BMCR 2023.04.10

Aristote. Métaphysique: livre bêta

, Aristote. Métaphysique: livre bêta. Quadrige. Paris: PUF, 2021. Pp. 178. ISBN 9782130829362.

Jean-François Pradeau’s recent translation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics Beta, published by PUF (Presses Universitaires de France), is a very useful tool for all those who work on Metaphysics, especially in French.

As a sequel to Alpha, which Pradeau translated two years earlier (PUF)[1], Beta is an introduction to the philosophical project that Aristotle announced in the first book. Philosophy, we read in Alpha, is the science of first causes and principles. It is now necessary to face the difficulties (ἀπορίαι) that concern such a science (Met. A 10, 993 a 25-27).

Thus, the first part of Pradeau’s introduction focuses on the notion of difficulty (difficulté) or aporia (ἀπορία). Philosophy, according to Plato and Aristotle, was born out of the fact of being astonished (θαυμάζειν). That which is astonishing is that which is difficult to explain. The Greek term ἀπορία, employed by Thucydides among others, indicates a state of distress in which an agent without any resource finds himself (p. 6) from which the agent must free herself as soon as possible. For the philosopher, instead, the aporia is a necessary stage through which she must go and in which she should dwell. And this is precisely what Aristotle intends to do in Beta because “it is not possible to untie a knot of which one does not know” (Met. B 1, 995a30, trans. Ross).

But how does the aporetic stage present itself? Aristotle formulates fourteen (B 1) or fifteen aporiai (B 2 to 6) in the form of disjunctive questions in which two different answers are opposed (p. 13). Without further dwelling on the question of whether the two answers are opposed as contraries or contradictories[2], Pradeau affirms that they are contradictories,

soit que l’alternative proposée soit du type « lequel de a ou de non-a convient », soit qu’elle propose de choisir entre deux possibilités apparemment exclusives l’une de l’autre (les principes sont-ils en puissance ou bien en acte ?) (p. 13)

However, this might not be the case. According to Crubellier and Laks, many theses are presented in an indeterminate fashion. Hence, even when a predicate is negated, and the aporia is presented as a choice between a and not-a, a‘s negation is not a determined predicate. Moreover, when there is a choice between a and b, this choice cannot be reduced to a choice between a and not-a. Crubellier and Laks mention, for example, the sixth aporia. The question of whether the principles are the constitutive elements (b) or the genera (a) is not an opposition between mutually exclusive poles, as if one could not conceive of the principles in any other manner (e.g. as causes).[3] However, Pradeau’s analysis shows in this case that if it is true that “the theses examined are not directly opposed” (p. 137), the consequences are irreconcilable. One cannot conceive of principles as both genera and constitutive elements. The consequences of Empedocles’ thesis (b) result in the fact that principles cannot be genera (not-a). All of this means that one must choose, I add, between a and not-a, in a determinate manner.[4]

In the remainder of the introduction, Pradeau outlines the aporiai and analyses the first (“does it belong to one or to more sciences to investigate all the kinds of causes?”, trans. Ross) in more detail. This analysis proves itself to be very useful because it reveals Aristotle’s general attitude towards the theses and the antitheses that he develops in the aporiai. Aristotle does not choose one side over the other. Each problem he raises requires a new approach which his predecessors did not adequately consider (p. 34). If there is a resolution of the aporia, it is not resolved by Aristotle in the same terms as those used in Beta (p. 32).

Aristotle’s program in Beta is parallel to that of Alpha. First, he addresses questions concerning the doctrines of the early philosophers and discusses questions relating to the Platonists (p. 42). Even if the project of a science of causes and principles is none other than the project announced by Socrates in the Phaedo, it is Aristotle, and not the Platonists, who has to bring it to completion. While recognising the progress of Plato, who had conceived a theory of Form and thus of the essential being of things, Aristotle must surpass his master’s thought by retrieving the form as an object of science back into sensible things. That is why in chapters 2 to 6, after having considered the aporiai pertaining to the science he is looking for (aporiai 1-5), Aristotle considers the aporiai relating to the nature of the principles (aporiai 6-14). In this introduction, unlike the one to book Alpha, Pradeau insists less on the Platonising character of Aristotle’s project but instead stresses its innovative aspect.

Pradeau accompanies his translation with numerous endnotes addressing various historical-philosophical problems raised by Aristotle’s text. Pradeau explains his interpretative choices and the arguments that Aristotle puts forward against or in favour of the competing theses. The notes are enriched by numerous references to ancient and mediaeval sources as well as secondary literature.

The readers of Beta will also be very pleased with the appendixes. First, there is a detailed presentation of the structure of the aporiai (pp. 131-145), which helps the reader navigate through the reading of each aporia (theses, objections, conclusions). More important is the table (pp. 146-149) in which Pradeau mentions for each aporia:

  1. The passage(s) where Aristotle states it in Beta and the first two chapters of Kappa.
  2. The passage(s) where Aristotle discusses it in Beta.
  3. The passage(s) where Aristotle discusses it in other books of Metaphysics.
  4. The passage(s) where Aristotle mentions or deals with it in other works.

The volume concludes with indices (notions, proper names, locorum).

As in his translation of Alpha, the Greek text Pradeau follows here is relatively standard. It is indeed that established by Ross in 1924[5] with a few rare modifications (3 in total, see pp. 51-52). In this work, Pradeau does not address the issues related to this choice. In his introduction to Alpha, he was somewhat sceptical regarding the intended new editions of the text of Metaphysics:

Mais quoi que laisse transparaître l’enthousiasme des savants qui se consacrent désormais à cette tâche, le texte nouvellement établi ne différera pas fondamentalement de ceux qu’avaient édités Ross puis Jaeger.[6]

Nevertheless, it seems to me that this volume fulfils the purpose of a new presentation and translation of Beta. Such features make for an accessible introduction for the novice reader, as well as a valuable tool for specialists.



[1] Jean-François Pradeau (ed.), Aristote, Métaphysique, Livre Alpha, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2019.

[2] See André Laks and Michel Crubellier, “Introduction”, in André Laks and Michel Crubellier (eds), Aristotle’s Metaphysics Beta. Symposium Aristotelicum, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 8-10. See also Friedmann Buddensiek, “Aporia in Aristotle’s Metaphysics Beta”, in George Karamanolis and Vasilis Politis, The Aporetic tradition in Ancient Philosophy, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 137-155, ici 142-145.

[3] Laks and Crubellier, “Introduction”, p. 10.

[4] I have briefly dealt with the sixth aporia as an example. To prove Pradeau’s thesis, one would have to proceed similarly for all the aporiai.

[5] William David Ross, Aristotle’s Metaphysics. A revised Text with Introduction and Commentary, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2. Vol., 1924

[6] Pradeau, Aristote, Métaphysique, Livre Alpha, p. 81-82.