Durant 1926: Metaphysics and the Nature of God (Aristotle)

This paper presents Chapter II, Section 5 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.  Feedback on these comments is appreciated.

The heading below is linked to the original materials.


V. Metaphysics and the Nature of God 

His metaphysics grew out of his biology. Everything in the world is moved by an inner urge to become something greater than it is. Everything is both the form or reality which has grown out of something which was its matter or raw material; and it may in its turn be the matter out of which still higher forms will grow. So the man is the form of which the child was the matter; the child is the form and its embryo the matter; the embryo the form, the ovum the matter; and so back till we reach in a vague way the conception of matter without form at all. But such a formless matter would be no-thing, for every thing has a form. Matter, in its widest sense, is the possibility of form; form is the actuality, the finished reality, of matter. Matter obstructs, form constructs. Form is not merely the shape but the shaping force, an inner necessity and impulse which moulds mere material to a specific figure and purpose; it is the realization of a potential capacity of matter; it is the sum of the powers residing in anything to do, to be, or to become. Nature is the conquest of matter by form, the constant progression and victory of life.* 

[*Half of our readers will be pleased, and the other halt amused, to learn that among Aristotle’s favorite examples of matter and form are woman and man; the male is the active, formative principle; the female is passive clay, waiting to be formed. Female offspring are the result of the failure of form to dominate matter.]

In my opinion, the substance of this universe contains its own inner impulse. As the substance evolve so does its inner impulse. The two cannot be separated as Aristotle tries to do. The inner impulse cannot exist without substance, and no substance can be without inner impulse. The forms of substance are energy and matter; in fact, energy condenses into matter.

Everything in the world moves naturally to a specific fulfillment. Of the varied causes which determine an event, the final cause, which determines the purpose, is the most decisive and important. The mistakes and futilities of nature are due to the inertia of matter resisting the forming force of purpose—hence the abortions. and monsters that mar the panorama of life. Development is not haphazard or accidental (else how could we explain the almost universal appearance and transmission of useful organs?); everything is guided in a certain direction from within, by its nature and structure and entelechy*; the egg of the hen is internally designed or destined to become not a duck but a chick; the acorn becomes not a willow but an oak. This does not mean for Aristotle that there is an external providence designing earthly structures and events; rather the design is internal, and arises from the type and function of the thing. “Divine Providence coincides completely for Aristotle with the operation of natural causes.”

[*Entelecheia—having (echo) its purpose (telol) within (entol); one of those magnificent Aristotelian terms which gather up into themselves a whole philosophy.]

In my opinion, the impulse, purpose and the goal comes from within. It is part of the nature of the thing. The struggle is due to trial and error, which is a natural part of evolution. The more something is formed, the more inertia it has. Activity and inertia must be in balance with the impulse and goal.

Yet there is a God, though not perhaps the simple and human god conceived by the forgivable anthropomorphism of the adolescent mind. Aristotle approaches the problem from the old puzzle about motion—how, he asks, does motion begin? He will not accept the possibility that motion is as beginning-less as he conceives matter to be: matter may be eternal, because it is merely the everlasting possibility of future forms; but when and how did that vast process of motion and formation begin which at last filled the wide universe with an infinity of shapes? Surely motion has a source, says Aristotle; and if we are not to plunge drearily into an infinite regress, putting back our problem step by step endlessly, we must posit a prime mover unmoved (primum mobile immotum), a being incorporeal, indivisible, spaceless, sexless, passionless, changeless, perfect and eternal. God does not create, but he moves, the world; and he moves it not as a mechanical force but as the total motive of all operations in the world; “God moves the world as the beloved object moves the lover.” He is the final cause of nature, the drive and purpose of things, the form of the world; the principle of its life, the sum of its vital processes and powers, the inherent goal of its growth, the energizing entelechy of the whole. He is pure energy; the Scholastic Actus Purus—activity per se; perhaps the mystic “Force” of modem physics and philosophy. He is not so much a person as a magnetic power.

In my opinion, impulse is as eternal as energy. It is impulse that condenses into motion while energy condenses into matter. Motion is  related to the density of energy-matter and it is relative in nature. The “prime mover unmoved” is really a static viewpoint from which all motion can be observed without any distortion. Man has fixation on beingness but that fixation doesn’t have to be there.

Yet, with his usual inconsistency, Aristotle represents God as self-conscious spirit. A rather mysterious spirit; for Aristotle’s God never does anything; he has no desires, no will, no purpose; he is activity so pure that he never acts. He is absolutely perfect; therefore he cannot desire anything; therefore he does nothing. His only occupation is to contemplate the essence of things; and since he himself is the essence of all things, the form of all forms, his sole employment is the contemplation of himself. Poor Aristotelian GodI—he is a roi fainéant, a do-nothing king; “the king reigns, but he does not rule.” No wonder the British like Aristotle; his God is obviously copied from their king. 

