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Online Learning

Course Number: PHL 590
Term: FALL 2014


Timothy Smith, Ph.D


Metaphysics is that most general investigation of philosophy that attempts to arrive at reasoned judgments about how things really are. This course presents a comprehensive introduction to Aristotelian and Thomistic metaphysics. Topics included are the nature of metaphysics as a science and its subject matter; the distinction between being and essence; and the analogy of being.


  • Acquire systematic knowledge of the main topics & structure of Aristotle’s Metaphysics
  • Become familiar with Aristotle's and Aquinas' conception of the nature of metaphysics
  • Develop critical thought on metaphysical questions
  • Improve analytical, discussion and writing skills in philosophy


  • Can being as being be known purely in its material context?
  • Is the Metaphysics an ontology or a theology? Neither or both?
  • What is the analogy of being?
  • How is this science related to other sciences such as natural science and theology known as sacra doctrina?


This course is an online discussion course with participation on Saturday 11am-12:30pm EST. Make sure that you have access to a computer with video capability. The intention is to provide a more interactive and real classroom-type of experience. In the event of technical difficulties, there will be optional phone conferencing available.

If you must miss a session, you will need to listen to the audio recording of the class and submit a written response in lieu of your online participation.

In a discussion class each member is expected to make a contribution at every meeting. You should form your own understanding of the material and be prepared to participate as we explore these texts. You are encouraged to question your classmates and your instructor when anyone says something you disagree with or do not understand, but everyone should always keep in mind that disagreement is not personal. Philosophical discussion thrives when it is an honest and open interaction as we move toward a better understanding. We probably won't reach agreement every time, however, but we should aspire toward it.


You will be graded on your discussion participation. In addition, there will be one final essay required (15-20 pages) required at the end of the course. Discussion participation (online and video session) will count for 50% of the course grade, and the final essay will count for the other 50% of the grade. There will be no exam.

The required final essay should be emailed to the online professor as a MS WORD attachment at: And, of course, you are encouraged to post comments and questions on the course’s webpage or email the professor directly.


  • Aristotle, Metaphysics (ONLY the translation by W.D. Ross will be acceptable because you must have an edition with Bekker numbers in the margin to find texts within each book) You can find this edition online:    or  purchase the Basic Works of Aristotle, McKeon, ed. on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
  • Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Boethius’ De Trinitate, qq. 5-6, (available online:
  • Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence
  • Ralph McInerny, “The Nature of Book Delta of the Metaphysics According to the Commentary of Saint Thomas Aquinas” (available online as chapter 16 in Graceful Reason: Essays in Ancient & Medieval Philosophy  --


  • Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, (available online:
  • Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles I, q. 34
  • Thomas Aquinas, De Potentia, q. 7, a. 7
  • Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I, q. 13, a. 5
  • Aristotle, Physics
  • Plato, Phaedo


  • Etienne Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers (Toronto, 1952)
  • R.A. te Velde, Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas (Leiden, 1995)
  • G.P. Klubertanz, St. Thomas on Analogy: A Textual Analysis and Systematic Synthesis (Chicago, 1960)
  • Hampus Lyttkens, The Analogy Between God and the World (Uppsala, 1952)
  • Clark Norris, The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics (Notre Dame, 2001)
  • Ralph McInerny, Being and Predication (CUA Press, 1986)
  • Joseph Owens, The doctrine of being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics: a study in the Greek background of mediaeval thought (Toronto, 1963)


CLASS ONE - On wisdom

  • Reading: Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book One
  • All desire to know… what?
  • Why is one type of knowledge better than another?
  • What are the four types of cause?
  • How did Aristotle’s predecessors err in their understanding of cause?
  • What is problematic or inadequate about the conception of the Forms as causes?

CLASS TWO – On the nature of metaphysical inquiry and its difficulties

  • Reading: Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Two & Three (little alpha and Beta)
  • Why are the most fundamental things the most difficult to understand?
  • Why must there be a first principle?
  • What does Aristotle see as the consequence of a supposed infinity of causes?
  • Are sensible substances the only ones that exist, or are there others besides them?
  • Is it kinds or individuals that are the elements and principles of things?
  • Are unity and being the substance of things, or are they attributes of some other subject?

