on January 20, 2000
Amazon.com, for reasons best known to themselves, have put my review of the Prometheus books translation of Metaphysics under the Penguin books translation (see below). Just to make things perfectly clear, the Prometheus books translation is bad, the Penguin books translation is good. Now, no matter where they put this, the truth will out.
on July 26, 2007
This translation of Aristotle's Metaphysics is published by NuVision Publications, which says that they are "specializing in rare, out-of-print books still in demand." The translator is W. D. Ross, and the translation was first published by Oxford University Press in the early nineteen thirties. It was later republished by Random House under the editorship of Richard McKeon. It seems that the translation is now in the public domain since the title page has no data on copyright. NuVision is to be commended for making available classics that are out of print. But they have hardly done justice to W. D. Ross. I have only made my way through Book III (out of XIV)of the Metaphysics, but I am distressed by too frequent errors of punctuation, omission of words, change of word order, and a total mangling of the last paragraph of Book III that makes it altogther unintelligible. Aristotle deserves better, and so does the reputation of W. D. Ross.
on January 20, 2005
"After 'The Physics'" is the suitably opaque title for Aristotle's exploration of the fundamental nature of existence. It is not about religion as such, nor mysticism or magic; you can put those meanings of the word aside. It has been called by this title ever since a first-century B.C. editor decided to place it *after* Aristotle's "Physica" (On Nature). Aristotle seems to have called it "First Philosophy," which now suggests something introductory, as well as of first importance. Aristotle also sometimes describes it as "Theology," which is also rather misleading, although he does talk about a concept of what he considers divinity. The concept has little connection to most people's way of regarding religion, although Muslim, Jewish, and Christian Aristotelians all did their best to reconcile it with their ideas of what "theology" should be, sometimes with help from Neo-Platonist interpretations.
No valid presentation is going to make it easy to understand, and Richard Hope's half-century old translation is not for the faint of heart. Part of the problem, however, is not the (admitted) depth of Aristotle's thought, but the fact that he was thinking in an ancient language, an issue that Hope confronts, and, through his presentation, largely overcomes. The book looks cluttered, but a little use shows how functional it is.
Hope's translation has an elaborate apparatus making clear how Aristotle's own choice of words underlies his English version. It shows, without argumentative commentary, how what in our language are discrete concepts fall together quite naturally in the Greek text. The same cross-references show that some ideas we would class together are kept apart in Greek, so Aristotle is not being obtuse in failing to notice how they fit.
For those of us with an interest in philosophy or classical antiquity whose Greek ranges between non-existent and minimal, the results can be enlightening.
Aristotle, it must be remembered, did not have at his disposal the kind of technical language devised over a couple of thousand years by thinkers working through Plato and, well, Aristotle's "Metaphysics". He used the Greek language of his time, expressing himself through the relationships between words in ordinary use. Also, he did not have to worry about whether foreigners -- the barbarians, after all -- would be able to make sense of his statements. Aristotle probably would have been horrified, as well as astonished, to learn that some his important advocates and interpreters would know him only through Arabic or Latin versions.
I have used the Hope translation for about a quarter of a century, often checking translations of excerpts in other works against it. I have not always come away with a greater understanding, but I have often found something I was missing by reading it either in "plain English" or technical jargon, and sometimes decided on his evidence that Aristotle's meaning was being misconstrued.
I feel that this version will be of use to anyone with a serious interest in this branch of philosophy, or the history of thought. And, except as assigned reading, how many others are likely to look at it? Unless, of course, one has already mastered classical Greek, and has the time and patience to work out Aristotle's use of language directly.
For those looking for a somewhat less intimidating-looking introduction, Hugh Lawson-Tancred's translation in Penguin Classics is highly regarded, and probably as readable as an accurate translation of the work is likely to get; and it has an extra half-century of Aristotelian studies behind it. The old Ross translation (the "Oxford Aristotle"), used through most of the twentieth century in various revisions, has admirers, although I personally found it the most difficult of the three to read at any great length.
Finally, for those interested in history-of-philosophy problems beyond Aristotle himself, there is A.E. Taylor's old (1906) "Aristotle on His Predecessors," which was in print as recently as the early 1990s. It deals with the how Aristotle treats earlier philosophers in the first two books of "Metaphysics." This is a major problem, since his account is a main source of information on them, but seems to have been meant by Aristotle to set up the terms of his own argument, and not as an investigation of what they had really meant.
Of course, that is how philosophers and theologians have used Aristotle himself for centuries...
(Reposted from my "anonymous" review of June 15, 2003.)
on February 22, 2007
I agree with Ian Slater's view that Hugh Lawson-Tancred's Penguin translation comes with an excellent Introduction. It also has very informative notes introducing the chapters. However, Lawson-Tancred's translation is way too literal for my liking and therefore very tedious to follow. Richard Hope's translation is more readable by far and takes the reader straight to the meaning of Aristotle's writings - which is what I want. To give credit to Lawson-Tancred, I read his chapter notes prior to reading each chapter in Hope's version. I find this to be a very satisfying compromise.
