In this reading selection from Metaphysics, Aristotle discusses the study of “being qua being” or being as being. To elucidate this concept, consider a natural scientist and a mathematician. Both of these men study an aspect of being – the natural scientist studies being qua movable (i.e. beings as things that are subject to change) and the mathematician studies being qua measurable (i.e. beings as subject to measure). Similarly, the philosopher studies an aspect of being – i.e. being. This aspect can also be termed ‘substance.’ Aristotle believes that substance is eternal, immutable, immaterial, and fundamental. Therefore, the study of being qua being will be concerned with the first principles and causes of all things.
According to Aristotle, the most fundamental principle of all things is the principle of non-contradiction; it states that “the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject and in the same respect.” This principle is self-evident. In order for someone to assert anything about the world, this principle must be true. Either something is white, or it is not white. It cannot be both white and not white at the same time. If someone were to assert that something is white and not white, then they would implicitly state that all assertions are true. This assertion is self-destroying; for then a contrary statement is true, and therefore the original statement is false. If someone asserts that all statements are false, then his statement is false. “And if the former person (i.e. the one who asserts that all statements are true) excepts the contrary statement, saying it alone is not true, while the latter (i.e. the one who asserts that all statements are false) excepts his own as being not false, none the less they are driven to postulate the truth or falsity of an infinite number of statements; for that which says the true statement is true is true, and this process will go on to infinity.”
“All men by nature desire to know.”
“It is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize.”
“If that which it is true to affirm is nothing other than that which it is false to deny, it is impossible that all statements should be false; for one side of the contradiction must be true. Again, if it is necessary with regard to everything either to assert or to deny it, it is impossible that both should be false; for it is one side of the contradiction that is false.-Therefore all such views are also exposed to the often expressed objection, that they destroy themselves. For he who says that everything is true makes even the statement contrary to his own true, and therefore his own not true (for the contrary statement denies that it is true), while he who says everything is false makes himself also false.-And if the former person excepts the contrary statement, saying it alone is not true, while the latter excepts his own as being not false, none the less they are driven to postulate the truth or falsity of an infinite number of statements; for that which says the true statement is true is true, and this process will go on to infinity.”