Difference in Metaphysics Between Aristotle and Kant

What is the central difference between metaphysics as Kant conceives it, and metaphysics as Aristotle conceives it? Argue in support of one or the other view. Metaphysics is usually taken to involve both questions of what is existence and what types of things exist; in order to answer either questions, one will find itself using and investigating the concepts of being.
Aristotle proposed the first of these investigations which he called ‘first philosophy’, also known as ‘the science of being’ however overtime his writings came to be best known as ‘Metaphysics’ in which he studied being qua being with a central theme of how substance may be defined as a category of being. Kant who is a nominalist criticized both Aristotelian and therefore realists’ ideas of metaphysics by suggesting that they seek to go beyond the limits of human knowledge.
Furthermore Kant argued that the structure of the world as it is in itself is unreachable to us; metaphysicians must be content to explain the structure of our thinking about that world. In this essay I will examine the two main exponents of such a doctrine in favor of realists by looking at the main differences of Metaphysics as Aristotle and Kant conceive it, which is centered on the all important question of whether metaphysics is a science of mind or of being.


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There have been disagreements between philosophers about the nature of metaphysics; Aristotle sometimes characterizes the discipline as the attempt to identify the first cause or better referred to as the unmoved mover and other times as the very universal science of being qua being. It is however important to remember that both of these characterizations identify one and the same discipline. On the other hand the empiricists and Kant were critical of both Aristotelian and rationalist ideas of metaphysics, by arguing that both disciplines seek to exceed the limits of human knowledge.
Kant argued that the structure of the world as it is in itself is inaccessible to us and that metaphysicians must be content to describe the structure of our thinking about that world. Realists such as Plato and Aristotle maintain that for language to even exist there must be some universal quality to phenomenon. To elaborate, human beings do not discuss each object as a completely independent entity to be analyzed but rather draw comparisons to other known objects to compile a series of properties to categorize it.
Nominalists, on the other hand, while not denying that humans group things together by virtue of certain qualities, maintain that this is simply a convention of language based on people’s perception of them. Just because two objects share the same perceptible quality does not necessarily warrant grouping them together in any real way; it’s simply a human way of making sense of reality through the senses. As soon as one asks the most basic questions of ‘what is Aristotelian Metaphysics? What study does Aristotle believe himself to be undertaking in these essays? you find yourself, baffled immediately. ‘Metaphysics’ is in fact a compilation of a number of Aristotle’s writings that later on editors put together. It has a central theme of an inquiry into how substance may be defined as a category of being. Book Gamma appears to start on characterizing something which Aristotle calls ‘the science of being qua being’ and then goes on to a discussion of the principle of non contradiction. “There is science which investigates being qua being and the attributes which belong to this in virtue of its own” (Warrington, 1956, P116).
In order to study being qua being, one has to simply study those qualities which hold of entities in virtue of the fact that they are entities. What sort of attributes are qualities of entities qua being? Aristotle insists on unity or oneness as such a feature, on the grounds that everything – everything which exists is one thing. However Aristotle’s characterization of the subject raises a few doubts: why is there a need to restrict logic to entities? Is the word ‘qua’ appropriate? No doubt each entity is one thing but is it one thing qua being, or insofar as it exists?
Although book Epsilon is rather brief, it shows a return to the science of being qua being and also passes some remarks on truth. “If there any immovable substances, then the science which deals with them must be prior, and it must be primary philosophy” (Loux, 2006, p14). This shows that the immoveable substances are divinities. Book Zeta appears to restrict our subject matter in a rather different way: ‘the question which, both now and in the past, is continually posed and continually puzzled over is this: what is being? That is to say, what is substance? This question defines the nature of Aristotle’s inquiries, at least for a large part of the Metaphysics, and it thus offers a fourth account of the study or science of metaphysics. “The science of first principles, the study of being qua being, theology, the investigation into substance – four compatible descriptions of the same discipline? Perhaps there is no one discipline which can be identified as Aristotelian Metaphysics? And perhaps this thought should not disturb us: we need only recall that the metaphysics was composed by Andronicus rather than by Aristotle.
But the four descriptions do have at least one thing in common: they are dark and obscure” (Ross, 1996, p174). Books Zeta, Eta and Theta, together form the central part of the Metaphysics, with a focus on their general topic ‘substance’: its classification and relation to matter and forms, to actuality and to potentiality, to change and generation. According to Aristotle, there is one kind of being which is in the strictest and fullest sense, substance. What we don’t see in Metaphysics is Aristotle treating the categories as a whole.
The substance is the whole thing, including the qualities, relations etc which form its essence and this can exist apart. Secondary substances being universals, cannot according to Aristotle’s own doctrine exist apart, but must be supplemented by the special qualities of their individual members. Substance is prior in definition; in defining a member of any other category you must include the definition of the underlying substance. Substance is prior for knowledge; we know a thing better when we know what is than when we know what quality, quantity or place it has.
In this realist point of view substance is evidently being thought of not as the concrete thing but as the essential nature. And this double meaning spreads through Aristotle’s whole treatment of substance. The existence of substance and the distinction between it and other categories is for Aristotle self-evident. Kant on the other hand seems to suggest that the necessity for metaphysics is a psychological one, arising out of men’s desires which is the main difference between Aristotle and him; however I would argue against Kant that this is not the case and it is a logical necessity.
