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An Entwicklungsgeschichte of a Text? Werner Jaeger and Aristotle’s Metaphysics

Mirjam Kotwick

Werner Jaeger’s work on Aristotle, and particularly the Metaphysics is characterized by the basic idea that inconsistencies in Aristotle’s writings are reflections of different stages in the philosopher’s intellectual development. Although Jaeger’s interpretation was rather influential on 20th-century Aristotelian scholarship, his method is out of fashion today and his conclusions have often been questioned (e.g. Cherniss 1935, Lachtermann 1990). Jaeger’s text-critical work on Aristotle, however, remains influential through his edition of the Metaphysics in the OCT series. Tempting though it may be to suppose that Jaeger’s developmental interpretation of Aristotle’s thought may safely be separated from his textual work on Aristotle’s writings, Jaeger himself regarded his investigation into the textual history of the Metaphysics as intimately bound up with understanding how Aristotle’s thought developed (Jaeger 1923, 1960). So the questions arise: how and how far did Jaeger’s concept of Entwicklungsgeschichte actually affect his editorial work, specifically his edition of the Metaphysics, and what problems might his blend of Entwicklungsgeschichte and textual criticism entail?

This paper will address these questions by focusing on one particular case, namely, Jaeger’s dating of the split between the two textual traditions of the Metaphysics. According to Jaeger, this split occurred in the fourth century BC. I will argue that it is Jaeger’s commitment to his concept of Entwicklungsgeschichte that brought him to this position.

In order to sketch the background of Jaeger’s view, I will first survey crucial passages in Jaeger’s publications on Aristotle and the Metaphysics. In his dissertation (1912), Jaeger portrays the Metaphysics as a mostly posthumous compilation of Aristotle’s lecture notes: the work’s composition is held to be the result of Aristotle’s methods of working and teaching. In his 1923 study Aristoteles, Grundlegung einer Geschichte seiner Entwicklung, Jaeger argues that philosophically divergent parts of the Metaphysics correspond to different stages of Aristotle’s intellectual development from an adherent of Plato’s speculative metaphysics to an empiricist of his own sort. It is here that Jaeger also begins to recognize traces of Aristotle’s intellectual evolution in the body of the text: the Metaphysics is now regarded a compilation of Aristotle’s lecture notes and of comments and explications that Aristotle added to them as he reworked these notes.

This background in place, I examine a key claim in Jaeger’s 1957 edition of the Metaphysics. According to Jaeger, the different stages of Aristotle’s development find expression also in the transmission of the Metaphysics’s text:  the two textual traditions (which Jaeger calls Π and Ab and are today referred to as α and β; cf. Harlfinger 1979, Primavesi 2012) descend from two different sets of Aristotle’s own lecture notes (cf. Walzer 1959, Renehan 1992). Thus by applying his concept of Entwicklungsgeschichte onto the manuscript tradition itself, Jaeger arrives at the astonishing view that the split between Π (α) and Ab (β) occurred at or shortly after Aristotle’s lifetime.

My paper will conclude with a brief reflection on the decidedly problematic consequences that flow from Jaeger’s commitment to Entwicklungsgeschichte and the consequent early dating of the two textual traditions of the Metaphysics.  This early dating forces Jaeger to devalue the textual evidence given by the indirect witness Alexander of Aphrodisias (c.AD 200), whose importance Jaeger otherwise never tired of stressing. Since recent work on Alexander of Aphrodisias shows that Alexander’s commentary precedes the split between Π (α) and Ab (β) (Kotwick 2015), Jaeger’s early dating is mistaken. Thus Jaeger’s combination of Entwicklungsgeschichte with textual criticism comes to light as highly problematic.

Session/Panel Title:

Texts and Transmission

Session/Paper Number

1.4

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