I'm sure I read once that Aristotle comments that the 'first philosophy' - what later became called metaphysics - has no practical use, that it's something that is studied for the sake of understanding it, not for some other reason, or in service of anything else. I'm sure it referred to the 'uselessness' of first philosophy, in a kind of ironic way.

Does this ring a bell with anyone? I'm not an Aristotle scholar and can't find the reference, but I'm sure I read it, and I think it makes an important point.


2 Answers 2


The idea is developed at length in the first two chapters of book Alpha of Aristotle's Metaphysics.

At first he who invented any art whatever that went beyond the common perceptions of man was naturally admired by men, not only because there was something useful in the inventions, but because he was thought wise and superior to the rest. But as more arts were invented, and some were directed to the necessities of life, others to recreation, the inventors of the latter were naturally always regarded as wiser than the inventors of the former, because their branches of knowledge did not aim at utility. Hence when all such inventions were already established, the sciences which do not aim at giving pleasure or at the necessities of life were discovered, and first in the places where men first began to have leisure. This is why the mathematical arts were founded in Egypt; for there the priestly caste was allowed to be at leisure. (981b)

[W]e do not seek it for the sake of any other advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for his own sake and not for another's, so we pursue this as the only free science, for it alone exists for its own sake. (982b)

  • thanks - that is the passage I was thinking of!
    – Wayfarer
    Dec 6, 2020 at 11:06

Aristotle's Metaphysics is primarily concerned with teleology, but this is not the concern of the entirety of metaphysics. Metaphysics helps inform certain epistemological questions. For example, one concern of metaphysics is identity - what does it mean for an object to be the same "thing" across time? Another concern is causality, which is of great concern to science - so much so that Hume's problem of induction changed how many philosophers handle scientific epistemology, with possibly the most famous example being Karl Popper's empirical falsification. Basically, Aristotle's Metaphysics does not encompass all philosophical schools under the vague umbrella of metaphysics, and while teleology might be useless, depending on your definition of "useful," there are certainly concepts and ideas within metaphysics that have very tangible uses for science and other fields.

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