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Barney, Rachel. History and Dialectic (Metaphysics A3, 983a24–4b8)
2012, in Steel, C. G. and Primavesi, O. (eds.) Aristotle’s Metaphysics Alpha: Symposium Aristotelicum. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 69–104.
Added by: Lea Cantor

This chapter discusses Metaphysics A.3, 983a24-4b8, in which Aristotle proposes to examine the first principles [archai] of his Presocratic predecessors in terms of his own theory of the four causes [aitiai]. It argues that Aristotle's account represents a particular kind of constructive dialectic, influenced by Plato's treatment of his predecessors in the Sophist; but that it also should be considered a foundational work in the history of philosophy, continuous with Peripatetic historical investigations in other fields. On more specific points, it argues that Aristotle's presentation of Thales is mostly taken from the sophist Hippias' account of Hippo, and that his account of Presocratic monism is more ambiguous than usually appreciated, and influenced by earlier readings as well.

Comment: This article offers a nuanced discussion of Aristotle's attitudes to early Greek philosophy and theology, focusing on his discussion of first principles in the first book of the Metaphysics. It helpfully highlights what this core passage tells us about Aristotle's approach to the history of philosophy and his philosophical methodology more generally. In doing so, it also clarifies what Aristotle's sources for the early history of philosophy are likely to have been. The article is also relevant for understanding Plato's attitudes to, and appropriation of, Presocratic ideas. For those teaching the Presocratics this article is best approached with some prior familiarity of the methodological challenges involved in reconstructing the Presocratics' views, but as a way into understanding Aristotle's own philosophy it is readily accessible and constitues useful introductory material. It is vital reading for anyone interested in ancient Greek historiography of philosophy.

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