CLASS THREE – The study of being as being

  • Reading:  Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Four
  • Reading: Thomas’ commentary on Bk VI, lessons 1 & 2
  • Suggested reading on the concept of analogy:
    • Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles I, q. 34
    • Thomas Aquinas, De Potentia, q. 7, a. 7
    • Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I, q. 13, a. 5
  • How can there be a science of being when the meaning of the term itself is ambiguous?
  • How can several uses of the same term be different but related in a meaningful way?
  • What is the principle of non-contradiction and why does Aristotle spend so much time on it?
  • How does he show the truth of this principle? Does he demonstrate it?

CLASS FOUR – Aristotle’s philosophical lexicon

  • Reading: Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Five
  • Reading: Thomas’ commentary on Bk V, lessons 1-2, 9-10
  • Why is this book here and not at the beginning or end of the whole work?
  • Does he clarify his terms here? Or is he making the ambiguities more evident?
  • In what way is this discussion helpful at this point in the work?
  • Suggested reading: Ralph McInerny, “The Nature of Book Delta of the Metaphysics According to the Commentary of Saint Thomas Aquinas”

CLASS FIVE –  Kinds of being & the study of substance

  • Reading: Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Six & Seven (chs. 1-6)
  • How does this division of the sciences differ from Book One?
  • Why can’t we have knowledge of incidental being?
  • What are the four senses of substance?
  • What does he mean by “only species of a genus will have an essence ”? chapter 4
  • What are the possibilities and criterion for determining?
  • Does he equate the ‘essence’ of a substance with species?
  • What does he mean by saying that “the form of the sphere is not produced” when a bronze or “brazen” sphere is made? Ch. 8

CLASS SIX – Study of Substance (part two)

  • Reading: Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Seven (chs. 7-17)
  • Reading: Thomas’ commentary on Bk VII, lessons 3-4, 13-14 & 17
  • When are parts included or not included in the formula of a substance?
  • Does he equate substance with form?
  • What constitutes the unity of a substance? I.e., what is the substance of a thing?
  • Are universals substances?

CLASS SEVEN – Actuality & potentiality

  • Reading: Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Eight & Nine
  • What does Aristotle mean by “no one makes or begets the form”? Chapter 3
  • How does he define ‘actuality’ and ‘potentiality’?
  • Which is prior?

CLASS EIGHT – On unity

  • Reading: Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Ten
  • What are the four kinds of unity?
  • Is unity the same as being?

CLASS NINE – The importance of order

  • Reading: Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Eleven
  • Is there such a thing as wisdom?
  • Is truth contradictory or relative?
  • Is the world infinite?
  • Are change and motion random?
  • How do we explain differences in judgment?
  • How does he define motion?

CLASS TEN  – The cause of being

  • Reading: Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Twelve
  • Why does Aristotle claim that the artisan and the doctor do not “create” anything?
  • What is the source of motion?
  • How is motion caused?
  • Why does Aristotle claim that there is only one Prime Mover but many “unmoved movers”?
  • What does he mean by “thinking of thinking” when speaking of the Prime Mover?
  • Does Aristotle’s Prime Mover create?

CLASS ELEVEN – The Division of the Sciences

  • Reading: Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Boethius’ De Trinitate, q. 5
  • How are the sciences divided?
  • What is the divine science?
  • Can being as being be known purely in its material context?


  • Reading: Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Boethius’ De Trinitate, q. 6
  • What does it mean to say that theological language is analogical?
  • How does metaphysics differ from the theology of sacred doctrine?
  • Can we understand the divine essence in this life?


  • Reading: Thomas Aquinas, Being and Essence, Chs. 1-3
  • What is the subject and purpose of this book?


  • Reading: Thomas Aquinas, Being and Essence, Chs. 4-6
  • Has Thomas clarified, corrected or contradicted Aristotle?