Interestingly enough, the God of Aristotle is not very different from the God of The Bhagavad Gita, the great Hindu epic. It is a very deep concept.

Or from Aristotle himself. Our philosopher so loved contemplation that he sacrificed to it his conception of divinity. His God is of the quiet Aristotelian type, nothing romantic, withdrawn to his ivory tower from the strife and stain of things; all the world away from the philosopher-kings of Plato, or from the stern flesh-and-blood reality of Yahveh, or the gentle and solicitous fatherhood of the Christian God. 

Aristotle’s God is really the principle of the STATIC viewpoint from which all motion may be observed without any distortion.


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  • Chris Thompson  On May 12, 2021 at 11:14 AM

    Aristotle’s God is really the principle of the STATIC viewpoint from which all motion may be observed without any distortion.

    I want to ask, “Why do you suppose that we come up with this STATIC notion of a SUPREME VIEWPOINT.”

    There is nothing to point to in our human experience which would give us this example of no motion and no location. Yet the spiritual side of religion is forever reaching for such a standard. Even if we admit the existence of God with omni-qualities, why do we think that we know what its superlative qualities should or must be?


    • vinaire  On May 12, 2021 at 7:16 PM

      The universe is a universe of motion. This motion may be plotted on a scale of NO MOTION to INFINITE MOTION. Of course, both ends of this scale are theoretical. But this scale shall encompass the whole universe.

      To fully perceive a motion without distortion, one has to be relatively motionless with respect to that motion as much as possible. That logic leads us to the concept of a STATIC viewpoint.

      Now you are adding the concept of “supreme” to it. Isn’t STATIC supreme enough for you?

      From the above explanation you can see that “no motion” and “no location” are relative concepts and not absolute.

      You already know that God is a subjective concept and so are the qualities we associate with that concept.


      • Chris Thompson  On May 13, 2021 at 8:39 AM

        haha, Well, yes. STATIC is supreme enough for me! (Still chuckling)

        I think that what nags at me are the time and attention devoted to far-flung theories about concepts that we seem to think we need to not only know about but pontificate about. That is the domain of religion. As Hubbard metaphorically wrote, “Those rocks may be pretty, but the way out doesn’t lead that way.”

        Putting no motion and infinite motion (whatever those two are) on a scale at least does keep them within the “confines” of the universe, lol.

        Based upon the success record of Science, keeping unknown and supposedly unknowable things within the realm of at least Physics is not only our best probability of coming to know these things, it is the only probability. Based upon a look back of only a hundred years, present technology seems magical. Therefore, I assume that trend and these accomplishments will continue.

        When you believe in things you don’t understand, then you suffer. ~Stevie Wonder


        • vinaire  On May 13, 2021 at 11:00 AM

          “When you believe in things you don’t understand, then you suffer. ~Stevie Wonder”

          That is very true.

          Hubbard talked about Static and motion. He was on the right track. But he gave Static an anthropomorphic form that shifted him away from science into the mystery of religion.

          By assigning the meaning of Static to a viewpoint, we make it less mysterious and more scientific. A STATIC viewpoint would be one from which all motion may be observed without any distortion.


        • Chris Thompson  On May 14, 2021 at 9:25 AM

          A STATIC viewpoint would be one from which all motion may be observed without any distortion.

          I’ve been trying to identify the types of conjecture ideas which grate and by which I have cognitive dissonance. One of them is the supreme qualities which are assigned to the universal viewpoint. In Hubbard’s and hence the one you quote is the point. Religion generally assign omnipresence to Gods, hence infinite stillness and infinite motion. This is a problem with the contrary language of viewpoint.

          For omnipresence to exist, we would need to do away with discreteness. Correct?

          1. Space seems to be omnipresent.
          A. Considering space, there seems to be no experience, no example of it having a discreteness at all. Hubbard postulated outside the physical universe, but what would that be actually? The conjecture of an edge to the expanding universe is abstraction only and there exists no physical way of checking this for any kind of sample at all.
          2. Energy seems to be omnipresent, or is it? Energy is motion, or maybe the cause of motion. This language gets cumbersome and tautological. Energy seems to be more dense and less dense depending where one checks it.
          3. Matter does not seem to be omnipresent. In fact, it composes only
          an estimated 0.0000000000000000000042% and is a trace characteristic of the universe – almost an afterthought.
          4. Time may at first glance be omnipresent, but is it? In the very first place, it is not really an it, is it? It seems to be a constant of the universal viewpoint and a relatively determined variable in terms of any discrete part of the universe.
          It slows in motion and in the presence of mass. The more massive, the slower it goes. Likewise when referring to a static, it doesn’t exist in the physical sense at all, does it?

