hope that by the time I complete the first reading of Aquinas’s commentary, assuming that such a time ever arrives, I will be able to return to that first paragraph and offer something of a full commentary upon it. Before then, however, in this first reading, there will be much that I will have to pass over.
The second reason I spoke above of “my readings,” in the plural, of the commentary is that, even in, or especially in, my first reading, I will be reading and rereading the text and going back and forth between earlier passages, already subjected to one or more readings, and later passages that may shed light on them. I may well have to modify, add to, or delete from what I may have said in an earlier post.
One more note should be enough at this point. It is that I will also be reading and rereading the commentary in conjunction with other works, works by Aristotle, Aquinas and others, even others whose thinking is widely at variance with the Aristotelianisms of Aristotle and Aquinas; Ockham, Frege, Russell, and Quine come readily to mind. I will feel free to engage in occasional forays departing from immediate contact with the texts of Aristotle or Aquinas.
This is a project which will, should fortune smile upon me, keep me happily engaged for some years, certainly more years than it took Aquinas to write his original. It is my deepest hope that others will accept the invitation I hereby extend to enjoy it with me and to offer to me any comments, questions, suggestions, or critiques that they think what I have said might call for.
I will be using as my text St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, translated and introduced by John P. Rowan and with a preface by Ralph McInerny (Notre Dame, Indiana: Dumb Ox Books, 1995). It includes a translation of the version (or versions) of Aristotle’s text that Thomas commented upon, differing here and there and in varying degrees from the Metaphysics we know today.
The same Rowan translation of Thomas’s commentary is available online, along with and facing the original Latin, at:
If you prefer to do your reading in hard copy, you may easily purchase a copy of the work through Amazon.com., by simply clicking on the following:
Until next time.