- Aristotle as Teacher: His Introduction to a Philosophical Science by Christopher Bruell
This commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics is in a style familiar from the writings of Leo Strauss and his students. The reader is presented with a paraphrase of the whole of Aristotle’s text, marked by seemingly odd omissions, emphases, and offhand remarks. One soon sees that the book is written in code. Only as the book progresses (and, presumably, the too casual reader has been shaken off) is the author (a little) more explicit concerning what he takes to be the main lines of Aristotle’s esoteric teaching, which (I think, but am not sure) is as follows.
Aristotle writes the Metaphysics for students being initiated into philosophy. These students have already left behind a mythical world-view, but not all are ready to grasp Aristotle’s deepest teachings concerning the nature of reality and how it is to be understood. Aristotle distinguishes between an arché (principle) and an aition (cause). The true principles, the realities behind all things, are particular bits of elemental material stuff in motion. These are the ousiai, the substances. But in order to make sense of the world, as it presents itself to us, we need to identify causes, by employing logoi. These logoi enable us to group together things on account of certain similarities. They express the ousiai of things. (The ousia of a thing is not, strictly speaking, among the ousiai.) These groups are the kinds discussed by the sciences. Identifying them allows us to navigate the world of “what is manifest to us” (195) and give us whatever knowledge of beings is humanly possible, though such knowledge necessarily is unable to grasp a good deal concerning the beings in question.
Bruell understands Aristotle’s assertion at Z.8 1033b26–28 (that the forms as some describe them, as apart from particulars, are of no use concerning the comings-to-be of substances) not according to the usual understanding, according to which he refers to Platonic, separate Forms, but to the substantial forms he himself appeals to in his hylomorphic analyses of particular substances (150). Such forms are causes, appealed to in [End Page 154] explanation, but are not true principles. Bruell has Aristotle break with the Parmenidean principle that the real is the intelligible: “There is a sort of principle that makes something known or knowable, without bearing the first or fundamental responsibility for either its coming to be or its (persisting in) being” (86).
First philosophy, as Aristotle describes it, the study of being as being, is impossible. A fortiori, first philosophy considered as theology is likewise impossible. Aristotle writes his Metaphysics for dual audiences: those who can appreciate his deepest teachings, and those who cannot. Each sees in the text what is appropriate for it to see. The more discerning reader will see that Aristotle is not “so devout an Aristotelian as some of his followers were and are” (140).
Bruell points to familiar philosophical tensions between Aristotle’s insistence that substances are particulars and that substances are the objects of (universal) scientific knowledge. While most Aristotle scholars develop complex accounts to reconcile these tensions, for Bruell, they indicate that Aristotle rejects certain premises he explicitly advocates.
Some will find Bruell’s readings brilliant and deep, others (myself included) willfully perverse. Could such an approach ever be validated for those outside of Bruell’s own intellectual tradition? Perhaps. Bruell finds significance in the ways in which Metaphysics K reworks earlier material from the Metaphysics. On his account the book is for those students unable to fully fathom the esoteric dimension of the earlier books of the Metaphysics, and—oblivious to their hints and implicit arguments—think that a study of being as being is possible. This is why the book is a suitable bridge to the theological Book Λ. Here, one might be able to test Bruell’s interpretation. Of the many slight variations in expression found in K, how many can be understood as advocating the sort of metaphysics...