          I’m out of wind and must continue on with my day. LOL


        • vinaire  On May 14, 2021 at 11:30 AM

          Ha ha, out of wind… um… and you wind me up…

          1. You are right, the Static viewpoint doesn’t exist in a physical sense. It is a supreme abstraction that stands apart from both physical and spiritual aspects of the universe. It is part of the universe though, per postulate #1.

          POSTULATE # 1: The universe is not just physical; it is metaphysical too. The universe includes everything whether physical, metaphysical, real, imaginary, postulated or speculated. Nothing is excluded from the universe.

          COROLLARY: The universe includes everything that we observe and experience as body, mind and spirit and maybe more.


          2. You cannot talk about SPACE independent of energy. Space encloses extremely subtle energy and acts as the extents of that energy. Space condenses as energy condenses. We differentiate space only as extents of matter, and absence of matter. As an analogy, think of smoke in place of subtle energy. The extents of that smoke shall define space. This is per postulate #11.

          POSTULATE # 11: The space is more than the awareness of the visible material forms and the distances between them. The space describes the extents of the invisible energy.

          COROLLARY: Matter is the visible form of condensed energy. Energy, otherwise, is invisible.


          3. You cannot talk about TIME independent of energy either. Time describes the duration of energy. We understand ultimate time only in terms of the duration of the uiverse.

          POSTULATE # 5: The ultimate Time (Maha Kala) is the backdrop of eternity that makes the passage of time apparent.

          COROLLARY: Eternity may be described as “forever” and the state of “absolute rest”.

          The Static viewpoint observes from the background of ultimate time. That is the only way one can perceive the cyclical nature of the universe.

          POSTULATE # 4: The cyclical nature of the universe is described by the passage of time.

          COROLLARY: The passage of time is expressed through change and motion.

          In general, we may describe TIME by the following postulate. Time becomes more “concrete” as energy condenses into matter.

          POSTULATE # 12: The time is more than the awareness of change and motion. Time actually describes the duration of the invisible energy and the visible matter.

          COROLLARY: Infinite duration at a location in space defines absolute rest. Lesser durations imply motion.


          4. You cannot talk about MATTER independent of energy either. See the postulate below.

          POSTULATE # 2: The fabric of the universe is “raw energy” (physical element) activated by innate “raw impulse” (metaphysical element).

          DEFINITION: Energy is the basic substance of the universe, which appears as a field that gradually condenses into matter.

          DEFINITION: The innate impulse appears as the activity of energy, such as, the “speed of light,” which gets increasingly complex as energy condenses.


          5. So it all starts with the understanding of ENERGY. It is the fabric from which the universe is constructed. It is activated by an innate impulse. The energy and its impulse cannot be separated from each other. When you say, “Space seems to be omnipresent,” you are essentially saying that “Energy seems to be omnipresent.” Well, that seems to be confirmed by the Law of Conservation of Energy.

          The experience of space lies in the experience of energy. There is no separate experience of space. Space varies in density the way energy varies in its frequency. Space becomes discrete when energy condenses into matter.

          We may talk about the physical aspect of the universe, but there is no physical universe as such. Anything postulated “outside the physical universe” shall “still be inside” when the whole universe is considered. Hubbard really needs to understand the Postulate #1 above. You are right that “the conjecture of an edge to the expanding universe is abstraction only…”

          I am also out of wind now. More later.


        • vinaire  On May 14, 2021 at 3:46 PM


          Let’s look at energy. Energy is considered basic substance as well as motion. Some question if it is the cause of motion. How can these ideas be reconciled?

          Energy gets denser as it increases in frequency until it becomes matter at very high frequencies. We see this condensation taking place inside the atom. Quantization plays its role in energy flow gradually changing into particle motion. It is the velocity of electromagnetic radiation relative to matter that appears as the velocity of light. This velocity changes very little in the electromagnetic range, but it starts to decrease rapidly inside the atom. The velocity of electrons in an atom is a fraction of the speed of light. and ultimately the velocity of the nucleons inside the nucleus is close to the velocity of matter.

          There is a definite correlation between the density of energy and its motion. The motion decreases as the density increases. We look at the density of energy in relative terms on a scale. Similarly we see the motion of energy in relative terms on a scale. It seems that density and motion of energy are interchangeable. In that sense energy is substance, and at the same time it is motion. Because density appears as motion, it makes energy the source of motion as well.


        • vinaire  On May 14, 2021 at 3:53 PM


          Matter is produced from condensation of energy. Therefore, it is just a very small aspect of energy. Energy is omnipresent but not matter. Matter is a discrete form of energy. Apart from that energy is not discrete.


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