Understanding “what something is” is a project that has long occupied philosophers. Perhaps no thinker in the Western tradition has had more influence on how we approach this question than Aristotle, whose Metaphysics remains the locus classicus of rigorous examinations into the nature of being. Now, in an elegantly argued new study, Aryeh Kosman reinterprets Aristotle’s ontology and compels us to reexamine some of our most basic assumptions about the great philosopher’s thought.
For Aristotle, to ask “what something is” is to inquire into a specific mode of its being, something ordinarily regarded as its “substance.” But to understand substance, we need the concept of energeia—a Greek term usually translated as “actuality.” In a move of far-reaching consequence, Kosman explains that the correct translation of energeia is not “actuality” but “activity.” We have subtly misunderstood the Metaphysics on this crucial point, says Kosman. Aristotle conceives of substance as a kind of dynamic activity, not some inert quality. Substance is something actively being what it is.
Kosman demonstrates how this insight significantly alters our understanding of a number of important concepts in Aristotelian thought, from accounts of motion, consciousness, and essence to explanations of the nature of animal and divine being. Whether it is approached as an in-depth introduction to Aristotle’s metaphysics or as a highly original reassessment sure to spark debate, there can be no argument that The Activity of Being is a major contribution to our understanding of one of philosophy’s most important thinkers.
Kosman provides readers with a careful commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, focused on the concept of substance as energeia. In contrast to the textbook version of Aristotle’s ontology, which reads substance as either the subject of attributes or the reality beneath appearances, Kosman gives a detailed reading of substance as activity, and of being more generally as substantial activity… This is a tightly argued and intriguing commentary on the primary text that would be a valuable guide for anyone reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics.
In this illuminating commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Aryeh Kosman argues that, far from freezing or reifying an ontology of Being or Beings, Aristotle thinks that ‘to be’ essentially consists of being engaged in substantial activity. Meticulously argued, Kosman’s interpretation of Aristotle supplants those that characterize substances as either subjects of attributes or as the reality behind/underneath appearances. His Aristotle helps us understand how determinate beings—human beings, for instance—can nevertheless also be essentially engaged in further self-determining activity.
Aryeh Kosman’s The Activity of Being rewards careful reflection regardless of one’s philosophical specialization; it has significantly changed the way I view this difficult subject matter. This book is an original, far-reaching, and—this is quite rare—a largely correct reading of Aristotle’s work, and it will help solidify the importance of activity to Aristotle’s Metaphysics.
The Activity of Being is a work of great philosophical depth and scholarly significance. It is at once focused—on the concept of energeia, or activity—and wide-ranging, taking in Aristotle’s ontology, natural science, zoology, psychology, and theology. It will be studied with profit not only by scholars in the field but also by students and non-specialist philosophers. It is, in short, one of the best available introductions to and overviews of Aristotle’s metaphysical thought.
- 304 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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