You should first note that, when choosing a volume such as this, the quality of the translation is of primary importance. In my experience, one of three publishers who consistently offer outstanding translations of classic philosophical and literary texts is Penguin Classics. To avoid poor translations, please notice reviewer complaints about volumes offered by certain other publishers.
In this work, Aristotle first exposes what he finds to be the logical errors of earlier thinkers. Although he recurrently trains his fire even on his old teacher, Plato, Aristotle's system of thought does not finally escape Platonism. This volume presents several major undertakings,  Aristotle's logic,  his systematic definitions and arguments as to the nature and priority of "substance", relative aspects of actuality, potentiality, process, differentia, unity and multiplicity, and  his theology (First Philosophy). From Book Gamma: "There must be some one science that gives an account of all... and that also gives an account of substance... of that which is one qua that which is one and of that which is qua that which is... The shortcoming of current examinations of these topics is not their failure to be philosophy, but the priority of substance, on which the current philosophical consensus has no view. There are affections peculiar to [quantification as being quantification]... in the same way there are peculiarities of that which is just qua that which is. And it is the truth about these that the philosopher is after." While Aristotle is often said to be the ideological godfather of so-called positivism (a particularly dogmatic species of materialism), he would reject the title. So-called positivists tend to proudly insist that they reject metaphysics. The obvious problem with this assertion is that it is itself metaphysical (as Aristotle would immediately point out). Throughout most of the history of systematic thought, metaphysics has been seen as the supreme discipline (Isaac Newton, the greatest of physicists and mathematicians, found physics and mathematics to be less fascinating than theology, as had Rene Descartes and Blaise Pascal). But the Enlightenment brought with it a rather paranoiac suspicion of pure reason, and especially of First Philosophy. Aristotle would strongly disapprove; "It is, however, vital not to overlook the question of what it is to be a thing and the definitional account of how it is what it is. If we leave these out, scientific inquiry is mere shadow boxing." (Epsilon 1)
Some discourses of The Metaphysics are surprisingly readable, some are quite esoteric, some are puzzling (perhaps even to Aristotle?). Are Socrates and what-it-was-to-be Socrates identical? The author seems to think yes, at least in some sense. The exhaustive attempts to define essence, substance, and yes, definition itself (in Books Zeta and Eta), serve to demonstrate why many presume to avoid metaphysics. Those who call themselves positivists probably won't read this particular work of Aristotle, perhaps claiming even to be proud that they didn't "waste" their time with it. Indeed, some discussions seem merely confusing. Book Kappa revisits arguments and questions introduced earlier, and Aristotle presents his fully developed theology, at times elegant and at times incongruent, in the final chapters of Lambda. For the student of philosophy this remains an important book, one that is foundational to the science of being, metaphysics.
on June 3, 2015
A classic book, that is absolutely brutal to read. As a philosophy major I read it for school. I read a lot of dense books and I cannot imagine anyone enjoying reading this book. It does have some classic ideas, like 'turtles all the way down,' prime mover stuff. It seems like a good translation though, with some extremely helpful introductions and explanations, so I'm giving it four stars.
This extraordinary text totally paved the way for the rest of Western metaphysics. It is a lucid text, though still difficult because of the complexity of the ideas. In it, Aristotle posits his famous causes of being, material, formal, efficient, final. And he conceptualizes the criteria for essence. There is almost no way to master the contents of this body of work, it has challenged the greatest thinkers ever since its rediscovery and will continue to astound and mystify for as long as it continues to exist.
This translation is fair, though the Hugh Tredennick is a bit clearer.
on October 13, 2015
Aristotle's examination of the world around him, for his day, was impressive to say the least. This book gave me a fuller grasp of the ideas put forward by Aristotle which were hailed as the true nature of reality for more than a millennium. I won't say this book is easy, it can be tedious at times trying to get the full argument being put forward. Overall i'd have to say this book is a must read for anyone remotely interested in philosophy.
on October 14, 2010
I preface my remarks with two disclaimers. (1) I would not presume to "review" Aristotle, but I can superficially review this edition. (2) I do not know Greek.
I recommend buying this book, but not as your main text of the "Metaphysics". For your main text of the "Metaphysics", I recommend the 1924 translation by W.D. Ross, which is not in print, but you can find it used. The "Metaphysics" is famously difficult. I found the Ross translation clearer and more comprehensible than that of Tancred-Lawson (T-L). I was about one-third of the way through the T-L translation when I had to give up. But it was through the T-L bibliography that I found the Ross translation, so if that was all the T-L did for me, it would have been enough.
I also did not quite like the tone and style of this translation. I found it too informal and colloquial for my tastes. It is quite interesting in that respect, but in the end it feels stylistically wrong.
But the T-L is still well worth buying. The various introductory and textual essays are excellent and very well worth reading. T-L's alternative translation is good to have as a backup. Sometimes when it is Ross that is obscure, T-L can clarify the matter.
One warning is that you had better read the "Physics" before you read this, or it will not make any sense to you at all.
Summary: At this price, the book is highly recommended as your backup translation of, and general companion to, the "Metaphysics."
on October 30, 2014
A great work which is well worth reading. In college I thought Aristotle spent too much time in correcting or discrediting other teachers; I now appreciate his detailed process of building his point of view in every angle of review.