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Aristotle on his Predecessors: A New Reading in Metaphysics A 10

Mirjam Engert Kotwick

University of Cincinnati

In this paper I present new evidence concerning the text of Aristotle’s Metaphysics A 10 and show how this new evidence enables a better understanding of A 10’s function within book A as a whole. My proposed emendation to Aristotle’s text is based on a piece of testimony in Alexander of Aphrodisias’ commentary that has not been taken into account by previous editors.

Recent years have seen a burgeoning interest in the text and transmission of Aristotle’s works in general, and the Metaphysics in particular (see Primavesi 2012, Kotwick 2015, Fazzo 2016, Golitsis 2016, Kotwick 2016). Here, the main questions concern the relationship between the two branches of the direct transmission (Harlfinger 1979, Primavesi 2012) and their relation to the indirect tradition, which consists primarily of Alexander of Aphrodisias’ third-century CE commentary (Kotwick 2016) and the Arabic translations of the Metaphysics (Primavesi/Rashed in progress). The importance of Alexander’s commentary as a textual witness has been demonstrated, and the commentary’s testimony has been used to improve the Metaphysics text of our manuscripts in several places (Kotwick 2016). However, editors and scholars still overlook the evidence that Alexander offers on the text of A 10, 993a13–15. This will be the focus of my paper.

In this passage, Aristotle concludes that none of his predecessors found a cause outside of his four-cause-scheme outlined in the Physics. According to the text in our manuscripts, he then says ἀλλ’ ἀμυδρῶς ταύτας, καὶ τρόπον μέν τινα πᾶσαι πρότερον εἴρηνται τρόπον δέ τινα οὐδαμῶς (“But [sc. the predecessors seek] these [i.e. the causes] unclearly, and in one way they [i.e. the causes] have all been said before, but in another way not at all.”) (A 10, 993a13–15). The Metaphysics exemplar that Alexander used read a slightly different text: ἀλλ’ ἀμυδρῶς ταύτας, καὶ τρόπον μέν τινα ἁπάσας, ὡς καὶ πρότερον εἴρηται, τρόπον δέ τινα οὐδαμῶς (“But [sc. the predecessors seek] these [i.e. the causes] unclearly, and in one way all of them, as has also been said earlier, but in another way not at all.”

I defend Alexander’s version as the better and more likely original reading by arguing in three steps. First, I draw attention to the deficiencies and oddities that the reading of our Metaphysics manuscripts entails in terms of syntax, diction, and content. Second, the reading of our manuscripts can easily be explained as the result of a copying error that occurred on the basis of Alexander’s reading. Third, Alexander’s reading, once accepted, makes better sense in the bigger picture. In particular, it allows us to connect Aristotle’s verdict in A 10 with his earlier verdict in A 7. Werner Jaeger’s (1912) influential thesis that A 10 is a misplaced duplicate of A 7 can now be refuted (cf. Cooper 2012). In A 10, Aristotle explicitly revises his interim verdict of A 7 and marks A 10 as updated, final say on his predecessors’ contribution to wisdom.

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Philosophical Thought and Language

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