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Approaching the Debate on the Subject of Metaphysics from the Later Middle Ages to the Early Modern Age: The Ancient and Medieval Antecedents

Approaching the Debate on the Subject of Metaphysics from the Later Middle Ages to the Early Modern Age: The Ancient and Medieval Antecedents

By Marco Forlivesi

Medieovo, Vol.34 (2009)

Introduction: The remote origin of the debate on the nature of metaphysics and of its subject/object lies in some texts Aristotle devotes to the nature of scientific knowledge and to the characterizations of the first philosophy.

In the Posterior Analytics the Stagirite firstly provides a definition of scientific knowledge as well as an incorporation of knowledge through demonstration into the latter. We have scientific knowledge of a thing, writes Aristotle, whenever we know both the causes of this thing as being its causes, and we know that this thing cannot be other than it is. Knowing a thing through demonstration, he continues, is the same as having scientific knowledge of that thing.

Further, he lays down some theses about the features of scientific knowledge itself that will be the focus of attention and debate among authors from the Middle Ages to the seventeenth century.

In the first book of the Posterior Analytics one reads that all teaching, and, in general, all intellectual learning requires preexisting knowledge; in particular, of some things it is necessary to know already that they are, of some others it is necessary to know already what the thing said is, and of others it is necessary to know already both that they are and what the thing said is. Now, scientific demonstrative knowledge must depend on things (in the sense of ‘things said’ as well, hence of ‘propositions’) that are true, primitive, immediate, better known than the conclusions, and prior to and explanatory of the latter. Here it should be noted, specifies Aristotle, that things may be prior and better known in two senses: either in the sense of prior by nature or in the sense of prior in relation to us. Prior and better known in relation to us is what is nearer to perception; prior and better known without qualification is what is farther. The things that are farthest from perception are most universal, the things that are nearest are the particulars, and these two types of things are opposed to each other.

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