Is Aristotle a monotheist?

It would seem so because

  1. in Book 8 of Aristotle's Physics he proves the existence of a single Primary Mover or Unmoved Mover.

  2. of his views on truth and contradiction, viz., that he believes in the law of non-contradiction. The Greek gods contradicted each other; therefore, it would seem Aristotle would not believe in the mythological Greek gods but in Absolute Truth.

  • So how does an Unmoved Mover and the law of non-contradiction lead to monotheism? Can it not also imply monism? – Swami Vishwananda May 22 '17 at 4:32
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    Its difficult to say given how many times his work has been translated and how much of an influence those translations may have had on the presentation of his work. There are some interpretations that argue that he says there are multiple unmoved movers, one for each astronomical direction. And it would be easy to go through his work and find him mentioning the Hellenic pantheon. Does he mean to invoke them poetically without assuming they're actually Gods or does he truly believe in them? Given the way that the Scholastics wrote our view of Aristotle, we may never know. – Not_Here May 22 '17 at 4:37
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    @SwamiVishwananda It would seem not because Aristotle ends his Physics by showing that the first mover has no magnitude, no parts, and is indivisible, properties monists would seem not to admit of their "one substance." – Geremia May 22 '17 at 4:43
  • @Not_Here I'm sure Aristotle speaks of the Greek gods elsewhere in his works. Does he simply avoid the controversy and not want to repeat Socrates's mistake? – Geremia May 22 '17 at 4:44
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    I think not; his "theology" is not the Medieval one. see Sthepen Menn, A's theology in The Oxford Handbook of Aristotle, page 422-on. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA May 22 '17 at 6:24

From ancient times to the modern day, Aristotle has been interpreted as holding this view. For example, Lactantius, writing around the end of the third century wrote:

"Plato asserts His monarchy, saying that there is but one God, by whom the world was prepared and completed with wonderful order. Aristotle, his disciple, admits that there is one mind which presides over the world." Lactantius

After investigating this question extensively, Thomas Aquinas wrote:

"Aristotle’s conclusion is that there is one ruler of the whole universe, the first mover, and one first intelligible object, and one first good, whom above he called God (1074:C 2544), who is blessed for ever and ever." Aquinas

The words of Aristotle themselves also make it clear that his metaphysics involve a belief in the existence of a single God:

"However, we must discuss this question by beginning with what has already been laid down and established. For the first principle and primary being is both essentially and accidentally immovable, but it causes the primary motion, which is eternal and unique. And since that which is moved must be moved by something else, the first mover must be essentially immovable, and eternal motion must be caused by an eternal mover, and a single motion by a single thing." Aristotle

In fact, Aristotle's theory simply does not admit of the possibility of there being more than one God. This is the basis for which he argues that his theory can explain the dilemma of contraries, such as that held by Empedocles who believed that love and strife are eternal principles in conflict. Aristotle considered such a view absurd, and he believed he avoided this difficulty precisely because there is only one primary mover:

"And on all other views it follows necessarily that there must be something which is contrary to Wisdom or supreme knowledge, but on ours it does not. For there is no contrary to that which is primary,since all contraries involve matter, and that which has matter exists potentially; and the ignorance which is contrary to Wisdom would tend towards the contrary of the object of Wisdom; but that which is primary has no contrary." Aristotle, Met. 12.1075b

He goes on to argue that a coherent understanding of the universe requires a single governing principle. As you noted, Aristotle seems to hold absolute truth as a presupposition, and any coherent theory about reality can only be harmonized by a belief in one God:

"Further, in virtue of what the numbers, or soul and body, or in general the form and the object, are one, no one attempts to explain; nor is it possible to do so except on our theory, that it is the moving cause that makes them one. As for those who maintain that mathematical number is the primary reality, and so go on generating one substance after another and finding different principles for each one, they make the substance of the universe incoherent (for one substance in no way affects another by its existence or non-existence) and give us a great many governing principles. But the world must not be governed badly: The rule of many is not good; let one be the ruler." Aristotle, Met. 12.1075b-1076a

Vasilis Politis summarizes Aristotle's view on the matter as follows:

"It is [Aristotle's] view that, strictly, there can only be one ultimate cause of rational change in general — only one God. This is because what Aristotle is searching for is the ultimate explanation and cause of rational change in nature as a whole. But evidently there can only be one such whole. So there can only be one ultimate explanation and cause of it. It is perhaps above all because there can only be one God that God cannot be identical with the inseparable form of the outermost heaven. It is true that, in virtue of its spatial position, there can only be one outermost heaven. For only one thing can be outermost in space, i.e. can bound and delimit everything that is in space and indeed space itself." Vasilis Politis

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