It arises out of the mere pursuit of knowledge thus that pursuit, which we call science, is an attempt to think in a logical and systematic manner. This involves unraveling the presuppositions of our thoughts. Furthermore it involves discovering that some of them are relative presuppositions which have to be justified and that others are absolute presuppositions, which neither stand in need of justification nor can in fact be justified; and a person who has made this discovery is already a metaphysician.
Kant intends to defend metaphysic and scientific knowledge by providing an accurate analysis of human reason. His theory is based on his discovery of synthetic a priori knowledge, judgments that are both informative and necessary. However I would argue against this nominalist point of you as there’s a problem with explaining how much judgment should arise, as well as to give an explanation of their truth.
In other words The Critique of Pure Reason argues that the necessary metaphysical principles underlying all hypothetical knowledge originate in the pure forms of feeling and the intellect. Furthermore In Kant’s point of view, there are no universal concepts underlying reality, simply the phenomenon in front of us. Realists, on the other hand, maintain that all things that share the same property — for example, greenness for all things with the color green — are therefore linked by this property. Sharing this property implies possession of the same universal form.
Nominalism posits that what is perceived is what exists in reality, whereas realists view a perceived object as the manifestation of a universal concept. Consequently, perception is not a one-to-one process of seeing something as it actually exists, but a synthesis of the underlying concept and real phenomena. Kant wrote the Critique of Pure Reason not as a piece of constructive metaphysical thinking, but it was placed before the public in order to move away from errors which had obstructed and did obstruct metaphysical thinking.
In his preface, he argued that his view of Metaphysics is concerned with God, freedom and immortality; however as well as dealing with these subjects, it also signified an inquiry to which men could never be indifferent and which they would never renounce thus the question was no longer about whether people should have metaphysics or no metaphysics but whether they should have good metaphysics or bad metaphysics. He also argued that metaphysicians were to blame for this state of things and that a sounder metaphysics was not to be looked for until those errors had been cleared away. Kant’s way of accommodating both the Aristotelian and Newtonian world pictures alike- both natural teleology and natural mechanism is to ground both in the necessary possibility of rational human nature. According to Kant, the natural world is an objectively real material world in which human persons actually do exist, and consequently in which human persons must also be possible” (Hanna, 2006, p15). Kant’s point is that if metaphysical knowledge is possible, it will share some of the distinctiveness of logic.
For Kant, any science must be based on necessary principles as one would not be able to be certain of what theories are true if scientific principles were only contingent. However unlike logic, which is purely formal, metaphysics has content because it is the science of reality. For Kant, The Laws of logic are not absolute or universal they are in fact left with everything else knowable as phenomenal. ‘Nominalist is true’ and ‘A and Not A, cannot both be true’ are both true statements but only and only because this is the way our subjective minds structure and condition reality.
They can never true in the universal and absolute sense without this phenomenological caution. For Kant these statements are not necessarily true (though it may be) outside of phenomenal experience. There is no question that Kant intends his theory of pure concepts to replace Aristotle’s theory of the categories. In his categories, Aristotle identified ten classes as the fundamental ontological types under which all things fall: substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, posture, state, action and passion.
He thought that things falling under all categories could be subject of essential predications, but only substances can keep their identities while undergoing change in time. In general the categories express metaphysical principles that set limits on meaningful discussions. Kant’s idea of categories differentiated from Aristotle’s in the sense that, he argued rather being empirical, in order for the categories to be successful, they must show that the concepts are pure and have originated in understanding rather than sensibility.
In addition the list must include only fundamental concepts, and it must be systematic to ensure completeness. Kant believes it is possible to obtain a complete list because pure concepts express functions of the understanding, thus the key to a complete list is to assume that the understanding has one function. It can be argued that this method is an improvement over Aristotle’s who merely conducted an empirical survey of concepts, which can never guarantee the systematic completeness of the list. In Aristotle’s case it is unclear whether he saw it as a doctrine about things and their basic properties or about language and its basic predicates; whereas Kant quite explicitly used his categories as features of our way of thinking, and so applied them only to things as they appear to us, not as they really or ultimately are” (Barnes, 1995, p75). In conclusion Aristotle and Kant’s metaphysics differentiate in the sense that one is arguing in favor of realism and the other is arguing in favor of Nominalism.
Although there is no doubt that both ideas have faults, the account I agree the most with is indeed Aristotle’s conception of metaphysics as it focuses on the logical necessity of metaphysics rather than psychological. The main differences between the two accounts can be seen in their treatment of perception, treatment of universals and treatment of language. Bibliography Ackrill, J. L. 1995. Aristotle. London: Routledge. 161 Allison, H. E. 2012. Essays on Kant. Oxford: Oxford University Press Barnes, J. 1995. The Cambridge companion to Aristotle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Buroker, J. V. 2006.
Kant’s Critique of pure reason: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University press. Page 8 Collingwood, R. G, 1966. An essay on Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hanna, R. 2006. Kant, Science and Human Nature. Oxford University Press: Oxford. Loux, J. 2006. Metaphysics a contemporary introduction. London: Routledge Ross, D. 1996. Aristotle. London: Routledge Shields, C. 2007. Aristotle. London: Routledge Gardner, S. 1999. Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason. London: Routledge Smith, N. K. 2007. Critique of Pure Reason. London: Palgrave Macmillan Warrington, J. 1956. Aristotle’s Metaphysics. London: J. M. Dent & Sons

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