Holy Apostles College & Seminary is committed to the goal of achieving equal educational opportunities and full participation in higher education for persons with disabilities who qualify for admission to the College. Students enrolled in online courses who have documented disabilities requiring special accommodations should contact Bob Mish, the Director of Online Student Affairs, at or 860-632-3015. In all cases, reasonable accommodations will be made to ensure that all students with disabilities have access to course materials in a mode in which they can receive them. Students who have technological limitations (e.g., slow Internet connection speeds in convents) are asked to notify their instructors the first week of class for alternative means of delivery.


Students at Holy Apostles College & Seminary are expected to practice academic honesty.

Avoiding Plagiarism

In its broadest sense, plagiarism is using someone else's work or ideas, presented or claimed as your own.  At this stage in your academic career, you should be fully conscious of what it means to plagiarize. This is an inherently unethical activity because it entails the uncredited use of someone else's expression of ideas for another's personal advancement; that is, it entails the use of a person merely as a means to another person’s ends.

Students, where applicable:

  • Should identify the title, author, page number/webpage address, and publication date of works when directly quoting small portions of texts, articles, interviews, or websites.
  • Students should not copy more than two paragraphs from any source as a major component of papers or projects.
  • Should appropriately identify the source of information when paraphrasing (restating) ideas from texts, interviews, articles, or websites.
  • Should follow the Holy Apostles College & Seminary Stylesheet (available on the Online Writing Lab’s website at

Consequences of Academic Dishonesty:

Because of the nature of this class, academic dishonesty is taken very seriously.  Students participating in academic dishonesty may be removed from the course and from the program.


Even though you are not required to be logged in at any precise time or day, you are expected to login several times during each week. Because this class is being taught entirely in a technology-mediated forum, it is important to actively participate each week in the course. In a traditional classroom setting for a 3-credit course, students would be required, per the federal standards, to be in class three 50-minute sessions (or 2.5 hours a week) and prepare for class discussions six 50-minute sessions (or 5 hours) a week. Expect to devote at least nine 50-minute sessions (or 7.5 quality hours) a week to this course. A failure on the student’s part to actively participate in the life of the course may result in a reduction of the final grade.


An Incomplete is a temporary grade assigned at the discretion of the faculty member. It is typically allowed in situations in which the student has satisfactorily completed major components of the course and has the ability to finish the remaining work without re-enrolling, but has encountered extenuating circumstances, such as illness, that prevent his or her doing so prior to the last day of class.

To request an incomplete, distance-learning students must first download a copy of the Incomplete Request Form. This document is located within the Shared folder of the Files tab in Populi. Secondly, students must fill in any necessary information directly within the PDF document. Lastly, students must send their form to their professor via email for approval. “Approval” should be understood as the professor responding to the student’s email in favor of granting the “Incomplete” status of the student.

Students receiving an Incomplete must submit the missing course work by the end of the sixth week following the semester in which they were enrolled. An incomplete grade (I) automatically turns into the grade of “F” if the course work is not completed.

Students who have completed little or no work are ineligible for an incomplete and must receive the grade that they have earned. Students who feel they are in danger of failing the course due to an inability to complete course assignments should withdraw from the course.

A “W” (Withdrawal) will appear on the student’s permanent record for any course dropped after the end of the first week of a semester to the end of the third week. A “WF” (Withdrawal/Fail) will appear on the student’s permanent record for any course dropped after the end of the third week of a semester and on or before the Friday before the last week of the semester.


Dr. Timothy Smith

  • Ph.D., University of Notre Dame (IN), 1999
  • M.M.S., Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame (IN), 1994
  • M.Div., Southern Theological Seminary, Louisville (KY), 1991
  • B.A., William Jewell College (MO), 1988


  • Thomas Aquinas’ Trinitarian Theology: A Study in Theological Method (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2002)
  • “Aquinas on Aristotle and Creation: Use or Misuse?” Sapientia 55 (2000), pp. 193-216
  • Ed., Faith and Reason: The Notre Dame Symposium (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2000)
  • “The Context and Character of Thomas Aquinas’ Theory of Appropriations,” The Thomist 63 (1999), pp. 1-35
  • “The Importance of Order in Theological Discussion,” Sapientia 54 (1999), pp. 227-261
  • “Thomas Aquinas’ Theological Method,” Sapientia 53 (1998), pp. 119-154

 Currently residing in Ventura, California

(860) 632-3010