I see that in his Metaphysics he starts speaking of the nature of explanation as if he thinks, I think, that it is key to be understood before moving to the investigation about being. But then, in his Physics, he speaks of the different senses of being to set the grounds for his nature of explanation.

So, what, if any, would be a more fundamental question for him?

  • It seems you're asking about "ens ut primum cognitum" ("being as first known"). Being is the proper object of the human intellect, just as color is for sight or sound for hearing. Being is thus first in our intellection, but the study of being qua being, metaphysics, comes last in the order in which we learn.
    – Geremia
    Jul 5, 2019 at 18:34

1 Answer 1


Aristotle alludes to the order in which one must learn in his discussion of prudence in Ethics 1142a11-19:

…while young men become geometricians and mathematicians and wise in matters like these, it is thought that a young man of practical wisdom cannot be found. The cause is that such wisdom is concerned not only with universals but with particulars, which become familiar from experience, but a young man has no experience, for it is length of time that gives experience; indeed one might ask this question too, why a boy may become a mathematician, but not a philosopher [σοφὸς] or a physicist. Is it because the objects of mathematics exist by abstraction, while the first principles of these other subjects come from experience, and because young men have no conviction about the latter but merely use the proper language, while the essence of mathematical objects is plain enough to them?

Expounding on this, St. Thomas Aquinas delineates the proper order of learning (Sententia Ethic., lib. 6 l. 7 n. 17 [1211.]):

[T]he proper order of learning is that boys

  1. first be instructed in things pertaining to logic because logic teaches the method of the whole of philosophy.
  2. Next, they should be instructed in mathematics, which does not need experience and does not exceed the imagination.
  3. Third, in natural sciences [physics], which, even though not exceeding sense and imagination, nevertheless require experience.
  4. Fourth, in the moral sciences [ethics], which require experience and a soul free from passions …
  5. Fifth, in the sapiential and divine sciences [metaphysics], which exceed imagination and require a sharp mind.

taken from this answer to the question "What is the best order to read Aristotle in?"

Thus, metaphysics comes last in the via inventionis (way of learning/discovery), although it comes first in the via resolutionis (resolutory way).*

*On this distinction, see part 1, ch. 5, §D.1. of Benedict Ashley, O.P.'s The Way toward Wisdom, fn. 35:

…the contrast between the via inventionis by which principles are discovered and the via resolutionis by which they are applied in demonstration is not identical with that between the via resolutionis that analyzes a whole into its parts and the via compositionis that again synthesizes these parts.

Benedict Ashley, O.P., is a promoter of Aristotelian Thomism, the school whose distinctive principle is that the natural sciences are epistemologically first (i.e., physics comes before metaphysics/metascience).

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