I'm reading a book on the history of philosophy and the author makes use of the word real-reality-really in such a way that is a bit confusing for me. For example:

Aristotle's knowledge theory searches the instruments that allow the knowledge of particular things, because they are the only and true reality.

Only the particular really exists.

Are reality and existence interchangeable? Did Aristotle have a conception of reality different from existence, or is the use of reality somehow anachronic in these passages?

As I understand it, the particular would have a material cause, and in the sense pointed above, "God" would exist but not be real.

I know that this author has marxist influence and I thought that perhaps there is an overlapping of the concepts of reality and materiality. One thing that came to my mind is that real could actually be meaning natural, but I don't have a clear definition of what would natural mean to Aristotle (possibly something like material existence).

2 Answers 2


This is best understood in contrast to Plato's theories.

For Aristotle, the passage is saying, only bare particulars exist, and not universals. This means, for example, that there are individual cows which actually exist, but the abstraction of cow-ness does not exist.

This is quite different than Plato, who claims not only that Cow-ness exists (as a Platonic Ideal), but in fact that these Ideals are more real than individual cows, which merely partake of the Ideal.

In other words, the passage that you quote is not about the material versus the immaterial, or the natural versus the artificial, but about the particular (cow) versus the universal (notion of cow-ness.)

  • so existence and reality are synonyms? to Aristotle, the essence/substance does not exist? what is a substance then?
    – Tames
    Jul 29, 2012 at 22:15
  • We're getting into subtle territory here-- I'd suggest you look at the following article in the SEP on Aristotle's Metaphysics, which lays all this out: plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-metaphysics Jul 30, 2012 at 8:09
  • to Aristotle 'particular' is used in the sense of 'individual' in many cases, correct? I guess this is one of the sources of confusion. Anyway, I have a hard time thinking that "God" could be considered a particular entity as the others, as God would be pure form, without accidents. Any thoughts on this?
    – Tames
    Aug 1, 2012 at 21:17
  • I think Michael describes the "essence" of what Tames's book is trying to say here. It seems "reality" and "existence" are used as synonyms here. I do not think these words directly represent different Aristotelian concepts.
    – Cerberus
    Aug 1, 2012 at 22:56
  • @Tames: I suppose that would depend on the notion of God one is attempting to discuss-- Aristotle was by no means a monotheist. A brief overview of the relationship between Aristotle's metaphysics and later theologies is here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristotelian_view_of_God Aug 2, 2012 at 7:50


For metaphysics, in general, existence and reality are not the same.

As Michael Dorfman correctly pointed out above, each of Plato's four metaphysical worlds has a different degree of reality when compared to the others. The highest, most real being the Forms (Ideals).

In contrast, existence cannot have degrees. Something cannot more or less exist, it simply is or is not. For Plato, forms exist in the metaphysical world of Forms, just as numbers exist in mathematics. Neither can possibly exist in a material world.

Aristotle's rejection of Plato's metaphysical pluralism in favor of a single, universal (material?) metaphysics erases this distinction. As a consequence, there is no difference between reality and existence from within any Aristotelian philosophy.

  • 1
    Aristotle's concept of existence is not material per se. In fact, ultimately reality for him is formal -- which is to say things exist according to forms that organize them.
    – virmaior
    Apr 27, 2014 at 22:35

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